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 possibly 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.

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