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1755 Three Accounts of General Braddock's Defeat at Fort Duquesne by Winthrop Sargent, George Washington and Captain de Contrecoeur

Document Discription

The defeat of General Edward Braddock's forces at Fort Duquesne (located in what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on July 9, 1755, during the French and Indian War, was a significant setback for the British colonial forces.

Here are three different accounts of the event:

Winthrop Sargent's Account:

Winthrop Sargent was a soldier who served under General Braddock, and his account is a detailed description of the events leading up to and during the battle. According to Sargent, Braddock's forces consisted of about 1,500 British soldiers and 500 colonial militia. They set out from Fort Cumberland on June 10 and marched through difficult terrain to reach Fort Duquesne.

When they arrived, the French and Indian forces had taken up positions in the woods, and Braddock ordered his troops to form a column and march directly toward the fort. However, this made them vulnerable to surprise attacks from the flanks, and the French and Indian forces took advantage of this, inflicting heavy casualties on the British.

Sargent notes that Braddock himself was killed during the battle, and that the remaining British forces retreated in disarray.

George Washington's Account:

George Washington, who would later become the first President of the United States, also served under Braddock during the campaign. In his account, he describes how Braddock's stubbornness and lack of adaptability led to the defeat. Washington notes that Braddock was insistent on using European-style tactics, which involved massed formations and marching in plain sight, despite the fact that the American frontier required more flexible and unconventional tactics. Washington also emphasizes the effectiveness of the French and Indian forces, who used their knowledge of the terrain and unconventional tactics to inflict heavy casualties on the British.

Captain de Contrecoeur's Account:

Captain Daniel Hyacinthe Marie Liénard de Beaujeu, Sieur de Contrecoeur, was the French commander at Fort Duquesne during the battle. His account provides a different perspective on the events of the day. According to Contrecoeur, his forces consisted of only 250 French regulars, 640 Canadian militia, and 1000 Native American allies. They were greatly outnumbered by the British forces, but were able to use their knowledge of the terrain and their allies' skills to their advantage. Contrecoeur notes that the battle was intense and lasted for several hours, but that his forces were ultimately victorious. He also praises the courage and tenacity of his Native American allies, who played a crucial role in the battle.
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Winthrop Sargent

The repeated wars between France and England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had involved also their colonies in America and India. In America the Indians had been employed as allies upon both sides, and thus encouraged in their hideous deeds of massacre and torture. Hence there had grown an ever-increasing bitterness between the French in Canada and the English colonists along the Atlantic coasts, and this finally led to the momentous French and Indian war, which, contrary to the course of the earlier contests, originated in America and spread thence to Europe.

Its immediate cause was the disputed possession of the interior of the continent, the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. These had been first explored by the French, and when English pioneers began to penetrate thither the French built a chain of forts to resist them. An expedition of Virginians under the command of their youthful leader, Major George Washington, had a sharp encounter with the enemy in 1754; and then the English government determined to assert its authority by an overwhelming force. No war was declared against France, nor even against Canada; but a distinguished English general, Braddock, was sent over with three thousand regular troops to seize the French forts in the Ohio Valley, especially Fort Duquesne, on the site of the modern city of Pittsburg.

Braddock's expedition thus started the war which ended in the expulsion of France from the North American continent. It did more than that: it sowed the seeds of lasting dissension between the American colonial troops and the British regulars. The British despised their uninformed allies, and the latter soon learned in their turn to despise the regulars.

The English general liked the young Virginian major, Washington, and invited him, as one who knew the ground, to accompany the projected expedition and give advice - which Braddock never took. Its caution seemed to him to savor too much of cowardice, and he persisted in marching through the wilderness toward Fort Duquesne as though his forces had been upon parade, with drums beating and colors flying. The French were very near to being frightened into flight, but determined on making one effort at resistance. Its results are here told by the standard Pennsylvania historian, Sargent, and also in briefer form by Washington himself in a letter to the Virginian Governor, and by the French commander of Fort Duquesne in his official report. Text

With a commendable discretion - the utmost, perhaps, that he was capable of - Braddock had concluded his arrangements for passing what he regarded as the only perilous place between his army and the fort, which he designed to reach early on the 10th. Had the proposition, started and abandoned by St. Clair, to push forward that very night a strong detachment to invest it before morning, been actually made to him, it is very probable he would have discountenanced it. As in all human likelihood it would have been crowned with success, it is as well for the general's reputation that the suggestion aborted.

What precautionary steps his education and capacity could suggest were here taken by Braddock. Before three o'clock on the morning of the 9th Gage was sent forth with a chosen band to secure both crossings of the river, and to hold the farther shore of the second ford till the rest of the army should come up. At four, St. Clair, with a working party, followed to make the roads. At 6 A.M. the general set out, and, having advantageously posted about four hundred men upon the adjacent heights, made, with all the wagons and baggage, the first crossing of the Monongahela. Marching thence in order of battle toward the second ford, he received intelligence that Gage had occupied the shore, according to orders, and that the route was clear. The only enemy he had seen was a score of savages, who fled without awaiting his approach. By eleven o'clock the army reached the second ford; but it was not until after one that the declivities of the banks were made ready for the artillery and wagons, when the whole array, by a little before two o'clock, was safely passed over. Not doubting that from some point on the stream the enemy's scouts were observing his operations, Braddock was resolved to strongly impress them with the numbers and condition of his forces; and accordingly the troops were ordered to appear as for a dress-parade. In after-life Washington was accustomed to observe that he had never seen elsewhere so beautiful a sight as was exhibited during this passage of the Monongahela. Every man was attired in his best uniform; the burnished arms shone bright as silver in the glistening rays of the noonday sun, as, with colors waving proudly above their heads, and amid inspiring bursts of martial music, the steady files, with disciplined precision, and glittering in scarlet and gold, advanced to their position. While the rear was yet on the other side, and the van was falling into its ordained course, the bulk of the army was drawn up in battle array on the western shore, hard by the spot where one Frazier, a German blacksmith in the interest of the English, had lately had his home. Two or three hundred yards above the spot where it now stood was the mouth of Turtle Creek - the "Tulpewi Sipu" of the Lenape - which, flowing in a southwestwardly course to the Monongahela, that here has a northwestward direction, embraces, in an obtuse angle of about one hundred twenty-five degrees, the very spot where the brunt of the battle was to be borne.

The scene is familiar to tourists, being, as the crow flies, but eight miles from Pittsburg, and scarce twelve by the course of the river. For three-quarters of a mile below the entrance of the creek the Monongahela was unusually shallow, forming a gentle rapid or "ripple," and easily fordable at almost any point. Its common level is from three to four hundred feet below that of the surrounding country; and along its upper banks, at the second crossing, stretches a fertile bottom of a rich pebbled mould, about a fourth of a mile in width and twenty feet above low-water mark. At this time it was covered by a fair, open walnut-wood, uncumbered with bush or undergrowth.

The ascent from the river, however, is rarely abrupt; but by a succession of gentle alluvial slopes or bottoms the steep hillsides are approached, as though the waters had gradually subsided from their original glory to a narrow bed at the very bottom of the ancient channel. At this particular place the rise of the first bottom does not exceed an angle of three degrees. Above it again rises a second bottom of the same width and about fifty feet higher than the first, and gradually ascending until its farther edge rests upon the bold, rocky face of the mountain line, climbing at once some two hundred feet to the usual level of the region around. A firm clay, overlaid with mould, forms the soil of the second bottom, which was heavily and more densely timbered than the first; and the underwood began to appear more plentifully where the ground was less exposed to the action of the spring floods. In the bosom of the hill several springs unite their sources to give birth to a petty rivulet that hurries down the steep to be lost in the river. Its cradle lies in the bed of a broad ravine, forty or fifty feet deep, that rises in the hill-side, and, crossing the whole of the second bottom, debouches on the first, where the waters whose current it so far guides, trickle oozily down through a swampy bed. Great trees grew within and along this chasm, and the usual smaller growth peculiar to such a situation; and a prodigious copse of wild grape-vines, not yet entirely gone, shrouded its termination upon the first bottom and shadowed the birth of the infant brook.

About two hundred yards from the line of hills, and three hundred south of the ravine just described, commences another of a more singular nature; with its steep sides, almost exactly perpendicular, it perfectly resembles a ditch cut for purposes of defence. Rising near the middle of the second bottom, it runs westwardly to the upper edge of the first, with a depth at its head of four or five feet, increasing as it descends, and a width of eight or ten. A century ago its channel was overhung and completely concealed by a luxurious thicket of pea-vines and trailers, of bramble-bushes and the Indian plum; its edges closely fringed with the thin, tall wood-grass of summer. But even now, when the forests are gone and the plough long since passed over the scene, the ravine cannot be at all perceived until one is directly upon it; and hence arose the chief disasters of the day. Parallel with and about one hundred fifty yards north of this second gulley ran a third; a dry, open hollow, and rather thinly wooded; but which afforded a happy protection to the enemy from the English fire. Either of these ravines would have sheltered an army; the second - the most important, though not the largest - would of itself afford concealment to a thousand men.

