9.7.08

Braddock's defeat

Today is the anniversary of the defeat of General Edward Braddock by the forces of the King Of France Louis XV.

After the defeat of George Washington at fort Necessity and appeals from colonial governors, the British decided to take matters more seriously concerning the territorial dispute between France and England. The King of England, George II, sent Major General Braddock to North America with two regiments of infantry.

Braddock, a career soldier, had risen through the ranks. After 45 years of military service he became commander-in-chief of all British forces in North America. The British plan for 1755 was to simultaneously attack many French forts in North America. Braddock would lead the expedition against Fort Duquesne personally. That spring, he disembarked his army at Alexandria, Virginia. After adding colonial troops and a few Indians to his force, Braddock had about 2,400 men. George Washington joined the campaign as a volunteer aide to the General.

The army assembled at Wills Creek. Braddock decided to follow the road Washington had blazed over the mountains on his way to Fort Necessity the previous year. Because the trail was inadequate for the army's large wagons and artillery, it was widened to 12 feet, but only at great effort and expenditure of time. The force seemed to move at a snail's pace. Finally the army was split in two with Braddock moving ahead with the bulk of the men and a few pieces of artillery. The remainder would follow under the command of Colonel Dunbar.

In early July, the advance group was approaching the Forks of the Ohio. On July 9, they made a second crossing of the Monongahela River. From that point it was a short march to Fort Duquesne.

Soon after the river crossing, the woods in front of the British column exploded with musket fire and the whooping of Indians and their French allies as they collided head-on with the British. Advance British units fell back upon the main body, while the rear units continued advancing, adding to the confusion. Disorganization and fear seized the British. In the smoke of the battle, fighting an unseen enemy, and with many British officers killed early on, discipline all but ended.

The Battle lasted three hours. Finally, as Braddock was carried from the field severely wounded, the surviving British fled. British losses had been horrendous: more than 900 casualties out of 1,400 men engaged. They were completely beaten by a force they could not see in a wilderness where they did not want to be. Their retreat to the safety of Dunbar's camp was hasty and disorganized. Washington reported "The shocking Scenes which presented themselves in this Nights March are not to be described. The dead, the dying, the groans, lamentations, and crys ... of the wounded for help were enough to pierce a heart of adamant".

On July 13 The British camped about one mile west of the Great Meadows, site of Fort Necessity , and in the evening Braddock died. Washington officiated at the ceremony the next day. The general was buried in the road his men had built. The army then marched over the grave to obliterate any traces of it and continued to eastern Pennsylvania.

One can only imagine what went through the general's mind after the battle. He commanded what some considered an invincible army. They were not ambushed, but rather surprised, and discipline broke down. The rout was a disgrace. Doctors later reported that the general had died more from anxiety than from his wounds.

Washington later wrote"...Thus died a man, whose good and bad qualities were intimately blended. He was brave even to a fault and in regular Service would have done honor to his profession. His attachments were warm, his enmities were strong, and having no disguise about him, both appeared in full force."


This letter, written by 23-year-old George Washington to his mother, Mary Washington, describes the battle near Pittsburgh in the French and Indian War in which the British and British Colonial forces under General Braddock were defeated.

HONORED MADAM: As I doubt not but you have heard of our defeat, and, perhaps, had it represented in a worse light, if possible, than it deserves, I have taken this earliest opportunity to give you some account of the engagement as it happened, within ten miles of the French fort, on Wednesday the 9th instant.

We marched to that place, without any considerable loss, having only now and then a straggler picked up by the French and scouting Indians. When we came there, we were attacked by a party of French and Indians, whose number, I am persuaded, did not exceed three hundred men; while ours consisted of about one thousand three hundred well-armed troops, chiefly regular soldiers, who were struck with such a panic that they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive. The officers behaved gallantly, in order to encourage their men, for which they suffered greatly, there being near sixty killed and wounded; a large proportion of the number we had.

The Virginia troops showed a good deal of bravery, and were nearly all killed; for I believe, out of three companies that were there, scarcely thirty men are left alive. Captain Peyrouny, and all his officers down to a corporal, were killed. Captain Polson had nearly as hard a fate, for only one of his was left. In short, the dastardly behavior of those they call regulars exposed all others, that were inclined to do their duty, to almost certain death; and, at last, in despite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they ran, as sheep pursued by dogs, and it was impossible to rally them.

The General was wounded, of which he died three days after. Sir Peter Halket was killed in the field, where died many other brave officers. I luckily escaped without a wound, though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me. Captains Orme and Morris, two of the aids-de-camp, were wounded early in the engagement, which rendered the duty harder upon me, as I was the only person then left to distribute the General's orders, which I was scarcely able to do, as I was not half recovered from a violent illness, that had confined me to my bed and a wagon for above ten days. I am still in a weak and feeble condition, which induces me to halt here two or three days in the hope of recovering a little strength, to enable me to proceed homewards; from whence, I fear, I shall not be able to stir till toward September; so that I shall not have the pleasure of seeing you till then, unless it be in Fairfax... I am, honored Madam, your most dutiful son.


Dieu sauve le Roy!
de Brantigny

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