As the British marched, Captain Beaujeu was trying to determine the location of the British. By 1:00 p.m., the French, Canadian and Indians had found the British. Captain Beaujeu was taken off guard as he was moving headlong toward them. He began signaling his command and the Indians to move right and left, quickly trying to get his men into position. Many of the Indians took position in several ravines, while the rest of the French force moved into a position that took the shape of a half moon.
Royal Engineer Harry Gordon, who was at the head of Lt. Col. Gage’s vanguard, thought he saw something moving in the woods. He thought he had seen a figure of a French officer moving back and forth in between the trees. One man became five, five men became 15, and finally he saw hundreds of Indians. About 300 of them came into view. Royal Engineer Gordon fell back to report his sighting to Lt. Col. Gage. At first Lt. Col. Gage wanted to pass it off, but the fear in Engineer Gordon’s eyes expressed the gravity of the situation.
Before Lt. Col. Gage had time to size up the situation, one of his line officers ordered his detachment of twenty Grenadiers to “Right about.” The men had little direction as to what the officer saw. Lieutenant Colonel Gage quickly gave orders for his command to fix bayonets. Lieutenant Colonel Gage sent word back to bring the two 6-pounders up and deploy in front of Maj. St.Clair’s workers.
Lieutenant Colonel Gage formed up his battle line and moved forward. At the same time, the French and Canadians were moving directly toward the British advance. The British moved to the eastern slope of a ravine that ran parallel. The French thought the British had higher ground. Seeing this, the French Marines opened fire. The shots did no damage, missing their targets as the British were out of range of the French guns.
The opening French volley forced the British advance to hesitate, but Lt. Col. Gage quickly restored order in the ranks. The British fired a massive first volley back at the French Marines and Canadian Militia. Targets were not as easily seen, but the British first and second volley stunned the Canadian Militia. Half of their command fell back and began giving ground.
The British Grenadiers were soon supported by the two 6-pounder cannon. The guns were deployed in front of Maj. St.Clair and poured deadly case shot into the woods, wounding several French soldiers. The French, Canadians, and Indians saw first hand the destruction caused by the British artillery. The woods were splintered. If the French were to gain the day, the artillery needed to be silenced.
Within minutes of the fight, the French and Canadian Militia lost almost half of their number. Many fell back from the battlefield, leaving 150 men to resist the British. Then the British fired a third volley in which Captain Beaujeu fell dead. The command fell to Captain Jean Daniel Dumas. It looked as if the British were winning the battle.
While Lt. Col. Gage was hotly engaged, the Indians were just getting into position. No sooner had the British opened fire when Maj. Gen. Braddock heard sounds of battle in his front. Once the sounds did not die down, he ordered an aide to ride to the front and report back to him the situation. But Maj. Gen. Braddock went ahead and rode forward one quarter of a mile to see for himself what was going on. At this time, the Indians attack, hitting their flanks. Their half moon formation would begin reaping the British.
The Indians began picking off the British cannoneers and those officers mounted on horses. When the battle opened, Maj. St.Clair formed his men, ready to move forward to action. At the same time, Lt. Col. Gage was trying to restore order among his lines. As the Indians attacked the flanks, many of those men came running and collided with the vanguard column. With so much gunfire and screaming, the British began getting disorganized, creating disorder in the ranks. With the flankers running wildly to the main column of the vanguard, several were subjected to friendly fire.
Lieutenant Colonel Gage later noted that the French and their Indian allies took advantage of the landscape, and fired with much success as most of the officers were killed or wounded, as were many of the men. The British soldiers began retreating and were halted. Within fifteen minutes of the first shots, many of the vanguard were killed or wounded. The Indians and the French poured deadly fire into the British. The flankers and the vanguard were intertwined with those of the vanguard.
Lieutenant Colonel Gage ordered men to take the higher ground, but all refused the order. The men stood in the middle of the road and fired in every direction. Due to the lack of reinforcements, the British flankers retreated off the hill. The Indians had taken to higher ground on Lt. Col. Gage’s right flank, where the French and Indians gained this vantage point and poured heavy fire down upon the British.