There is little reason to doubt that as Braddock drew near, M. de Contrecoeur was almost decided to abandon his position without striking a blow, and, withdrawing his men, as did his successor, in 1758, leave to the English a bloodless victory. He certainly was prepared to surrender on terms of honorable capitulation. A solitary gun was mounted upon a carriage to enable the garrison to evacuate with the honors of war; it being a point of nice feeling with a defeated soldier that he should retire with drums beating a national march, his own colors flying, and a cannon loaded, with a lighted match. This deprives the proceeding of a compulsory air; and to procure this gratification, Contrecoeur made his arrangements. The British army was so overwhelming in strength, so well appointed and disciplined, that he perhaps deemed any opposition to its advance would be not less fruitless than the defence of the works. However this may be, he had as yet on July 7th announced no definite conclusion, though possibly his views were perceptible enough to his subordinates. On that day it was known that the enemy, whose numbers were greatly magnified, were at the head-waters of Turtle Creek. On the 8th, where his route was changed, M. de Beaujeu, a captain in the regulars, proposed to the commander that he might be permitted to go forth with a suitable band to prepare an ambuscade for the English on the banks of the Monongahela, and to dispute with them the passage of the second ford. If we may believe tradition, it was with undisguised reluctance that Contrecoeur complied with this request, and even then, it is said, refused to assign troops for the enterprise, bidding him call for volunteers as for a forlorn hope. To that summons the whole garrison responded.

If this tale be true, Contrecoeur recanted his determination, and wisely preferred making him a regular detachment, conditioned on his success in obtaining the union of the Indians, who, to the number of nearly a thousand warriors, were gathered at the place. Accordingly, the savages were at once called to a council. These people, consisting of bands assembled from a dozen different nations, listened with unsuppressed discontent to the overtures of the Frenchman. Seated under the palisades that environed the fort, or standing in knots about the speaker, were gathered a motley but a ferocious crew. Alienated from their ancient friends, here were Delawares from the Susquehanna eager to speed the fatal stroke, and Shawanoes from Grave Creek and the Muskingum; scattered warriors of the Six Nations; Ojibwas, Pottawottomis from the far Michigan; Abenakis and Caughnawagas from Canada; Ottawas from Lake Superior, led on by the royal Pontiac; and Hurons from the falls of Montreal and the mission of Lorette, whose barbarous leader gloried in a name torn from the most famous pages of Christian story.

To these reluctant auditors Beaujeu stated his designs. "How, my father," said they in reply, "are you so bent upon death that you would also sacrifice us? With our eight hundred men do you ask us to attack four thousand English? Truly, this is not the saying of a wise man. But we will lay up what we have heard, and to-morrow you shall know our thoughts." On the morning of July 9th the conference was repeated, and the Indians announced their intention of refusing to join in the expedition. At this moment a runner - probably one of those dislodged by Gage in the early dawn - burst in upon the assembly and heralded the advent of the foe. Well versed in the peculiar characteristics of the savages, by whom he was much beloved, and full of tact and energy, Beaujeu took ready advantage of the excitement which these tidings occasioned. "I," said he, "am determined to go out against the enemy. I am certain of victory. What! will you suffer your father to depart alone?" Fired by his language and the reproach it conveyed, they at once resolved by acclamation to follow him to the fray.

In a moment the scene was alive with frantic enthusiasm. Barrels of bullets and flints and casks of powder were hastily rolled to the gates: their heads were knocked out, and every warrior left to supply himself at his own discretion. Then, painted for war and armed for the combat, the party moved rapidly away, in numbers nearly nine hundred strong, of whom six hundred thirty-seven were Indians, one hundred forty-six Canadians, and seventy-two regular troops. Subordinate to Beaujeu were MM. Dumas and De Ligneris, both captains in the regular army, four lieutenants, six ensigns, and twenty cadets. Though his numbers were thus not so greatly inferior to Braddock's, it is not likely that Beaujeu calculated on doing more than giving the English a severe check and perhaps delaying for a few days their advance. It is impossible that he should have contemplated the complete victory that was before him.

