The Revolutionary War

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Challenges Faced by General George Washington During the Revolutionary War

Summary:

General George Washington faced numerous challenges during the Revolutionary War, including inadequate supplies, a lack of trained soldiers, and internal conflicts within the Continental Army. Additionally, he had to contend with the superior resources and professional army of the British, as well as maintaining morale and support from both his troops and the civilian population.

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What obstacles did General George Washington face during the Revolutionary War?

Washington faced many obstacles. The first was the fact that his Continental Army was typically outnumbered in most engagements, and that the British had the naval power to move troops from one location to the next very quickly. For this reason, Washington fought what he called a "war of posts," trying to avoid open conflict with the British. He preferred to strike smaller forces separated from the main body of the British army, as he did at Trenton and Princeton in December 1776-January 1777. In this way, he hoped to wear down the superior British force.

Another equally formidable obstacle was the fact that Washington struggled to supply his army. This was in part due to the consistent inability of Congress to raise money to support the war. Washington's troops lacked the supplies, especially food, that the British had, and he constantly pressured Congress to provide for his troops. As a result, the Continental Army lived, for most of the war, on the edge of starvation, though the situation improved somewhat with French intervention.

Finally, Washington had access to a relatively small number of trained troops. The militia that would be remembered as the heroes of the war were actually largely ineffective in combat, and Washington in particular held their contributions in very low esteem. His challenge was to provide a raw fighting force with the discipline necessary to trade blows with the British and Hessian mercenaries, some of the most highly trained soldiers on the planet. Partly owing to this gap in training, Washington's men actually won fairly few open engagements with the British. 

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What challenges did George Washington face leading the Continental Army?

As with all armies, the Continental Army needed to be supplied on a regular basis with essential items such as food, clothing, and blankets. The position of Quartermaster-General, which still exists to this day, was established for this precise purpose. The problem was, however, that because of the radically decentralized system of government under the Articles of Confederation, the Quartermaster-General needed to rely on the individual states to provide him with the requisite supplies, and these were by no means always forthcoming.

The states jealously guarded their sovereignty and didn't take kindly to being told what to do, even if it was essential for the war effort. As there was very little spare gold or silver available in the colonies, the Quartermaster-General couldn't go over the heads of the states and purchase what he needed abroad. However, outside help was available in terms of military training, and this made George Washington's command of the Continental Army much easier.

The Prussian general Baron von Steuben offered his services to Washington to help him train and organize the Continental Army more effectively. As Washington's men often saw themselves primarily as fighting for their individual states, it was often difficult to organize them into a unified fighting unit. No one could deny that the Continental Army lacked bravery or ideological zeal, but they still needed to be organized into a more professional fighting force if they were to defeat the British. Thanks to a combination of Washington's military genius and von Steuben's flair for organization, the Continental Army became just such a force, enabling it to overcome the many restrictions imposed by a decentralized political system.

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What challenges did George Washington face leading the Continental Army?

The main issue was funding. The Articles of Confederation did not allow the national government to demand payment from any particular colony, and many soldiers went unpaid or without supplies for long periods of time. Throughout the time at Valley Forge, Washington wrote letters to the Continental Congress begging for funds and supplies for his men. This would continue after the war as many Revolutionary War veterans lost everything they owned due to debts and taxes.

Another issue was training. The Continental Army was expected to fight the strongest empire in the world in pitched battles. Another issue that affected training was that many of the state militias did not feel as though they had to fight outside their home state or listen to a commander from another state. Washington's greatest accomplishment early in the war was avoiding having his army destroyed in one battle. Through the help of foreign leaders such as Frederick von Steuben, Washington was able to train his army and instill higher morale and military discipline. This and valuable intelligence allowed Washington to win key battles against the British army at Trenton and Yorktown.

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