My husband and I just finished reading The Real George Washington (by Jay Parry, Andrew Allison, and Cleon Skousen) with our children, and needless to say, we were incredibly moved by the true story of America’s Most Indispensible Man and his ragtag American army that I thought we could all use some of that inspiration today. There are many valuable lessons we can learn from General Washington and his tough ragamuffins, so here are just a few:
1.Great things often come at a great cost. During the Revolutionary War, the American army endured periods of intense starvation, freezing cold, and deadly diseases that you and I can only imagine the horrors. With extremely limited resources, many of the troops were also often without any shoes, clothing, blankets, or even a shelter to cover them. In fact, the book even describes the army’s bloodstained march during their attack on Trenton:
“The men had a nine-mile march ahead of them, traveling slick, icy roads. Lowering their heads and pulling their wraps tight against the storm that whipped about them, the men forged ahead. One officer scribbled in his journal, “It is fearfully cold and raw and a snowstorm setting in. The wind beats the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes.” The officer’s words proved to be sadly prophetic. Jagged ice on the road cut through worn-out shoes and threadbare stockings. The next day, Major James Wilkinson, coming behind, could follow their route by the bloodstains in the snow.”
The Revolutionary War itself was a bloody conflict that came with plenty of nightmares. Yet, all the internal logistics, philosophies, and personality conflicts were soon forgotten the moment the Americans faced their British nemesis on the battlefield. The smell of fear, dripping sweat, filthy clothes, and the pungent smoke (from exploding shells) was the norm for eight long years. Not to mention the fleeting thoughts of the loved ones left back home.
Today, it’s so easy for us to get distracted with our day-to-day lives and take for granted all the sacrifices that were made during the birth of our great nation. Yet, it’s critical for America’s very survival (and for the preservation of our own freedoms) to remember how General Washington and his ragtag army sacrificed their own lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for something greater than themselves.
In fact, they felt it was morally right to rebel against the British monarchy in order to protect American citizens from the British who were committing terrible crimes against the citizens. Since a tyrannical government is not really a government at all but a criminal gang masquerading as a government, it is not entitled to the obedience that governments (properly so called) can claim.
General Washington and his army felt they were doing something that was morally right and even necessary, for they were protecting the American citizens in their care from the evil attacks of King George III, who had repeatedly acted like a tyrant. American citizens needed protection from King George just as much as they would need protection from a thief or a murderer who would attack people from within the country, and just as much as they would need protection from a hostile army that would invade it from another country.
Washington’s army felt it was their duty to protect American citizens from tyranny of an oppressive king, and to secure their God-given rights once and for all. Needless to say, this compelled them to fight for independence from the most powerful nation on earth at the time.
America’s independence from Great Britain came at a very high price. But great things often do. The same is true now. If we want to preserve the liberties that the very first American army fought so hard to secure for us, it is, without a doubt, also going to cost us something. Yet, it’s a fight worth the fighting.
2.In all circumstances—pray and give thanks. Even in the times of great destitute at Valley Forge, Washington gratefully credited God with preserving the American army through the trials and devastating winter. He also pled repeatedly with the “Great Author,” seeking relief for his suffering men.
The book reflects:
“Washington gave more than lip service to such ideas. His faith in God ran deep. On a number of occasions people witnessed him in the act of private prayer. According to some contemporaries, at Valley Forge he frequently retired to a grove where he could be alone in prayer. And he often repeated his deep conviction that God maintained dominion over America and that He was directing events for the ultimate good of the union.”
General Washington prayed in the times of incredible darkness during the war. However, he was motivated to pray not because of the horrors of war, but because it was his habit to pray.
As his grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, later wrote, “Throughout the war, as it was understood in his military family, he gave part of every day to private prayer and devotion.” Washington prayed from the time of his youth, and he continued that practice throughout his life.
Prayer and fasting were nothing new to the ragtag American army. In fact, in 1774, forty of America’s leading statesmen from across the thirteen colonies (including Patrick Henry, John Adams, John Jay, Samuel Adams, George Washington, and many others) met in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, PA for the first American Congress—which opened with fervent prayer. According to historical records, it was not a superficial prayer like might be prayed in a public gathering today. To the contrary, it was a profound time of prayer (given by Rev. Jacob Duche’) to which Silas Deane, a member of that Congress, noted that it was “a prayer…worth riding one hundred miles to hear.”