On the evening of July 8th the ground had been carefully reconnoitred and the proper place for the action selected. The intention was to dispute as long as possible the passage of the second ford, and then to fall back upon the ravines. But long ere they reached the scene the swell of the military music, the crash of falling trees apprised them that the foe had already crossed the river, and that his pioneers were advanced into the woodlands. Quickening their pace into a run, they managed to reach the broken ground just as the van of the English came in sight. Braddock had turned from the first bottom to the second, and mounting to its brown was about to pass around the head of the ravines to avoid the little morass caused by the water-course before described. His route did not lie parallel with the most dangerous defile, where the banks are so steep and the cover so perfect, but passed its head at an angle of about forty-five degrees; thus completely exposing his face and flanks from a point on the second bottom, at a hundred yards distance, to another within thirty, where he would turn the ravine. Of course the farther he advanced the nearer he would approach to its brink, till the whole should finally be left behind; thus opening a line of two hundred yards long, at an average distance of sixty, to the enemy's fire. Had he possessed the least knowledge of these defiles, he would undoubtedly have secured them in season, since nothing would have been easier than their occupation by Gage's advanced party. But not a man in his army had ever dreamed of their existence.

The arrangement of the march from the river's bank had been made as follows: The engineers and guides and six light-horsemen proceeded immediately before the advanced detachment under Gage, and the working-party under St. Clair, who had with them two brass six-pounders and as many tumbrils or tool-carts. On either flank, parties to the number of eight were thrown out to guard against surprises. At some distance behind Gage followed the line, preceded by the light horse, four squads of whom also acted as extreme flankers at either end of the column. Next came the seamen, followed by a subaltern with twenty grenadiers, a twelve-pounder and a company of grenadiers. Then the vanguard succeeded, and the wagon and artillery train, which began and ended with a twelve-pounder: and the rear-guard closed the whole. Numerous flanking-parties, however, protected each other; and six subalterns, each with twenty grenadiers, and ten sergeants, with ten men each, were detached for this purpose.

The greater part of Gage's command was actually advanced beyond the spot where the main battle was fought, and was just surmounting the second bottom, when Mr. Gordon, one of the engineers who were in front marking out the road, perceived the enemy bounding forward. Before them, with long leaps, came Beaujeu, the gayly colored fringes of his hunting-shirt and the silver gorget on his bosom at once bespeaking the chief. Comprehending in a glance the position he had attained, he suddenly halted and waved his hat above his head. At this preconcerted signal the savages dispersed to the right and left, throwing themselves flat upon the ground, and gliding behind rocks or trees or into the ravines. Had the earth yawned beneath their feet and reclosed above their heads, they could not have more instantaneously vanished. The French - some of whom, according to Garneau, were mounted - held the centre of the semicircular disposition so instantly assumed; and a tremendous fire was at once opened on the English. For a moment Gage's troops paused aghast at the furious yells and strangeness of the onset. Rallying immediately, he returned their fire, and halted a moment till St. Clair's working-party came up; when he bade his men advance at once upon the centre of the concentric line. As he drew near he was again greeted with a staggering discharge, and again his ranks were shaken. Then in return, they opened a fire of grape and musketry so tremendous as to sweep down every unsheltered foe who was upon his feet, and to utterly fright the savages from their propriety. Beaujeu and a dozen more fell dead upon the spot, and the Indians already began to fly, their courage being unable to endure the unwonted tumult of such a portentous detonation.

But reanimated by the clamorous exhortations of Dumas and De Ligneris, and observing that the regulars and militia still preserved a firm front, they returned once more to their posts and resumed the combat. For a time the issue seemed doubtful, and the loud cries of "Vive le Roil!" of the French were met by the charging cheers of the English. But precision of aim soon began to prevail over mere mechanical discipline. In vain the Forty-fourth continued their fire; in vain their officers, with waving swords, led them to the charge; hidden beneath great trees or concealed below the level of the earth, the muzzles of their pieces resting on the brink of the ravine, and shooting with a secure and steady aim, the majority of the enemy rested secure and invisible to their gallant foemen.

