George Washington: Using Reasoning as a Winning Strategy

George Washington: Using Reasoning as a Winning Strategy

Celebrating George’s Birthday

George Washington Birthday Parade and Weekend Festivities will be held Feb. 16-18. Largest parade in the country celebrating the 281st anniversary of the birth of the nation’s first president takes place on Washington’s Birthday holiday, Monday, Feb. 18, 1 to 3 p.m. in Old Town Alexandria. Part of a weekend of events includes the Birthnight Banquet & Ball and a Madeira Wine Tasting at Gadsby’s Tavern, a 10-K race, a 1-mile race just before the parade, plus free open houses at historic attractions on parade day.

— George Washington was committed for the long-haul to winning the American Revolution. He hoped to out-think, out-maneuver, and wear out the British before the patriots themselves lost their commitment. In many ways, the American Revolutionary War was a war of attrition. Washington chose his battles carefully and used reasoning as a strategy for success throughout most of his military career. He took the time to think through challenging situations so that the patriots’ odds of success were increased.

Washington was a disciplined army officer who respected the British army system and its regulations. As colonel of the Virginia Regiment, Washington served alongside the British from 1754 through 1758, where he studied and learned their ways. However, he also adapted his fighting style to the conditions at hand, such as hiding in the frontier woodlands to enable surprise maneuvers in military engagements with the French.

From his days as a surveyor, Washington displayed an orderly mind and was able to solve challenging problems effectively and creatively. This trait was reflected in his military style. Washington studied and thought through the detail of army operations, including logistics for securing provisions and even creating a provost corps. Washington established the Marechaussee Corps (derived from the French provost units), which was a provost unit, authorized by Congress in 1778, with responsibility for maintaining law and order as well as providing guard, scouting and escort duties. He thought that the American army needed discipline in order to survive and withstand the force of the British army.

It is surprising that Washington had very little major command experience before assuming command as general of the American Continental Army. In “George Washington’s Secret Navy,” James L. Nelson points out that Washington, while in command of the Virginia Regiment, had fought in the frontier’s woods two decades before taking command of the army during the American Revolutionary War. Although skilled at surviving wilderness battles, he had never led a large army into open battle, an undertaking which required additional skills and tactics. Washington had to quickly deal with deploying troops, artillery, and supplies over a large theater of operations; the taking, building, and defending of fortifications; and coordinating strategy with a navy at sea. This challenge required him to be a quick study as he learned to adapt and think through new and changing circumstances. Washington knew that he could not ultimately win the Revolutionary War in traditional engagements with the British; so he had to constantly think creatively. He relied heavily on the art of surprise, using tactics like ambush that he had used during his earlier military engagements with the French.

In “George Washington on Leadership,” Richard Brookhiser points out that even though Washington was inclined to attack, he sought out the opinions of his fellow officers and considered alternatives before deciding on a course of action. In a long war of attrition over a large territory with large scale military engagements, careful deliberation was the most appropriate strategy, as necessary for victory in war as in a chess game. As Brookhiser writes about Washington, “Much of his time during the last half of the war was spent in feints and maneuvers designed to draw the British out of position.”

Washington’s sharp leadership ability and analytical strategy were conclusively demonstrated at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, where he achieved a decisive victory which ended the American Revolutionary War. With his army in New York, Washington recognized the vulnerability of the British position at Yorktown and strategically shifted direction to capitalize on this opportunity for victory. He used deception to keep the British thinking that he still planned to attack New York City, while he and his men were making the march to Yorktown. Purposefully using reasoning as a strategy, Washington was able to develop sound plans of action.

During the American Revolution, Washington’s analytical reasoning style helped to win the day, because it was exactly what was needed for an underdog challenger to win a war of attrition. It was a consciously adopted strategy he used to improve his odds of success. Had he been quick to make impulsive decisions, the outcome would most likely have been far different: we would not enjoy the freedom he and the courageous patriots secured for us.

Scott Wagoner

Vice President, George Washington Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution