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General George Washington: 4 Military Highlights of First President

By Morgan Chilson   |   Monday, 25 Aug 2014 06:20 PM

General George Washington was chosen to lead the Continental Army in the fight for independence from Britain during the Revolutionary War, a testament to his military skills and a job for which he refused to take a salary.

Struggling through losses and drawing strength from wins, Washington led the nation’s military for the eight and a half years of the war. The following five highlights stand out from his military leadership during the Revolutionary War:

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1. One of the most famous portraits of Washington was done by Emanuel Leutze as Washington crossed the Delaware River, leading 2,400 soldiers across an icy river in what would become one of the future president’s most profound victories. At first glance, the Mount Vernon website said, the decision to forge ahead into a winter storm and risk the soldiers’ lives may see like a poor one.

"Washington's decision, however, was based on strategic motivation, understanding that the Continental Army desperately needed a victory after months of intense fighting with several significant defeats and no major victories," the website said. "Washington also understood that the element of surprise was the only way that he and his army stood a chance of defeating the highly trained Hessian mercenaries."

Once the Army crossed, Washington led them to Trenton, where "he secured the Continental Army's first major military victory of the war," the Mount Vernon site said.

2. Eight days after his victory at Trenton, Washington led his troops to Princeton where they entered battle against two British regiments. His soldiers panicked, according to PBS, and the general rode to the front of battle lines and said, “Parade with me, my brave fellows.” The victory there as the British soldiers broke ranks and fled lifted spirits among soldiers, and also throughout the country. At the beginning of the war, American troops suffered several losses and the victories at Trenton and Princeton helped buoy spirits.

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3. At the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, Washington again snared an important victory as his troops marched on a 10,000 British soldiers, PBS said. As some American soldiers began to retreat, Washington rallied them and “berated General Charles Lee who had allowed the retreat,” PBS said.

"A French ally serving on his staff wrote that Washington, at this dangerous moment in the war, 'seemed to arrest fortune with one glance. ... His presence stopped the retreat. ... His graceful bearing on horseback, his calm and deportment which still retained a trace of displeasure ... were all calculated to inspire the highest degree of enthusiasm. ... I thought then as now that I had never beheld so superb a man.'" The British retreated to New York, giving the Americans a much-needed victory.

4. Teaming with the French Navy and French soldiers, Washington and his troops moved toward Yorktown to challenge the British soldiers who believed they would have victory there because they were supported by the British Navy, PBS said.

Instead, as Washington pounded British General Charles Cornwallis with artillery for three weeks, the British were brought to the point of surrender on Oct. 17, 1781. It was the end of the Revolutionary War.

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