In the mean time Braddock, whose extreme rear had not yet left the river's bank, hearing the uproar in advance, ordered Burton to press forward with the vanguard, and the rest of the line to halt; thus leaving Halket with four hundred men to protect the baggage while eight hundred engaged the enemy. But just as Burton, under a galling fire, was forming his troops upon the ground, Gage's party gave way and precipitately endeavored to fall into his rear; confusing men who were confused before. The manoeuvre was unsuccessfully executed, and the two regiments became inextricably commingled. Vainly Braddock strove to separate the soldiers, huddling together like frightened sheep. Vainly the regimental colors were advanced on opposite directions as rallying-points.

"Ut conspicuum in proelio Haberent signum quod sequerentur milites." The officers sought to collect their men together and lead them on in platoons. Nothing could avail. On every hand the officers, distinguished by their horses and their uniforms, were the constant mark of hostile rifles; and it was soon as impossible to find men to give orders as it was to have them obeyed. In a narrow road twelve feet wide, shut up on either side and overpent by the primeval forest, were crowded together the panic-stricken wretches, hastily loading and reloading, and blindly discharging their guns in the air, as though they suspected their mysterious murderers were sheltered in the boughs above their heads; while all around, removed from sight, but making day hideous with their war-whoops and savage cries, lay ensconced a host insatiate for blood.

Foaming with rage and indignation, Braddock flew from rank to rank, with his own hands endeavoring to force his men into position. Four horses were shot under him, but mounting a fifth he still strained every nerve to retrieve the ebbing fortunes of the day. His subordinates gallantly seconded his endeavors, throwing themselves from the saddle and advancing by platoons, in the idle hope that their men would follow; but only to rush upon their fate. The regular soldiery, deprived of their immediate commanders and terrified at the incessant fall of their comrades, could not be brought to the charge, while the provincials, better skilled, sought in vain to cover themselves and to meet the foe upon equal terms; for to the urgent entreaties of Washington and Sir Peter Halket, that the men might be permitted to leave the ranks and shelter themselves, the general turned a deaf ear. Wherever he saw as man skulking behind a tree, he flew at once to the spot and, with curses on his cowardice and blows with the flat of his sword, drove him back into the open road.

Wherever the distracted artillerymen saw a smoke arise, thither did they direct their aim; and many of the flankers who had succeeded in obtaining the only position where they could be of any service, were thus shot down. Athwart the brow of the hill lay a large log, five feet in diameter, which Captain Waggoner, of the Virginia Levies, resolved to take possession of. With shouldered firelocks he marched a party of eighty men to the spot, losing but three on the way; and at once throwing themselves behind it, the remainder opened a hot fire upon the enemy. But no sooner were the flash and the report of their pieces perceived by the mob behind, than a general discharge was poured upon the little band, by which fifty were slain outright and the rest constrained to fly.

By this time the afternoon was well advanced and the whole English line surrounded. The ammunition began to fail and the artillery to flag; the baggage was warmly attacked; and a runner was despatched to the fort with the tidings that by set of sun not an Englishman would be left alive upon the ground. Still, gathering counsel from despair, Braddock disdained to yield; still, strong in this point only of their discipline, his soldiers died by his side, palsied with fear, yet without one thought of craven flight. At last, when every aide but Washington was struck down; when the lives of the vast majority of the officers had been sacrificed with a reckless intrepidity, a sublime self-devotion, that surpasses the power of language to express; when scarce a third part of the whole army remained unscathed, and these incapable of aught save remaining to die or till the word to retire was given - at last, Braddock abandoned all hope of victory, and, with a mien undaunted as in his proudest hour, ordered the drums to sound a retreat. The instant their faces were turned, the poor regulars lost every trace of the sustaining power of custom; and the retreat became a headlong flight. "Despite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they ran," says Washington, "as sheep pursued by dogs, and it was impossible to rally them."

Beneath a large tree standing between the heads of the northernmost ravines, and while in the act of giving an order, Braddock received a mortal wound; the ball passing through his right arm into the lungs. Falling from his horse, he lay helpless on the ground, surrounded by the dead, abandoned by the living. Not one of his transatlantic soldiery "who had served with the Duke" could be prevailed upon to stay his headlong flight and aid to bear his general from the field. Orme thought to tempt them with a purse containing sixty guineas; but in such a moment even gold could not prevail upon a vulgar soul, and they rushed unheeding on. Disgusted at such pusillanimity, and his heart big with despair, Braddock refused to be removed, and bade the faithful friends who lingered by his side to provide for their own safety. He declared his resolution of leaving his own body on the field; the scene that had witnessed his dishonor he desired should bury his shame. With manly affection, Orme disregarded his injunctions; and Captain Stewart, of Virginia, the commander of the light-horse which were attached to the general's person, with another American officer, hastening to Orme's relief, his body was placed first in a tumbrel, and afterward upon a fresh horse, and thus borne away. Stewart seems to have cherished a sense of duty or of friendship toward his chief that did not permit him to desert him for a moment while life remained.

