Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Death on the Monongahela

Washington at the Battle of the Monongahela
Emanuel Leutze

Lieutenant Jefferson heard the rattle of musketry before he saw the smoke. He had been marching facing to the rear watching the marching ranks, he felt the men were getting far too relaxed. After crossing the Monongahela, Fort Duquesne was still ahead of them, Jefferson knew that it wouldn't be an easy fight. As he turned he heard one thing, then saw another, both of which made his pulse skyrocket.

The grenadier at Jefferson's side, having been hit by a musket ball, fell to his knees with a loud grunt. Jefferson heard the grunt which made him realize that they were under fire, but then what he saw alarmed him even more. The guides, what was left of them, were falling back on the two grenadier companies, which told Jefferson that they faced serious opposition, not a few shots from the trees just to discomfit them. The powder smoke ahead, told him that they were in a serious fight.

As he started to deploy his grenadiers as best he could, Gordon, of the Royal Engineers, rode up from the road building party which was now to the rear. Reining in his horse, he shouted down to Jefferson, "No more than 300 of them I'd say!" then he galloped back to inform the commanding general.

Bloody idiot, Jefferson thought, that's more men than we've got in the van! The captain commanding the 48th's grenadiers was down, Jefferson saw that much in the confusion. He saw one of that company's lieutenants trying to get control of the situation. By that time Sergeant Ashburnham was yelling, "Give 'em a volley Sir?"

Coming out of his initial funk, Jefferson bellowed out, "Present your firelocks!"


Alain and his brothers were moving with their men to the French/Indian left flank. There was a good position there from which they could fire down on the length of the English column. Just after shouting over to Jacques to take his men in that direction, the English grenadiers fired a full volley, from both of their leading grenadier companies.

Alain watched in horror as Capitaine Daniel Hyacinthe Liénard de Beaujeu was hit multiple times. The young French officer collapsed in a heap, his mission accomplished. Though he wouldn't live to see the victory, his move to surround the head of the English column sealed the fate of Major General Edward Braddock's army.

"Alain, the Capitaine...!" Jacques called out to his brother.

"There is no time Jacques, we shall mourn the dead later, follow Little Wolf's Abenaki!"

The French fire was increasing, not in controlled volleys by formed troops, but firing by individuals who had a great deal of experience in fighting in the forest. The men, French and Indian alike, were taking cover behind trees and irregularities in the ground, firing carefully at the English struggling to maintain order below, then moving to another position and doing it again.

The English had two of their six-pounder field pieces close to the head of the column. Their crews brought them into action fairly rapidly, but targets were scarce and fleeting. One of the gun captains suggested firing at the greatest concentrations of powder smoke, at least they might suppress the enemy fire. Just as he was giving the commands for his own gun to be trained on just such a spot, a musket ball clipped the top of his head, killing him instantly and spattering his gun crew with blood and brains.

His second stepped to the rear of the piece and brought his linstock down, touching off the powder. The gun roared and sent its ball crashing into the woods. As the men began to roll the gun back into place, two more were struck down by enemy musket fire. Though the crew would stand to their piece until they all perished, their rate of fire was slowed enough to render their presence on the field almost useless.

Jefferson had one rank fire a volley, then that rank would step to the rear and reload. Both grenadier companies were slowly withdrawing in this manner. But to their front, the trail was littered with the bodies of dead and wounded grenadiers. Jefferson realized that it was only a matter of time before they were overwhelmed. Where in Hell was the main body of the Army?

Even as that thought crossed his mind, three companies of men rushed behind them and up the hill to the right, from which they were taking a galling fire. He couldn't tell which regiment they were from as the men had left their coats in Alexandria and were wearing only their red waistcoats. Though each regiment had a different lacing around the edges of that garment, in the smoke and confusion of battle such details were obscured.

"Sir! What are those men to our left front?" Sergeant Ashburnham had seen a body of formed troops entering the woods, he assumed that they were provincials attacking the enemy to the front. They were, but other British troops on the field weren't as observant, firing volleys into the backs of the provincials. The survivors of that attack began to stumble back as the redcoated regiments recognized their mistake far too late.

"Back boys, steady now, steady!" Jefferson could see that some of the men were beginning to fire at will, not waiting for the commands, and firing all around them. Jefferson could feel the discipline of the men starting to slip.

Slinging his musket, Jefferson drew his sword, "Damn it lads, to me, to me!" Waving his sword in the air, the men rallied just when they came even with the six-pounders, only one of which was still firing.

"Give 'em Hell grenadiers!!"

Jefferson looked up to see an officer of the artillery waving his sword as well. The gun behind him barked and scattered a party of natives advancing on the gun position. "Reload lads, right quick about it!!" Jefferson heard the man bellowing at his gunners as the powder smoke moved over the gun, obscuring them from his sight.

