CASE 1—GETTING TO KNOW THE MAN BEHIND THE IMAGE

CASE 2—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT,PART I

CASE 3—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT, PART II

CASE 4—THE NORTHERN NECK

CASE 5—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART I

CASE 6—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART II

CASE 7—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART I

CASE 8—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART II

CASE 9—PLANTER, POLITICIAN, AND PATRIOT

CASE 10—THE MAN, PART I

CASE 11—THE MAN, PART II

CASE 12—THE MAN, PART III

CASE 13—THE MAN, PART IV

CASE 14—THE MAN, PART V

CASE 15—DEATH AND APOTHEOSIS

CASE 16—PRESERVING THE MEMORY

CLEMENTS LIBRARY

George Washington: getting to know the man behind the image

This website is a record of the exhibit, as it appeared in the display cases of the William L. Clements Library. Each page features an image of a single display case and its contents, with details of the artifacts and the accompanying text below. Please click on the images to view enlargements and use the "back" button on your browser to return.

Copyrights to the contents of this exhibit, both text and images, are held by the Clements Library. Permission for use and reproduction must be obtained in advance from the director of the Clements Library.

Case 12 The Man, Part III

There is no question, Washington believed that details mattered. He valued neatness, accuracy, manners, and appearances.

Having received little formal education, he was to a considerable degree self-educated. The draft of the letter at upper left shows how carefully he edited anything he wrote, making corrections and additions along the way. The small letter above was written to the mother of a Pennsylvania officer who had been captured by the British. Throughout his public career, he took such personal kindnesses and civilities seriously. Fortunately, the soldier in question, Alexander Graydon" did survive captivity and later wrote a valuable personal narrative of his wartime experiences.

As President, Washington felt it was very important to endow the position with a degree of majesty of office-to make it special and dignified. Among the ceremonial, occasions that George and Martha Washington inaugurated were the weekly "Presidential Levee" and the Friday evening "Drawing Room Receptions." The former, described here in a 1796 letter by a businessman visiting Philadelphia, provided a semi-formal event where diplomats, politicians, and visitors could briefly meet the President. The latter, conducted by Mrs. Washington, were more social and relaxed.

The description of the Drawing Room Reception is by George Washington Custis, grandson of Martha Washington who was adopted by the Washingtons. He was the owner of Arlington and father of Mrs. Robert E. Lee.

 

 

 

 

George Washington has never been considered a great battlefield commander or military strategist. His experience before the Revolution was restricted to limited frontier fighting. There were few classic battlefield victories throughout his eight years in the' field, and at Long Island or Brandywine, where he did try to take on the main British force, he was lucky to escape with his army intact. Had he ever carried out his much-coveted assault on New York City in 1780 and 1781, he probably would have suffered a major defeat.

 

British map delineating the Hessian defeat at Trenton.

 

 

To a large extent, though, traditional battles were secondary events in the final victory of the Americans in the American Revolution. What counted in the long run was America's ability to outlast the British. Washington was particularly well suited to conducting a long war. His basic instinct was to be cautious, patient, and observant. But he also had an instinctual sense of moments of opportunity, and he was not afraid to take risks when convinced that an opportunity had presented itself.

Somehow, also, his personality made it possible for him to maintain his enthusiasm for the cause and to continue to inspire others despite endless discouragements. His army was willing to follow when these moments of opportunity presented themselves.

The highpoints of his generalship were the Siege of Boston in 1775, the Battles of Trenton and Princeton in 1776, and the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, each documented here. The war was actually won, however, because the British lost their will to fight after Yorktown. Washington and the Americans showed no signs of giving up at all.

 

 

Washington wrote this letter from Elkton, Maryland, on his way to join Lafayette and the French army in Virginia. One feels the commander's excitement, as he senses that Cornwallis is about to be trapped.