As I continue to immerse myself in as much Revolutionary War material as I can, my latest train-companion has been found in a remarkable book titled General George Washington: A Military Life by Edward G. Lengel. According to Booklist, “Lengel is a Washington scholar who chronicles his checkered military career, linking events from Washington's humiliation by the French at Fort Necessity in 1754 to victory with the French at Yorktown in 1781 with evaluations about Washington's ability on every occasion.” Although the study is presented as a standard, military biography, this author has dug deeper to examine the man behind the uniform.
From the beginning we are introduced to a young colonel named George Washington who is an ambitious and overly-sensitive soldier, somewhat unsure of his ability to lead, but confident in his own convictions. From there we witness his rise to greatness. So far, I have found Lengel’s research to be thorough, and his writing style to be both educational and entertaining. I have really enjoyed learning about Washington’s journey from citizen – to soldier – to supreme commander. I’m only about ¼ through the book and my own assumptions and interpretations of the man have already changed as Lengel has made Washington human.
One facet of the General’s story that has surprised me is the large amount of time that he spent in and around the Pittsburgh area. From land surveying and speculation, to forming alliances and fighting hostiles, Washington and his men traveled to the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania time and time again. Thanks to Mr. Lengel, I must now admit my shame as I apparently paid very little attention to my hometown’s heritage. Growing up, I wasn’t completely oblivious to Pittsburgh’s part in America’s story. As a child, I had visited Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier and was aware of the ‘role’ the three rivers played in the Revolution and French and Indian War. As an adult, I have visited the Heinz Museum’s exhibits dealing with the earliest settlers and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. That said, I was, and remain, woefully ignorant of the region’s legacy.
As a result I am now planning to make a point to visit and/or revisit as many colonial-era sites as I can in future visits back home. Just as my residence in Fredericksburg leaves me surrounded by Civil War history that has found its way into my work, I am hoping that Pittsburgh will become a similar inspiration. When I made that decision to formally change my period of study, I had no idea it would take me back to where I started. I will be sure to take plenty of photographs and share my observations here in the future.
For my friend (and Patriots of the American Revolution’s new book review editor) Eric Wittenberg, I have agreed to review a new book on Thomas Jefferson. After that I hope to follow-up my Monticello piece with another feature article, perhaps something on General George Washington and his exploits in and around Pittsburgh. I love learning.