Jefferson heard a shout of rage and watched in amazement as Grenadier Lewis, a big man, drove his bayonet into a Huron belly. Jefferson swore that he saw the point emerge from the Indian's back but had to turn quickly as a large warrior was bearing down on him, screaming his war cry.

So Jefferson bellowed out his own war cry, which he'd learned from his friend Standing Wolf back in King George's War. The enemy warrior hesitated in his rush, his war club faltering in its killing stroke. What kind of anglais knew the war cry of the Mohican? He would never learn as Jefferson's sword stroke took the Huron's right arm off just below the shoulder. Jefferson's second stroke opened the man's belly and the Indian warrior sank to the ground, clutching his midriff in agony.

"Sir! We must fall back further, the savages are getting into our rear!" Ashburnham's last words alerted Jefferson to the danger. His heart sank as he saw his sergeant cut down by an enemy war club. He had to revert back to being a leader and not a simple warrior.

"Grenadiers! To me, fall back to the wagons!"

"Big Bear, they are breaking!" Little Wolf pointed down the hill as the last British attack on their position faded back down the hill. Little Wolf then stood and screamed his war cry. Which was cut short when a Provincial from Virginia carefully sighted his firelock and pulled the trigger.

Alain watched in shock as Little Wolf staggered back a few paces then collapsed without a sound. Alain wanted to rush to his Abenaki brother's side, but the battle still raged. "At them, cut them down!" Alain screamed in a mixture of French and Abenaki as he advanced down the slope.

"Leftenant!" Jefferson turned to see a captain of one of the 44th's battalion companies, cocked hat gone, left sleeve torn away, blood and powder residue covering the man's face and chest.

"Sir? Are you hurt bad?" Jefferson called out.

"Not my blood Leftenant. Pull your men back to the river, Sir Peter¹ is killed, as is his brother. General Braddock has been wounded, mortally I fear. Quickly man, quickly!" Then the captain rode off into the smoke. Jefferson was amazed that the man was still mounted.

Taking stock of the situation, Jefferson realized that he had a mixed company of grenadiers from both regiments, some men from the battalion companies of the 48th, even part of Gates' company of New Yorkers. Gates was nearby.

"Captain Gates!"

Gates discharged his firelock and began to reload, "It's getting rather hot here Leftenant, have we any orders?"

"Back to the river, let's do it in stages, you pull back with those men to the right flank, my men will cover!"

"Very well! Mind you don't wait too long!" Gates was pointing to the two six-pounders, their crews nowhere in evidence but the guns had been overrun by the enemy Indians. "The savages have taken the guns!"

Jefferson realized at that moment, seeing the Indians killing the wounded gunners, that they had more time than anyone would expect as the Indians Allies of the French were stopping to loot the dead and wounded and relieve them of their scalps. The screams of those dying men would stay with Jefferson a long time.

"Alain! Alain! The battle is won my brother! Les anglais run for the river like startled deer!" Jacque Gaudry was ecstatic, the English dead littered the field, their own casualties were small in comparison. "Where is our brother Little Wolf?"

Alain looked at the ground, then at his brother, "He has fallen Jacques." Alain gestured up the hill towards a stand of trees. "I don't know if he lives or not, I think he was wounded badly."

Jacques immediately began to scramble up the slope, followed closely by Alain. It was obvious that there would be no pursuit of the defeated English, the warriors wanted their celebration.

What was left of Jefferson's little command paused near the bank of the Monongahela, there seemed to be no pursuit. Jefferson turned to Gates and said, "An honor fighting with you Sir. Your New Yorkers fought well."

"Ah, but in a lost cause Leftenant." Gates extended his hand and said, "We should get across before nightfall. I doubt the Huron will tarry long over their victory, especially when there is more to be had," Gates nodded at the remnants of the army crossing the river. Nearby stood a number of wagons, abandoned by their drivers.

Jefferson took Gates' hand and shook it firmly. "Head across, we'll cover you."

Gates and his men slid down the sand bank and into the river, glad to be away from this disaster. As Jefferson watched, Grenadier Lewis came up to him.

"We've got seventeen of the lads left Sir, they're in fine fettle and ready to have another go."

"Seventeen, just seventeen Lewis?"

"Yessir, about five from the 48th, the rest are our lads. Might be more on t'other side of the river. Hate to say it, but some of the lads took to their heels." Jefferson noticed that Lewis was eyeing Jefferson's musket, still slung over his shoulder. Finally Lewis held up the remains of his own firelock, stock broken off, barrel bent. "Makes a mighty good club Sir. Not much use now though."

Jefferson unslung his firelock and handed it to Lewis, "What's your first name?"

