The Road to Independence

Article excerpt

The Road to Independence George Washington's Military Genius. Dave R. Palmer. Regnery Publishing, Inc. 272 pages; illustrations; maps; notes; selected bibliography; index; $27.95. Publisher's website: www.regnery.com

In The Compact History of the Revolutionary War: The Story of the American Revolution, authors R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy depict George Washington as "by far the most able military leader, strategically or tactically, on either side in the Revolution." Other historians have been far less kind, including Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, who lauds Washington for maintaining the integrity of the Continental Army but who also states that Washington "was not a brilliant strategist or tactician." The diversity of opinion examining Washington's ability as a military commander has now caused Dave R. Palmer to reconsider Washington as a strategist.

Palmer is no stranger to the readers of ARMY Magazine. A former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Palmer has compiled a distinguished record of publications on the 18th-century American Army, including The River and the Rock: The History of Fortress West Point, 1775-1783; The Way of the Fox: American Strategy in The War for America, 1775-1783; and George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots. In addition. Palmer frequently appears as a commentator in television documentaries on the Revolutionary War period and its military commanders.

In George Washington's Military Genius, Palmer casts his subject in a highly favorable light. Palmer's Washington is not the Washington of the heroic mode who pursued a Fabian strategy that was essentially defensive in nature. Rather, Palmer finds that the evidence of Washington's "extraordinary grasp of strategy is compelling." Though Washington's tactical ability was at times deficient, by war's end, he had become the nation's preeminent strategist and more than justified "LightHorse Harry" Henry Lee's epitaph that Washington was "first in war."

Palmer divides his text into two sections: The first section addresses the basic components of strategy as they appeared to the American Revolutionary generation fighting to establish the United States; the second part examines four distinctive phases of the war that presented quite different circumstances demanding entirely different responses. In Palmer's view, these phases included: "Run All Risques, April 1775-June 1776"; "A Choice of Difficulties: July 1776-December 1777"; "One Great Vigorous Effort, January 1778-October 1781"; and "The Arts of Negotiations: November 1781-December 1783."

As Palmer views the war, Washington was compelled to run all risks to defeat the enemy during the "revolutionary period of the Revolutionary War." As evident in Washington's correspondence, patriot aggression marked the American response to the British during the initial year of the war. As commander in chief, Washington launched offensives against the British in Canada, and he invested Boston in March 1776. According to Palmer, "It is hard to detect the spirit of Fabius in George Washington during this initial phase of the War of Independence. …