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Horses, rearing in death, pitched their riders into a fren­zied mass of red­-coated soldiers, while Indians sprinted from tree to tree, leaping out to scalp the wounded and the dead. Even the dauntless Daniel Boone, then a young wagoner, cut his horses loose and fled for his life. George Washington, a volunteer lieutenant colonel, recounted years later that, “had I not been witness to the fact on that fatal day, I sh’d scarce give credit to it now.” So ended the campaign in mur­derous defeat, the campaign that was to have given the French, the Indians and the colonials a brilliant demonstra­tion of England’s military might, and to have brought glory to its illustrious leader, Gen. Edward Braddock.

For several years during the mid-eighteenth century, the French, aided by their Indian allies, had been inching fur­ther into English territory and defending their claims with new forts. While on a mission to one of the northern forts to ask the French to vacate the territory, young George Wash­ington spotted an ideal loca­tion for an English fort, the “point” where the Allegheny River joins the Monongahela to form the Ohio (in present­-day Pittsburgh). No place west of the mountains could be so easily defended! But when the English were ready to build the fort, they found the French had pre-empted their claim.

In 1753, Washington­ – barely out of his teens­ – assembled troops from the colonies’ militias and set off from Fort Cumberland, Mary­land, on a two hundred mile march through the seemingly impenetrable wilderness to­ward the “point,” determined to take the new French fort, Duquesne. There was no good way to go. The best was an old buffalo trail used by the Indi­ans that he had followed trav­eling westward before. This wended through the moun­tains, swinging north into Pennsylvania just beyond the Youghiogheny River. The route was rough and the troops had to cut and slash their passage mile after mile. Just east of the westernmost mountain ridge, on an open, somewhat level area that Washington called “Great Meadows,” he halted and hastily improvised a fort which he aptly named “Ft. Necessity.” He planned for this to serve as a base of operations before turning the troops northward on the last leg of the march to Fort Duquesne. They traveled no further. Here in an attack by the French, whom they supposed to be many miles to the north, they were defeated and forced to retreat to Cumberland.

In 1755, England decided to put an end to this creeping invasion by the French. Gen. Edward Braddock, an officer of England’s most prestigious regiment, was dispatched to America and named “General­issimo of all His Majesty’s Forces on the North American Continent.” When he arrived in Virginia with two regiments – and the promise of hundreds of American troops with horses, wagons and sup­plies of all kinds from the colonials – he was prepared to erase the French threat from the British colonies forever. His first target would be Fort Du­quesne. At sight of the impres­sive artillery and rank on rank of redcoats – precision trained, moving swiftly and with great coordination – the enemy would be paralyzed with ter­ror. He believed all resistance would crumble miserably.

For more than two hundred years historians have debated how the pick of Britain’s generals – with his faultlessly disciplined regulars, plus approximately one thousand colonial troops – could suffer the utter defeat awaiting them (and that by a force only half as large as theirs, and half of those only “savages”). Brad­dock has been characterized by various scholars as a much­-maligned super-hero or a bigoted, licentious brute. His own secretary, William Shirley, described him as “a General most judiciously chosen for being disqualified for service he is employed in, in almost every respect…. ” One thing is certain: he was totally unpre­pared for life and war in colo­nial America.

After sailing up the Poto­mac as far as possible, then marching along the river val­ley, the army arrived at Fort Cumberland, where they were to receive the promised re­cruits, supplies and complete preparations for the rigorous march across the rugged mountains.

Accustomed to every order of the military being carried out like clockwork, Braddock grew livid when the promised two hundred wagons and fifteen hundred pack horses did not appear. He reported that he “met with nothing but Lies and Villainy.” Washing­ton, who volunteered as the general’s aide-de-camp, ad­vised Braddock to forget the wagons and use only pack­horses, if they could requisi­tion them, explaining that it would be impossible to trans­port the wagons over the mountains. Braddock ignored the suggestion, just as he had declined an invitation to meet with a council of powerful and knowledgeable Indian chiefs. The general did not need help from a colonial stripling or savages. Braddock would use the trail Washington’s troops had cut two years before, but it was crude, narrow and so rough that the retreat from Fort Necessity with the wounded had been a hellish nightmare. On some days they had covered only three miles. Washington clearly realized what lay ahead. Braddock had no idea. He demanded wag­ons, and wagons he would have. Finally, he sent a mes­senger to Benjamin Franklin, begging him to use his influ­ence to obtain wagons. Frank­lin responded by intimidating German farmers, who eventu­ally supplied wagons.

