Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Approach to the Monongahela River

Braddock's defeat, Battle on the Monongahela
Howard Pyle

Lieutenant Will Jefferson was watching as the sappers worked hard to widen what the locals had called a road, but which was more of a track through the wilderness. Jefferson knew that in order for the army to capture and hold Fort Duquesne, the road was necessary. First to bring up the cannon they would need to breach the fort, second to bring up supplies to sustain the position once it was taken from the French. At the present rate of advance, Jefferson was beginning to wonder if they would ever get there.

The whizzing of a ball, followed by a bang, caused Jefferson to turn to his left. A telltale cloud of powder smoke was drifting on the breeze near a small thicket on the left flank.  He turned to his company sergeant, Miles Ashburnham and yelled out, "Enemy on the left Sarn't!"

His company sergeant was already getting the 44th's grenadier company to deploy to meet the threat implied by the single shot when Major Tomlinson galloped up, "No time Will, they mean to delay us by this harassing fire, if we deploy for every damned flicker of a Frenchie in the trees we'll be on this march until Michaelmas!"

"Very good Sir!" Jefferson called out, again noting that Ashburnham was already getting the men back into column. Damned fine fellow that sergeant, he mused to himself.

Jefferson thought back to his earlier foray into the wilderness back during King George's War, he rather wished he still had his band of Mohicans with him. These grenadiers were fine fellows but too used to the European way of fighting. Line up, discharge your firelocks, then have at them with the bayonet. The French and their Indian allies would be long gone by the time you moved up.

"Steady lads, keep your intervals, heads up, eyes out to the flank!" Jefferson felt like he'd been giving the same order since they had left Cumberland, Maryland some days before. No doubt he'd be doing so for the foreseeable future. The road was advancing at a breathtaking two miles a day, and that on a good day!

Little Wolf came through the brush in a hurry. "We fired on les anglais, but they didn't deploy. They started to, then an officer on horseback stopped them. So we delayed them not at all!"

Alain Gaudry shook his head, les anglais were getting smarter. "Jacques, take five of your men, move back towards where the enemy came from. Kill one of their horseback officers, that might give them pause. They are coming on far too fast, Capitaine de Beaujeu needs time to set an ambush."

Jacques Gaudry, Alain's younger brother, nodded and with hand signals picked two of the coureurs de bois and three Abenaki to accompany him. As they slipped into the shadows of the forest, Little Wolf grunted and said, "Those other français move like crippled old Mohicans in the forest, but our brother Jacques moves like an Abenaki warrior."

Alain grinned then gestured for the rest of his men to follow him.

Alain Gaudry, though he held no military rank, commanded a party of seventeen Frenchmen, most of them trappers and hunters, and twenty-three Abenaki warriors who were, in theory, led by Little Wolf, now a war chief in his own right. But Little Wolf always deferred to Alain, who he called older brother as a mark of respect.

The English were advancing towards Fort Duquesne, they were determined to drive France out of the Ohio country. The French were equally determined to prevent that.

The red arrow points to Alexandria, VA. The blue to Fort Duquesne
Chase the link to see the map full size.

Major John Tomlinson was riding with the 44th's colonel, Sir Peter Halkett¹. Unlike many in the Army, Tomlinson liked Halkett, he found him to be a man of honor and completely loyal to the King. His conduct after being captured by the Jacobites during the Rebellion of 1745 had been correct, if somewhat eccentric. Being a Scot himself, Halkett was suspected of conflicting loyalties. But he was faithful to his King and to his regiment.

"So tell me John, do you know the man I have commanding my grenadier company, Leftenant Jefferson?"

"Only by reputation Sir Peter. I believe he was in the 1st Foot Guards at one time, wasn't he cashiered for some incident in King George's War? I've had some dealings with him, seems like a decent chap."

Colonel Halkett nodded and said, "Was in the wilderness in New Hampshire, led a band of Mohicans warriors for quite some time. Was rather successful until the Abenaki managed to get the better of him. His command was slaughtered, he was the sole survivor. It's said that the Abenaki took him to the Fort at Number 5 and left him. Odd that, word on the frontier was that the man was a bit of a hothead, but respected nevertheless."

"Fascinating. How did he..."

"Chose him myself, his father is a friend of mine, knew him in Parliament. Sound chap, I assumed that the boy was as well. When he joined the regiment he was on my staff. When the man commanding my grenadiers purchased a captaincy in the Royal Welch Fusiliers I gave the company to Jefferson. He hasn't disappointed me yet..."