Unknown to most Americans today, it was characteristic during the Revolutionary War to have proclamations for times of prayer and fasting. In fact, the Continental Congress issued fifteen separate times of prayer and fasting, or prayer and thanksgiving (depending on the circumstances).
In reality, prayer does something unique within the person who chooses to engage in it–it transforms the person’s very heart and soul. I personally believe that it was Washington’s consistent prayer habit that shaped his unique character, which lead his men through all the horrific trials of the war, and ultimately, to victory over the British Empire.
And as Leonard Ravenhill once stated, “Prayer is not an argument with God to persuade Him to move things our way, but an exercise by which we are enabled by His Spirit to move ourselves His way.”
The ragtag American army had the audacity to believe that God himself gave our country the right to become an independent nation. However, they also knew that in order to preserve our independence, we had to remain a moral and virtuous people. We can’t be such without humbling ourselves in prayer before our Creator. It is through prayer that He is able to mold and shape us into His own virtuous character, which ultimately prepares us for the great things He has in store for us. That’s why we should pray and give thanks in all circumstances.
3.The cause of liberty requires a tireless minority and a damn good General. The eighteenth-century British were a very strong and prosperous people. Many enjoyed the standard of living far superior to the rest of the world. The British tallied some 2 million men they could call on to bear arms against America, ten times the potential military manpower of the Americans themselves (estimated 300,000). Great Britain had a carefully trained and well-equipped army and navy. The American colonies had neither. British financial resources were literally a thousand times greater than those available to the American colonies. The British had all the resources and equipment they needed when the American troops were in short supply of basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing. Yet, the American ragtag army was able to declare victory over the mighty British.
That’s because the Americans had one major advantage. Of course, it helped that they were they were fighting on their own territory. But as mentioned above, many believed they were fighting for a purpose greater than themselves—they were fighting to set their fellow citizens FREE from a tyrannical government.
As Samuel Adams profoundly noted:
“It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”
The American army was outnumbered, outmanned, and out-resourced by the most powerful military in the world. Yet, they eventually prevailed.
Not to mention the fact that they had a damn good General. Washington made several strategic mistakes early on, but his military genius began to blossom during the war. He studied military texts from every source. He consulted with the experts. He listened carefully, observed, meditated, adapted, revised, and studied some more. He forged ahead with what he had—raw, untrained, undisciplined troops—and lost battle after battle, almost lost his army, but learned from experience and tried again. He gradually developed creative ways to work with his terrain, his untrained troops, his lack of funds and resources.
By the sheer force of his personality, Washington kept the army together for an amazing eight years, often with inadequate food, and clothing, and nonexistent pay. Washington was the force that kept a ragtag army together through unthinkable trials. However, he reiterated his convictions to many that America was successful because God willed it so.
After the war, Washington voiced his feelings:
“I was but a humble agent of favoring Heaven whose benign interference was so often manifested in our behalf, and to whom the praise of victory is due.”
4.Imperfect humans do really stupid things. General Benedict Arnold is quite an exaggerated example of our own flawed humanness. Arnold was a brilliant leader for the American army in the early years of the war. But pride, a loyalist wife, and financial troubles combined to lead to his betrayal of the cause of Liberty in 1780. Although Arnold’s plan to betray West Point had failed, he received 6,315 pounds of sterling for his treachery, as well as a command post in the British army. General Washington was devastated by Arnold’s perfidy.
Yet, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that we each, too, have an inner ‘Benedict’ that needs to be restrained from time to time. Each one of us is a fallible human being capable of committing atrocious acts, including betrayal. This is exactly why we are all in need of a Savior.
William Penn once stated, “If man is not governed by God, he will be ruled by tyrants.”
Just as Benedict Arnold decided to take matters into his own his hands (rather than relying on God to provide his needs), we humans all have the tendency to do the very same thing.
Yet, any kind of freedom we have apart from God is nothing more an illusion of pride. When we are war with our own conscience, something has to sustain our secret war against that still small, voice of Truth (God) within us—hence our need for lies. And, of course, our own government, in the form of prideful human beings, is now all too happy to oblige. Therefore, when we channel our inner ‘Benedict’ rather than trusting in Divine Providence, we always end up right back where we began—under the boot of a tyrant.
What I have learned most from General Washington and his ragtag team of ragamuffins is that, if we truly want to remain a free people, we must relearn to rely on God just as they had done during their times of bloody conflict.
After all, as the General genuinely believed, America is successful because God willed it so.