Battle of the Monongahela

Penned by Colonel Washington July 18th 9 days after the battle still weak and recovering from his illness and the battle he writes an account of the Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock’s Defeat) to his mother:

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 Polsonhadnearly 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’sorders, 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.

French and Indian War- Tension between the British, French and Native Americans Indians came to head in 1754. The French wanted to prevent the British from expanding west toward modern day Pittsburgh  TheBritish wanted to expand  west since their population was growing from an estimated 250,000 in 1700 to over a million in 1750. Most of the Native American Indians in the middle wanted their territory left alone.

On May 28th,1754 tensions erupted with the war’s first skirmish at Jumonville Glen. Late that same after noon a shaken and exhausted 22 year old Lt. Col. George Washington of the Virginia Militia returns to the their encampment at the Great Meadows (Fort Necessity) after the skirmish at Jumonville Glen. There on Jumonville Glen, George Washington for the first time experienced combat and command over men. A few days later, July the 3rd, 1754 at Fort Necessity the first major battle of the war. By July 4th Washington surrendered Fort Necessity to the French and Indians, consequently there remained little British presence west of the Alleghenies. Taking this advantage, the French and their allied Indians launched raids along the British frontier. Panic ensued along the frontier, settlers abandoned their farms and homesteads and headed back east. During this time the Seven Year War was occupying British attentions so the problems with the British colonies were a low priority. Whether it was the refugee crisis or the loss of revenue or British pride, but now the British took notice. Late in 1754 King George II committed the British army commanded by General Edward Braddock to address the French and Indian problem.

"A Charming Field for an Encounter" by Robert Griffing

General Edward Braddock with the help of William Shirley Governor of Massachusetts put together a four pronged assault for the coming year. The largest assault was to be led by General Braddock against the French Fort Duquesne known as the “Forks” (where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join together to form the Ohio river).

General Braddock 1695-1755, Harper's Black and White Prints - from Harpers Magazine 1876

Braddock arrived in Alexandria, Virginia March 16th where he readied his forces of 2,400 troops, artillery and supplies resulting in the largest army fielded in NorthAmericato date. May 1st Braddock and his army crossed the Potomac River with almost 250 miles of wilderness between him and Fort Duquesne.

Getting to Fort Duquesne with such a large force was alone a monumental battle. Widening existing and creating new roads by chopping down trees using explosives on stumps and boulders was a daily task. Logs were hone for a corduroy road or makeshift bridges. Progress was painfully slow . . . at times the column stretched 5 miles.

June the 5th1755 near Grantsville MD in a place called Little Meadows, apparently with the urging of youg Colonel Washington, Braddock split his forces in two. First, a quick and lighter attack group called the “flying column” would set out immediately and lay siege to Fort Duquesne which consisted of 1400 men and supplies. The second force included the heavy artillery and the remainder of the men and supplies.

Shortly after the force split, Washington became ill and was forced to lie in the back of wagon for nearly two weeks. Still ill and only with great difficulty Washington slowly worked his way back to riding his horse.

Somewhere along the march, Shawnee and Delaware Indians appeared. This would have been good news because the Shawnee and Delaware had an alliance with the British. They were there to help, but General Braddock ignoring the advice of his commanders and Washington, in arrogance and pride rejected the offer.

A few days before the conflict Braddock’s troops had their first skirmish and were literally scalped. Evidently three soldiers were killed and their scalps hung where the advancing column would not miss them. Cries of “scalp hallo” could be heard throughout the forest, the blood curdling cry the Indians made while brutalizing their enemy. This was no doubt a terrifying sound to the British troops hearing these cries for the first time.

July 8th the day before the battle, the Indians once again appeared offering their help. Once again Washington urged Braddock to reconsider and once again Braddock refused.

The Battle- July 9th Braddock forces arrive at a crossing near where today stands Kennywood Park. Taking every precaution crossing the Monongahela River believing if they were attacked it would be here. Not encountering resistance Braddock assumed that either the French had abounded the fort or were waiting for him to arrive.

Meanwhile, the French commander knew that Fort Duquesne could not survive a direct attack by such a large force as Braddock’s.  He may have considered burning the fort and heading north, but instead sent his force along with far more Indians then French to surprise the British (possibly 30 French and 300 to 600 Indians).

An hour passed since crossing the river then the two forces collided head-on.  Each surprised by the sudden appearance of the other. The French fired the first rounds on the advancing guard commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Gage.  Gage’s men quickly returned fire, killing Captain Beaujeu sending the French into momentary confusion.  Meanwhile, the Indians knowing what to do circled around Braddock’s flanks and began first by killing the officers then the drummer boys.

The Shooting of General Braddock . . . by Edwin Willard Deming

"The Shooting of General Braddock" by Edwin Willard Deming

The British instinctively responded with tactics and formations from European battlefields but there wasn’t enough time or room. It was too late famous British disciple quickly fell apart. The front of the column began moving back while the back of the column was rushing forward. The 1400 soldiers crammed shoulder to shoulder with wagons, cannons and panicked horses maybe the length two football fields and twelve feet wide. The French and Indians rained fire from the dark forest.  When the French overran the advanced guard, they captured two cannons - turring the cannons around then started firing down the road with devastating affect. In the panic and confusion British soldiers shot British soldiers.  Virginia militia troops tried moving into the trees to fight and were probably killed by both armies.

The rout had begun chaos reigned. The air was thick with sulfur and saltpeter as the Indians cried out their “scalp halloos”. One officer after another was killed few remained but General Braddock and George Washington still weak and ill.  Bullets cut through their coats and thousand buzzed there forms like a crazed swarm of bees. Bothhad horses killed underneath them.  For three hours, the British were pummeled.  Then, General Braddock was hit, shot through his upper right arm and into his chest.  Washington went to his aid finding the general alive but unconscious.  Braddock was taken from the field either put on a wagon or a litter and taken back across the river.

If there was any courage left seeing their commanding general leave the field triggered a wholesale panic. British troops ran for the river and their lives.  The Indians didn’t hesitate, tomahawks and scalping knives in hand the battle turned into a slaughter. Washington rallied some of the remaining troops and organized a rear guard action.  He moved a six-poundercannoninto position and poured grapeshot into the enemy, allowing his men to disengage and may have prevented further pursuit across the river.  The enemy did not pursue. The Indians were already desecrating and looting the dead.  So great was the plunder that the Indians became intoxicated withits lure stopping them from crossing the river, letting Washington and the remaining troops escape with their lives.

63 out of 86 British and American officers were killed, a total of 714 men lost there lives while the French and Indians lost 30. Apparently Washington was the only officer on horseback not killed. Washington was the only one left on Braddock’s staff.  Most who did escape were wounded.

The British taken prisoner were paraded naked back to Fort Duquesneand rewarded withtorture then death, while the French watched.  The plunder and loot consisted of thousands of weapons, artillery, supplies and ammunition, wagons, horses, money and gold, Braddock’s field trunk with his official papers and 200 gallons of rum.

Retreat- Crossing the river and retracing there steps was little comfort to what remained of Braddock’s army. Possible safety, Dunbar’s Camp, was 40 miles away. The terror that might befall them propelled them; running, walking and dragging themselves through the dark forest expecting a blood cuddly “scalp halloo” at any moment. Men escaped the battle only to die of their wounds alone in the dark forest or along the road. Not Washington, he and the remaining officers brought some order to the retreat. Later Washington, still sick, driven only by adrenaline and his loyalty to his men rode overnight to Dunbar’s Camp, returning supplies and wagons. Two days later, most of the remaining troops had joined or had been gathered together by Washington.

Colonel Dunbar who by default was now in command fearful that the French and Indians would soon attack ordered a full retreat. Colonel Dunbar had over 1,000 troops and enough supplies for a major campaign, but apparently didn’t have the stomach for “scalp halloos”. Fortunately, Dunbar still had his compassion intact caring and transporting the wounded became the priority for the wagons. Wagon full of wounded meant tons of supplies and equipment were abandoned doubling the French and Indians spoils.

On July 13th , General Braddock died just a few miles from Dunbar’s Camp. George Washington presided over the service, then ordered Braddock buried in the middle of the road his men had built. The retreating army hiding any sign of a grave eliminating the possibility that it would desecrated.

“The Wounding of General Braddock” by Robert Griffing

July 18th, Washington arrived in near Cumberland still weak and ill knowing that the news of Braddock’s defeat had spread like wildfire he took the time to writethe now famous “. . . miracluous care of Providence . . .” letter to his brother Jack and the above quoted letter to his mother.

British soldiers continued to straggle back along the road they had built. Some of the soldiers did not appear from the dark forest until weeks later. The last recorded straggler arrived wild eyed at Fort Cumberland on July 26. Finally on August 28, Dunbar arrived in Philadelphia.

Providence Protecting/Preparing Washington – One witness to the battle later reported about Washington :

“I expected every moment to see him fall. Nothing but the superintending care of Providence could have saved him.”

On the long March home Washington had plenty of time to re-live the battle examining what it all meant. Washington had just seen the largest and best trained army in the world, in his own words, “scandalously beaten by a trifling body of men”. What impressed Washington was God’s Providential hand protecting his life. Little did he understand God was forming his character because many years later this belief would be tested through 10 years of war, the Revelutionary War. It is believed Braddock’s last words to Washington were “Next time, we shall know how to fight them.” Washington did know how to “fight” the British and he knew if God was for us who could be against us.

The above is a summary from several excellent sources:

Off The Beaten - ”Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock’s Defeat)”

British Battles – “The Battle of Monongahela 1755 – Braddock’s Defeat”

The Bulletproof President George Washington by David Barton

And Peter A. Lillback monumental work Sacred Fire


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