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The U.S. president is technically the commander-in-chief of the country's military, but only once has a president led troops toward combat. It happened during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, in which 6,000 men protesting a federal tax on grain distillery products gathered in anger in a field near Pittsburgh.
After threatening prosecution and being ignored, President George Washington ordered troops to quell the potential rebellion. Late in September 1794, at the age of 62, Washington mounted a horse and took control of a 13,000-strong army. Although he departed shortly before the troops neared the "battlefield," Washington's leadership did its job: The rioting farmers and others gave up the fight before it began.
Afterward, Washington said that while he despised the notion of turning on his own countrymen, he had to send a clear message or the young democracy that was America would have been threatened.
The remarkable George Washington:
- George Washington became U.S. president despite leaving school at 11 years old and working full time starting at age 16.
- Washington organized and led one of the world's first spy networks; it was key to victory in the American Revolution.
- Besides being a true-blue American, Washington became an honorary citizen of France in 1792.