Rediscovering Colonial America: The Braddock Expedition – 1755, Part One

braddock
Major General Edward Braddock

After Colonel George Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity in July 1754, the Royal Crown ordered Major General Edward Braddock to take command of the situation developing in North America. In February of 1755, Maj. Gen. Braddock came ashore at Hampton, Virginia, and would spend about one month at Williamsburg, Virginia before proceeding to Alexandria. While at Williamsburg, Braddock quickly went to work on plans for the future campaign. George Washington was given an opportunity to serve not as a Colonial officer, but as a British officer serving as Braddock’s Aide since he was familiar with the area past Fort Cumberland.

Before the spring campaign could take place, Braddock had to plan logistics. He needed to supply and re-supply his army as they moved westward. In order to do this, wagons and pack horses were needed to transport supplies. He also needed to re-supply his army, therefore, he studied the trails as to where he could store supplies and have additional supplies transported to the field. Navigation was also discussed. The mountains would prove to be a natural barrier, the Allegheny Mountain in particular, was a very steep mountain. Another natural barrier were the rivers that flowed in the region which may be too deep to ford on foot.

On March 22, Maj. Gen. Braddock left Williamsburg, and four days later moved into Alexandria, where the military aspect of the campaign would be concentrated. Major General Braddock would command the largest army North America had seen to date. He was ordered to rebuild the road west of Wills Creek at Fort Cumberland, to the Forks of the Ohio, where the French Fort Duquesne was located. He was to capture it, and then move northward, taking out French fortifications until he reached Fort Niagara.

Major General Braddock’s army consisted of 1,350 soldiers from the 44th and 48th Regiments of-Foot. Major General Braddock would be re-enforced by Colonial troops and regulars, bringing his infantry up to about 2,000 men, supported by artillery. He also needed guides and Indian allies.

After weeks of planning and briefings, Maj. Gen. Braddock began putting the expedition in motion. The expedition would move in stages. Major Sir John St. Clair would map out the transportation of supplies and artillery, and cut out new roads or widen existing roads. He recommended that the few supply wagons that the army had move from Alexandria to Rock Creek, and then eventually move to Winchester. Maj. St. Clair would move directly to Winchester, Virginia. Colonel Peter Halket and the 44th Regiment of-Foot would move directly to Winchester in stages beginning on April 11. On April 12, Colonel Thomas Dunbar and the 48th Regiment of-Foot would take a Maryland route, marching through Rock Creek to Frederick. Major General Braddock would leave Alexandria on April 17 and then move to Frederick.

By April 17, Colonel Dunbar was just outside of Frederick. By April 21, Maj. Gen. Braddock would enter Frederick. Since supply wagons were not forthcoming, Braddock met with Benjamin Franklin, who pledged Pennsylvania support for wagons to meet the expedition at Fort Cumberland. George Washington also met with Braddock in Frederick. Also, Maj. Gen. Braddock learned that a westerly road through Maryland to Fort Cumberland did not exist and therefore, the Maryland expedition would have to turn south to Winchester.

Fox's Gap, South Mountain
Fox’s Gap, South Mountain

On April 29, the Maryland portion of the expedition moved through Fox’s Gap on South Mountain. The next day, modern day Williamsport was reached, where Colonel Dunbar’s command would move south toward Winchester. While Colonel Dunbar moved westward, Maj. Gen. Braddock moved directly to Winchester to meet with several Indian Chiefs. Braddock reached Winchester on May 4.

The expedition would finally begin to concentrate at Fort Cumberland beginning on May 9. While at Fort Cumberland, Braddock met with several Indian leaders for their support. He wanted to ensure the Indians that his British army was there not as invaders, but, as liberators, freeing the Indians from the French. But his words were not strong enough to get the support from the natives. George Washington was also named as an Aide-de-Camp to Braddock as a volunteer Colonial. Life at Fort Cumberland consisted of drilling. Many of the Provincials were not nearly as trained as the Regulars, or the British infantry. Shortages of supplies also took a toll on the army. By May 20, Benjamin Franklin came through when several wagon loads of supplies came in rolling into Fort Cumberland.

