The French and Indian War
Transcribed December 1996 and contributed by Marilyn Brown of TBD in April 1997. From McClain Printing Co.'s (Parsons, WV) reprint of Wills De Hass' "History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of Western Virginia" (Philadelphia: H. Hoblitzell, 1851), p.In order to impart to the events of the next nine years something of a distinctive character, we have prefixed the name by which that fierce and sanguinary struggle (the war of 1754-1763) was known at the time. We desire, however, in the premises, to protest against the association --French and Indian, as it is clearly a misnomer. That was emphatically a war between France and England, in which the Indians were employed as allies.
The success of the French at the forks, and their triumph on the mountains, greatly chagrined the governor of Virginia, and moved the British crown to renewed and increased efforts for establishing their claim to the region of the Ohio. The Virginia Assembly having refused to vote men and means for carrying on the war, it remained with the parent government to adopt such measures as might ensure success. With as little delay as practicable, it was determine to sent to America a force sufficient to repell the "invaders." Two regiments of foot, commanded by Cols. Dunbar and Halket, were ordered to Virginia, and 10,000 pounds in specie sent to Governor Dinwiddie to defray the expenses of the war.
In addition to the force just named, orders were sent to Governor Shirely and Sir William Pepperell to raise, two regiments in Massachusetts and other northern states.
On the 20th of February, 1755, Major-general Edward Braddock, to who had been given the command, reached Alexandria with the two regiments of Dunbar and Halket.
With the instructions to Governor Dinwiddie, came orders to place the colonial militia on the footing of independent companies. The effect of this was to cut down the commission of Washington to a captaincy, which he indignantly refused to receive, and forthwith resigned. Braddock, however, had heard enough of the gallant Virginian to make his services an object worth securing, and so tendered him the place of an aid in his staff. This Washington accepted, an order announcing the appointment was made to the army at fort Cumberland, May 10th.
On the 20th of April, the whole force, embracing about twenty-five hundred men, moved from Alexandria, and in due time reached Wills creek, where a fort had been erected by Colonel Innes, and named Cumberland in honor of the distinguished duke. Here the army was unfortunately delay for near a month, by the Virginia contractors failing to furnish the required number of horses and wagons. At length, through the efforts and personal influence of Franklin, then Postmaster-general of the colonies, they were supplied by some Pennsylvania farmers. But this was only the commencement of their difficulties. The mountain wilderness presented obstacles that for a time seemed to defy the energy and capacity of the European general. During the first three days march, the army advanced but nine miles. In many places they were compelled to double their teams in front, and often, in climbing the mountain sides, their line was extended to four miles in length.
On the seventh day, they had reached the Little Meadows, where Washington advised that the heavy artillery should be left, together with the wagons and that the baggage, &c., be taken on pack horses. To this suggestion Braddock at last reluctantly assented. Twelve hundred men, with twelve pieces of cannon, were chosen as the advanced corps. This was headed by Braddock in persons, assisted by Sir Peter Halket as Brigadier-general, Cols. Gage and Burton, and Major Sparks. Washington who was too ill to travel, was left with Colonel Dunbar and the balance of the army.
On the 8th of July, after a march of nineteen days, which could have been accomplished in nine, had it not been for the "fastidiousness and presumption of the commander-in-chief," who, instead of pushing on with vigor, "halted to level every mole-hill and bridge every rivulet," the division reached a point near the mouth of Crooked run and the Monongahela. On the morning of the 9th, Colonel Washington rejoined the division under Braddock, who he found in high spirits, and firm in the conviction, that within a few hours "he would victoriously enter the walls of Fort Du Quesne."
The men were in fine discipline, and as the noontide sun of mid-summer fell upon their burnished arms, and brilliant uniform, there was displayed one of the finest spectacles, as Washington afterwards declared, he had ever beheld. Every man was neatly dressed, and marched with as much precision as though he had been on parade at Woolwich. The glitter of bayonets and the "flash of warlike steel, contrasted strangely with the deep and peaceful verdure of the forest shade." On the right of the army, calmly flowed the Monongahela, imaging upon its bosom the doomed host; while, on the left, rose up the green old mountain, the sides of which had never before echoed to the tramp of soldiery or to the strains of martial music.
