Historical Context

George Washington’s great challenge was to bring discipline, order and unity to an army comprised of volunteers divided by region, class and culture. His troops came from many parts of America, which at the time was like coming together from distant countries; different customs and manners sometimes caused misunderstandings and conflict. These volunteers joined the common cause but understood the meaning of that common cause in very different ways.

Washington did not know if he could lead an amateur army against highly skilled British Regulars. His soldiers were unaccustomed to the rigorous training and harsh punishments experienced by European armies. In 1755, when Washington was 23 years old, he was appointed commander of the Virginia forces within the British army. In this role, he used disciplinary methods commonly found among European armies: irons, lashes, isolation, execution and more. He found these methods did not work well on soldiers of liberty. While European soldiers obediently executed orders without asking questions, soldiers who came to the American army as free men believed they had a choice to follow orders or not and believed they had a voice in what those orders ought to be. This caused constant frustration for Washington.

To further complicate Washington’s great challenge, the army was constantly in need of food and supplies, and Congress did not have the money to supply Washington’s requests for these items because it did not have the power to require states to pay taxes under the Articles of Confederation. Congress could only request that the sovereign states make donations. European armies in the field typically just took what they needed from local inhabitants; they also took what they wanted as looting was a common practice. Washington knew that stealing from Patriot farms and families would hurt the cause of liberty because it would cause bitterness and resentment among the people.  He forbade his soldiers to loot and required his soldiers to remit fair payment for goods, though payment was given in the form of congressional promissory notes that would only be paid in the event of American victory.

Documents and Essential Questions

General Orders, July 14, 1775

What is the problem George Washington is addressing in his first paragraph?

What could be the consequences if the problem is not addressed?

What is the problem General Washington is addressing in his third paragraph? What solution does he offer for the problem?

Daniel Carmiele was found guilty of what? Why do you think he received his punishment in front of his regiment?

Imagine you are in General Washington’s place and you are dealing with the problems addressed in these General Orders. What would you propose as your solutions to the problems?

George Washington to Lund Washington, August 20, 1775

George Washington writes to his distant cousin and temporary manager at Mount Vernon, Lund Washington, about why some soldiers have been arrested and brought to trial. What are the offenses allegedly committed by the accused?

What does it mean when General Washington writes, “In short they are by no means such Troops, in any respect, as you are led to believe of them from the Accts which are published, but I need not make myself Enemies among them, by this declaration, although it is consistent with truth.”

Is General Washington impressed with the soldiers? Why or why not? Support your answer with text from the letter.

Based on this letter excerpt from General Washington to Lund Washington, do you think the Americans will win the war? What do you recommend the Americans do to increase their chances?

George Washington to Richard Henry Lee, August 29, 1775

What attitude does George Washington believe prevails too generally among the officers of the Massachusetts part of the army?

How are the Massachusetts officers chosen? How could this disrupt military order?

General Washington writes to Richard Henry Lee that local governments appoint all officers below the rank of general. Congress then appoints generals. What challenges could this create?

What does it mean when General Washington writes “such however is the fate of all those who are obliged to act the part I do, I must therefore submit to it, under consciousness of having done my duty to the best of my Abilities.” What are the challenges General Washington describes leading up to this part of his letter to Richard Henry Lee?

Describe the military action General Washington describes that happened the previous Saturday and Sunday nights? Why did General Washington not direct the soldiers to return the cannon fire with equal power?

Write the second to last paragraph in your own words. What is the tone of this paragraph? Why do you think General Washington is feeling this way? Support your answer with text from the letter.

George Washington to William Woodford, November 10, 1775

What advice does George Washington give to Colonel Woodford? Name ten of his recommendations.

Why would General Washington place emphasis on discipline? How could this emphasis help a young officer be successful?