Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

Winning wars requires more than just an army; it requires military tactics and strategy. Planning an offense or a defense on a football field takes thought and effort. Imagine multiplying that offense or defense to include thousands of men, horses or tanks, and supply needs. There have been many great generals in history, who relied upon smart strategy, or, in some cases, a willingness to accept great losses, to secure an American victory in wars from the American Revolution to Desert Storm.

These generals varied from the calm and thoughtful, like Eisenhower to the brash and loud, like Patton. They shared a commitment to duty, patriotism and a belief that their army could be victorious.

1136px-Washington_and_Lafayette_at_Valley_Forge

George Washington

George Washington is most often remembered as the first President of the United States; however, before he was President Washington, he was General Washington, leader of the Continental Army. Washington was a skilled military leader and strategist, and his defeat of the British is a memorable moment in military history.

In 1776, Washington and the Continental Army lost the colony of New York to the British. Washington was frustrated and angered by his defeat, and did not forget it, even as his troops left Valley Forge in the spring of 1778. Washington communicated his plan with the Continental Congress in a series of letters, and in 1779, received a letter from the President of the Continental Congress to think himself, “at Liberty to direct the military operations of these States in such a manner as you think expedient”.

Washington’s initial strategy required the full cooperation of France, but also required a British willingness to fight in New York. The British preferred to fight further south, believing this provided them with an advantage. His initial strategy placed the decisive battle in New York City, but this was not to be. The French encouraged a final battle in Virginia.

In 1781, Washington learned that the French navy had effectively trapped the British army in Virginia. This led to the creation of a new strategy.  The decisive battle would be fought at Yorktown.

Outside New York, Washington built bread ovens and army camps, and circulated letters discussing his attack on New York, then under the command of British General Clinton. Everything possible was done to maintain the impression of a planned assault on New York City.

Leaving behind a small force, Washington and most of his troops set out for Yorktown. In September, a large number of American and French forces gathered in Williamsburg. The Battle of Yorktown began by the end of that month, and ended by the 18th of October with a British surrender.

Washington’s smart use of confusion tactics provided the cover and space necessary to amass troops at Williamsburg and to take Yorktown. His willingness to be flexible with his plan brought success for the young nations.