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George Washington was a leader of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and was the first to become U.S. president.
Founding Father George Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Colonial Armies during the American Revolution and was the first President of the United States.
Learn about a young George Washington and how his early years shaped the man he later became.
After leaving the military, George Washington set out to become a farmer with the land at Mount Vernon he received from his brother, Lawrence.
When George Washington was 11 years old, his father passed away and he immediately took on adult responsibilities.
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In the summer of 1777, he mounted an offensive against Philadelphia. George Washington moved in his army to defend the city and was defeated at the Battle of Brandywine. Philadelphia fell two weeks later.
In the late summer of 1777, the British army sent a major force, under the command of John Burgoyne, south from Quebec to Saratoga, New York, to split off the rebellion in New England. But the strategy backfired,
as Burgoyne became trapped by the American armies led by Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold, at the Battle of Saratoga. Without support from Howe, who couldn't reach him in time, he was forced to surrender his entire 6,200 man army. The victory was a major turning point in the war as it encouraged France to openly ally itself with the American cause for independence.
Through all of this, Washington discovered an important lesson: The political nature of war was just as important as the military one. Washington began to understand that military victories were not as important as keeping the resistance alive. Americans began to believe that they could meet their objective of independence without defeating the British army. On the other hand, British General Howe clung to the strategy of capturing colonial cities in hopes of smothering the rebellion. He didn't realize that capturing cities like Philadelphia and New York would not unseat colonial power. The Congress would just pack up and meet elsewhere.
The darkest time for Washington and the Continental Army was during the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The 11,000-man force went into winter quarters and over the next six months suffered thousands of deaths, mostly from disease. But the army emerged from the winter still intact and in relatively good order. Realizing their strategy of capturing Colonial cities had failed, the British command replaced General Howe with Sir Henry Clinton. The British army evacuated Philadelphia to return to New York City. Washington and his men delivered several quick blows to the moving army, attacking the British flank near Monmouth Courthouse. Though a tactical standoff, the encounter proved Washington's army capable of open field battle.
For the remainder of the war, George Washington was content to keep the British confined to New York, although he never totally abandoned the idea of retaking the city. The alliance with France had brought a large French army and a navy fleet. Washington and his French counterparts decided to let Clinton be and attack British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Facing the combined French and Colonial armies and the French fleet of 29 warships at his back, Cornwallis held out as long as he could, but on October 19, 1781, he surrendered his forces.
George Washington had no way of knowing the Yorktown victory would bring the war to a close. The British still had 26,000 troops occupying New York City, Charleston, and Savannah and a large fleet of warships in the Colonies. By 1782, the French army and navy had departed, the Continental treasury was depleted, and most of his soldiers hadn’t been paid for several years.
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