Campaigns of Washington and Braddock
Washington now found himself in command of a little army of Virginians. His commission was brief and easily understood: To construct a fort at the source of the Ohio; to destroy whoever opposed him in the work; to capture, kill, or repel all who interrupted the progress of the English settlements in that country. In the month of April the young commander left Will's Creek, but the march westward was slow and toilsome. The men were obliged to drag their cannons. The roads were miserable; rain fell in torrents on the tentless soldiers; rivers were bridgeless; provisions insufficient.
On the 26th of May the English regiment reached the Great Meadows. Here Washington was informed that a company of French was on the march to attack him. The enemy had been seen on the Youghiogheny only a few miles distant. A stockade ws immediately erected, to which the commander gave the appropriate name of Fort Necessity. Ascertaining from the scouts that the French company in the neighborhood was only a scouting-party, Washington determined to strike the first blow. Two Indian guides followed the trail of the French, and discovered their hiding-place in a rocky ravine. The English advanced cautiously, intending to surprise and capture the whole force; but the French were on the alert, saw the approaching soldiers and few to arms. Washington with musket in hand was at the head of his company. "Fire!" was the clear command that rang through the forest, and the first volley of a great war went flying on its mission of death. The engagement was brief and decivise. Jumonville, the leader of the French, and ten of his party were killed, and twenty-one were made prisoners.
A month of precious time was now lost in delays. While Washington at Fort Necessity waited in vain for re-enforcements, the French at Fort du Quesne were collecting in great numbers. Washington spent the time of waiting in cutting a road for twenty miles across the rough country in the direction of Fort du Quesne. His whole effective force scarcely numbered four hundred. Learning that the French general De Villiers was approaching with a large body of troops, besides Indian auxiliaries, Washington deemed it prudent to fall back to Fort Necessity.
The little fort stood in an open space, midway between two eminences covered with trees. Scarcely were Washington's forces safe within the inclosure, when on the 3d of July the regiment of De Villiers, numbering six hundred, besides the savage allies, came in sight, and surrounded the fort. The French stationed themselves on the eminence, about sixty yards distant from the stockade. From this position they could fire down upon the English with fatal effect. Many of the Indians climbedinto the tree-tops, where they were concealed by the thick foliage. For nine hours, during a rainstorm, the assailants poured an incessant shower of balls upon the heroic band in the fort. Thirty of Washington's men were killed, but his tranquil presence encouraged the rest, and the fire of the French was returned with unabated vigor. At length De Villiers, fearing that his ammunition would be exhausted, proposed a parley. Washington, seeing that it would be impossible to hold out much longer, accepted the honorable terms of capitulations which were offered by the French general. On the 4th of July the English garrison, retaining all its accouterments, marched out of the little fort, so bravely defended, and withdrew from the country. The whole valley of the Ohio remained in undisturbed possession of the French.
Meanwhile, a congress of the American colonies had assembled at Albany. The objects had in view were twofold: first, to renew a treaty with the Iroquois confederacy; and secondly, to stir up the colonial authorities to some sort of concerted action against the French. As to the French aggressions, something must be done speedily, or the flag of England could never be borne into the vast country west of the Alleghanies. The congress was not wanting in abilities of the highest order. No such venerable and dignified body of men had ever before assembled on the American continent. There were Hutchinson, of Massachusetts; Hopkins, of Rhode Island; Franklin, of Pennsylvania; and others scarecly less distinguished. After a few days' consultation, the Iroquois, but half-satisfied, renewed their treaty and departed. The chieftains were anxious and uneasy lest, through inactivity and want of union on the part of the colonies, the Six Nations should be left to contend alone with the power of France.
The convention next took up the important question of uniting the colonies in a common government. On the 10th day of July, Benjamin Franklin laid before the commissioners the draft of a federal constitution. His vast and comprehensive mind had realized the true condition and wants of the country; the critical situation of the colonies demanded a central government. How else could revenues be raised, an army be organized, and the common welfare be provided for? According to the proposed plan of union, Philadelphia, a central city, was to be the capital. It was urged in behalf of this clause that the delegates of New Hampshire and Georgia, the colonies most remote, could reach the seat of government in fifteen or twenty days! Slow-going old patriots! The chief executive of the new confederation was to be a governor-general appointed and supported by the king. The legislative authority was vested in a congress composed of delegates to be chosen triennially by the general assemblies of the respective provinces. Each colony should be represented in proportion to its contributuions to the general government, but no colony should have less than two or more than seven representatives in congress. With the governor was lodged the power of appointing all military officers and of vetoing objectionable laws. The appointment of civil officers, the raising of troops, the levying of taxes, the sueprintendence of Indian affairs, the regulation of commerce, and all the general duties of government, belonged to congress. This body was to convene once a year, to choose its own officers, and to remain in session not longer than six weeks.
Such was the constitution drafted by Franklin and adopted, not without serious opposition, by the commissioners at Albany. It remained for the colonies to ratify or reject the new scheme of government. Copies of the proposed constitution were at once transmitted to the several colonial capitals, and were everywhere received with disfavor. The chief objection urged against the instrument was the power of veto given to the governor-general. Nor did the new constitution fare better in the mother country. The English board of trade rejected it with disdain, saying that the froward Americans were trying to mke a government of their own. Meanwhile, the French were strengthening their works at Crown Point and Fort Niagara, and rejoicing over their success in Western Pennsylvania.