Braddock either insulted or aggravated nearly everyone he met. Washington, with his natural tact, managed to keep on reasonably good terms with him, but soon Braddock was not even speaking to his own officers. Unfortunate circum­stances and the general’s stub­bornness began setting the stage for defeat even before the actual campaign commenced. The fort’s provisions for both soldiers and horses were run­ning low. Twenty-two casks of beef arrived spoiled and had to be destroyed. Food was almost always scarce; the best was reserved for officers while the ranks went hungry. Many deserted even though General Braddock’s Orderly Book stated, “Any Solder who shall desert tho’ he return will be hanged without mercy.” The sentence was usually commuted to one hundred to one thousand lashes. Such whippings seemed to be the punishment for almost any lapse. The general also ordered that sol­diers guilty of “words or Ges­tures expressing Fear shall suffer death.” His rein was too tight. Something was sure to snap.

The day arrived when all seemed in order – as far as order was possible under the circumstances – and the army prepared to march into the wilderness. Most of the way to Cumberland had been through pleasantly rolling farm land or along sweeping river valleys. But even that had seemed rough to Braddock. He finally faced the barrier that had held civilization near the eastern coast for a century and a half: the Allegheny Mountains. Never doubting his army would get through, he ordered the first detachment of six hundred to march.

In the 1950s, a manuscript diary surfaced at a London auction house, which proved to be a day-to-day account of Braddock’s campaign! The diary had been kept by the batman, or personal servant, of the English captain, Robert Cholmley. Experts attest to its authenticity. It is the only known eyewitness record to the whole campaign, as even the official records, written later, were sketchy and inaccu­rate. The journal is unsigned; the writer simply identifies himself as “His master’s bat­man.” The batman and his master were with that first detachment of six hundred which departed Cumberland on May 29. He wrote: “This day we marched about seven miles and was 8 hours of marching it, it being very Bad Roads that we were oblig’d to halt every hundred yards and mend them.”

The next morning at four o’clock, a working party of two hundred was assigned to clear the way for the march that began two hours later. By eight o’clock that evening they had gained only three miles. “There great quantity of wag­ons delayed us and the roads being all to cut and make pass­able,” wrote the batman. The next day they also covered only three miles.

Each day the soldiers toiled ceaselessly, cutting a “road” twelve feet wide into the dense wilderness. A week after start­ing they arrived at a compara­tively clear area where they set up a base camp. The batman wrote, “We marched to the Little Meadows, it being 4 miles, very bad roads over rocks and mountains almost unpassable. We were ten hours in marching it … Today we dined on bear and rattle­snake.” Here they unloaded the wagons and sent them back to Fort Cumberland.

With fabricating a fort, Indian alarms and little food, the men grew dangerously exhausted. “The duty is Exces­sive hard here, haveing only One night in Bed. The day that they are off guard, they go to work so that they either mount guard or go to work everyday, and only salt meat and water to live on, and not haveing sufficient of that.” One day the batman reconnoitered with the “grand army,” slowly making its way toward Little Meadows, and brought back six loaves of bread and some mutton, but the next day it was bear and rattlesnake again and they were glad their hunters could provide that. Two days later two companies from the main forces arrived, ahead of the rest, with two hundred horses loaded with flour and bread.

It was only upon Brad­dock’s arrival at Little Mead­ows on June 17, that he could see why progress had been so slow. Never had he seen such country. He doubled the road­-cutting force, picked five hun­dred of the very best men to march on toward Great Mead­ows where Washington had built Fort Necessity, and or­dered one thousand men to follow. “My Master was one for this command,” wrote the batman. Colonel Dunbar and the remainder of the army were to stay at Little Meadows for a few days before follow­ing. By dividing his forces Braddock took another step toward defeat.

After cutting through ridge after ridge of mountains, they came at last to Great Mead­ows. The French had burned Fort Necessity the year before, but here at least was an open space, safer for a camp than the endless miles of forest surrounding them. This was the end of the crude trail bro­ken by Washington’s troops. From here on, as Braddock’s forces now turned north, they would be penetrating a virgin wilderness, cutting the twelve­-foot passage foot by foot.

