A Dog on the Battlefield and the Character of George Washington
George Washington was said to have been a man who loved dogs and owned many. He was an avid hunter, and most of his dogs were hunting dogs.
The Marquis de Lafayette was known to have sent seven staghounds to George Washington in a sign of friendship. A photo of this breed shows a likeness to what we know today as greyhounds. In colonial times, these dogs were great hunters, but they were bred to hunt via speed and sight; scent was not key to their hunting ability. Sweet Lips, Scentwell, and Vulcan were the names of three of Washington’s staghounds.
Washington also owned Black and Tan coonhounds. These dogs were scent hounds, and those whose names are known were called Drunkard, Taster, Tippler, and Tipsy (It would be nice to know more about this choice of names!).
One source says that Washington bred the Black and Tan coonhounds with the staghounds, which may have resulted in Americas first fox hounds. For more about George Washington’s dogs, see George Washington’s Poodle.)
But a story about a dog found on a battlefield reveals a great deal about the character of the man who was to be our first President.
The Battle of Germantown
In July of 1777, British General William Howe moved his forces toward Philadelphia in an effort to seize the city that was serving as the revolutionary capital for the Patriots.
By September of 1777, Washington and the Continental Army suffered a couple of serious defeats. Cornwallis successfully marched into Philadelphia and claimed it for the British, so American spirits were low. Since Philadelphia was successfully claimed, General Howe arranged for the next move for the British. He sent off his men to Germantown.
With winter approaching, Washington felt he had time for one more attack and thought the British arriving at Germantown were vulnerable. Washington’s plan was a brave one–and if it had been successful, it could have made a huge difference in the war.
However, Washington over-estimated his men’s preparedness, and fog made the job almost impossible. The men could not coordinate their movements because they could not see what was happening on the battlefield.
The British were again successful, assuring that Philadelphia would remain in British hands for the remainder of the war.
Small Dog Found
After the battle, a small dog was found on the battlefield. One of the American soldiers picked up the dog and saw from his collar that he belonged to General Howe. The men took the dog to Washington and asked that they hold the dog in retribution for their defeat at the hands of Howe’s men.
But Washington was ever the gentleman. He arranged for a messenger to return the dog to Howe with a two-line letter:
“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, does himself the pleasure to return [to] him a Dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe.”
While many of the stories about Washington’s character seem to have been created by his earliest biographer, Parson Weems, this lovely story of kindness and gallantry is one that can be fully documented as a draft of the note still exists. It is written in the handwriting of Washington’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, and the note can be found is in the Washington Papers at the Library of Congress.
To read more about the dogs owned by General Washington, click on George Washington Owned a Poodle.
And for another story of the Revolutionary War, see Sybil Ludington, 16, Helped the Patriots.
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