George Washington was an important early American military leader in the Revolutionary War and later served as the first President of the United States of America. Washington was born on February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland, Virginia. He was placed in a Virginian militia in 1753. He resigned from his post in 1758 and spent more than 15 years on his plantation in Virginia. However, when unrest broke out in the late 1760s, he returned to the military in 1774, training local militias in Virginia. His dedicated involvement in the Revolutionary War made him a public favorite for the newly formed post of President in 1783. It also earned him the famous epithet of The Father of his Country.
The latter half of the 18th century was a turbulent period for the thirteen British colonies on the North American continent, as they wrested their freedom from the British rule. By 1776, the revolutionaries had gained control over all thirteen colonies and formed the Continental Army on June 14.
George Washington was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Washington accepted the post, but said with typical modesty, "with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with." Washington led his revolutionary army in the following battles, culminating in victory for America.
After taking over as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, Washington immediately left to oversee the siege of Boston and took command of an army of barely 14,500 men, mostly untrained for combat. To overcome a dismal shortage of gunpowder, he ordered raids on the British arsenal in the countryside. He moved the American artillery on Dorchester Heights, overlooking the city, thus making it impossible for the British to enter the city, thereby cutting off their supplies from adjoining regions.
Enthusiastic with victory, Washington moved the troops to New York. However, facing massive amphibious attacks under the command of British General William Howe, he was defeated in the Battle of Long Island on August 22, 1776. He was forced to retreat further down to New Jersey after sustaining more losses, raising doubts on the efficiency of the Continental Army.
In a counterattack on the night of Christmas 1776, Washington captured 1000 Hessian troops (British troops of German origin) in Trenton, New Jersey. More surprise attacks were staged and New Jersey finally came under the control of the Americans, forcing the British to move back to New York City. This win boosted the morale of the army and restored trust in the army.
In both 1775 and 1776, Washington had to deal with the expiring yearly contracts of the militiamen, since the Congress had only authorized the contracts to last a year. A more permanent system was put forth in 1777, and proved to be important in maintaining the structure and coordination of the army.
British General Howe occupied the then-American-capital Philadelphia, defeating the forces of the Continental Army at the battle of Brandywine. Although Washington's judgment was poor in this battle, fortunately for him, the British couldn't go for the jugular after defeating the Americans, and Washington could retreat with his army still in significant numbers and in good spirit. The Americans lost 1100-1200 men at this battle.
The British forces were fighting in numerous theaters and were scattered. Washington saw this as an opportunity and in October 1777, he ordered an attack on the British forces at the Battle of Germantown. Although he was eventually defeated (albeit through no fault of his strategy), he left the British army heavily debilitated. Meanwhile, British General John Burgoyne, who had reached New York, was trapped and forced to surrender his entire army at Saratoga.
This surrender, combined with the losses to General Howe's army, was a massive blow to the British and proved to be the turning point. France, along with her allies Spain and the Netherlands, decided to enter the war openly as America's ally (France had been informally helping America all along), leading to a major worldwide war that hoped to curb the already decreasing global domination of the British Empire.
Left with just 11,000 men, Washington camped at Valley Forge for 6 months in the winter of 1977-78. The winter was hard on his men, who were low on food and medical supplies. He ordered a full-scale training program that entailed combat and full health restoration, under the command of the Prussian General Staff veteran Baron von Steuben. Although the army lost about 2500 soldiers in the winter, it emerged much better disciplined and trained come spring.
Washington's leadership in this period drew unwarranted flak from his detractors, who asked for his immediate removal from the command, in a conspiracy known as Conway's Cabal, due to the heavy involvement of Brigadier General Thomas Conway. However, Washington had earned the respect of many in the Congress, and his followers rallied behind him, forcing Conway to resign. This was the last serious threat Washington faced to his position of authority.
Unable to stretch their divisions any further in war, the British evacuated Philadelphia in 1778 and moved back to New York City. This was in anticipation of the incoming French fleet, New York being vulnerable from sea. The American army kept mounting attacks on them all along the way, culminating in the successful Battle of Monmouth. Although the British reached New York before the French could land and claim the crucial port, their strategy of capturing the Southern states while fighting France and her allies across the world (especially in India, where the Kingdom of Mysore had initiated war with the British) at the same time had backfired.
In 1781, after much action in the Southern colonies and the Caribbean, the Continental army, the French army and the French Navy cornered the British in Yorktown, Virginia. On October 19, 1781, General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his entire army at Yorktown. The surrender effectively ended the war on the American continent, but American allies continued to clash with the British in Europe and Asia. A peace treaty, the Treaty of Paris was signed between Britain and America on September 3, 1783, recognizing the United States of America as an independent nation.
George Washington is credited with establishing the understanding that the ultimate authority of the military should rest in the hands of a democratically elected government, and not just a handful of army officers. On December 23, 1783, he resigned from his post of commander-in-chief and declared his intent to retire from public life. However, that was not to be, as he was elected as the first President of United States of America in 1789. Washington's contribution to the American cause has been recognized by several monuments, several places named after him, as well as being represented on the $1 note.