It was about five o'clock in the afternoon when the English abandoned the field. Pursued to the water's edge by about fifty savages the regular troops cast from them guns, accoutrements, and even clothing, that they might run the faster. Many were overtaken and tomahawked here; but where they had once crossed the river, they were not followed. Soon turning from the chase, the glutted warriors made haste to their unhallowed and unparalleled harvest of scalps and plunder. The provincials, better acquainted with Indian warfare, were less disconcerted; and though their losses were as heavy, their behavior was more composed. In full possession of his courage and military instincts, Braddock still essayed to procure an orderly and soldier-like retreat; but the demoralization of the army now rendered this impossible. With infinite difficulty, a hundred men, after running about half a mile, were persuaded to stop at a favorable spot where Braddock proposed to remain until Dunbar should arrive, to whose camp Washington was sent with suitable orders. It will thus be seen how far was his indomitable soul from succumbing in the discharge of his duties, beneath the unexpected burthen that had been laid upon him. By his directions Burton posted sentries here, and endeavored to form a nucleus around which to gather the shattered remains of the troops, and where the wounded might be provided for.

But all was idle. In an hour's time almost every soldier had stolen away, leaving their officers deserted. These, making the best of their way off, were joined beyond the other ford by Gage, who had rallied some eighty men; and this was all that remained of that gallant army which scarce six hours before was by friend and foe alike deemed invincible. With little interruption the march was continued through that night and the ensuing day, till at 10 P.M. on July 10th they came to Gist's plantation; where early on the 11th some wagons and hospital stores arrived from Dunbar for their relief. Despite the intensity of his agonies, Braddock still persisted in the exercise of his authority and the fulfilment of his duties. From Gist's he detailed a party to return toward the Monongahela with a supply of provisions to be left on the road for the benefit of stragglers yet behind, and Dunbar was commanded to send to him the only two remaining old companies of the Forty-fourth and Forty-eighth, with more wagons to bring off the wounded; and on Friday, July 11th, he arrived at Dunbar's camp. Through this and all the preceding day men half famished, without arms and bewildered with terror, had been joining Dunbar; his camp was in the utmost confusion, and his soldiers were deserting without ceremony.

Braddock's strength was now fast ebbing away. Informed of the disorganized condition of the remaining troops, he abandoned all hope of a prosperous termination to the expedition. He saw that not only death, but utter defeat, was inevitable. But conscious of the odium the latter event would excite, he nobly resolved that the sole responsibility of the measure should rest with himself, and consulted with no one upon the steps he pursued. He merely issued his orders, and insisted that they were obeyed. Thus, after destroying the stores to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy - of whose pursuit he did not doubt - the march was to be resumed on Saturday, July 12th, toward Will's Creek. Ill-judged as these orders were, they met with but too ready acquiescence at the hands of Dunbar, whose advice was neither asked nor tendered on the occasion. Thus the great mass of those stores which had been so painfully brought thither were destroyed. Of the artillery but two six-pounders were preserved; the cohorns were broken or buried, and the shells bursted. One hundred fifty wagons were burned; the powder-casks were staved in, and their contents, to the amount of fifty thousand pounds, cast into a spring; and the provisions were scattered abroad upon the ground or thrown into the water. Nothing was saved beyond the actual necessities for a flying march; and when a party of the enemy some time afterward visited the scene, they completed the work of destruction. For this service - the only instance of alacrity that he displayed in the campaign - Dunbar must not be forgiven. It is not perfectly clear that Braddock intelligently ever gave the orders; but in any case they were not fit for a British officer to give or to obey. Dunbar's duty was to have maintained here his position, or at the least not to have contemplated falling back beyond Will's Creek. That he had not horses to remove his stores was, however, his after-excuse.

It was not until Sunday, July 13th, that all this was finished; and the army with its dying general proceeded to the Great Meadows, where the close was to transpire:

"Last scene of all, That ends this strange, eventful history."