On May 29, the campaign would begin to resume. Major St. Clair and 600 men under Major Russell Chapman were ordered out to begin working on the road that led over the mountains. 50 wagons and two cannon would also leave with them. Clearing, making, and repairing roads for the main body of the army through the wilderness was not an easy task. The work was labor intensive, cutting a road twelve feet wide to accommodate the wagons and heavier artillery. The work crews were exhausted by the end of the day. The labor and poor diet of army rations would eventually take a toll on the work crews building the road. Leaving Fort Cumberland, Haystack Mountain was the first to be tackled.

With Maj. Gen. Braddock’s army moving out of Fort Cumberland, it took the French for surprise. French Captain Claude-Pierre Contrecoeur had ordered upwards to 500 French and Indians out to keep an eye on the British. Now, with Braddock’s army on the move, Captain Contrecoeur felt that Braddock’s siege of Fort Duquesne would have to be completed without heavy artillery. He didn’t think the British would try to clear the Alleghenies with heavy artillery. Now, Maj. Gen. Braddock was beginning to push into the wilderness and now, the French had to find his army.

By June 2, Dans Mountain was finally cleared. Next came Big Savage Mountain, standing at 2,800 feet above sea level. After which came Little Savage Mountain, followed by Meadow Mountain. On June 7, with St. Clair’s work detail being several miles ahead, the British columns began moving out. Bringing up the rear on June 10 was Maj. Gen. Braddock.

Six days later, the main column of Braddock’s army encamped at Little Meadows. There, he decided to split his army. He would establish a “flying” column that could move further ahead without getting bogged down from the extra baggage of the expedition. This was an executive decision made by Braddock.

On June 18, Maj. St. Clair moved out to begin clearing roads for the heavier equipment to come up at the rear. The next morning, under Maj. Gen. Braddock’s direct supervision the flying column moved out. With Braddock were Colonel Sir Peter Halket and the veteran soldiers of the 44th and 48th Regiments of-Foot, supported by four 12-pound cannon, four howitzers, three cohorn mortars, and thirteen wagons. Bringing up the rear was Colonel Dunbar, with a command of newer recruits and baggage, who was ordered to be at least one day behind the main column.

On June 20, Braddock was just south of Pennsylvania and was forced to encamp there for a few days, as he caught up to Maj. St. Clair’s’ working party. Three days later, the army was on the move and by June 24, they had encamped just east of Great Meadows, where a year earlier Washington had fought and surrendered to the French. The next day, some of the officers saw the charcoal remains of Fort Necessity. They were not all that impressed with the fort. It was noted that human bones laid upon the ground from those who were killed in that battle.

On June 25, the flying column marched about two miles west of the old fort and encamped. The next day, Chestnut Ridge, the last major mountain, was ascended. Now Braddock’s Army would have to be mindful as they were in the territory that France considered as “New France.”

During Braddock’s expedition, the French at Fort Duquesne had sent out patrols to find the British army and harasses them. With all of the problems that faced Braddock, the French, Canadian militia, and Indians should have found the British army easily. There were some Indian attacks, but nothing major materialized from it. Intelligence gathering for both armies was lacking.

Resources:

Crocker, Thomas E. Braddock’s March, Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA, 2009.

Hall, Charles (editor). Gen. Braddock’s Defeat, Fort Edwards Foundation, Capoon Bridge, WV, 2005.

Netherton, Ross. Braddock’s Campaign and the Potomac Route to the West, Higher Ed. Publishers, Falls Chruch, VA. 1997.

Kopperman, Paul E. Braddock at the Monongahela, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA. 1977.

McCardell, Lee. Ill-starred General, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA. 1958.

Wahll, Andrew J. Braddock Road Chronicles 1755, Heritage Books, Westminster, MD. 2006.

Parkman, Francis. Braddock’s Defeat, 1755, The French and English in America, Maynard, New York, NY, 1890

Preston, David. Braddock’s Defeat, Oxford University, Oxford NY. 2015.