"How brilliant that morning, but how melancholy that evening."
Before proceeding farther, it may be necessary to describe the ground now so celebrated as Braddocks field. It is a small bottom, embracing but a few acres, bounded on the west by the river and on the east by a bluffy bank, through which runs a deep ravine, and over which at the time of the battle, and for many years afterwards, grew heavy trees, matted brambles, vines, grass, etc. Upon this bluff lay concealed the Indian and French forces. By one oclock the entire division had crossed the river: Colonel Gates with three hundred regulars, followed by another body of two hundred, led the advance. The commander-in-chief, supported by the main column of the army, next crossed. The whole of the advance party remained on the bottom until the rest of the division crossed, and herein, we conceive, was the great error. Had the three hundred or five hundred men under Colonel Gates, advanced and drawn the enemys fire, thus giving the seven hundred men in reserve an opportunity to route the foe with ball and bayonet, the result of that bloody conflict might have been very different.
The general having arranged his plans, ordered a movement of the division under Colonel Gage, while he would bring up in person, the residue of the army. The gallant colonel moved forward with his men, and whilst in the act of passing through the ravine already noticed, a deadly and terrible fire was opened upon them by an invisible foe.
To the brave grenadiers, who had stood firm on the plains of Europe, amid tempests of cannon balls, cutting down whole platoons of their comrades, this new species of warfare was perfectly appalling; and unable longer to breast the girdle of fire which enveloped them, they gave way in the confusion, involving the whole army in distress, dismay and disorder.
In such a dilemma, with hundreds of his men falling at every discharge,--his ranks concerted into a wild and reckless multitude; unable to rally and too proud to retreat; Braddock obstinately refused to allow the provincial troops to fight the Indians in their own way, but with a madness in comprehensible, did his utmost to form the men into platoons and wheel them into columns. The result was horrible, and the sacrifice of life without a parallel at that time, in Indian warfare. The Virginia regiments, unable to keep together, spread through the surrounding wood, and by this means did all the execution that was effected. Every man fought for himself, and rushing to the trees from behind which gleamed the flash of the rife, the brave Virginian often bayoneted the savage at his post. This perilous enterprise, however, was attended with a terrible sacrifice. One of three full companies, but thirty men were left. Truly has it been said, "they behaved like men and died like soldiers." Of Captain Polsonss company one only escaped. In that of Captain Peyronny, every officer from the captain down was sacrificed.
Of those engaged in this fearful conflict, and who were so fortunate as to escape, were many who afterwards became distinguished in the military and civil annals of Virginia. Of this number, were the Lewis, Matthews, Grant, Field, etc.
This appalling scene lasted three hours during which the army stood exposed to the steady fire of a concealed but most deadly foe, and men fell on every hand like grass before the sweep of the sickle.
Finally, Braddock, after having five horses killed under him, fell mortally wounded by the avenging hand of an outraged American. At his fall, all order gave way, and what remained of that so lately proud army, rushed heedlessly into the river, abandoning all to the fury of the savages and French. Artillery, ammunition, baggage, including the camp chest of Braddock, which contained, it is said £75,000 in gold, all fell into the hands of the victorious enemy
The retreating army rushed wildly forward, and did not stop until coming up to the rear division. So appalled were the latter at the terrible disaster, the entire army retreated with disgraceful precipitancy to Fort Cumberland. This, according to Smollett, "was the most extraordinary victory ever obtained, and the farthest flight ever made,"
It was the most disastrous defeat ever sustained by any European army in America. Sixty-three officers, and seven hundred and fourteen privates were killed or dangerously wounded. There is perhaps, no instance upon record, where so great a proportion of officers were killed. Out of the eight-six composing the regiment, but twenty-three escaped unhurt. their brilliant uniform seemed sure marks for the deadly aim of the savage.
