Friday, February 26, 2016

Liable to Change

Braddock Road trace near Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania. (Source)
In 1755, the land beyond the Blue Ridge mountains and the Shenandoah Valley was mostly wilderness. There were people living there, deep in the forests and along the rivers. There were even Europeans about, mostly Frenchmen.

For in those days much of the land from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, through the Ohio River valley, down the mighty Mississippi River, and on to the Gulf of Mexico near La Nouvelle-Orléans was part of New France. Lands claimed by the great King Louis XV in faraway Versailles.

Most of the land was populated by the tribes native to this continent. The French traded with the natives and, for the most part, got along well with them. For there weren't that many Frenchmen in the New World. Most of them were concentrated in Quebec. New France was large in territory but small in population when compared with British America. What we called the Thirteen Colonies in later years.

But that situation could not last. Britain and France had been mortal enemies for centuries, though they were at peace in early 1754, that could not last. War was inevitable. For many British Americans, the Atlantic Coast was getting "crowded." They had heard of rich lands beyond the Alleghenies, out there in the Ohio Country.

The first clash was fought at a place called (now) Jumonville Glen, near present day Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Neither side expected the clash, neither side could predict the repercussions which would echo down the years.

The British were building a fort near present day Pittsburgh, the French considered this to be a hostile encroachment upon the territory of New France. A detachment of French troops and Ohio Iroquois allied to the French chased off the men building the fort. Another detachment, under Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, marched to warn the British away from French territory. There was another small fort near Uniontown under the command of a Lieutenant Colonel George Washington. Yes, that Washington.

Washington had been warned by a local settler that a French force of about fifty men were in the area. So he moved with a force of colonials and Indians to intercept them. Which they did, killing or capturing most of the French force. Jumonville was wounded and captured, but was struck down and killed  in the confusion after the battle by an Indian known as the Half King (who was with Washington's force). A decent summary of the battle can be read here.

Tensions were high for the remainder of 1754 and into 1755. In the spring of that latter year, General Edward Braddock, with a force of two regiments of British infantry, a number of independent colonial companies, and a few allied Indians set forth from Alexandria in the Virginia colony to confront the French at the fort they had built where the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers meet. Braddock's mission was to seize that fort and drive the French from the Ohio Country.

There were no roads to the Ohio, so Braddock had to build his own. Hauling wagons and cannon over mountains, across rivers and streams, and through the trackless forests of that country. 2,100 people went into the dark forests, building a road as they went, all under observation by their enemies before they had gone very far. Eventually Braddock had to split his force, one portion under a Colonel Dunbar would continue on building the road as they went. Braddock himself would take a "flying column" of some 1,300 troops to strike the French at their Fort Du Quesne (on the site of modern downtown Pittsburgh).

Before they got there, the French and their native allies ambushed the column on the site of present day Braddock, Pennsylvania.

It was a massacre.
Of the approximately 1,300 men Braddock had led into battle, 456 were killed and 422 wounded. Commissioned officers were prime targets and suffered greatly: out of 86 officers, 26 were killed and 37 wounded. Of the 50 or so women that accompanied the British column as maids and cooks, only 4 survived. The French and Canadians reported 8 killed and 4 wounded; their Indian allies lost 15 killed and 12 wounded. W
A stunned eighteen year old John Adams (yes, that John Adams), had this to say upon hearing of the news of Braddock's defeat on the Monongahela River -
"All that part of Creation that lies within our observation is liable to change. Even mighty States and Kingdoms, are not exempted." Braddock's Defeat by David L. Preston, page 328
It was a shock to British America that an army of British regulars could be so soundly defeated by a smaller force, mostly Indians with a few French officers and Canadians. Though the British would recover and go on to win the French and Indian War, though New France was conquered and absorbed by the British Empire, those who there would remember.

Twenty years later, a rag tag army of scruffy colonial soldiers surrounding an army of British regulars in Boston were given over to the command of a Virginia gentleman and survivor of the Battle of the Monongahela.

George Washington.

It was not the first time that a trained regular army had been defeated by irregulars and native tribesmen. It would not be the last.

We underestimate our enemies at great peril.

For a superb account of the Battle of the Monongahela, I highly recommend David Preston's book, Braddock's Defeat. I have just finished it and it is excellent. Cleared up a number of misconceptions I had about the battle growing up. Though I felt my early education was superb, there are always things to learn later in life. I doubt kids these days even know who Edward Braddock was.

(Source)

(Source)
His bones lie not far from where he fell in battle. The bones of hundreds of his men (and not a few women) still lie in the ground underneath the town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. It is said that those poor souls' bodies went unburied for many a year after the battle.

I remember. I learn.