French Indians harried them off and on, but food for men and stock was their most serious problem. The advance group kept straying far ahead of the supply wagons. The batman wrote: “We only Re­ceive three quarters of a pound of Flower [flour] and half a pound of Bacon Each day per man, the Other Provisions being So far behind and the wagons so loaded and wanting horses. They die so fast that when they march they Cannot draw above half of the wagons so when they come to their ground they are Oblig’d to send the horses back for the remainder of the wagons …. ” Finally their luck began to change. Not only was the country less wild and the traveling somewhat easier, but they arrived at a plantation owned by a Christopher Gist, a surveyor for the Ohio Com­pany, who had settled there in 1753. Here they stocked up on provisions. With enough to eat, the men’s spirits rose. The worst was behind them. Or so they thought.

On the morning of July 9 they were within a few miles of Fort Duquesne. In the words of the batman, “The Advance Party Marched at two in the Morning, consisting of two grannadier Companies and a hundred Battallion. My master commanded the Battallion …. When we came dose to the river [Monongahela] some of our men saide they saw great many French Indians on the Other Side …. Some saide there was not Any, but to be shure Colonel Gage who com­manded the Party Ordered the Cannon to be taken off the Carriages and to be drawn Over by the men, ready to ingage if action.” The march stopped about two hundred yards beyond the river where sentries were posted. All was quiet. “The men that had anything to Eate then Eate it for breakfast… but I believed where there was one had to eat their was twenty that had nothing. Some men had noth­ing most of the day before.” It hadn’t taken long to consume the provisions Gage had given them. “My Master Eate a little Ham that I had and a Bit of gloster Shire Cheese and I milked the Cow and made him a little milk punch.”

As soon as the rest of the army was over the river the advance group marched for­ward. When asked if he would take the cannon, Colonel Gage replied negatively, “No Sir I think not, for I do not think we shall have much occasion for them and they being troublesome to get forward.” Another fatal step was taken.

Both officers and soldiers had expected the attack to occur at the river crossing, and when nothing happened there, they believed the French and Indians would surrender the fort at the impressive sight of redcoats streaming out of the woods in seemingly end­less numbers. In a short-lived moment of euphoria, forgotten were the agony of the long march, the gnawing hunger and the dread and fear that had stalked them day and night. “So we began our March again,” the batman recorded, “Beating the granna­diers March all the Way, Never Seasing. There never was an army in the world in more spirits than we were, thinking of Reaching the Fort de Cain the day following as we were then only five miles from it.”

Then it happened.

The graphic account of the brave batman portrays the tragedy best: “We had got above a mile and a half before three of our guides in front of me above ten yards spyed the Indians lay’d down Before us. He immediately discharged his piece, turned Round his horse [and] Cried. The Indians was upon us. My master Called me to give me his horse which I took from him and the Ingage­ment began. Immediately they began to Ingage us in a half moon and still continued Sur­rounding us more and more …. My master died before we was ten Minutes Ingaged. They Continually made us Retreat, they having always a large marke to shout [shoot] at and we having only to shout at them behind trees or laid on their Bellies. We was drawn up in large Bodies together, a ready marke. They need not have taken sight of us for they Always had a large Marke, but if we saw of them five or six at one time [it] was a great sight and they Either on Bellies or behind trees or Running from one tree to another almost by the ground.”

Against Washington’s ad­vice, Braddock struggled vainly to keep his forces to­gether. Forcing his horse amidst the dead and dying, he dashed from officer to officer, shouting commands, demand­ing order. Finding a British soldier cowering behind a tree, he routed him out with a slap of the broad side of his sword. His soldiers could see what Braddock could not (or would not): that the Americans who had scattered to fight Indian fashion “did the most Execu­tion of Any.” This was not war, not the glorious duel between nations, for which Braddock had been trained. Throughout the din, orders were unheard or ignored. Officers lost all control. The soldiers desper­ately attempted to retreat through the narrow cut in the forest, only to reach an im­passe as the rest of the army­ – ignorant of the situation in front on them – tried to val­iantly push forward! If only they had had the cannon! Indians were terrified of those machines, but the cannon were abandoned at the river. Braddock had five horses shot from under him. The anony­mous but brave batman mounted him upon the wounded horse of his dead master, until a better horse lost a rider. The last slim chance for victory was lost when the British soldiers mistook the Americans, who were fighting from behind trees, for the enemy and killed nearly all of them.

