Terror On The Monongahela, Part One

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British Major General Edward Braddock

Major General Edward Braddock’s Expedition of 1755 is an important piece of American history. Being ordered to America, and arriving at Hampton, VA in February, Maj. Gen. Braddock was leading the largest military force in American history. After George Washington’s 1754 defeat to rid the French from the Forks of the Ohio where Fort Duquesne was located, Braddock began his movements in April. Dividing his army into two columns, Maj. Gen. Braddock took the advice of Major Sir John St. Clair, and sent Colonel Sir Peter Halket’s 44th Regiment of Foot directly to Winchester, VA, while Colonel Thomas Dunbar’s 48th Regiment of Foot, and Braddock moved through Maryland. The army would reassemble at Winchester and move directly to Will’s Creek.

Arriving at Will’s Creek, Maj. Gen. Braddock concentrated there, at Fort Cumberland, where supplies came in. By the middle of June, Maj. Gen. Braddock begins his final push, cutting a road from Fort Cumberland to Fort Duquesne. After leaving Fort Cumberland, and marching for about one week, Maj. Gen. Braddock and Lieutenant Colonel George Washington discussed creating a “flying column.”

On June 19, the flying column marched forward, leaving Col. Dunbar to bring up the rear of Braddock’s army. Eventually, Col. Dunbar fell several days behind with the majority of the wagon train and Provincial troops. Braddock’s advance of Maj. St.Clair, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage, and the flying column managed to move almost the 130 miles from Fort Cumberland to Fort Duquesne, until Braddock was met with disaster.

It took Maj. Gen. Braddock almost three weeks to move through the American wilderness from Fort Cumberland to his July 8 encampment near the Monongahela River. Major General Braddock’s army began moving out of Fort Cumberland on June 10. Now, their objective was in British grasp, but they were well behind French territory. For three weeks, Maj. Gen. Braddock’s army managed to move through the American wilderness without a major confrontation.

At 8:00 p.m. on July 8, Maj. Gen. Braddock’s army made camp at Sugar Creek, a few miles east of the Monongahela River. During a meeting with the officers of his flying column, Maj. Gen. Braddock laid out marching orders for July 9. The orders called for his column to be staggered as it pushed further west. The men were to carry only what they needed in their knapsacks, leaving their tents behind with the wagons. They were issued two days’ rations of beef and flour, along with 24 rounds of fresh ammunition.

At 2:00 a.m, on July 9, the first portions of Maj. Gen. Braddock’s army began marching out. Lt. Col. Gage led the advance of the British army with 160 men from the 44th and 48th Regiments of Foot. He was supported by an additional 100 men from Captain Horatio Gates’ New York Independents, and two 6-pounder cannon.

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Sir Major John St. Clair

Two hours later, at 4:00 a.m., the work detachments of Maj. St. Clair moved out. Major St. Clair had about 250 men under his direction. Their task was to open the road to allow the heavier cannon and wagons to move through the wilderness. Many of these men did not sleep long the prior night and were very tired from marching for most of the previous day.

By dawn, the day was already hot, and the skies were clear. At 5:00 a.m., after sunrise, Maj. Gen. Braddock began moving his army. Major General Braddock had two major river crossings that stood as a natural barrier between his army and Fort Duquesne. Major General Braddock’s army moved behind Maj. St.Clair’s workers with 150 men in front, followed by cannon, and another 150 men. The wagons, pack horses and livestock followed. Bringing up the rear of Braddock’s army was the remainder of the artillery and the rearguard. Major General Braddock also had flankers covering both sides of his army.

Lieutenant Colonel Gage reached the first of two Monongahela River crossings early in the morning, five miles from the Sugar Creek encampment. Two miles away was the other river crossing. Major General Braddock would reach this point by 8:00 a.m. Moving ahead of the army and Maj. St.Clair’s workers, Lt. Col. Gage struggled to move his artillery through the wilderness, as the road wasn’t cut in.

By 9:30 a.m. the second Monongahela River crossing was reached. This location was where Turtle Creek emptied into the Monongahela River. Securing his position, Lt. Col. Gage ordered his two cannon to deploy and cover his infantry during the river crossing, and be ready for action. Lieutenant Colonel Gage ordered his men into battle line formation and marched them into the waters of the Monongahela River. The crossing was located in an open area 200 yards wide and about knee deep.