The colonel pulled the head of his horse around to the left as a flurry of musket shots emanated from a nearby wood. "What the blazes are those devils up to now?"

Tomlinson had also started to turn when he felt a sudden pressure in his upper chest. He looked down at the arrow protruding from his body and was amazed that he felt no pain. He had felt the arrow hit. It was then that he noticed that the arrow had lodged itself in his swordbelt. Though it had penetrated the leather and pierced the outer layer of his coat, it hadn't injured him in any way.

Halkett watched as one of his line companies advanced towards where the firing had come from, then he turned and saw Tomlinson, "Damme John, you've been hit!"

"I'm quite alright Sir Peter, didn't penetrate to the skin. Damned close one though!"

"Grey Fox, I saw your arrow strike home, what happened? The man continued to ride along the column as if he were unharmed." Jacques was leading his men away, perpendicular to the line of the English column's advance. Once clear they would turn north to meet up with his brothers.

"I do not know Little Bear, perhaps the range was too long and it merely lodged in his coat. Ayah! I would love a coat that protected me from arrows!"

Jacques chuckled, both at Grey Fox's wish for an English coat and by the use of Jacques' Abenaki name, Little Bear. Because Alain and he had both had full beards last winter, one of the Abenaki had suggested that the two Frenchmen looked like bears on their hind legs. As Alain was the larger of the brothers, he was called "Big Bear," and Jacques, of course, was "Little Bear."

Jefferson saw that the trail had been widened sufficiently for the wagons to proceed. He was told to take his company into the lead. Though the "road" was wider, it was still closed in by the forest on both sides, he wouldn't be able to deploy his men if he had to. Visibility to the front wasn't good either as the road bent around a large boulder to the right.

"Sarn't Ashburnham! Send a small party around that bend, at the double time!"


Ashburnham had selected ten men of the company, nearly a third of its strength to follow him forward. As he was sorting them out he went behind the men, as he did so a volley rang out from just down the road, near the bend. Three of the grenadiers went down in a heap.

"All right lads, form up, form up, let's give 'em a volley in return!" Ashburnham got the men formed up and had them firing in no time at all. But their bullets ripped into an empty forest.

"Cease fire Sarn't! The bastards are gone." Jefferson hated this nibbling at the column, three of his men were down. One had been killed outright, the other two were wounded, one mortally. As he got the remainder of the company down the road to the bend, he saw something pinned to one of the nearby trees.

Jefferson felt a chill run down his spine.

It was a scalp. A European scalp.

¹ Also see this.

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Autocucumber seems to have swapped "Jacobites" for "Jacobins".

    The 44th seems to have been a hard-luck outfit. At New Orleans, they commenced the assault on Jackson's defenses and left the scaling ladders behind. Once the officers realized this, they returned to their lines to retrieve them, leaving the battalions on either side unsupported. Not that it would have made much difference anyway... However, they redeemed themselves later that year at a place called Waterloo.

    I wonder if this Halkett is the ancestor of Sir Hew Halkett, who was a brigade commander at Waterloo.

    1. Damn time-traveling Jacobins! (Fixed it, FWIW, I don't use autocorrect, I make my own errors. 😏)

      The two Halketts are not, insofar as I can tell, directly related. As according to Wikipedia, Peter Halkett was born 21 June 1695, eldest son of Sir Peter Wedderburn, who changed his surname to Halkett in 1705 when he inherited Pitfirrane Castle, near Dunfermline from his wife's brother.

      There were a number of Halketts in the service of the Crown for quite some time, Army and Royal Navy. It's worth nothing that Hugh Halkett commanded a brigade of Hanoverian Landwehr (think militia) at Waterloo. Though he was born in Scotland, he died in Hannover in 1863 at the ripe old age of 80.

    2. Out of curiosity, I took a wiki-walk looking for Hew (or Hugh - I've seen it spelled both ways) Halkett's ancestry. Haven't got beyond his father and older brother (who also commanded a brigade at Waterloo). My 1968 Encyclopedia Brittanica has nothing on any flavor of Halkett, going directly from Halite to Hall, Asaph. Ah, well!

      And, also, this morning it was recalled to me that the 44th Foot was wiped out by Afghans at Gandamack, part of the destruction of the Army of the Indus. George MacDonald Fraser vividly describes it in "Flashman".

    3. There's a famous painting of the 44th at Gandamak.

      I am a big fan of George MacDonald Fraser's writing.

