But it was difficult to judge him by European standards, because the conditions of the warfare he conducted were totally unlike anything in Europe. He never commanded a real army with well-organized departments and good equipment. His troops were usually barefooted, half-starved, and for several years incapable of performing the simplest parade manoeuvre. Brilliant movements, except on a small scale, as at Princeton, were rarely within his reach; and large complicated movements were impossible because he had not the equipment of officers and organization for handling large bodies of men spread out over a great extent of country. He was obliged to adopt the principle of concentration and avoid making detachments or isolated movements that could be cut off by the British. To some of his contemporaries it therefore seemed that his most striking ability lay in conciliating local habits and prejudices, harmonizing discordant opinions, and holding together an army which seemed to the British always on the eve of disbanding.
He reasoned out, however, in his own way, the peculiar needs of every military position, and how he did this will appear more clearly as our narrative progresses. He often spoke of his own lack of military experience, as well as of the lack of it in the officers about him; and this seems to have led him to study every situation like a beginner, with exhaustive care, consulting with everybody, calling councils of war on every possible occasion, and reasoning out his plans with minute carefulness. This method, which his best friends sometimes ridiculed, was in striking contrast to the method of one of his own officers, General Greene, and also to the method of Grant in the Civil War. Both Greene and Grant dispensed altogether with laborious consultations and councils of war.
But the laborious method was well suited to Washington, whose mind was never satisfied unless it could strike a balance among a great mass of arguments and details which must be obtained from others, and not through his own imagination. He liked to reserve his decision until the last moment, and this trait was sometimes mistaken for weakness. His preparedness and devotion to details remind us of Napoleon. His cautious, balancing, weighing habit, developed by lifelong practice, runs through all his letters and every act of his life, appearing in some of the great events of his career as a superb and masterful equipoise. It became very impressive even to those who ridiculed it; it could inspire confidence through years of disaster and defeat; and it enabled him to grasp the general strategy of the war so thoroughly that no military critic has ever detected him in a mistake.