Once the western bank was secured, Lt. Col. Gage ordered a courier back to report to Maj. Gen. Braddock that the river crossing was secured. There, Lt. Col. Gage ordered his men to rest. Many of the men began fixing their rations. For some, this will be their last meal. Lieutenant Colonel Gage saw evidence of campfires left by Indian scouts.

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British Lt. Colonel Thomas Gage

While Lt. Col. Gage rested his command, Maj. Gen. Braddock’s army hacked their way through the wilderness. While Maj. Gen. Braddock was at the first river crossing, the French Marines, Canadian Militia, and their Indian allies prepared to seek out the British. The night before, the French and their allies had decided to attack Braddock the following day. Canadian Captain Daniel Liénard de Beaujeu led a force of 637 Indians and 146 Canadian Militia, supported by 72 French Marines that stood between the second Monongahela River crossing and Fort Duquesne. They moved out at around 8:00 a.m. and moved eastward.

By noon, Maj. Gen. Braddock was preparing to cross the second ford of the Monongahela River. With a wave of his hand, Braddock points forward, giving the sign to begin crossing the river. Braddock’s men, wearing clean, red uniforms with their bayonets fixed to their Brown Bess rifles, marching to the sound of 40 drums beating and fifes echoing through the wilderness, was a spectacle never witnessed before in America. As the men formed their columns with the King’s colours waving, Maj. Gen. Braddock’s men moved forward into the river.

With the fife and drum playing the “Grenadiers March,” the 44th Regiment of Foot was the first to ford the river. Once on the other side, they were to picket the right flank. The wagons, pack horses, and livestock, along with the artillery went next. Bringing up the rear was the 48th Regiment of Foot, and they would cover the left flank.

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French Canadian Captain Daniel Liennard de Beaujeu

The sound of the drums beating in the distance was heard by the French and their allies. Captain Beaujeu had scouts who observed the river crossing. Captain Beaujeu then began moving toward the sound of the drums. Major General Braddock knew that the French, Canadian, and their Indian allies would have scouts out searching for the British. But once he knew that there would be no attack made upon him, that was when Maj. Gen. Braddock forded the river.

Once across the river, Maj. Gen. Braddock felt a sigh of relief. If there would be a place for the French to attack the British, it was most likely going to be there at the river crossing since it was in the open. Once the entire army was on the western bank of the Monongahela River, Maj. Gen. Braddock reformed his column. Twelve miles from Fort Duquesne, Maj. Gen. Braddock ordered his advance to position themselves closer to the main column.

While Maj. Gen. Braddock’s orders were being sent, Lt. Col. Gage and Maj. St.Clair were meeting about other tasks ahead of them. When Braddock’s orders arrived, both Lt. Col. Gage and Maj. St. Clair had orders to move their commands and march for another two more hours. Major St. Clair asked about moving the two 6-pounder cannon from the rear and deploy them in the front to protect the workers. Lieutenant Colonel Gage opposed the idea.

By 1:00 p.m., Lt. Col. Gage had six Virginia horsemen at the head of his column. As the column moved through the wilderness, Lt. Col. Gage took notice of the ravines to his front, and the higher hills to his right. His command was deployed with about 150 Grenadiers from the 44th and 48th Regiments of Foot leading his column. The battalion companies of about 150 men followed behind. Lieutenant Colonel Gage posted upwards of 110 men on his flanks. Each was broken down into squads of ten men, and they were to protect the flanks from attack. The advance alone, covered about one eighth of a mile wide.

Following behind Lt. Col. Gage was Maj. St.Clair’s 250 workers. Behind Maj. St.Clair were several companies of Virginians. These Virginia companies could very well be various ranger units of Captains William Peronee’s, Wagner’s and Adam Steven’s command. Captain William Polson’s Virginia Carpenters most likely is the company that performed much of the road building. Bringing up the rear was Captain Gates’ New York Independants. Located about one hundred yards behind Captain Gates was Captain Robert Stewart’s Virginian horsemen. Then came Braddock with the main column of men supported by artillery and wagons.

Marching from the ford of the Monongahela River, the landscape was full of thick vegetation. The brush continued on for about a quarter mile. Lieutenant Colonel Gage’s column began marching up to a ridge line. There, they entered into a forest with various large oak and walnut trees. The tops formed a heavy canopy, while the forest floor was wide open, except for fallen trees. The landscape was very peaceful, however, unknown to Lt. Col. Gage, the French were closing in.

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.