Father of Our Country: George Washington Sacrificed for His Country's Well-Being and Never Sought Personal Gain. with His Leadership and Moral Character, He Embodied the True Spirit of America. (History: Greatness of the Founders)

By Eddlem, Thomas R. | The New American, April 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Father of Our Country: George Washington Sacrificed for His Country's Well-Being and Never Sought Personal Gain. with His Leadership and Moral Character, He Embodied the True Spirit of America. (History: Greatness of the Founders)


Eddlem, Thomas R., The New American


Twenty-three-year-old militia Colonel George Washington had been bedridden for nearly a week with a fever and splitting headache. But Washington insisted on heading up to the front as the British army, under the command of General Braddock, neared battle at the French Fort Duquesne. He rode on his horse with a pillow on top of his saddle to ease the pain caused by the bumpy ride.

As the British and colonial force crossed the Monongahela River near present-day Pittsburgh on July 9, 1755, just a few miles southeast of the French fort, a combined force of about 850 French, Canadians, and Indian allies ambushed Braddock's advance column of 1,400. The mostly Indian force hid behind trees and other natural cover as they opened fire on the surprised British and colonial forces. Many of the British officers were struck down from their horses instantly. The British, in the well-known European style, responded with musket salvos from the open ground and a cannon fire that roared throughout the forest. The French and Indian force simply rolled back behind the trees and under the hill cover where they had been waiting for the British force and reloaded. British cannon and musket fire splintered trees and raised mounds of dirt, but the French and Indian force re-emerged virtually unscathed and responded with a second round. The French-allied forces aimed for officers first, many of whom could be i dentified simply because they were riding on horseback.

Washington charged into this melee, forgetting his illness and bravely urging on the line of British regulars. Two horses were shot out from under the militia colonel during the battle. The British held their line bravely for more than an hour, though the lopsided battle soon forced the British regulars to break formation and begin a retreat. The Indians in the trees raised a war whoop upon seeing the British retreat, and the loud turkey calls echoing throughout the forest caused the British soldiers to panic despite Washington's urgings.

Of the 1,459 British and colonial soldiers in the battle, 977 -- including 63 officers -- had been killed or wounded, including Washington's future military opponent Thomas Gage. Braddock died of his wounds three days later, during the embarrassing retreat back to Virginia. Washington was among the very few officers who escaped the battle without a scratch. He wrote back to Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie on July 18, 1755: "I luckily escaped without a wound, though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me." The tone of Washington's letter was matter of fact, and that was all the modest colonel said about himself in the entire letter about the defeat. The Battle of the Wilderness, as it was later called, was neither the first nor the last time Washington would beat the odds and cheat death in battle.

Washington had survived a disastrous campaign the year before, when he led a huge contingent of Virginia militia into the French frontier. Some even believe that Washington's surrender to French terms at his Fort Necessity in 1754 could have started the Seven Years' War, or, as it was called in North America, the "French and Indian War." Terms Washington had agreed to at the surrender included calling a skirmish with armed French soldiers carrying diplomatic papers an "assassination." This skirmish turned out to be the first outbreak of hostilities in the French and Indian War.

Personal Morality and Youth

Washington possessed the most advanced character traits from his youth. He smarted from a "consciousness of a defective education" throughout his life, though his early and limited schooling taught him some of the more refined virtues and manners. Though Washington never learned to speak a foreign language, he composed a "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation." Therein, the teenage youth summarized maxims of civility such as: "in writing or speaking, give to every person his due title according to his degree and the custom of the place"; "when a man does all he can, though it succeeds not well, blame not him that did it"; and "labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

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Father of Our Country: George Washington Sacrificed for His Country's Well-Being and Never Sought Personal Gain. with His Leadership and Moral Character, He Embodied the True Spirit of America. (History: Greatness of the Founders)
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