On that disastrous day, the military genius of Washington shone forth with much of that splendor, which afterwards made him so illustrious. Two aids of Braddock had fallen and therefore, upon Washington alone devolved the duty of distributing orders. "Men were falling thick and fast, yet regardless of danger, he spurred on his steed, galloping here and there thorough the field of blood. At length his horse sunk under him; a second was procured, and pressing amid the throng, sent his calm and resolute voice among the frightened ranks, but without avail. A second horse fell beneath him, and he leaped to the saddle of a third, while the bullets rained like hail stones about him." Four passed through his coat without inflicting the slightest wound, showing clearly, that a stronger hand than that of mans protected the body at which they had been aimed. An eye-witness says, he expected very moment to see him fall, as his duty exposed him to the most imminent danger. An Indian warrior was often afterwards heard to say, that Washington was not born to be shot, as he had fired seventeen times at his person without success.
The courage, energy, bravery and skill displayed by Washington on this occasion marked him as possessed of the highest order of military talents. Just from a bed of illness, yet forgetting his infirmities, he pushed through the panic-stricken crowd, and his bright sword could be seen pointing in every direction as he distributed the orders of his commander.
At last, when
"----Hapless Braddock met his destined fall,"
the noble Virginia aid, with his provincial troops, who had been held in so much contempt by the haughty and presumptuous general, covered the retreat, and saved the remnant of the army from annihilation.
At the fall of Braddock, Washington with Capt. Stuart of the Virginia Guards, hastened to his relief, and bore him from the field of his inglorious defeat, in the sash which had decorated his person.
Braddock was taken to Dunbars camp, on the summit of Laurel hill, where he breathed his last, on the evening of the fourth day after the battle. His body was interred in the center of the road and the entire army marched over the spot in order that the remains of the unfortunate general might not be desecrated by savage hands.
Tradition still designates the place of his burial. It is about nine miles east of Uniontown, and one hundred yards north of the National Road.
The only words General Braddock was heard to utter after his fall were, "Is it possible---all is over!" What a volume of agony did those simple words express. Alas, such is glorious war!
General Braddock was a man of undoubted bravery, but imprudent, arrogant, headstrong and austere. He was a rigid disciplinarian, and could manoeuvre twenty thousand men on the plans of Europe equal to any officer of his age; but was perhaps the worst man the British government could have selected for leading an army against the savages of America. The Walpole Letters in speaking of him, say he had been Governor of Gibralter; that he was poor and prodigal as well as brutal---"a very Iroquois in disposition." Also, that he had been engaged in a duel with Mr. Gamley, and an amour with Mrs. Upton.
Before leaving England, the Duke of Cumberland warned him against surprise from the savages. Dr. Franklin also had a conversation with him in Virginia, and strongly advised him to guard against ambuscades at the same time acquainting him with the mode of warfare peculiar to the Indians. Braddock treated it all as no obstacle, talked of making short work of it, swore he could take Fort Du Quesne in a day, then proceed up the Alleghany, and destroy all the French posts between the Ohio and Canada, &c., &c. It was this spirit of arrogance, hauteur and overweening confidence, that brought about his disastrous defeat on the Monongahela. Had he taken the advice of Washington, Franklin, or Sir Peter Halket, and guarded against surprise, his name might not have gone down to posterity connected with the most inglorious defeat in the annals of modern warfare, and his bones not have filled a mountain grave in the unbroken solitudes of America.
Thus ended the expedition of General Braddock, certainly one of the most unfortunate ever undertaken in the west.
After the retreat of the army, the savages, unwilling to follow the French in pursuit fell upon the field and preyed on the rich plunder which lay before them. The wounded and slain were robbed of everything, and the naked bodies left a prey to the fierce beasts of the wood. In 1758, after Gen. Forbes had taken Fort Du Quesne, it was resolved to search up the remains of Braddocks army, and bury the bones. This was partly carried out at the time, but many years afterwards, (June 1781) a second and more successful attempt was made. George Roush, John Barr and John Rodenhamer, engaged as scouts gathered and carted several loads of human bones and deposited them in a whole dug for the purpose. Our informant, who was one of the party, says the place of sepulture was directly on the battle-field.
Although nearly one hundred years have elapsed since that memorable day, still the plough of the husbandman occasionally turns up some relic of melancholy interest. During the past summer, (1850) the workmen engaged in grading the tract for a railroad, threw up numerous bones. bullets, and other relics of that melancholy affair.
The number of French and Indians actually engaged has never been fully ascertained, but variously estimated at from four to eight hundred.