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

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Case 13 The Man, Part IV

In December 1780 the British Commander in Chief, Sir Henry Clinton, dispatched Benedict Arnold with 1,600 men to open a new offensive operation in Virginia. The force landed at Hampton Roads, captured vessels on the James, and occupied Richmond. Washington countered by sending Lafayette, and in March 1781 the British sent an additional force of 2,000 men under General William Phillips.

Realizing that the Chesapeake was going to become a major theater of battle, Washington appreciated that his Mount Vernon estate would be a likely target. From a personal point of view, it must have been a heart wrenching thought.

In this letter of May 31, 1780 to Lund Washington, his estate manager, Washington is philosophical about it. His complete dedication to the cause and his fearlessness were surpassed by no one, and it inspired a similar degree of commitment on the part of his men, from officers at the top to men of the lowest rank.

The paragraph at the top of the letter, on the opposite side, begins: "I have already given you my opinion (in some late letters) with respect to my moveable property--after removing the most valuable, and least bulky articles...

 

 

 

In this handwritten autobiography, Chief Justice John Marshall describes a personal meeting in the 1790s with the retired President at Mount Vernon. Washington urged him convincingly to run for a seat in Congress. Marshall ran and won the election. He later wrote a multi-volume biography of George Washington.

 

The presence of an occupying military force always put great pressure on the local civil community. By March 1781, the farmers and local authorities along the Hudson were resisting efforts of the army quartermaster to supply the wagons and teams needed to transport supplies. Flour, needed to feed the army, had been delivered to landings along the river, but there was no way to get it to New Windsor or the other fortified positions.

Washington could have simply ordered the confiscation of the necessary horses and wagons, but it was not his way, except under extreme necessity. By this circular letter, addressed to the Justices of the various counties, he set forth the nature of the problem and enlisted their personal assistance in solving it.

Washington notes that he was "ever averse to all coercive measures, which may seem to interfere with the rights of the civil authority," but in essence the letter makes it clear that coercion would follow if voluntary assistance did not materialize. He always preferred using carrots, but realized they were more effective when he held a stick in the other hand!

 

In spite of his rigorous attention to detail and his perfectionist qualities, Washington was surprisingly good at delegating authority. He understood that in a democracy, cooperation, even from subordinates, was essentially voluntary. In a war that was fought on a continental battlefield, where communications were slow and difficult, the commander could not micro-manage campaigns beyond his immediate locality. Unit commanders had to have the freedom to exercise their own judgment.

In this letter to Nathanael Greene, who has been sent to command the Southern army, Washington shows characteristic respect. He doesn't issue orders, second-guess, or criticize. He takes the extra time to show that he was giving Greene's army serious thought, that he sympathized with their difficulties, and that he was making every effort to provide support. Not all bosses do that sort of thing!