But the honor of England, no less than the welfare of her colonies, was at stake, and Parliament came to the rescue. It was determined to send a British army to America, to accept the service of such provincial troops as the colonies might furnish, and to protec the frontier against the aggressions of France. As yet there had been no declaration of war. The ministers of the two nations kept assuring each other of peaceable intentions; but Louis XV. took care to send three thousand soldiers to Canada, and the British government ordered General Edward Braddock to proceed to America with two regiments of regulars. Early in 1755 the English armament arrived in the Chesapeake. On the 14th of April Braddock met the governors of the colonies in a convention at Alexandria. The condition of colonial affairs was fully discussed. It was resolved, since peace existed, not to invade Canada, but to repel the French on the western and northern frontier. The plans of four campaigns were accordingly submitted and ratified. The most important of all was the one Braddock himself as commander-in-chief was to lead with the main body of regulars against Fort du Quesne, retake that post, and expel the French from the Ohio valley.
In the latter part of April the British general set out on his march from Alexandria to Will's Creek. The name of the military post at the mouth of this stream was now changed to Fort Cumberland. Braddock's army numbered fully two thousand men. They were nearly all verterans who had seen service in the wars of Europe. A few provincial troops had joined the expedition; Washington met the army at Fort Cumberland, and became an aid-de-camp of Braddock.
On the last day of May the march began from Fort Cumberland. A select force of five hundred men was thrown forward to open the roads in the direction of Fort de Quesne. The army, marching in a slender column, was extended for four miles along the narrow and broken road. it was in vain that Washington pointed out the danger of ambuscades and suggested the employment of scouting parties. Braddock was self-willed, arrogant, proud; thoroughly skilled in the tactics of European warfare, he could not bear to be advised by an inferior. The sagacious Franklin had admonished him to move with caution; but he only replied that it was impossible for savages to make any impression on His Majesty's regulars. Now, when Washington ventured to repeat the advice, Braddock flew into a passion, strode uup and down in his tent, and said that it was high times when Colonel Buckskin could teach a British general how to fight.
On the 19th of June, Braddock put himself at the head of twelve hundted chosen troops and pressed forward more rapidly. On the 8th of July the van reached the junction of the Youghiogheny and the Monongahela. It was only twelve miles farther to Fort du Quesne, and the French gave up the place as lost. On the next morning the English army dvanced along the Monongahela, and at noon crossed to the northern bank just beyond the confluence of Turtle Creek. Still there was no sign of an enemy. The road was but twelve feet wide; the country uneven and woody. There was a dense undergrowth on either hand; rocks and ravines; a hill on the right and a dry hollow on the left. A few guides were in the advance, and some feeble flanking parties; in the rear came the general with the main division of the army, the artillery and the baggage. All at once a quick and heavy fire was heard in the front.
France was not going to give up Fort du Quesne without a struggle. For two months the place had been receiving re-enforcements; still the garrison was by no means able to cope with Braddock's army. Even the Indians realized the disparity of the contest. It was with great difficulty that, on the night before the battle, the commandant of the fort induced the savages to join in the enterprise of ambuscading the British. At last a force of two hundted and thirty French, led by Beaujeu and Dumas, and a body of six hundred and thirty-seven Indians set out from Du Quesne with a view to harass and annoy the English rather than to face them in a serious battle. It was the purpose of the French, who were entirely familiar with the ground, to lay an ambuscade at a favorable point seven miles distant from the fort. They were just reaching the selected spot and settling into ambush when the flanking parties of the English came in sight. The French fired; the Indians yelled and slunk into their hiding-places, and the battle began.
The men wavered, and became mixed in the thick-set underwood. The confusion became greater, and there were symptoms of a panic. The men fired constantly, but could see no enemy. Every volley from the hidden foe flew with deadly certainty into the crowded ranks of the English. The rash but brave general rushed to the front and rallied his men with the energy of despair; but it was all in vain. The men stood huddled together like sheep, or fled in terror to the rear. The forest was strewn with the dead; the savages, emboldened by their unexpected success, crept farther and farther along the flanks; and the battle became a rout. Braddock had five horses shot under him; his secretary was killed; both his English aids were disabled; only Washington remained to distribute orders. Out of eighty-two officers twenty-six were killed and thirty-seven wounded. Of the privates seven hundred and fourteen were dead or bleeding with wounds. At last the general received a ball in his right side and sank fainting to the ground. "What shall we do now, colonel?" said he to Washington, who came to his assistance. "Retreat, sir--retreat by all means," replied the young hero, upon whom everything now depended. His own bosom had been for more than two hours a special target for the savages. Two horses had fallen under him, and four times his coat had been torn with balls. A Shawnee chief singled him out and bade his warriors do the same; but their volleys went by harmless. The retreat began at once, and the thirty Virginians, who, with Washington, were all that remained alive, covered the flight of the ruined army. The artillery, provisions, baggage, and private papers of the general were left on the field.
The losses of the French and Indians were slight, amounting to three officers and thirty men killed, and as many others wounded. There was no attempt made at pursuit. The savages fairly reveled in the spoils of the battlefield. They had never known so rich a harvest of scalps and booty. The tawny chiefs returned to Fort du Quesne clad in the laced coats, military boots, and cockades of the British officers. The dying Braddock was borne in the train of the fugitives. Once he roused himself to say, "We shall better know how to deal with them another time." On the evening of the fourth day he died, and was buried by the roadside a mile west of Fort Necessity. When the fugitives reached Dunbar's camp, the confusion was greater than ever. Dunbar was a man of feeble capacity and no courage; pretending to have the orders of the dying general, he proceeded to destroy the remaining artillery, the heavy baggage, and all the public stores, to the value of a hundred thousand pounds. Then followed a precipitate retreat to Fort Cumberland, and then an abandonment of that place for the safer precincts of Philadelphia. It was only the beginning of August, yet Dunbar pleaded the necessity of finding winter quarters for his forces. The great expedition of Braddock ended in such a disaster as spread consternation and gloom over all the colonies.
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