Terror On The Monongahela, Part Three

The scene was in complete disorder. The British never fought a battle in these conditions. They had no targets, nor could they see what was in their front. The colors were advanced in several places to separate the soldiers of the two regiments. Major General Braddock ordered his officers to rally their men, however the officers could not reform the men, and Maj. Gen. Braddock could not persuade them to advance. The Indians moved fast and remained hidden, using the forest to their advantage, which caused the soldiers to miss their targets. The Indians had extended their lines from the front of the British advance and were bearing down on the rearguard. The British soldiers began firing wildly in the air and all around, loading faster and firing quickly, sending lead in every direction.

Realizing that their gunfire was slowing, the British officers began trying to organize their men into platoons. This would allow a more controlled volume of firing. Up until now, they were firing at anything that moved or at puffs of smoke. With only twenty four rounds of ammunition being issued earlier, every round needed to count. This helped the British soldiers with a more sustained firing. It also helped the men to move forward about twenty yards, before the column halted.

While Maj. Gen. Braddock tried to take control of the situation in the front, the Indians attacked the rearguard where Col. Halket was positioned. Since the flankers moved in to help secure the wagons and their teams, the Indians were not checked. While the Col. Halket’s command was stopped, many of the Indians began coming out of the woods and came upon the rear of his column. Colonel Halket rode toward the front of his position to size up the scene.

Colonel Halket arrived and began organizing his lines. He ordered his detachment into two ranks and deployed them on both sides of the narrow road. A 12-pounder cannon was deployed for his support. With artillery support, Col. Halket ordered his detachment to fire by platoons. As Col. Halket directed his men, Christopher Gist, a local trader and British guide, witnessed the moment when an Indian took aim and fired his gun, shooting Col. Halket. Christopher Gist, after reloading his rifle, fired back, shooting the Indian in the head. Lieutenant James Halket, ran to his father’s side and he too, was shot and killed. His lifeless body fell upon the body of his father, where he died.

By 3:00 p.m., Lt. Col. Gage’s vanguard were still desperately trying to hold. Many British soldiers were being shot down while in formation in the middle of the road. Many of the Virginian troops ran and ducked behind trees, fighting back with some success. At one point, they tried to launch an attack on the higher ground located on the British right flank. They deployed behind any natural breastwork they could find and were gaining ground.

The Virginians opened again with another volley. But with the smoky and natural conditions of the battlefield, the British thought that they were Indians attacking them, and the British opened fire. This ended the Virginia fight, as they lost more than half of their men. Shortly afterward, Lt. Col. Gage’s men heard the attacks from the rear and thought they were being surrounded. This created a wave of disorder and panic. No officer, at least none still left in the ranks, could restore order.

By 4:00 p.m., the British were running low on ammunition for their infantry and artillery. The British army was about at it’s breaking point. Major General Braddock and his staff tried to keep order within the ranks. Heavy smoke, screams, and gunfire didn’t help with the situation. As the Indians attacked with great precision, they helped to secure the French victory. Major General Braddock tried desperately to gain a hand on the crumbling situation. He swung around his saber slapping the backs of his men to get them into line.

As Maj. Gen. Braddock maneuvered on the battlefield, he felt insulted by seeing so many colonial troops hiding behind trees and rocks. He had cursed one soldier as a coward and smacked him with his saber. This insulted the Colonials. At the same time, Colonel Washington had advised Maj. Gen. Braddock to use similar tactics, and asked for permission to detach two to three hundred men to fight in the same style as the Indians, but he refused. Maj. Gen. Braddock’s fourth horse was shot from under him, and as he began mounting his fifth horse of the battle, a musket ball tore through his right arm and went into his lungs.

Major General Braddock’s staff, including Colonel Washington and Lt. Col. Gage, attended to him. By this point, the order to retreat was given. With a lack of real leadership, mass panic began to ensue, but order was quickly restored. Major General Braddock was carried off the field and taken to the rear where the wagoners were hotly engaged.

