The father of our country didn’t have it easy. During the Revolutionary War, and prior to his being elected President of the United States, Washington had much to contend with, making the prospects for victory rather bleak:
- Bodies. He seemed to always be short of soldiers and officers. He was perpetually outnumbered by his British foes.
- Small Pox. The disease was common in Washington’s time, and he feared what that particular malady might do to his troops more than he feared what the British might do.
- Clothing. Far too often, fresh clothing supplies arrived far too late – or not at all. It was common for him to find soldiers wearing nothing more than a blanket in the middle of the winter. Lack of shoes for his soldiers was another problem, causing his men to leave a trail of blood in the snow wherever they walked.
- Gunpowder. Like the shortage of clothing, gunpowder was in short supply, leaving many of his men holding muskets that were worthless. Many of his men were forced to try to arm themselves with far more primitive weapons, such as spears, rocks, or the bow and arrow. This often caused the well-armed British to laugh at the hapless American soldiers.
- British military expertise. Although the British at that time did not sport the largest army in the world (France and Prussia had larger armies) the British navy was the finest in the world and their overall military personnel were the best trained fighting machine at the time. The prospects for an American victory against the British in 1776 was about as likely as the prospect of me beating Mike Tyson in the ring.
- Latrines. Flushable toilets were unknown to Washington’s world. When you have an army of, say, 8,000 men in close proximity to each other, maintaining sanitation and keeping germs and filth in check was a real serious issue that Washington had to attend to.
- Unity. There were all sorts of rivalries in Washington’s day, with Virginians eyeing Pennsylvanians with suspicion, and both looking askance at New Englanders. The question of whether black slaves or black freemen should serve came up more than once. Trying to unify various militias and incorporate them into one single unified army was a thankless task for Washington.
- Treachery. On more than one occasion, Washington had to deal with traitors. Benedict Arnold was perhaps the most famous of those who double-crossed their country, but he is not the only one. In addition, some of Washington’s most trusted officers and even some generals back-stabbed him in their reports to Congress.
- Cowardice. There were many key battles against the British where Washington’s men simply dropped their weapons and fled in all directions – without so much as firing a single shot. The despondent Washington wondered aloud before the heavens on more than one occasion how on earth he was expected to win a war with such men! Very few things stirred the fierce temper he routinely kept in check as cowardice in battle.
- Inexperience. Washington’s soldiers were largely untrained. Even his generals and other officers lacked basic experience with war. Many were young boys. Some were old men, unfit for duty. But this is what he had to work with.
Yet in spite of all of the obstacles that plagued Washington’s efforts, and following a number of back-to-back defeats at the hands of the British soldiers, Washington would not be deterred from his objective. He was willing to risk all for victory. And he ultimately pulled off the most unlikely triumph – one for which we who live in the United States of America are the benefactors.
I will try to remember his courage, his mental toughness, and his ultimate victory against such daunting odds the next time I am faced with my own, comparatively mundane challenges, in the work I am priveleged to do.