A popular historian unblinkingly assesses the military exploits of the young George Washington.
By 1759, Washington, as the newly appointed major of the Virginia militia, had already acted as the governor’s emissary to the Ohio Country, delivering an ultimatum to French traders; presided over a confused and bloody incident at Jumonville Glen that ignited a global war; suffered a humiliating defeat, surrendering Fort Necessity to the French; and distinguished himself as “the hero of the Monongahela” for organizing the retreat of the slain Gen. Edward Braddock’s army, an unprecedented disaster for the British military. As the Virginia Regiment’s commander in chief, he was also charged with protecting the colony’s frontier as the French and Indian War proceeded, and he had played a tangential role in the “conquest” of Fort Duquesne, resigning his commission afterward to marry Virginia’s richest widow and assume a seat in the House of Burgesses. He was 26 years old. Clary (Eagles and Empire: The United States, Mexico, and the Struggle for a Continent, 2009, etc.) convincingly demonstrates that in this first, crowded chapter of his military career, the boy colonel was overmatched. Given delicate responsibilities and little guidance by superiors who should have known better, Washington responded energetically, eager to prove himself. Ferociously ambitious, he lobbied for rank and angled for positions he had no business filling. Whether as surveyor, planter or military man, Washington, for the most part, educated himself. Out of this peculiar isolation and youthful insecurity, he tended to bend the truth, to evade or shift responsibility and to criticize superiors. Obsessed with honor, he fretted about public opinion, afraid of being blamed for failure. Clary ascribes these failings not to incompetence, but rather to youth. Fortunately for his country, a seasoned General Washington learned from his adolescent mistakes.
A sharp, warts-and-all portrait of the soldier as a young man.