Published on February 4, 2013 by Carol
British Major General Edward Braddock arrived in this country early in 1755 with two regiments of veteran English troops. He was joined at Fort Cumberland, Maryland by a large number of provincial troops to aid in the contemplated reduction of Fort Duquesne. Dividing his force, he pushed onward with about 1,200 chosen men through dark forests, and over pathless mountains. Colonel George Washington, who was a volunteer aid of Braddock, but, had been left behind on account of illness, overtook the General on the evening of the July 8th, at the mouth of the Youghiogheny River, 15 miles from Fort Duquesne, the day before the battle.
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The officers and soldiers were now in the highest spirits, and firm in the conviction that they should, within a few hours, victoriously enter within the walls of Fort Duquesne. Early on the morning of the July 9th, the army passed through the river a little below the mouth of the Youghiogheny River, and proceeded in perfect order along the southern margin of the Monongahela River.
Washington was often heard to say, during his lifetime, that the most beautiful spectacle he had ever beheld was the display of the British troops on this eventful morning. Every man was neatly dressed in full uniform, the soldiers were arranged in columns, and marched in exact order, the sun gleamed from their burnished arms, the river flowed tranquilly on their right, and the deep forest overshadowed them with solemn grandeur on their left. Officers and men were equally inspirited with cheering hopes, and confident anticipations.
In this manner, they marched forward until about noon, when they arrived at the second crossing place, ten miles from Fort Duquesne. They halted but a little time, and then began to ford the river and regain its northern bank. As soon as they had crossed, they came upon a level plain, elevated only a few feet above the surface of the river, and extending northward nearly half a mile from its margin. They gradually made their ascent, which terminated in hills of a considerable height at no great distance beyond. The road, from the fording-place to Fort Duquesne, led across the plain and up this ascent, and then proceeded through an uneven country, at that time covered with forest.
By the order of march, 300 men under Colonel Thomas Gage made the advanced party, which was immediately followed by another of 200 soldiers. Next came General Braddock with the columns of artillery, the main body of the army and the baggage. By about one o’clock the whole had crossed the river, and almost at this moment, a sharp firing was heard upon the advanced parties, who were now ascending the hill, and had proceeded about a hundred yards from the termination of the plain. A heavy discharge of musketry was poured in upon their front, which was the first intelligence they had of an enemy; and this was suddenly followed by another upon their right flank. They were filled with the greatest consternation, as no enemy was in sight, and the firing seemed to come from an invisible foe. They fired in return, however, but quite at random, and obviously without effect.
During the whole of the action, Colonel George Washington, then 23 years of age, behaved with the greatest courage and resolution. The other two aids-de-camp were wounded, and on him alone devolved the duty of distributing the orders of the general. He rode in every direction, and was a conspicuous object for the enemy’s sharp shooters. He had four bullets through his coat, and had two horses shot under him, and yet escaped unhurt. So bloody a contest has rarely been witnessed. Out of 1,200 men, 714 men were either killed or wounded; of 86 officers, more than two thirds were among the killed or wounded. Braddock was mortally wounded by a provincial named Fausett. The enemy lost only about 40 men, having fought in deep ravines, and the balls of the English passed over their heads.
The remnant of Braddock’s army, panic stricken, fled in great disorder to Fort Cumberland. The enemy did not pursue them. Satiated with carnage and plunder, the Indians could not be tempted from the battlefield.
The army of Braddock had been carefully watched, by some Indian spies, from the time they left Fort Cumberland. There was no force in Fort Duquesne that could cope with the English, and the French commandant had expressed the necessity of either retreat or surrender. By accident, 400 to 500 Indians happened to be at the fort of the French garrison. One officer of inferior rank, Captain Daniel Beaujeau, strenuously urged that, for the honor of the French arms, some resistance should be made. Beaujeau consulted the Indians, who volunteered to the number of about 400. With much difficulty, the young hero obtained from his commander, permission to lead out to a certain limit, such French soldiers as chose to join in the desperate enterprise. Of the number, only about 30 volunteered, and with these 430 men, the gallant Frenchman marched out to attack more than threefold their number. In the meantime, General Braddock had rejected every remonstrance from Washington and other colonial officers with insult, and advanced into the snare just as far as the enemy desired, when destruction to the greater part of the army was almost the certain result.
When the victory was reported to the commandant at Fort Duquesne, his transports were unbounded. He received Captain Beaujeau with open arms, loaded him with the most extravagant honors, and, in a few days, sent to report the victory to the Governor of Canada. But, when the dispatches were opened, they consisted of criminal charges against Beaujeau in his office of paymaster, and other charges equally culpable. Under these accusations, this injured man was tried, broke and ruined. So matters rested until, in the American Revolution, the subject of Braddock’s defeat happened to come into conversation between Washington and Lafayette, when the real facts were stated to the latter. He heard them with unqualified astonishment; but, with his powerful sense of justice, determining to do all in his ability to repair what he considered a national act of cruelty and injustice, he took and preserved careful notes, and on his return to Europe, had inquiries made for Beaujeau. He was found in a state of poverty and wretchedness, broken down by advancing years and unmerited obloquy. The affair was brought before the government of France, and as the real events were made manifest, the officer was restored to his rank and honors.
The result of this battle gave the French and Indians a complete ascendancy on the Ohio River, and put a check to the British operations, west of the mountains, for two or three years. In 1757, the Shawnee, Cherokee and Iroquoi, in alliance with the French, penetrated to the east side of the mountains, desolating the frontier settlements in blood. In the same autumn, the English built Fort Loudon, in eastern Tennessee. The next year, Colonel James Burd erected another fort on the Holston River, about 100 miles to the north. Settlements arose around each of these posts.