27 June 2009

George Washington

Let me just say, WOW this chapter is just jam-packed with information!! Mr. McCullough certainly can pack it in there :) But it's all good. I really like that the tone of the book isn't too text-booky (or maybe my tolerance for these educational sort of books has dramatically increased since high school), either way, I feel like the author does a good job explaining things and, for the most part, introducing the people well enough that the reader can get a basic idea and follow the story without any problems, even if they're not already a history buff.

I ended up looking up a couple words that I was unfamiliar with:

1. to pay, recompense, or reward for work, trouble, etc.
2. to yield a recompense for (work, services, etc.).

and also,

2. any of the Arabic numerals or figures.
3. Arabic numerical notation collectively.
4. something of no value or importance.
5. a person of no influence; nonentity.
6. a secret method of writing, as by transposition or substitution of letters, specially formed symbols, or the like.
7. writing done by such a method; a coded message.

So, in this chapter, we begin to get a real feeling for how dire the circumstances are for the American troops. They are appallingly low on powder, with little expectation of more. The troops are uneducated, unclean, and disinclined to accept orders they don't like. Initially, they were well fed (though price gouging came later), but with winter fast approaching, things looked grim.

In contrast, George Washington was the picture of order. He felt that it was imperative that the leader look and act the part. And while he was troubled by the condition of the troops and lack of powder, he never stopped trying to keep his and others' spirits up by reminding them of the goodness of their cause.

Much of the beginning of Chapter 2 is spent talking about the history of Washington and how he came to be the leader of the troops. Previous to reading this chapter, I really didn't know much by way of specific details on this man: He cut down a cherry tree but was honest.. he was a great leader.. a great president and the picture I have of him in my head comes from that painting Washington Crossing the Delaware River. Imagine my surprise when, through reading these chapters, I discovered that he was actually a bit of a dandy!

Ok, probably a more correct statement would be: he was a "Virginia Gentleman". He special ordered his clothes, his boots, his furniture, and the glass for his windows from England. He pretty much as "close to being an English country gentleman as was possible for an American of the day, and intentionally." In his time off between wars, he married a wealthy widow -Martha- and enjoyed very much the life of a plantation owner.

I found myself wondering what could possibly have made this man, who was so very much in love with England, become the leader of the rebellion against that very land? I didn't feel like Mr. McCullough satisfactorily answered that question, so I turned to some outside sources. First I read this article, that said:
Married to a widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a busy and happy life. But like his fellow planters, Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by British regulations. As the quarrel with the mother country grew acute, he moderately but firmly voiced his resistance to the restrictions.
Also, I found this one that goes into greater detail about the different actions (introducing proposals of boycotting, chairing meetings and being a delegate to the first Continental Congress), and between the two, I felt there was sufficient reason for him to have switched sides.

In the latter part of the chapter, it discusses the war and the strategic planning by Washington and his various advisers. Washington, frustrated by the sitting around, proposed a couple ideas for attack, one including an assault on Boston that would most likely lead to it's being destroyed. His advisers tell him that such a course of action would be unwise and would likely not produce good results. So, he agrees to continue waiting. All the while the looming expiration of most of the army's contracts is growing ever nearer.

Then, on January 1, 1776, the transcripts of King George's speech finally reached the American troops. It marked a turning point as "clear as the advent of the new year."

What had sounded like a patriotic speech of determination, when it fell upon the ears of the English Parliament, served to have an opposite effect on the American troops. The result was immediate. Soldiers burned copies of the letter in public. Nathanael Greene wrote, in a letter to Samuel Ward in Philadelphia, recommending that a Declaration of Independence needed to be written.

Mr. McCullough writes that "The effect of the King's speech on Washington was profound. If nothing else could 'satisfy a tyrant and diabolical ministry, we were determined to shake off all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural. This I would tell them, not under covert, but in words as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness."

Even while thousands were leaving the army lines, substantial numbers stayed on. Washington declared a "new army, which in every point of view is entirely continental." And so the army finally had a name: The Continental Army. A new flag was raised, with a 13-gun salute. "When the British in Boston saw it flying ... they first mistook if for a flag of surrender." They soon would learn otherwise.

What an exciting culmination to the chapter! I am excited to read on :)

1 comment:

Ritsumei said...

I believe that the speech that they're talking about is the October 26 speech that the first chapter is about.