Was George Washington Bulletproof?

George Washington is one of the seminal figures in US history. He saw the fledgling nation through the Revolutionary War, served as the first president under the current constitution, and had the wisdom to give up power so as to encourage a peaceful transition to the next leader. Also, he might have been bulletproof.

Washington at Monongahela

Well, if not bulletproof then at least extremely lucky. Washington stood 6’2” tall in an era when the average English male was between 5’4” and 5’5”. Despite being a very large target, he showed virtually no fear on the field of battle. His first opportunity to demonstrate this came in 1755, when the British met with a crushing defeat at the Battle of Monongahela.

Battle of Monongahela
General Braddock’s end at Monongahela

This battle, taking place at the start of the French and Indian War, saw General Edward Braddock’s forces meet with defeat against a much smaller force of Native American tribes and French colonial troops. Braddock died in battle, and his forces fell into disarray. Washington took command in organizing a retreat, riding between collapsing lines. During the chaos, he lose two horses and had four bullet holes shot through his coat.

It’s worth noting the danger of losing even one horse in battle, especially with a panicking army firing blindly in the area. Most soldiers would likely have fled after losing the first horse. Washington, by comparison, got a second and then a third after the animals kept getting shot out from under him.

The bullet holes in his coat didn’t seem to spook him, either. In fact, a year earlier Washington had written a letter to his brother explaining his feelings during a battle: “I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”

The Battle of Princeton

Fast forward to the American Revolution, and Washington was still pretty darned invincible. The Battle of Princeton in 1777 saw Washington lead his army on an 18-mile trek from Trenton to Princeton, where the American army was retreating from more experienced British troops. Rather than organize a retreat, Washington rode to the front of the fray, at one point riding within 30 yards of the British line.

Battle of Princeton
Why is nobody shooting this man?

Consider that number for a moment. 30 yards is the distance between two bases on a baseball field. Except that instead of throwing baseballs, the British were firing muskets. Again, Washington was a towering man. He was clearly the leader of the army. Every British soldier wanted him dead, and he was within easy musket range.

So naturally, he never got hit.

Washington emerged from the battle completely unscathed, despite standing between two lines of men firing guns at each other. Not only that, but he served as a galvanizing presence to the American forces, ultimately leading to an American victory.

The Honorable Sniper

Washington faced death a thousand times over during his military career, but there was one particular moment when he seemed all but doomed. In 1777, a British marksman named Patrick Ferguson found Washington alone, making him easy pickings for Ferguson’s group of riflemen. Had he killed Washington, the revolution likely would have ended very differently.

George Washington
But be honest – would you have been able to shoot this guy?

Ferguson, though, didn’t like the idea of an ambush. He ordered his men not to fire and called out to Washington, whom he recognized as an American officer but not as the general himself. Washington looked back briefly, saw a group of riflemen ready to kill him, and showed the same disdain for their bullets that had become his trademark. Instead of panicking, Washington turned and slowly rode away.

Said Ferguson afterward, “I could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about him, before he was out of my reach, but it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty—so I let him alone.”

One could argue that Ferguson’s sense of honor accidentally saved the revolution for the Americans. However, one could also argue that the bullets would have either miraculously missed Washington or simply bounced off his seemingly bulletproof body.

2 thoughts on “Was George Washington Bulletproof?

  1. George Washington in the French and Indian War (1754-1763)

    “This story of George Washington once appeared in virtually every student text in America, but hasn’t been seen in the last forty years. This story deals with George Washington when he was involved in the French and Indian War as a young man only twenty-three years of age.

    “The French and Indian War occurred twenty years before the American Revolution. It was the British against the French; the Americans sided with the British; and most of the Indians sided with the French. Both Great Britain and France disputed each other’s claims of territorial ownership along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; both of them claimed the same land.

    “Unable to settle the dispute diplomatically, Great Britain sent 2300 hand-picked, veteran British troops to America under General Edward Braddock to rout the French.

    “The British troops arrived in Virginia, where George Washington (colonel of the Virginia militia) and 100 Virginia buckskins joined General Braddock. They divided their force; and General Braddock, George Washington, and 1300 troops marched north to expel the French from Fort Duquesne — now the city of Pittsburgh. On July 9, 1755 — only seven miles from the fort — while marching through a wooded ravine, they walked right into an ambush; the French and Indians opened fire on them from both sides.

    “But these were British veterans; they knew exactly what to do. The problem was, they were veterans of European wars. European warfare was all in the open. One army lined up at one end of an open field, the other army lined up at the other end, they looked at each other, took aim, and fired. No running, no hiding, But here they were in the Pennsylvania woods with the French and Indians firing at them from the tops of trees, from behind rocks, and from under logs.

    “When they came under fire, the British troops did exactly what they had been taught; they lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in the bottom of that ravine — and were slaughtered. At the end of two hours, 714 of the 1300 British and American troops had been shot down; only 30 of the French and Indians had been shot. There were 86 British and American officers involved in that battle; at the end of the battle, George Washington was the only officer who had not been shot down off his horse — he was the only officer left on horseback.

    “Following this resounding defeat, Washington gathered the remaining troops and retreated back to Fort Cumberland in western Maryland, arriving there on July 17, 1755.

    “The next day, Washington wrote a letter to his family explaining that after the battle was over, he had taken off his jacket and had found four bullet holes through it, yet not a single bullet had touched him; several horses had been shot from under him, but he had not been harmed. He told them:

    “‘By the all powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation.’

    “Washington openly acknowledged that God’s hand was upon him, that God had protected him and kept him through that battle.

    “However, the story does not stop here. Fifteen years later, in 1770 — now a time of peace — George Washington and a close personal friend, Dr. James Craik, returned to those same Pennsylvania woods. An old Indian chief from far away, having heard that Washington had come back to those woods, traveled a long way just to meet with him.

    “He sat down with Washington, and face-to-face over a council fire, the chief told Washington that he had been a leader in that battle fifteen years earlier, and that he had instructed his braves to single out all the officers and shoot them down. Washington had been singled out, and the chief explained that he personally had shot at Washington seventeen different times, but without effect. Believing Washington to be under the care of the Great Spirit, the chief instructed his braves to cease firing at him. He then told Washington:

    “‘I have traveled a long and weary path that I might see the young warrior of the great battle…. I am come to pay homage to the man who is the particular favorite of Heaven, and who can never die in battle.’”

    America’s Godly Heritage
    by David Barton


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