Sunday, December 17

Presidents Who Are Also Generals: Military Careers of US Presidents Part 1 of 4

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Military elite have historically been tied to political power. Even in the United States, twelve presidents were generals before their presidency.

1. George Washington
George Washington. A man whose name has become synonymous with The United States. Not only was he a man of immense political tact and personal character, he also was instrumental in the Revolutionary War that gave birth to the United States.

George Washington’s first military expedition occurred during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War) in 1754. A Lieutenant Colonel at the time, he marched his men against Fort Duquesne. Along that march, he ambushed a French scouting party but later lost to a larger French Canadian force at Fort Necessity. It was his only military surrender ever. [1]

George Washington’s next major appearance was at the battle of Monongahela. When British General Edward Braddock decided to unceremoniously die to a bullet, Washington rallied all the troops and salvaged what would have been a even more disastrous defeat.

By the time of the Forbes expedition, Washington was a big, bad Brigadier General. In a twist of poetic justice, Washington captured Fort Duquesne, the very expedition that had caused him to surrender earlier in the war.

With the war over, George retired off to Mount Vernon to manage his estate. When he wasn’t calculating tobacco sales or shooting foxes, he tried his hand at some local politics.

Of course, when the British started imposing a slew of ridiculous taxes, George was not going to sit idly by. Washington was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.

When the Second Continental Congress formed the Continental Army, they needed a military commander. Washington was a natural choice because of his military experience, aptitude, leadership abilities, and personal virtues.

Washington’s first act as General was to kick the British out of Boston, which was under siege at the time.

Interestingly, so while British bashed all the American rebels, their newspapers routinely praised George Washington’s military ability and personal character.

Stop and think about that sentence for a minute. George Washington was the enemy general. That’s like the New York Times publishing an article saying how awesome Bin Laden is. Now that’s just incredible.

At the Battle of Long Island, Washington was forced to retreat out of New York. Somehow, he managed to move his entire army in the dead of night across the East River without losing a single man or piece of equipment. Now remember, they didn’t exactly have the luxury of electric lights or stable ships back then.

With the war hanging in the balance, Washington knew he had to do something quick. So he marched across the Delaware River and scored two victories at Trenton and Princeton. These victories were not big wins, but it did salvage American morale.

In the winter of 1777, Washington took his men to Valley Forge. There he spent a bitterly cold winter training his men with the help of Prussian general Baron von Steuben. To give you an idea of how frostbite-inducing cold it was, 25% of Washington’s army died that winter!

He struck the final blow at Yorktown, which effectively ended the American Revolution. Overall, Washington endured more defeats than victories during his military career. This goes to show that it really is the wins that count.

2. Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson’s name is a synonym for toughness. His nickname was “Old Hickory”. In case you don’t know what hickory is, here’s an excerpt from the U.S. Forest Service: “there are some woods that are stronger than hickory and some that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.” [2] It’s been used to make baseball bats and canes, which is so appropriate given Jackson once beat a man who tried to shoot him with a cane. Let that soak in for a minute. Imagine yourself in that scenario. A guy tries to shoot you point blank. What would you do? I know I’d probably wet myself, start bawling like a baby, roll over and die, or some combination of the three.

Andrew Jackson joined the army as a courier during the American Revolution. He was 13 at the time. He was captured as a P.O.W. and almost died from starvation. To make matters worse for young Jackson, his whole family was dead by the time he was 14.

Jackson made his fame during the War of 1812.

As a colonel in the Tennessee militia, he lead American troops to victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. There, he avenged the early massacre of 400 settlers.

His most famous battle was the Battle of New Orleans. Andrew Jackson’s troops numbered 5,000 while the British numbered 7,500. In the ensuing battle, the British suffered 2,037 casualties while the Americans only suffered 71! [2] This absolutely brilliant victory propelled Andrew Jackson to the height of popularity.

In the First Seminole War, Jackson was given orders to attack the Seminole Indians and also to prevent runaway slaves from seeking refuge in Florida. Florida belonged to Spain at the time. He told President Monroe, “Let it be signified to me through any channel… that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished.” [3] So, yeah, he basically said “Yo, the piece of land called Florida has some pretty sick beaches, give me two months and I’ll snatch it for us.”

Of course, Jackson was a man of his word. He took Pensacola, Florida and disposed of the Spanish governor. The Adam-Onis treaty later ceded Spain’s claim to Florida over to the United States.

3. William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison is probably best known for his absurdly short term as President. He serve a total of 32 days before he died from a cold. I guess that nasty cold bug can get even the best of us. Harrison was nicknamed “Old Tippecanoe”. The people certainly had a fondness for calling our president’s “Old” huh? I suppose the word doesn’t carry the negative connotations it does nowadays.

Harrison’s first appearance was in Tecumseh’s war. The conflict began when Tecumseh decided he was tired of all these white people taking up Native American land. So he united the tribes, gathered 400 fully armed warriors, and traveled to talk about his issue with Andrew Jackson. Tecumseh then launched into an angry speech about how Jackson should nullify a treaty and give them land back because no individual tribe could sell land. He said all the tribes were one nation under the Great Spirit. Now, a full force of pissed-off Native American braves is enough to make me nod dumbly and agree to any request while praying to Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad that I don’t become a pin cushion of arrows. What did Jackson do? He responded that “the Great Spirit would have made all the tribes speak one language if they were to be one nation.”[3]

I don’t know about you, but I find Harrison’s sassy logical response both hilarious and ballsy.

Harrison later marched on the indian Confederation as a show of force. He was unfortunately ambushed on the banks of the Tippecanoe River. At the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison was able to repel the ambush and score a victory. The political aftershocks of this battle was partially responsible for inciting the War of 1812.

William Henry Harrison served as the commander of the Army of the Northwest during the War of 1812. Harrison scored many victories, in Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. He also defeated the British at the Battle of the Thames.


[1] “George Washington.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 Jul. 2004. Web. 29 Jun. 2010.
[2] “Andrew Jackson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 Jul. 2004. Web. 29 Jun. 2010.
[3] “William Henry Harrison.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 Jul. 2004. Web. 29 Jun. 2010.


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