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Wednesday, February 22, 2012


QUICK LEARNER--Today marks the birthday of George Washington, who we all know led our colonial army to victory in the American Revolution. History, shows Washington wasn’t always so smart on the field of battle. Twenty years earlier in 1754 as a 22-year-old Colonel in British Army, George was soundly defeated in a skirmish with the French and Indians near Uniontown, PA. BTW: Washington was not a U.S. citizen at birth. See below.

Washington had been sent in 1754 to protect British trading interests in the Ohio Valley, near Pittsburgh then called Fort Duquesne. His job was to drive away the pesky French and Canadian troops.

George had marched in from Virginia, but his coalition of colonial militia and British regulars never reached the Ohio River. He was tracked down by the French and local Indian allies.

Outnumbered, Washington hastily had his men build a compound in an open field that he proudly called Ft. Necessity.

It wasn’t long before the French arrived. Immediately they noticed Washington had built the fort within musket range of the nearby woods. Instead of attacking in the traditional linear manner, the French and Indians took potshots all day from behind trees at the defenseless British until the French literally got bored. Besides it was raining and everyone was tired--so it was the French who suggested “Voulez-vous parler?” Let’s talk, George.

Reason for the lax attitude toward their vanquished foe, the French and British were not yet at war. The Seven Years War was on the horizon so the French did not want the headache of having to tend with prisoners of war before war was officially declared.

The subsequent surrender deal saved Washington’s bacon. The Brits and colonials were sent back to Virginia—if they signed a surrender contract and took down that bright red flag.

Humiliated, Washington learned a valuable military lesson. During the American Revolution, Washington used hit and run tactics pioneered by the French and Indians instead of frontal assaults. George became keenly aware of adequate supply lines and making sure his men had maximum advantages of terrain knowledge before going into battle. Washington learned to pick his battles and if guerilla style warfare suited the situation, he used it.

Moreover, by constantly harassing the British troops, the Colonials were able to win enough battles, which in turn impressed the French to join the war on the American side.
In the end, the France was Washington’s early battlefield teacher and in the end his winning ally.

Remember history is like a river.

The Americans returned the favor downstream by liberating France from Hitler’s Germany. To this day, the most pro-American Europeans are found in Normandy, France. Deep down the two nations have an affectionate bond, albeit sometimes it’s damn hard to recognize.

TOURING THE FORT--The 900 acre Fort Necessity National Battlefield and park is open daily from sunrise to sunset on a year-round basis. The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., except on major holidays (including today George Washington's birthday). Fort Necessity National Battlefield is located 11 miles east of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on US 40. We were there in late June and the weather was still spring-like.

Images: Ft. Necessity photo by Phyllis Shess, July 2011 and Washington atop Mt. Rushmore.

Historical Note: George Washington was a British subject at birth as were most of our earliest Presidents because they were born before the USA came into existence (after 1776).


Additional reading: "George Washington's First War," by David A. Clary, Simon & Shuster, 2011

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