|Braddock Road trace near Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania. (Source)|
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. WA 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 328It 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.
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.
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)|