  2. And on we go...
    War IS a learning process, if one survives combat, arrogance and prejudice.
    You mentioned "Paul Revere's Ride"; one of my favorites, but for some reason I wasn't engaged by the Champlain book. Your series make me want to try again.
    Boat Guy

    1. I've been reading more on that time period. Some of the books are good, some not so good.

  3. Building a road through the wilderness as you follow a foot path... slow going!

    1. Roads- for wagons- and artillery---- logistics, which wins wars.

    2. Logistics, it's what the professionals study...

    3. (Don McCollor)...(Probably an ignorant question). Speaking of the logistics, what are the British horses feeding on in the forest?...

    4. They carried forage for the draft animals and the officers horses. Grazing was available in the many meadows along the way. This was not all forested.

  4. Ah, yes, dense forests, narrow tracts, what fun!

    You'd think some enterprising and peeved Brit would just think "Screw this, burn the damned forest down!" but, nooo...

    So much stupidity and failure on the British part on the southern portion of the F&I War, just amazes me that they were so successful on the northern portion.

    1. Burning the forest down? Good luck with that, none of them would have survived.

    2. I don't know the forest over there, but around here (Wisconsin) you'd have a hell of a time getting a fire to go anywhere in the forest most of the year. Too much soggy undergrowth, as well as very high humidity. Not like the crackling dry conditions out West.

    3. In can get rather dry and dangerous in the East with the forests. However, this is some pretty rugged terrain we're talking about. Fire won't level a ridge or a hill, won't clear the boulders along the way. Also, a fire doesn't burn the trees away completely, trunks and stumps remain. With no way of controlling the burn, the English would have been better off shooting themselves. It would have been quicker.

  5. Constrained to slogging along a well defined route, while the enemy flits about the forest, taking pot shots at you...gotta suck to be Jefferson (or any of his men) about now!

    1. Well, the route was pretty much the only one the English knew of, and with an army that size (small in comparison to later years) there wasn't much choice of a path. But yet, the constant chipping away, while not militarily decisive, sure wears an army down.

    2. Ernie Pyle mentioned that when the time to die cones, sailors die much more horrible deaths, being shredded by fragments, roasted in fire surrounded compartments, drowning, or being torn apart by sharks, ( see USS INDIANAPOLIS ), but they lead rather civilized life's at other times, but the infantry live like animals, and have to endure a daily 2-3% casualty rate. At that rate, the unit is wiped out in less than two months, between the dead and the evacuated wounded. For the infantry, this never stops, as long as they are on the line. BADGER PAW SALUTE TO THE INFANTRY!

    3. The infantry always has the toughest war.

  6. Sarge - Thanks for talking about the drudgery of making roads. I remember this as one of the primary obstacles of this campaign. Once upon a time, "pioneers" did not refer to folks in covered wagons but the forerunners of an army, making roads ahead of the main force.

    Also, the leadership of the Gaudry brothers is duly noted and approved. These sorts of unofficial rising to the top of the skilled is always the best. Would that more organizations would learn.

    (On a side note, you should not make me so interest. Interest leads to more books, and more books lead to The Ravishing Mrs. TB asking embarrassing questions about why packages of books keep arriving...)

    1. Yes, the quest for more reading material. The Missus Herself asks much the same questions.

    2. Go to, and download them from an online library, or check them out from The Open Library.

    3. Need a better link, nothing there but some text and a Privacy Policy link.

    4. It should have read, not books. Sorry about that. Open Library is at

  7. Two miles a day is rather impressive. While I realize conditions were far far worse for General Pick, while building the Ledo Road, he had hundreds of Cats working for him, as well as diesel shovels graders, scrapers,road rollers, Diamond T and FWD trucks. It took him 15 months to build a 478 mile three lane wide road.

    Again, I realize the Ledo Road is a completely different type of road, but a two mile a day wagon track is pretty impressive, without even a single chainsaw. Good Job, British Pioneers!

    1. I suppose so, but bear in mind this was clearing trees mostly to widen the path to get a wagon through. No grading of the surface, nothing like we would consider actual road building. Still, not a bad effort.

  8. This is going to be an interesting story!

  9. I think you “ breach” a wall, not “breech” it.

    My uncle was Old Corps. He told me to go into the Navy, because you get to sleep in your own rack. He said “you might get killed, but at least you’re living in comfort.”

    1. And you're absolutely correct, I blame those time-traveling Jacobins... (Fixed it.🙄)

      Your Uncle had a good point!


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.