Since the French and Indi­ans had failed to completely encircle them, after three and a half hours of horror, those who were able finally escaped. They never would have fought so long, but surrender meant torture and agonizing death. “The general was wounded,” wrote the batman, “and a great many Officers was killed with about 500 private men, and about 400 out of Better than twelve hundred …. They pro­sued us Better than a mile and cut many off in going through the River. All the wounded that Could not walk fell in the Enemy’s hands but was given no quarter …. We marched all Night and the Next Day with­out anything to Eat or drink Except water .. .it being Better than Sixty Miles …. We was Oblig’d to Carry him [Brad­dock] on two long poals and Bed upon it for him to lay on.”

Years later Washington wrote of that night’s flight, “The shocking scenes which pre­sented themselves in the night’s march are not to be described. The dead, the dying, the groans, lamenta­tions, and cries along the road of the wounded for help … were enough to pierce a heart of adament.”

On July 12 they halted and destroyed all ammunition and provisions. The horses were dying so fast most of the wag­ons had to be burned, and the rest used to carry the wounded.

By July 13, they neared the Great Meadows and the charred remains of Fort Neces­sity. The unknown servant offered the last installment of the ill-fated campaign. “We marched and in the evening the Genll died of his wounds and several Other Soldiers, this being the first place that the men was dressed since the Ingagement. The weather being very hot Cased [caused] a great many magots in the mens wounds when they were drest.” The survivors buried Gen. Edward Braddock the next day in the middle of the trail so that the tread of the marching soldiers would mask the lonely wilderness grave from plundering enemies. The chaplain was ill and George Washington read the burial service.

The tragedy was all for naught. The following year Gen. John Forbes marched troops across central Pennsyl­vania to the French fort, Du­quesne. Finding that the French had vacated the post, he claimed it for the British and changed its name to Fort Pitt. Named for Prime Minister William Pitt of Great Britain, the fort served as the British stronghold of the Ohio Valley and a center for settlement.

Although historians con­tend that Braddock was, in­deed, a military failure, it cannot be denied that the trail his troops slashed through Pennsylvania’s vast hinter­lands helped develop the na­tion. For more than a century and a half, this path was trav­eled by westward-bound pio­neers who helped open the rest of the country for settle­ment. The general’s trail even­tually spawned the route of the old National Road, the country’s first national road begun in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland. Later rebuilt, the National Road is present-day Route 40.

While repairing the trail in 1804, laborers found the gen­eral’s remains hidden by loyal soldiers a half-century before. A century later, however, they were re-interred at an idyllic location near U.S. Route 40 and marked by a handsome granite memorial.


For Further Reading

Hamilton, Charles. Braddock’s Defeat. Norman, Okla.: Univer­sity of Oklahoma Press, 1959.

Hamilton, Edward F. The French and Indian Wars. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1962.

James, Alfred Proctor. Decision at the Forks. Pittsburgh: The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1958.

Kopperman, Paul E. Braddock at the Monongahela. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977.

Lowdermilk, Will H., History of Cumberland, Maryland. Balti­more: Regional Publishing Co., 1971.

McCardell, Lee. Ill-starred Gen­eral: Braddock of the Cold­stream Guards. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958.

Ritenour, John Sturgis. Old Tom Fossit; a true narrative con­cerning a thrilling epoch of early colonial days. Pittsburgh: J. R. Weldin Company, 1926.

Sargent, Winthrop. The History of an Expedition Against Fort Du Quesne, Under Major­-General Edward Braddock. Philadelphia: N.P., 1856.

Stotz, Charles Morse. Defense in the Wilderness. Pittsburgh: The Allegheny Conference on Commu­nity Development, 1958.


Iola B. Parker, a retired chemist from Point Park College in Pitts­burgh, completed graduate work at the University of Florida and the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in Smithso­nian, Maryland, Ford Times, Christian Herald and Country Magazine. She extensively writes on the “west of the Allegheny Mountains” history. She and her husband now reside in Garrett County, Maryland.