George Washington: Gentleman Warrior

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Overview

Winner of the prestigious George Washington Book Prize, George Washington is a vivid recounting of the formative years and military career of "The Father of his Country," following his journey from brutal border skirmishes with the French and their Native American allies to his remarkable victory over the British Empire, an achievement that underpinned his selection as the first president of the United States of America. The book focuses on a side of Washington that is often overlooked: the feisty young frontier ...

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George Washington: Gentleman Warrior

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Overview

Winner of the prestigious George Washington Book Prize, George Washington is a vivid recounting of the formative years and military career of "The Father of his Country," following his journey from brutal border skirmishes with the French and their Native American allies to his remarkable victory over the British Empire, an achievement that underpinned his selection as the first president of the United States of America. The book focuses on a side of Washington that is often overlooked: the feisty young frontier officer and the early career of the tough forty-something commander of the revolutionaries' ragtag Continental Army.

Award-winning historian Stephen Brumwell shows how, ironically, Washington's reliance upon English models of "gentlemanly" conduct, and on British military organization, was crucial in establishing his leadership of the fledgling Continental Army, and in forging it into the weapon that secured American independence. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including original archival research, Brumwell brings a fresh new perspective on this extraordinary individual, whose fusion of gentleman and warrior left an indelible imprint on history.

Winner of the 2013 George Washington Book Prize

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Major George Washington was just twenty-one when Governor Dinwiddie asked him to assess French strength in the lead-up to the French and Indian Wars. That fledgling assignment served as the first military baptism of the future Commander of the Continental Army. This new book by award-winning military specialist Stephen Brumwell (The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763) fills in the significant, yet neglected story of Washington's frontier battlefield apprenticeship, showing how the lessons it taught him prepared him to be the effective leader of a relative untrained, ragtag army. A refreshing, well-research perspective on a leader we know so well.

Publishers Weekly
Upon meeting George Washington, Abigail Adams remarked to her husband, John, that “the gentleman and the soldier look agreeably blended” in him. Seizing upon this observation, biographer Brumwell (Paths of Glory) offers an intense portrait of a military leader whose habits of leadership combined a thirst for victory with the deep emphasis on discipline and order that Washington had observed in the British army. In exhausting detail, Brumwell wearily traces the well-known story of Washington from his childhood and youth, his work as a surveyor, his love for Sally Fairfax, his marriage to Martha Custis, and his decision to settle down as a gentleman planter in 1759. Brumwell then covers Washington’s military exploits in the Indian Wars on the Monongahela, his elevation to commander of the Continental Army, and his successful exploits and leadership in the War of Independence. Since Washington often fought on the frontlines, he witnessed the horrors of war firsthand and years after his military career had ended, he turned his back on the “rage of conquest” he witnessed in various European conflicts. Brumwell’s often tedious book portrays Washington as he grew from a “feisty young frontier officer” to “the tough 40-something commander of the Continental Army” who wished to be remembered most for his military exploits and leadership. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
America's "pugnacious fighting man," as dashingly portrayed by English historian Brumwell (Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe, 2008, etc.). The author concentrates on Washington's martial experience during the 1750s alongside Gen. Edward Braddock and other British fighting the French. During this time, he honed his noble reputation as a patriot leader. Denied a gentleman's education by the untimely death of his Virginia planter father in 1743, young George applied his mathematical talents to learning the trade of land surveying for a lucrative career, as well as a chance to apply his fascination with the wilds of the North American interior. With the encroaching French into Virginia territory in the 1750s, Washington volunteered his services as emissary in the "escalating imperial rivalry," publishing a journal of his arduous journey into Ohio Country in 1754, bringing him fame at age 22. From colonel of the Virginia Regiment to aide-de-camp for Braddock, Washington cut his military teeth on the British military hierarchy, adopting an exemplary code of order and discipline that he would later apply to his ragged American recruits. Enduring French and Indian "terror tactics" and debilitating dysentery, he made a name as an intrepid and adaptive leader (for example, he clothed his men "after the Indian fashion" for one campaign), while revealing already by 1757 in his letters a sense of resentment against what he perceived as "a deliberate policy of discrimination against colonials." The hard reality of fighting in frontier warfare dispelled notions of old-world gallantry and created the hardened soldier Washington became rather more characteristically than the gentleman farmer he fashioned himself (and was often portrayed) later on. Brumwell's subsequent tracking of Washington through the battles of the Revolutionary War seem almost anticlimactic in comparison to the dynamic early annals of this heroic man. The First Father waves from his high horse with this felicitous new assessment of his derring-do.
From the Publisher
"George Washington: Gentleman Warrior is a wonderful read and the scholarship is deeply impressive—Stephen Brumwell was way down in the scholarly weeds sorting out things most eighteenth-century specialists don't know much about"—James G. Basker, President, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

