Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 3: Leadership in Victory and Defeat

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Battle of Germantown. Detail from E. L. Henry's 1874 painting of the fighting  around Cliveden ("Chew House").

Battle of Germantown. Detail from E. L. Henry's 1874 painting of the fighting around Cliveden ("Chew House").

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

George Washington's early military career (1754-1758)—during the Seven Years' War—was not uniformly successful. In his first battle, he and his men were ambushed and forced to surrender Fort Necessity on the Pennsylvania frontier. Washington's reputation for leadership and courage was based on his actions in another defeat at the hands of the French. In that battle, at Fort Duquesne (1755, often called the "Battle of the Wilderness" or "Braddock's Defeat"), Washington had two horses shot from under him and eventually had to assume command from the mortally wounded General Edward Braddock. Washington led the surviving British and Colonial soldiers on a successful retreat.

Later (1775-1783), Washington would lead the Patriots to a surprising victory over Great Britain, "…the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in the Western world. … Although he lost most of his battles with the British, year after year he held his ragtag, hungry army together"—from the EDSITEment resource The American President.

What combination of experience, strategy, and personal characteristics enabled Washington to succeed as a military leader?

Guiding Questions

  • What qualities made George Washington an effective general?
  • How were the responsibilities of the Commander-in-Chief affected by conditions during the Revolutionary War?
  • How did Washington's responses to these challenges demonstrate his ability to handle a wide range of problems?

Learning Objectives

  • List qualities they believe made George Washington an effective military leader.
  • Discuss some difficulties Washington faced as Commander-in-Chief.
  • Discuss how Washington responded to the difficulties he faced as the leader of the Continental Army.
  • Give examples of Washington's leadership during one or more Revolutionary War battles.

If review is necessary, refer to the information on the advantages and disadvantages the British and Patriots had in the Revolutionary War in Lesson Two. Remind students to keep these advantages and disadvantages in mind as they read about how Washington dealt with the problems he encountered.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.

Lesson Activities

Actvity 1. In Victory and Defeat

Share with the class and briefly discuss this analysis of Washington as a military leader from the Life Before the Presidency on the EDSITEment resource The American President:

George Washington was not a great general but a brilliant revolutionary. Although he lost most of his battles with the British, year after year he held his ragtag, hungry army together. This was his most significant accomplishment as commander of the American forces. One French officer wrote: "I cannot insist too strongly how I was surprised by the American Army. It is truly incredible that troops almost naked, poorly paid, and composed of old men and children and Negroes should behave so well on the march and under fire." Knowing that one great victory by his army would undermine support in England for their endless foreign war, Washington patiently waited year after year for the right circumstances. The British relentlessly dared Continental forces to fight a line-to-line battle in the open. But Washington stayed with his own hit-and-run tactics, forcing the frustrated British to play the game by his rules. He kept their main army bottled up in New York much of the time, wary of fighting him.

Discuss briefly the distinction the author is making between a great general and a brilliant revolutionary. What do students think the author intends? Is the difference that a revolutionary is as interested in winning hearts and minds as he is in winning battles? Is a revolutionary more willing to use unorthodox methods?

It will be the students' task to agree or disagree with the above statement on the basis of their study of four battles of the Revolutionary War. Divide the class into four groups and assign each group one of the following battles. Students can use the documents listed and/or find additional sources on their own. Documents may suggest answers to any or all of the following questions:

  • What motivated Washington to initiate these battles? What indications are there of the degree to which Washington managed his troops? Did he tend to-in today's jargon-micro-manage, or did he take a hands-off approach?
  • What indications are there of Washington's respect and care for his men? Respect for the enemy?
  • With regard to punishments for desertion, was Washington too strict? Properly strict? Fair? Too lenient?
  • What kind of negotiator was Washington?
  • In those battles in which the Patriots were defeated, what factors contributed to the loss? How much of the fault for the loss lies with Washington?
  • In those battles in which the Patriots were victorious, what factors contributed to the win? How much of the credit for the win should lie with Washington?

After research is complete, groups report to the class as if they were a committee of the Continental Congress reporting on the battle to the rest of Congress. Give a brief summary of the battle. Evaluate General Washington's leadership. Cite specific examples.

A complete list of the following documents, suitable for distribution to students, is available in the handout "Annotated Excerpts from Lesson Three Documents" on pages 18-34 of the Master PDF. Full-text versions are available by clicking on the links below.

Group 1: The Battle of Trenton (and the Battle of Princeton)

Compare Washington's description of the battle to the information in the secondary sources.

Group 2: The Battle of Brandywine

Compare Washington's description of the battle to the information in the secondary sources.

Group 3: The Battle of Germantown

The group studying the Battle of Germantown should understand why this battle is believed by some to be a turning point in the war. Compare Washington's description of the battle (October 5th) to the information in the secondary sources. Compare Lee's description of the battle to the information in the secondary sources.

Group 4: The Battle of Yorktown

The group studying the Battle of Yorktown should make sure to understand the circumstances that trapped the British and the degree of cooperation between the Patriots and the French. Compare Washington's description of the battle to the information in the secondary sources.

Guided Discussion Questions
  • What were the difficulties of fighting a war in America for the British?
  • What difficulties did the Continental Army face?
  • What happened in each battle?
  • In what way did General Washington display effective leadership in each battle?

Assessment

The students have heard the reports from the committees. Does each student now agree or disagree with the statement, "George Washington was not a great general but a brilliant revolutionary"? In writing, each student should state an opinion supported by specific evidence. Share student opinions and evidence. Then discuss. What leadership qualities of Washington can be discerned in these battles?

Extending The Lesson

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Using primary sources
Authors
  • MMS (AL)