As Lt. Col. Gage tried restoring order, he lost control of the situation when the Indians began overriding his position. The Indians moved quick and they moved fast as they came toward the British. This forced what was left of Lt. Col. Gage’s command to retreat, colliding with Maj. St. Clair’s command as they began arriving and being attacked.
Lieutenant Colonel Gage’s command lost 57 men killed and wounded out of 70 from the Grenadier company of the 44th Regiment. The 48th Regiment Grenadier company suffered heavily too. They lost 67 men who were killed or wounded out of 78 total. Of 18 officers, only three remained. The rest were mostly killed. The two 6-pounders would fire upwards to a total of 100 rounds of ammunition during this phase of the battle.
During the opening phase of the attack, Maj. St. Clair formed up his men. Within a few minutes, Lt. Col. Gage’s advance begun falling back to Maj. St. Clair’s position. Major St. Clair moved ahead to the front to see first hand what the situation had produced. By that time, the Indians began attacking his column. Many of his Virginia rangers under Captain Waggoner began hunkering down behind trees and rocks and fighting back. They were looking for a fight, while at the same time, Captain Polson’s Virginian carpenters were shot to pieces within minutes. As Maj. St. Clair rode forward he was shot through the right lung, which broke his collarbone and skimmed his right shoulder blade.
After Maj. St.Clair was wounded, he rode back to his own line and gave orders to his men to protect the artillery. He then went to find Maj. Gen. Braddock. Major General Braddock had taken off to see what lie ahead. He was at the head with the heavier artillery. Upon seeing Maj. Gen. Braddock, Maj. St.Clair yelled “For God-sake” move to the right and take the higher ground or the Indians will totally surround them. By that point, Maj. St.Clair fell, passing out due to the lack of blood which poured from his wound.
Major General Braddock, with Captain Stewart’s Virginian horsemen, and the general’s staff, including Colonel George Washington rode forward. Major General Braddock was stunned at the situation. His army was in total disorder. The scene was wild, chaos and fear had gripped his men in the front. Lieutenant Colonel Gage’s and Maj. St.Clair’s detachments were intermixed.
Major General Braddock quickly ordered Colonel Halket to secure the wagon and artillery trains. Colonel Halket had to bring up the trains and close their order, and he would remain with the wagons. At the same time, Maj. Gen. Braddock ordered Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Burton and the troops guarding in columns on both sides of the wagon trains to move forward. About 500 soldiers rushed forward about twenty minutes after the first shot opened the battle.
Lieutenant Colonel Burton moved the infantry ahead to where Lt. Col. Gage’s position was facing them, to the right overlooking the higher ground. There, three 12-pounder cannon deployed to their left to protect the rear of Lt. Col. Burton. The three 12-pounder cannon under the command of Captain Thomas Ord opened fire on the Indians, holding them back for a few moments. Major General Braddock ordered Captain Ord to clear the brush with his 12-pounders in an effort to try to open the area and remove any concealment away. The British Royal Artillery were supported by Lieutenant Charles Spendelow’s sailors. Within a few hours, these guns fire almost one hundred rounds of ammunition.
Major General Braddock order Lt. Col. Burton to take the rising hill on his right. This was the same hill that Maj. St.Clair warned Maj. Gen. Braddock about. As they moved, the commands of Lt. Col. Gage and Maj. St.Clair collided with the newly arriving reinforcements. As Lt. Col. Burton’s column began to wheel in the middle of the twelve foot wide road and form a battle line, they became entangled with hundreds of men. The harder Lt. Col. Burton’s command pushed forward, the commands of Lt. Col. Gage and St. Clair pushed back even harder. To make matters worse, the two 6-pounder cannon had ran out of ammunition and were soon abandoned and captured. The gunners ran and fled from the scene. Major General Braddock would order a charge up the hill to recapture their 6-pounder cannon, but no soldier dared to leave the road.
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.