PRAISE FOR WHITE DEVIL:

"Excellent research and gripping prose!"—Sunday Telegraph

PRAISE FOR PATHS OF GLORY:

"Paths of Glory is a powerful tonic, which shows that...[Wolfe's] generalship—and not luck—won for England a continent."—Times Literary Supplement

PRAISE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON:

"In clear prose and a compelling narrative style, Stephen Brumwell balances the popular image of Washington as a reluctant commander, statesman, and father of his country with that of an ambitious young officer in the British military tradition, whose experiences—and hard lessons—in war shaped his leadership of a nation born out of conflict."—Colin G. Calloway, John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professor of History and Professor of Native American Studies, Dartmouth College

"[A] solid military biography... Mr. Brumwell's thesis that Washington's own -pretension to the character of a gentleman' explains his success in the War for Independence."—Allan Pell Crawford, The Wall Street Journal

"Well-written and engaging... In the hands of this fine biographer, Washington emerges as a flesh and blood man, more impressive than the mythical hero could ever be."—2013 Washington Book Prize Jury's finalist selection citation

"Stephen Brumwell's book is a pleasure to read from the very first pages, when he puts you right there, literally looking down the sights of a rifle held by a British officer who's about to decide whether to kill George Washington.... [Brumwell] brings the frontier military experience to life—the vermin, the floggings, the constant fear of ambush and massacre. And readers get a vivid sense of Washington himself as a creation of eighteenth-century military culture."—Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, George Washington College

"Every so often, books are published that combine first-rate, innovative scholarship and page-turning readability. Stephen Brumwell's revisionary retelling of the life of James Wolfe is a shining example."—Globe and Mail

"Dynamic... The First Father waves from his high horse with this felicitous new assessment of his derring-do."—Kirkus Reviews

"Brumwell breathes new life into a younger and edgier incarnation of our first president—the feisty frontier warrior who engaged the French and their Indian allies in brutal border skirmishes, the tough mid-career officer who turned the Continental Army into the weapon that defeated the British Empire. Even while Washington fought the redcoats, Brumwell argues, he relied on British models of military organization and gentlemanly behavior in shaping his distinctive style of leadership."—from the 2013 The George Washington Book Prize winner citation announcement

"A thrilling narrative...vividly written."—Times Literary Supplement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781623651008
  • Publisher: Quercus
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 413,813
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Stephen Brumwell is an award-winning independent historian and journalist. He attended the University of Leeds, gaining a PhD in history and British Academy funding to research eighteenth-century North America. Brumwell's widely acclaimed books include Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763; White Devil: A True Story of War, Savagery and Vengeance in Colonial America; and Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe. Brumwell lives and writes in Amsterdam.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction:
 
During the late summer of 1777, Major Patrick Ferguson was, by common consent, the best marksman in the formidable British army bent upon breaking the back of American rebellion against King George III. Early on the morning of September 11, while observing the rebel forces arrayed in a defensive position along Brandywine Creek, southwest of the revolutionaries’ capital of Philadelphia, Ferguson identified a tempting pair of targets. Some 100 yards off, in clear sight, were two horsemen. One wore the flamboyant uniform of a French hussar officer. The other, who rode a fine bay, was far more soberly dressed in a dark coat and an unusually large and high cocked hat. Like Ferguson himself, both riders were plainly engaged in reconnoitering their enemy’s dispositions.
 
Against individual targets, 100 yards was long range for the muzzle-loading smooth bore muskets carried by most of the soldiers assembling along either side of the creek. Yet the major was not squinting down the barrel of a simple “firelock,” but over the sights of a sophisticated breech-loading rifle of his own invention. Its seven- grooved bore could spin a ball with far greater accuracy than a common musket and over a longer distance. A year before, at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, London, Ferguson had demonstrated that fact before a panel of skeptical high- ranking officers, fi ring off four shots a minute to pepper a target set 200 yards away: the riders he now contemplated were sitting ducks.
 
