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What Makes a General?

The Donald W. Reynolds Museum has just opened a new exhibition, “George Washington & His Generals,” and it is AMAZING (though we admit we are a biased source). Washington’s ability to place the greatest responsibility in the hands of those with the most talent was one of his most important leadership skills. The exhibition focuses on those oft-ignored generals that helped win the American Revolution, such as Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, Benjamin Tallmedge, and Artemas Ward.

As soon as you walk into the exhibition, your eye is drawn to Emmanuel Leutze’s “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth.” Done by the same artist that painted the famous scene of “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” this huge painting seems to shine a heavenly light on a young, strong General Washington. As he rears up on his mighty steed, the people around him seem to bow down before him, making you feel like you should do the same…

As you drag your eye from this larger than life portrayal of Washington, a vibrant red whips your head around. It is a red cloak worn by Artemas Ward in the Revolutionary War, at a time before officers had standard uniforms. Though this cloak was worn through a long, dirty war, over 200 years later it still seems to be as eye-catching as the day it was made. A wise fashion choice by a general whose life depended on keeping the attention of his men.

Though not as flashy, a 1,500 lb., iron cannon solidly sits amidst the beautiful paintings and priceless documents. This is believed to be the only remaining cannon of the 55 that Henry Knox famously transported from Ticonderoga to Boston in the winter of 1775-76. To think of those soldiers dragging over 80,000 lbs. of cold iron through 200 miles of snow and ice sends a shudder up your spine (and makes you feel like the world’s largest whiner for ever complaining about the cold).

As you head towards the exit, a sparkle catches your eye. It is the Diamond Eagle of the Society of the Cincinnati, presented by L’Enfant to Washington at the Society’s first general meeting in 1784. The Society was founded by Revolutionary War officers, and Washington was the Society’s first president. The diamond pin has been worn by the 34 Society presidents since then, though it’s hard to imagine anyone wearing the same jewels that Washington wore.

For high school teachers, we have developed the lesson plan, What Makes a General?, which explores the relationships between Washington and his generals through art and primary documents that are in the exhibition.

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Portraits in Schools

Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

The response was overwhelming: thousands of schools submitted letters! Along with the portrait, schools received curriculum materials to help explore our first president’s contributions.

Where has George Washington gone back to school? Click here to see!

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