Back at the rearguard, the wagoners knew the battle was lost. One by one, they began making their way to the river to get out of harm’s way. Only 110 soldiers remained with the wagons. These were colonial provincials from South Carolina and Virginia troops. They were holding the passage open for the retreat.

As the British fell back to the trains, silence filled the air as the Indians prepared for their final assault. Then war cries came hurling from the wilderness and the British survivors began firing. Now, Colonel Washington, one of two officers in the field on the western side of the river, rallied the men for a few moments. The British soldiers retreated and it became every man for himself. Colonel Washington tried to rally as many men as he could without any success. Lieutenant Colonels Gage and Burton, both wounded, were trying to halt the column on the other side of the river.

By 5:00 p.m., the battle was over. The British troops were pouring through the Monongahela River. On the eastern side, the British formed a defensive line to cover the survivors fording the river. The Indians were still pursuing the British until they came to the river. After that, the Indians began going through the supplies that were left behind. The Battle of Monongahela was finally over. The British casualties were high. Of the 1,400 combatants, 456 soldiers were killed and 422 were wounded. Of 86 total officers, 26 were killed and 37 wounded. The French, Canadian and Indian losses were light. They had 30 men killed and 57 wounded.

The sight upon the battlefield was horrid. Many of the lifeless bodies and wounded men were scalped, as the Indians scavenged the battlefield for souvenirs from the bloody battle. Wagons were raided and supplies were taken. Although, Maj. Gen. Braddock ordered the camp followers to stay with Col. Dunbar, upwards to fifty did make the journey. Only five of these women made it back with their lives. Several of their lifeless bodies laid by the wagon train. Many of them were stripped of their clothing.

As Maj. Gen. Braddock was gasping for breath, he ordered Col. Washington to ride out to Col. Dunbar’s camp and tell him to send wagons and supplies to their position, which would be Gist’s Plantation. Colonel Washington realized that Col. Dunbar’s camp was over fifty miles to the rear. He rode all night and reached the camp some twelve hours later. Being tired and fatigued, Col. Washington was forced to stay in the camp. Some of the survivors from the wagon trains came into Col. Dunbar’s camp and brought news from the battlefield.

The British army retreated through the night and most of the day. Finally, they made camp at Gist’s Plantation, west of Great Meadows late on July 10. Supplies from Col. Dunbar arrived for the survivors of Braddock’s army. Among the supplies were medical bandages for the wounded.

By July 11, the remnants of the British army arrived at Col. Dunbar’s camp. The next day, Major General Braddock gave his last orders for the retreat to Fort Cumberland, The wounded Maj. Gen. Braddock then handed over command of the army to Col. Dunbar. Colonel Dunbar ordered all extra supplies to be destroyed including extra stores of ammunition and black powder. Wounded were loaded into the wagons.

The next morning, on July 13, the army got underway. Major General Braddock died that evening. Before he passed, he asked Col. Washington to oversee his burial. He gave Col. Washington his red sash as a keepsake. There, in the middle of the road west of Great Meadows, Col. Washington oversaw his burial as he was placed in the middle of the road. After a quick funeral service, the dirt covered his grave and the retreating army on the way to Fort Cumberland marched over top of his grave to their camp a short distance away at Steep Bank.

On July 17, Col. Dunbar led the British army to Fort Cumberland. Remaining there for several days, Colonel Dunbar led the British regulars to Philadelphia, where he arrived in late August. The Colonial Provincials remained at Fort Cumberland for some time before leaving or deserting back into Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. The frontier in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland were now defenseless.

It wouldn’t be until 1758, that the British and Colonial Provincials would launch another major campaign against Fort Duquesne. Many of the survivors, including Col. Washington, and Maj. St. Clair would participate in this campaign. Learning from the mistakes of Maj. Gen. Braddock, British Brigadier General John Forbes would take the French fort on November 25, 1758.

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.

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