As I mentioned a few days ago, both Bruce and I have read and relished David McCullough’s history of the first year in the life of our republic, 1776. As I listen to this book now, I occasionally feel ashamed of myself for ever having complained when things have not gone as well as I would have liked them to go.
How ever, I wonder, did George Washington hold up in the difficult Fall of 1776 when everything seemed to go wrong, when a general he trusted, Nathaniel Greene, made a bone-headed decision to defend an indefensible fort (Fort Washington lacked a fresh water supply) when another general Charles Lee sought to undercut him, when his army was dispirited, many troops deserting, the remainder forced to retreat across New Jersey with the enemy close on it heels. His situation then was far worse than anything I have ever faced.
Yet, despite all that, as one of the great man’s future presidential successors, James Monroe, observed when joining up with the ragtag army in retreat:
I saw him . . . at the head of a small band, or rather in its rear, for he was always near the enemy, and his countenance and manner made an impression on me which I can never efface. . . . [The great man’s expression, McCullough writes, “gave no sign of worry.”] A deportment so firm, so dignified, but yet so modest and composed, I have never seen in an other person.
So was Washington in retreat during the Revolution’s darkest hour. Such is the mark of a leader, composed in a crisis, not whining about his sorry situation or blaming others, not even, in this man’s case, blaming the generals who had offered advice which made a bad situation worse.
Telling as well that when looking for an anecdote about a leader showed determination in adversity, a one-time aide to the incumbent president cited George Washington in the difficult retreat of 1776, but Mao Zedong.