Cato The Elder at Valley Forge.

by Daniel Russ on June 6, 2019

Post image for Cato The Elder at Valley Forge. George Washington

It never ceases to amaze me how people hundreds, even thousands of years ago consulted history’s lessons. In Rick Atkinsons book Valley Forge, we are reminded that the officers who curated the Colonial army and fought against the British empire were versed in the history of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, the Roman Consul that set out to defeat the great Carthaginian General Hannibal.

“But to this point in the war, a Fabian strategy of bleeding not only the enemy force around its edges, but also the British taxpayers, had proved more efficacious for Washington. His was the weaker army, and if the fact of its simple survival mandated that the British spend their time and energy continually attempting to find and defeat it, he surmised that sooner or later King George and Parliament would decide that they were paying too steep a price to retain their American colonies. Further, many of Washington’s subordinates carried in their rucksacks well-thumbed copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars to read aloud in Latin by firelight. What he and his officer corps were quick to recognize was that despite the invention of gunpowder and firearms, core military principles had not altered significantly since ancient times. Washington was fond of quoting key battle scenes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Henry V at his war councils and, not surprisingly, his favorite play was Joseph Addison’s Cato, a Tragedy, a drama in which he had performed some 25 years earlier. In its depiction of the stoic Marcus Portius Cato’s republican resistance to the tyranny of Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, the play served as a rather obvious metaphor. As Washington’s biographer Ron Chernow notes, “The rhetoric of Cato saturated the American Revolution.” Both Patrick Henry’s famous appeal for liberty or death and the captured spy Nathan Hale’s lament that he had but one life to give for his country were taken nearly word for word”

From Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin


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