Would that we could all do so.

We ignore history at our peril.

The mortally wounded Braddock retreating with his troops. (Source)


26 comments:

  1. I had recently started watching the Amazon special series on John Adams and your article helped refresh my memories of that period of our country's history. I am still in awe about how physically tough their lives were, their fortitude in overcoming the daily challenges. Our country was founded by extraordinary men and women through their suffering, and with their intelligence, knowledge and experience set us upon our course. I hope that we continue to honor their efforts, their sacrifices and make the efforts and sacrifices that will be required of us (and every generation -no free lunches). I plan on visiting some local battlefields this weekend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Freedom isn't free.

      Too bad there are folks in this country who have forgotten that, or perhaps never knew that.

      Let us know how those visits went, I'd love to hear about that.

      Delete
  2. I remember learning of the French and Indian war, but very much about it. Very interesting post today.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Braddock's Defeat will be on my reading list. My grandfather on my father's side was born in Braddock, PA. I still live in Western PA and am interested in the history of the area. A lot of the small towns here are named after men who fought in the French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion which took place about eight years later. As kids we use to visit Bushy Run Battlefield where Indians attacked a force of British troops that were on the way as relief to Fort Pitt (formerly Fort Duquesne).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bushy_Run

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Colonel Bouquet was an interesting man. Of Swiss birth, he was a professional soldier who served in a couple of armies (Dutch and Sardinian) before joining the British Army (60th Foot, The Royal American Regiment). I found this site and now have another place I need to visit. There is a lot of history in your area!

      Delete
    2. While I did not enjoy my time at the Pentagon, I did enjoy the area. I think 90% of American History took place within a couple of hour drive from there.

      Delete
    3. I just hit that site a little while ago. There is a tiny village near Bushy Run named after the Colonel. My wife and I use to stop and shop for flower and vegetable seeds in a little general store there. You could get them a lot cheaper at other places, but the store was built sometime in the 1800s and had a lot of atmosphere with the original gaslights on the ceiling and never having any major renovations done to it. Now I'm wondering if it's still there. It's been close to 40 years since we've been out that way.

      I also need to look up an old friend who lent me a book decades ago about Simon Girty, another historical figure from the area. I would really like to read it again, but I don't remember what it was called. Supposedly Girty's Run, the little stream below my house, is named after him.

      Delete
    4. @Juvat - a wise man will make the best of a crappy assignment. One thing I love about the DC area is the history, both within the town and around the local area.

      You made the best of your time there.

      Delete
    5. @Taminator - Wikipedia has an entry on Simon Girty with a list of novels and such which portrayed him.

      Delete
  4. I remember. I learn.

    The main advantage of age is we can actually see newcomers make the mistakes of others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The main advantage of age is we can actually see newcomers make the mistakes of others."

      That also is the main curse of age.

      Delete
    2. Another advantage is that we can sit back and laugh at all the stupid #$%^ that they are doing now that we already survived........

      Delete
    3. And just smile when they call us old fogies.

      Delete
    4. @Skip - a true statement. There are other advantages to geezerdom as well, senior discounts at various places spring to mind almost immediately. What with me being a parsimonious old so-and-so.

      Delete
    5. @Juvat - knowing that no matter what we say they're going to make the mistake anyway?

      (The main curse of age for me is being able to tell when it's going to rain. It's all in the knees...)

      Delete
    6. @Taminator - been there, done that...

      Delete
  5. Life when Central government lay 2 months away by sea and one could do as one's conscience dictated without paying too much attention to how it be preceived (made that one up special) by ABC, NBC and CBS, much less the State Department)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Admittedly, it was a disaster.

      Delete
    2. People back then had consciences right? I mean all that Puritanism in the colonies. (The effects of which I saw in my youth with many of the New England "blue" laws. Tsk, tsk, musn't buy alcohol on Sunday!)

      Delete
    3. Not many Puritans down here, but you still can't by alcohol on Sunday.

      Delete
    4. Well, there aren't many Puritans up here anymore, but their rules and regulations lived on.

      In Vermont you couldn't buy booze on Election Day. I guess they didn't want spur of the moment drunks voting. I mean there was no law preventing you from stocking up the day before, so if you were a drunk who planned well, you could still vote drunk.

      There are days where voting drunk seems to be what most of the country is doing anyway. Or are they guilty of VWS - Voting While Stupid?

      Delete
    5. With our present-day educational system my money is on VWS..

      PS: Villiers and Jumonville are both common names here in South Louisiana/Acadiana

      Delete
    6. With our present-day educational system my money is on VWS..

      PS: Villiers and Jumonville are both common names here in South Louisiana/Acadiana

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)