"Milton, Sir, named after that writer feller from the old days."

Jefferson looked at the man, "D'ya mean John Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost?"

"Yes Sir, that's the man. My Da' loved that book. Taught me to read using that." Lewis was looking towards the scene of the late battle, it was quiet so far, no pursuit that he could discern.

Jefferson thought for a moment, then asked, "You can read? And write?"

"Course Sir, not like Milton, but I'm good with my letters. Da' taught me my numbers as well."

Jefferson made his decision, "Very good. Now if you will Sergeant Lewis, let's get these men across the river and rejoin the rest of the army."

"Sergeant, Sir?"

"That's right, unless you don't want it?"

"No Sir, I'm happy with that, now if you'll excuse me?" After he said that, newly minted Sergeant Lewis of the 44th's grenadier company turned and bellowed...

"Right lads, time to get wet again! Let's be across quickly now. Jones, you and Martin stand here until we're well along, then follow us in!"

Jefferson watched his troops wade into the river, then he heard Grenadier Martin ask, "Uh Sir, hadn't we best be going?"

"Right Martin, right then, let's be off."

As the men waded the Monongahela, Jefferson could hear the war whoops of the Huron and the screams of the dying. He shuddered, they were a long way from home.

¹ Sir Peter Halkett, colonel of the 44th Regiment of Foot, killed in action at the Monongahela.

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Got caught up in the smoke, gunfire and confusion......a fine posting Sarge.

  2. This will be worse than the fighting in the PTO.

    1. No stinking fetid jungle swamps. Thankfully. That little tidbit added so much to the Hell of the Pacific. Unknown fevers and diseases that the medics just couldn't understand or treat. Even on the little islands, often times a fetid stinking marsh or swampy area.

      Rather be fighting in the fetid swamps and marshes of the new England area.

  3. Mohicans and Abenaki fighting side-by-side with the Frogs???

    1. No, but the Mohicans were an Algonquian people as were the Abenaki. As Jefferson spent quite a while with "his" Mohican warband during King George's War, he picked up a few words in Mohican. From my research, many of the Algonquian languages were closely related. Jefferson screaming something in Mohican would be recognized by an Abenaki, it might not be fully understood, but it would startle the guy.

    2. So why did Jefferson kill the Mohawk:
      "He would never learn as Jefferson's sword stroke took the Mohawk's right arm off just below the shoulder."

    3. Yup, that's an error. I'll fix it. And yes, when I hear hoofbeats I think zebras...

      Fixed it, thanks for persisting Mark.

  4. A battlefield promotion for Lewis. Will follow him. Concur with the Nylon, good posting. You do write action well, sir.

    1. I've try to make the enlisted guys look good. 😁

    2. I forgot to mention the blue on blue. Well done.

    3. It's unfortunate when it happens, but it happens all too often in the confusion of combat.

  5. You capture what must have been the confusion very well Sarge.

    Sorry to see Little Wolf down. Sic transit gloria mundi.

    The vignette about the cannon crew is exactly why it was so difficult to make the conversion to North American warfare.

    1. Just reading the accounts of that fight made me realize what a confusing horror it must have been.

      Little Wolf was a good man, but Fate plays no favorites.

      Cannon had their uses, but in a close in fight in the woods? That must have sucked to be on a gun crew then...

    2. "Hi! My name is Red Shirt/Red Uniform Number 5! I am have been assigned to:

      a) A cannon crew;
      b) A unit marching through a wilderness;
      c) An advance team beaming down to a planet to investigate "Mysterious Circumstances"..."

  6. OAFS is starting to be too good of a storyteller for his own good. If he doesn't watch out he'll end up being forced to speak at every rubber-chicken literary/historical awards banquet in the land. :)

  7. This is taking place in my neck of the woods. I live in Butler PA. about 30 miles North of Pittsburgh. If you take Route 68 West out of Butler a few miles there is a sign showing where Washington passed through the area during this.

  8. Most excellent today. The battlefield promotion was a nice touch. - Barry

  9. Ah, what fun. A close forest, rolling terrain, loss of unit cohesion, and black powder smoke. And getting shot by your own side. Great.

    Had to look up the source of the picture to find out what/where Washington was. And Daniel Boone. Dang. What a sucky campaign, full of death, destruction, loss, desertion and just a totally screwed up mess.

    Which is completely opposite of what happened up North. Did the French put all their good commanders in the Southern campaign?

    1. Ah, les français has some success in the north, which we will see here, shortly, maybe. (After all, I leave for Sandy Eggo on Sunday.)

  10. Good story!
    I'd say something better but I just can't think of anything else but I need to say something so I can check the "Notify me" box and get to read the rest of the comments :-)


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