A few things you may not know about America's first president:
* Clothing was always important to George Washington. As the commander of Virginia's militia in the 1750s, Washington designed his soldiers' uniforms himself. The unit became known as "The Virginia Blues," a nickname arising from their color-coordinated outfits. Washington's earliest known fashion statement was a note he wrote during his late teens – a set of instructions to his tailor for altering a coat. The message ran more than 150 words in length.
* From the time he was a young man, George Washington was renowned for his towering stature – he was well over six feet tall – and his remarkable strength. He was able to hunt on horseback for as many as seven hours straight, and on one occasion, threw a rock to the top of a famous Virginia landmark, a 215-foot-high rock formation known as the Natural Bridge. The shot was roughly the equivalent of a quarterback tossing a touchdown pass from his own 30 yard-line into his opponent's end zone ... a 70-yard throw.
* The familiar portraits of Washington that stare at us from dollar bills and postage stamps suggest a man who lacked any emotion. The contrary, however, seems to have been true. Washington's biographers, and those contemporaries who actually knew him, describe Washington as an intense and passionate man who worked hard at keeping his feelings in check. One incident illustrates the struggle. During his early twenties, Washington found himself in a heated argument with a man known to history only as "a Virginia landowner and politician." The dispute turned violent when the man knocked George to the floor with a stick. Though George was much taller than his assailant – and almost certainly stronger – he chose not to retaliate. Instead, he left the room, collected his thoughts, returned and apologized ... even though the other man was at fault.
* During his military career, George Washington inspired a popular belief that in battle he was protected by "Providence" so that he might play a central role in the destiny of the nation. This view first surfaced in 1755, during the French and Indian War. At the Battle of the Monongahela, the French decimated the British force that Washington served with. Hundreds of men were killed and Washington's own clothing was pierced by several bullets. Still, Washington emerged from the fighting without a scratch and was soon being hailed as the "Hero of the Monongahela." While visiting the western frontier several years later, Washington encountered a party of Native Americans who had fought against him in the battle. These former enemies greeted Washington with the utmost respect – as a warrior who was protected against death by "The Great Spirit."
* The decimation of the British army at Monongahela was so extensive, that George Washington's family apparently concluded that he was among those killed. They further assumed that he had uttered a dramatic "dying speech" as was the custom in those times. Upon learning of this, Washington wrote to his brother with a touch of humor, " ... As I have heard ... a circumstantial account of my death and dying Speech, I take this ... opportunity of contradicting the first, and assuring you that I have not, as yet, composed the latter."
* During the early years of the American Revolution, Washington was eager to meet the British in a face-to-face, winner-take-all battlefield confrontation. This was especially true during his siege of the British in Boston, an eight-month stand-off that began when he assumed command of the army in July of 1775. By the winter of 1775-76, Washington was itching for an all-out attack. He proposed numerous invasion plans to his war council, including one that supposedly called for American soldiers to put on ice skates, glide across the frozen expanse of Boston Harbor in the dark of night and assault the British. The plan was eventually abandoned as impractical.
* From the start of the Revolution, Americans hailed George Washington as both the champion and symbol of their cause. His exalted status was confirmed when the township of Washington, Massachusetts, was incorporated in early 1776. By all accounts, this was the first geographical place named for the Commander in Chief. A few months later, Mount Washington (now known as Washington Heights) on Manhattan Island received its name. By the end of the year, the town of Washington, New Hampshire and the Washington district in North Carolina had also been established, as well as Washington counties in Virginia and Maryland.
* The plight of Gen. Washington's starving, frost-bitten army at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778 has been recounted numerous times. One of the less well-known measures Washington took to alleviate the suffering was his engineering of a monumental cattle drive that reportedly moved more head of beef than any operation up until the era of the railroads in the 1870s. Washington sent agents throughout New England, Maryland and Delaware to buy up herds of cattle, or requisition them from those farmers reluctant to sell. Some cattle would be driven from as far away as 250 miles and the entire operation had to be orchestrated without drawing the attention of British or Tory spies. After several weeks, the first cattle began to arrive in Valley Forge, a trickle that soon grew into a flood of roughly a thousand head each week. The British captured only one herd, and George Washington, cattle-drive mastermind, was able to save his soldiers from starvation.
* By the spring of 1778, the bitter Valley Forge winter was becoming just a bad memory. Food was plentiful and the men were healthy. General Washington ordered a camp holiday to be held on May 6. A highlight of the festivities was a traditional European military exercise, a complex maneuver involving some 10,000 soldiers. Each man fired his musket, shooting immediately after the soldier next to him. The soldiers reloaded, and repeated the cycle – three times. All told, some 30,000 shots were fired in sequence ... a thunderous, non-stop display of power and precision. The party was still going strong when Gen. Washington mounted up and began to ride back to his headquarters. In a spontaneous outpouring of affection and respect, the men began to cheer. Washington turned towards his army and waved his hat. The soldiers responded by tossing their own hats into the air – all ten thousand of them.
* George Washington had no children of his own and would outlive both of his stepchildren. His stepdaughter, Patsy Custis, died in Washington's arms in 1773 – a victim of epilepsy at the age of sixteen. In September 1781, Washington's 26 year old stepson, Jackie, joined him during the Siege of Yorktown as an impromptu aide. The British surrendered on October 19th, ending the last major campaign of the American Revolution. Just two weeks later, Jackie Custis came down with what was known as "camp fever," which was probably meningitis. He died on November 5th, with Washington at his bedside.
* Washington's victory at Yorktown in October of 1781 marked the end of Britain's attempt to subdue its rebellious colonies. All that remained was to hammer out a peace treaty which would formalize what had been accomplished on the battlefield. With their political future suddenly upon them, many Americans, including members of congress and officers in the Continental Army, wanted George Washington to become King of America. To one such suggestion, Washington responded in no uncertain terms. "Be assured Sir, no occurrence in the course of the War has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the Army ... If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable ... if you have any regard for your Country ... or respect for me ... banish these thoughts from your Mind. ..."