When George Washington Ordered A Ceasefire To Return A Dog
Cherry tree chopper, general in the colonial army, first President of the United States: George Washington has a pedigree unlike any other figure in American history, but for some reason, "dog lover" is usually left off of his CV. Aside from owning dogs with names like Tipsy and Drunkard, he was one of those people who dropped everything to help a dog in need. If social media existed in the 1700s, Washington would have spent hours of his day scrolling in search of cute dog content.
His appreciation for man's best friend is most evident in the aftermath of the Battle of Germantown, when he returned a stray dog belonging to a British general during a ceasefire. He didn't have to; in fact, it was seemingly a strategically poor move. After a disastrous fight that saw Washington's soldiers fire at their own army, his men wanted to use the dog as a bargaining tool, but Washington proved himself a gentleman by making sure it made it back to its master safely.
The Battle of Germantown wasn’t Washington’s greatest moment
On October 4, 1777, Washington led his troops into the Philadelphia suburb of Germantown, hoping to deal a surprise blow to the British troops stationed in the area. Marching into battle under the darkness of night, the colonial troops found themselves in a dense fog that hid them not only from their enemy but from themselves. When the American troops started firing, they mostly shot at each other, and General William Howe rode away believing that the the attack was nothing more than stray rebels getting trigger-happy.
As he left the scene, mass confusion broke out. British soldiers turned a home into a fortress and easily fought off Washington's men until October 6, when the colonial troops finally retreated. In the quagmire of the battle, Howe's terrier somehow found itself with the American troops. Most likely, it wandered into the fray with Howe, and in the fog, it found itself across enemy lines.
Washington took care of the dog until he could return it
After bringing Howe's dog back to the American campsite, Washington's men immediately suggested keeping the animal as a form of retribution against the British army. They felt the dog would be a fine trophy from their losing battle and bring down the morale of the general. However, Washington refused to do anything of the sort. Instead, he decided he was not only going to return the animal, he was going to pamper it while it was in his care.
While working out their next move, Washington brushed the dog and fed it as if it were his own. To the surprise of everyone involved—the British, the Americans, probably even the dog—Washington declared a ceasefire, sending out one of his aides with the dog and a note under a flag of truce. The note, written by future hip-hop star Alexander Hamilton, read:
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.
Was Washington just being a nice guy when he returned the dog?
Although he was a confirmed canine-lover, scholars are torn over Washington's motivations for returning the dog. Was he really just doing a good deed, or was he exercising prudent battle strategy? Researcher Roger D. Isaacs believes the former, explaining to American Heritage:
Washington was honest. The fact that Washington returned the dog to Howe is an almost unbelievable act of kindness. It shows him to be a great humanitarian and gentleman and truly displays his tremendous sense of honor.
Washington might have been scouting the British camp when the dog was returned
Not everyone believes that Washington was a Captain America who saved pets from cherry trees before chopping them down, however. Many scholars are of the mind that returning Howe's dog was a canny use of his military expertise. Even though this brand of courtesy was normal in battle during the 18th century, Dr. Francis Spring Ronalds, an authority on the American Revolution, believes that Washington had an ulterior motive for performing this act of kindness:
[George Washington] never missed a chance to gain knowledge of the enemy, and what a splendid opportunity this was to spy on British headquarters! The British could not refuse a flag returning the General's dog.
Washington got a medal for his actions
Although the colonial government wasn't in the habit of giving out medals for rescuing animals, they did give General Washington high praise for his work in Germantown despite the whole thing ending in a stalemate. As happy as Washington's superiors were with his work, his opponent was even more enthused. General Howe, a guy who capital-L loved being in the military, was pleasantly surprised by Washington's derring-do. He later wrote that he didn't think "the enemy would have dared to approach after so recent a defeat as that at Brandywine."
General Howe resigned his post after the battle
As happy as Howe was to have his dog back, he wasn't as pleased with the people who held the purse strings for the British military. Complaining of inadequate support for the campaigns of 1777, Howe sent his letter of resignation to London, and by April 1778, his resignation was accepted. A party was thrown for the general on May 18, complete with a giant parade, fireworks, and dancing, and less than a week later, Howe was on a boat back to England. The history books don't tell us what happened to Howe's dog, but judging from the care it received from its master and General Washington, it was probably on the boat right alongside him.
Like it? Share with your friends!