Ever since the retreat commenced Braddock has preserved a steadfast silence, unbroken save when he issued the necessary commands. That his wound was mortal he knew; but he also knew that his fame had received a not less fatal stab; that his military reputation, dearer than his own life to a veteran or those of a thousand others, was gone forever. These reflections embittered his dying hours; nor were there any means at hand of diverting the current of his thoughts or ministering to the comfort of his body; even the chaplain of the army was among the wounded. He pronounced the warmest eulogiums upon the conduct of his officers - who, indeed, had merited all he could say of them - and seems to have entertained some compunctions at not having more scrupulously followed the advice of Washington, or perhaps at the loss of power to provide for that young soldier's interests as thoroughly as he would have done had he returned victorious.

At all events, we find him singling out his Virginia aide as his nuncupative legatee, bequeathing to him his favorite charger and his body-servant Bishop, so well known in after-years as the faithful attendant of the patriot chief. The only allusion he made to the fate of the battle was to softly repeat once or twice to himself, "Who would have thought it?" Turning to Orme, "We shall better know how to deal with them another time," were his parting words. A few moments later and he breathed his last. Thus at about eight on the night of Sunday, July 13th, honorably died a brave old soldier, who, if wanting in temper and discretion, was certainly, according to the standard of the school in which he had been educated, an accomplished officer; and whose courage and honesty are not to be discussed. The uttermost penalty that humanity could exact he paid for his errors; and if his misfortune brought death and woe upon his country, it was through no shrinking on his part from what he conceived to be his duty. He shared the lot of the humblest man who fell by his side.

So terminated the bloody battle of the Monongahela; a scene of carnage which has been truly described as unexampled in the annals of modern warfare. Of the 1460 souls, officers and privates, who went into the combat, 456 were slain outright and 421 were wounded; making a total of 877 men. Of 89 commissioned officers, 63 were killed or wounded; not a solitary field-officer escaping unhurt.


2. By George Washington

"Fort Cumberland, 18 July, 1755. "To Governor Dinwiddie:

"Honbl. Sir - As I am favored with an opportunity, I should think myself inexcusable was I to omit giving you some account of our late Engagement with the French on the Monongahela, the 9th instant.

"We continued our march from Fort Cumberland to Frazier's (which is within 7 miles of Duquesne) without meeting any extraordinary event, having only a straggler or two picked up by the French Indians. When we came to this place, we were attacked (very unexpectedly) by about three hundred French and Indians. Our numbers consisted of about thirteen hundred well-armed men, chiefly Regulars, who were immediately struck with such an inconceivable panic that nothing but confusion and disobedience of orders prevailed among them. The officers, in general, behaved with incomparable bravery, for which they greatly suffered, there being near sixty killed and wounded - a large proportion, out of the number we had!

"The Virginia companies behaved like men and died like soldiers; for I believe out of three companies that were on the ground that day scarce thirty were left alive. Capt. Peyroney and all his officers, down to a corporal, were killed; Captn. Polson had almost as hard a fate, for only one of his escaped. In short, the dastardly behavior of the Regular troops (so called) [Footnote 1] exposed those who were inclined to do their duty to almost certain death, and, at length, in despite of every effort to the contrary, broke and ran as sheep before hounds, leaving the artillery, ammunition, provisions, baggage, and, in short, everything a prey to the enemy. And when we endeavored to rally them, in hopes of regaining the ground and what we had left upon it, it was with as little success as if we had attempted to have stopped the wild bears of the mountains or rivulets with our feet; for they would break by, in despite of every effort that could be made to prevent it.

[Footnote 1: The regulars laid the responsibility of defeat on the provincials, alleging "that they were harassed by duties unequal to their numbers, and dispirited through want of provisions; that time was not allowed them to dress their food; that their water (the only liquor, too, they had) was both scarce and of a bad quality; in fine, that the provincials had disheartened them by repeated suggestions of their fears of a defeat should they be attacked by Indians, in which case the European method of fighting would be entirely unavailing." - Review of the Military Operations in North America from 1753 to 1756. The Gentleman's Magazine asserted these same forces - Irish, Scotch, and English - ran away "shamefully" at Prestonpans. The news of Braddock's defeat "struck a general damp on the spirits of the soldiers" in Shirley's and Pepperell's regiments, and many deserted. "I must leave a proper number in each county to protect it from the combinations of the Negro slaves, who have been very audacious on the defeat on the Ohio. These poor creatures imagine the French will give them their freedom." - Dinwiddie to Earl of Halifax, 23 July, 1755.]

"The General was wounded in the shoulder and breast, of which he died three days after; his two aids-de-camp were both wounded, but are in a fair way of recovery; Colo. Burton and Sr. John St. Clair are also wounded and I hope will get over it; Sir Peter Halket, with many other brave officers, were killed in the field. It is supposed that we had three hundred or more killed; about that number we brought off wounded, and it is conjectured (I believe with much truth) that two-thirds of both received their shot from our own cowardly Regulars, who gathered themselves into a body, contrary to orders, ten or twelve deep, would then level, fire and shoot down the men before them.

"I tremble at the consequences that this defeat may have upon our back settlers, who, I suppose, will all leave their habitations unless there are proper measures taken for their security.

"Colo. Dunbar, who commands at present, intends, as soon as his men are recruited at this place, to continue his march to Philadelphia for winter quarters, ^1 consequently there will be no men left here, unless it is the shattered remains of the Virginia troops, who are totally inadequate to the protection of the frontiers." [Footnote 1: "Fearful of an unpursuing foe, all the ammunition, and so much of the provisions were destroyed for accelerating their flight, that Dunbar was actually obliged to send for thirty horse-loads of the latter before he reached Fort Cumberland, where he arrived a very few days after, with the shattered remains of the English troops." - Review of the Military Operations in North America. Dinwiddie wished Dunbar to remain and make a new attempt on Duquesne; but a council of officers unanimously decided the scheme was impracticable, and on the next day (August 2d) began his march toward Philadelphia.] ***


By Captain de Contrecoeur

Monsieur de Contrecoeur, captain of infantry commanding at Fort Duquesne, having been informed that the English would march out from Virginia to come to attack him, was warned a little time afterward that they were on the road. He put spies through the country who would inform him faithfully of their route. The 7th of this month (July) he was warned that the army, composed of 3,000 men of the regular English forces were only six leagues from his fort. The commander employed the next day in making his arrangements, and on the 9th of the month he sent Monsieur de Beaujeu against the enemy and gave him for second in command Monsieurs Dumas and de Lignery, all three of them being captains, with four lieutenants, six ensigns, 20 cadets, 100 soldiers, 100 Canadians, and 600 savages, with orders to hide themselves in a favorable place that had previously been reconnoitred. The detachment found itself in the presence of the enemy at three leagues from the fort before being able to gain its appointed post. Monsieur de Beaujeu seeing that his ambuscade had failed, began a direct attack. He did this with so much energy that the enemy, who awaited us in the best order in the world, seemed astounded at the assault. Their artillery, however, promptly commenced to fire and our forces were confused in their turn. The savages also, frightened by the noise of the cannon rather than their execution, commenced to lose ground. Monsieur de Beaujeu was killed, and Monsieur Dumas rallied our forces. He ordered his officers to lead the savages and spread out on both wings, so as to take the enemy in flank. At the same time he, Monsieur de Lignery, and the other officers who were at the head of the French attacked in front. This order was executed so promptly that the enemy, who were already raising cries of victory, were no longer able even to defend themselves. The combat wavered from one side to the other and success was long doubtful, but at length the enemy fled.

They struggled unavailingly to keep some order in their retreat. The cries of the savages with which the woods echoed, carried fear into the hearts of the foe. The rout was complete. The field of battle remained in our possession, with six large cannons and a dozen smaller ones, four bombs, eleven mortars, all their munitions of war and almost all their baggage. Some deserters who have since come to us tell us that we fought against two thousand men, the rest of the army being four leagues farther back. These same deserters tell us that our enemies have retired to Virginia. The spies that we have sent out report that the thousand men who had no part in the battle, also took fright and abandoned their arms and provisions along the road. On this news we sent out a detachment which destroyed or burned all that remained by the roadside. The enemies have lost more than a thousand men on the field of battle; they have lost a great part of their artillery and provisions, also their general, named Monsieur Braddock, and almost all their officers. We had three officers killed and two wounded, two cadets wounded. This remarkable success, which scarcely seemed possible in view of the inequality of the forces, is the fruit of the Experience of Monsieur Dumas and of the activity and valor of the officers that he had under his orders.


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Source: NAC/ANC, Elgin-Grey Papers

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