The dark-clad horseman was obviously a general officer, the dashing hussar his aide-de-camp. The hussar turned back, but his companion lingered. Moving out from the trees that sheltered him and a score of his corps of riflemen, Ferguson shouted a warning. The rider stopped, looked, and then calmly continued about his business. The major called again, this time drawing a bead upon the heedless horseman. The distance between them was, as Ferguson reported, one at which during even the most rapid firing he had “seldom missed a piece of paper,” and he “could have lodged a half a dozen of balls in or about him” before he could ride out of range. But something stopped him from squeezing the trigger. Ferguson was an officer and a gentleman. As he conceded with unconcealed admiration, his proposed target was conducting himself with such coolness that to have shot him in the back would have seemed an unsporting, “unpleasant” action. And so the major let him trot off unmolested.
 
Later that same day the rival armies clashed in earnest. After a stubborn fight, British discipline prevailed, pushing back the rebels and increasing the threat to Philadelphia. Ferguson, who had been badly wounded in the right hand during the fighting, spoke with a doctor busy treating the wounded of both sides. From the surgeon’s recent conversation with a group of enemy officers, it seemed that the two distinctively clad riders Ferguson had seen earlier were none other than General George Washington, the commander in chief of the revolutionaries’ Continental Army, and the French officer attending him that day. As Ferguson freely acknowledged, he was “not sorry” to have remained oblivious of their identity.
 
Had he known what the future held, both for him personally and for the cause in which he soldiered, the gallant major may have thought—and acted—differently. And if ever a single shot could have changed the course of history, an unwavering ball sped from Ferguson’s rifle would surely have done so.
 
“I am a warrior.” These were the uncompromising words that George Washington chose to describe himself in May 1779, at the height of the Revolutionary War. Washington was addressing the “Chief Men” of the Delaware nation of Indians, and his language was calculated to strike a chord with listeners who were themselves first and foremost tribal fighters—warriors in the purest sense. Yet even allowing for Washington’s deliberate use of the rhetoric and vocabulary of Indian diplomacy, his self- characterization is telling.
 
In 1779, George Washington was a warrior, “the commander in chief of all the armies in the United States of America,” as he put it. In his message, Washington made a point of distancing himself from the revolutionary movement’s political leaders while at the same time emphasizing what he shared with the Delawares: there were some matters about which he would not speak, “because they belong to Congress, and not to us warriors.”

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Reading Group Guide

Stephen Brumwell’s GEORGE WASHINGTON: GENTLEMAN WARRIOR is a unique book in several regards. For one, it is a close analysis by a British historian of perhaps the most iconic hero of American history. Also, it debunks the typical perception of Washington as a dull, wooden personality by focusing on his fiery leadership on the battlefield and his refined and engaging sense of etiquette.

1. “History is written by the winners”, goes an old saying. But in this case, a history of George Washington has been crafted by a historian from the nation Washington defeated (albeit centuries ago). How do you think this affects Stephen Brumwell’s treatment of his subject? What are the potential strengths and weaknesses of someone from one country writing about another nation’s hero?

2. We see numerous examples of the very strict ways Washington disciplined the troops under his command, including severe corporal punishment. Do you think his success in battle justifies these harsh methods of developing toughness and loyalty in his men?

3. Discuss how George Washington’s attitude towards war changed throughout the course of his life and military career as described in GEORGE WASHINGTON: GENTLEMAN WARRIOR.

4. Looking at Washington’s early life as described by Stephen Brumwell, what events, circumstances, or people do you see as the most formative for young George? How did they affect his character as an adult?

5. In narrating the British victory of the battle for New York, Brumwell notes that Washington was very likely ready to torch the entire city rather than leave it in British hands. What do you imagine New York City would look like today if he had gone through with the plan?

6. Identify, as specifically as you can, 2-3 ways your perception of George Washington is different as a result of reading GEORGE WASHINGTON: GENTLEMAN WARRIOR. Similarly, identify any conceptions of the man you had that are now reinforced.

7. With the changed face of warfare today—weapons of mass destruction, IEDs, drones, etc.—do you think a general of Washington’s background and temperament would still be successful in a modern battle? How would he have to adapt?

8. Other than Washington, who did you find to be the most interesting historical figure in GEORGE WASHINGTON: GENTLEMAN WARRIOR, and why?

9. Discuss Brumwell’s treatment of Benedict Arnold and his infamous defection to the British side.  Do you think that Brumwell goes any “easier” on Arnold than an American historian would?

10. Based on the events described in GEORGE WASHINGTON: GENTLEMAN WARRIOR, what do you think was the worst decision—on or off the battlefield—that George Washington ever made?

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