Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution
by David Preston
Oxford University Press, 480 pp., $29.95Braddock

As the sun set on a warm July evening, Gen. Edward Braddock (1695-1755) lay amongst the dead and dying of his ruined army. Still disbelieving the tragic outcome of his battle against the French four days ago, he muttered among his staff, “Who’d have thought it? We shall better know how to deal with them another time.” Moments later he was dead. His words proved prophetic. Soon the world would be engaged in a global conflict, and a million lives later, Great Britain would know better how to defeat the French forces lodged in the Ohio River Valley. But Braddock’s words also ring true for historians of that conflict. Almost immediately, the events of that bloody day of July 9, 1755, were recorded and interpreted in myriad ways.

Now, another historian takes aim at the story of Braddock’s defeat and succeeds where others have backfired. David Preston has done a masterful job researching and presenting the complete story of this epic campaign and the opening phase of the French and Indian War. He also takes on the many myths surrounding Braddock and his campaign, notably that Braddock spurned Native allies. Preston finds, and supports through substantial primary accounts, that quite the opposite is true. He also addresses the false belief that Braddock lost the conflict only because of his own arrogance. Drawing on previously unknown accounts, Preston shows that the French and Native forces were led by a masterful tactician, Capt. Daniel Liénard Beaujeu (1711-55), who was well-versed in forest warfare and proved an admirable adversary against any foe. Beyond the outstanding research, Preston reinforces his narrative with personal experience traveling Braddock’s route, taking readers along with him on each page. The maps accompanying the text trace the battle lines through the modern streets of Braddock, Allegheny County, allowing us to visualize the struggles beyond the street corners.

While many new works have emerged on the French and Indian War in the last few years, Preston’s book stands out as the only one imbued with the detail and scrutiny needed to accurately tell the story of the Braddock campaign. After 260 years and many accounts, Preston’s work gives us what may be the definitive history of one of Pennsylvania’s most significant events.


Douglas MacGregor has worked as a museum educator at Fort Pitt Museum and an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives.