During these movements in the East, the expedition against Fort Duquesnehad begun and ended. Braddock, sanguine and dogmatic, had written to Newcastle from Williamsburgh, that he should be beyond the Alleghanies before the close of April. In an interview with Dr. Franklin at Frederick, Maryland, he told the statesman, in a boastful manner, what he should do elsewhere in America, after he had captured the Ohio fort. He saw no serious obstacles in his way. The philosopher, seeing how shallow was the general's knowledge of the impediments before him, ventured to say at the commander's dinner-table that the mountains were hard to pass with troops and their supplies, and that the Indians were dexterous in laying and executing ambushes. "The Indians," said Braddock haughtily, "may be formidable to your raw American militia; upon the king's regulars and disciplined troops, it is impossible they should make any impression." This remark was a key to the secret of his subsequent misfortunes.
The army for the recovery of Fort Duquesne assembled at Alexandria. Colonels Dunbar and Sir Peter Halket were Braddock's chief lieutenants. There Colonel Washington, who had been invited by Braddock to join his military family as aid, and retain his title, and had agreed to accept the position, but as a volunteer only, had his first interview with the general. The young Virginian joined the army at Will's Creek (Cumberland) in May, where it had been detained by lack of horses and wagons for transportation, which Dr. Franklin, when called upon, promptly supplied from Pennsylvania. The whole force gathered there, regulars and provincials, each in about equal numbers, was two thousand men. Braddock looked upon the latter with contempt, and wrote to ministers that he did not expect much from them because they had "little courage or good-will." In his petulance because of frequent breaches of promise on the part of contractors, he charged the whole American people with a want of ability, honor and honesty, and raved at times like a madman. Washington found him, as he wrote to William Fairfax, "incapable of arguing without warmth, or giving up any point he asserts, be it ever so incompatible with reason or common sense."
The distance from Cumberland to Fort Duquesnewas about one hundred and thirty miles. At the close of May, five hundred pioneers were sent forward to clear the pathway and collect stores at Fort Necessity; but the main army was not ready to move until the 10th of June. This delay gave the French time to gather their barbarian allies and well-prepare to receive the English. Washington was impatient; and at the middle of June, he ventured to advise Braddock to detach a part of the army in light marching order, with the artillery, and send them forward, leaving the remainder to move more slowly. The general consented, and with twelve hundred men under Sir Peter Halket, he pushed forward on the 19th of June. The provincials in the advance were entrusted to the command of Washington, and were eager to press on, but were restrained by the regulars; and it was the 8th of July before the advanced division of the army reached the forks of the Monongahela and Youghiogany rivers, where they rested until the morning of the ninth. They were then about a dozen miles from Fort Duquesne.
The English forded the Monongahela on the morning of the 9th of July, and advanced along its southern shores. Washington knew the perils of their situation, for the troops were disposed in solid platoons, after the fashion of European tactics. He ventured to remonstrate with Braddock and advise him to dispose his army in open order, and employ the Indian mode of fighting in the forests. The colonel was silenced by the general angrily saying, "What! a provincial colonel teach a British general how to fight!"
The army moved on, re-crossed the Monongahela to the north side, and were marching in fancied security on the part of the regulars at about noon on that hot July day, when they were suddenly assailed by volleys of bullets and clouds of arrows on their front and flanks. They had fallen into an ambush against which Washington had vainly warned the haughty general.
De Beaujeu, the commander of a party of less than three hundred French and Canadians, and little more than six hundred Indians, had been sent from the fort by Contrecceur to meet the advancing English. They came upon the latter sooner than De Beaujeu expected, but the ambush was quickly and skillfully formed. He fought bravely and fell in the first deadly onslaught between the combatants. The suddenness of the attack and the horrid war-whoop of the Indians, which the regulars had never heard before, so frightened them that they were disconcerted and thrown into confusion; and nothing saved the little army from total destruction or capture but the more skillful manoeuvres of the provincials under Washington, who fought as the Indians did.
The British officers behaved nobly and did all in their power to encourage their men, until they were disabled; but the regulars soon became unmanageable. Braddock, seeing the peril, was in the front of the fight rallying his recoiling troops, and inspiring them with what courage he might by his own example. For more than two hours the battle raged. Of the eighty-six English officers, sixty-three were killed or wounded; among the former was Sir Peter Halket. One-half of the private soldiers was also killed or wounded. All of Braddock's aids were disabled; and Washington alone was left unhurt, to distribute the orders of the general. Braddock had five horses shot and disabled under him, and finally a bullet entered his body, and he, too, fell mortally wounded. So bravely did the provincials maintain their ground that they were nearly all killed. Of three Virginia companies, only about thirty men were left alive. "The dastardly behavior of those they call regulars," Washington wrote to his mother from Cumberland, "exposed all others that were inclined to do their duty to almost certain death; and at last, 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."
Washington, perceiving that the day was lost- his dying general carried from the field, and the British regulars running for their lives-rallied the provincial troops, and gallantly covered the retreat. The French and Indians did not follow. Colonel Dunbar, in the rear, received the broken army on the 12th of July. Then they all fled first to Fort Cumberland, which was abandoned, and thence marched to Philadelphia. Washington and the southern provincials went back to Virginia; and so ended the second expedition of the campaign of 1755.
The British had left their cannon and their dead on the battle-field; and the body of Braddock, from which life had departed three days after the conflict, was buried in the forest more than fifty miles from Cumberland. It was borne to the grave and interred by torch-light on the evening of the 15th of July, when Washington, surrounded by sorrowing officers, read the impressive funeral service of the Church of England. That grave may be seen near the National Road, between the 54th and 55th mile-stones.
The protection of Washington from harm during that battle was wonderful. "I luckily escaped without a wound," he wrote to his mother, "though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me." At one time an Indian chief singled him out for death by his rifle, and directed his followers to do the same. Fifteen years afterward, when Washington was in the Ohio country, that chief traveled many a weary mile to see the man at whom he said he had fired more than a dozen fair shots, but could not hit him. "We felt that some Manitou guarded your life," said the chief, "and we believed you could not be killed." "By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence," Washington wrote to his brother John Augustine, "I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation. Death was levelling my companions on every side." At Cumberland, he heard a circumstantial account of his death, and his "dying speech." Washington was never wounded in battle.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I