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George Washington as Military Leader


This lesson discusses George Washington as military leader. The reading begins with Washington’s understanding of the issues related to military power, continues with his use of strategic retreat, and concludes with his important victories in the Revolutionary War. Discussion questions follow the reading.


Students will analyze historical evidence including primary sources to evaluate George Washington as a military leader.


National Council for the Social Studies: Thematic Strands
Arizona Academic Standards, Social Studies: 1SS-E7; 2SS-E1
California History-Social Science Content Standards: 8.1, 11.1, 12.1
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills: Social Studies 8.4, 8.21, 8.23; U.S. Government 2, 3


Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (New York: The Free Press, 1996)

James Thomas Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969)

Edmund S. Morgan, The Genius of George Washington (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1980)

Suggested Procedure:
  1. Read the following to the class. “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Ask students to whom they think this phrase refers. Ask students what they think the phrase means.
  2. Read aloud the introductory paragraph to “George Washington as Military Leader.”
  3. Distribute copies of the reading “George Washington as Military Leader.”
  4. Have students work individually or in groups to read the essay and complete the study questions. With the entire class, discuss the reading and the student responses to the questions.

George Washington as Military Leader

“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” These words were included in the memorial to George Washington by the U.S. Congress at the time of his death. They were intended to recognize Washington’s significant contributions to the country as Commander in Chief during the Revolutionary War and as the first President of the United States. While Americans today recognize Washington as the first president, many do not realize his importance as a military leader. After all, had it not been for Washington’s success in the Revolutionary War, there would not have been a first President of the United States.

George Washington’s military achievements can be viewed in three ways:
  1. Washington’s understanding of military power
  2. Washington’s use of strategic retreat
  3. Washington’s important Revolutionary War victories
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