Rediscovering Colonial America: Forbes’ Campaign For Fort Duquesne Part One

After the defeat of the British at the Battle of Monongahela on July 9, 1755, there was not much military activity by the British to reattempt to take the Forks of the Ohio at Fort Duquesne. To make matters worse for England, the war with France on the American front was not going well and proved to be disastrous to the British military. However, by mid-1757, plans of a major British campaign to take Fort Duquesne were in the midst of discussion in England. But, a question remained, who would lead the campaign that would define North America? This campaign would be the most important military campaign North America had seen.  

Brigadier General John Forbes
Brigadier General John Forbes

Prime Minister William Pitt using his new position wanted a new military strategy to overturn the string of British defeats in America. He wanted the British army to get back on the offensive. By December 1757, Colonel John Forbes of the 17th Regiment a-Foot was appointed brigadier general and assigned to take command of the expedition that would stabilize the mid-Atlantic frontier and take Fort Duquesne.

Upon his appointment, Brig. Gen. Forbes wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Bouquet asking him to accept the appointment of second in command of the expedition. After their first meeting in person in May of 1758, the two men would form a friendship and special bond as the two would complement each other’s skillful military tactics. Brigadier General John Forbes commanded the entire army as well as being responsible for supplies and logistics, while Colonel Bouquet would lead from the front moving the army forward during the campaign.

John Forbes was the son of a Scottish family who originally studied medicine. He later changed his mind and became a professional soldier entering the army as a lieutenant in 1737. During 1757 and 1758, Brig. Gen. Forbes was ill with a disease that some historian think was stomach cancer. Although, he was carried by a litter for most of the campaign and was forced to take shelter to recuperate, Brig. Gen. Forbes sat the example for his men to follow. He was a brave man and never allowed his honor to be sacrificed. This disease would eventually claim his life on March 11, 1759, at the age of 51.

During the winter of 1757-58, Brigadier General Forbes began establishing his staff. His staff would consist of newly appointed Major Francis Halket and Quartermaster General, Lieutenant Colonel Sir John St. Clair who had recovered from his wounds from the Braddock’s disastrous 1755 defeat.  Also, Brig. Gen. Forbes and Lieutenant Colonel Bouquet needed to work on recruiting additional men for the campaign. Brigadier General Forbes would eventually have an army consisting of 6,000 to 8,000 men, including over 2,200 regulars. The colonies of Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Maryland sent Provisionals; among them was Colonel George Washington.

Brigadier General Forbes while he was getting recruitments together for the campaign also studied the Braddock’s Expedition. He wanted to learn where mistakes were made, what worked well and what didn’t work in the American wilderness. He would see to it that his army was properly prepared and equipped for this style of warfare. Brigadier General Forbes studied the layout of the land. Brigadier General Forbes also studied Major General Edward Braddock’s line of communications and supplies along with establishment’s camps and his lack of fortifications for protection along his route.

Rather than use Braddock’s route through the colonies of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, Brig. Gen. Forbes decided to use existing roads and then cut new roads through Pennsylvania. Brigadier General Forbes decided that he could use Philadelphia for his main base of supplies and logistics. From Philadelphia, Brig. Gen. Forbes could use the network of roads leading to Carlisle for his first supply depot. From there, his army could march through Shippensburg, modern day Chambersburg and then to Fort Loudoun where he could establish another supply depot. Moving westward, from there he could use Burd’s trail to Ray’s Town, modern day Bedford and then cut a new road that would link up with the Braddock Road near Fort Duquesne.

A series of fortifications or stockades could be built along the way protecting the rear of his army if they came under attack and needed to fall back to a safe area. These forts could provide a steady line of supplies, flowing to his men. At the same time, this line could be used for communications. By the time Brig. Gen. Forbes made it to Fort Duquesne, his road would stretch for about 300 miles from Carlisle. Fort Loudoun, Fort Lyttleton, Fort Bedford and Fort Ligonier would be the main depots and the protection that Brig. Gen. Forbes needed for his line of communications as well as supplies.

Now that a route had been planned along with a direct line for supplies and communications, Brig. Gen. Forbes now had to set an outline of the campaign. He needed to take Fort Duquesne by late October or November before fall. The leaves on the trees in the American wilderness could help to conceal his army from enemy eyes. Another reason was that during this time in the fall, Brig. Gen. Forbes would lose several hundred Indians because this was their hunting season to prepare their families for the winter.

The late winter and early spring of 1758 was spent making preparations and planning for the campaign. The campaign itself got under way in force on April 29 as troops began to assemble. Brigadier General Forbes began sending out orders for the army to make its way to Lancaster from Philadelphia. The long range plan was to have troops move from several locations and mass them at Ray’s Town. Once the troops were at Ray’s Town, a road would be built linking Fort Cumberland and Fort Bedford at Ray’s Town and another road from Fort Cumberland to Fort Frederick. This would allow the provincials located in Maryland and Virginia to move to Ray’s Town via Fort Cumberland. These roads were part of Colonel Bouquet’s own initiative.

Now Brig. Gen. Forbes realized mobility issues when having large wagon trains moving in mass along roads. To relieve pressure, congestion and damaging the road, a controlled convey of wagon trains needed to be enacted. Ten to twenty wagons with four horses pulling each wagon, guarded by fifty to one hundred men would make up a much more smaller and manageable convey.  These wagons were the life support of the army in the field. They contain all the ordnance, supplies from food to materials complete with all sorts of tools and spare parts.

Rations for the soldiers were a huge undertaking as well as forage and feed for the animals. Brigadier General Forbes set the rations for each man for a one week as eight pounds of fresh beef or five pounds of pork. This was followed by seven pounds of flour or cooked biscuits, one pint of rice in lieu of one pound of flour. Pork would be transported in barrels that could weigh upwards to 233 pounds packed in salt brine. Often barrels would spoil and problem that was ongoing during the campaign.

Once the military began converging onto Ray’s Town, which would take several weeks, Colonel Bouquet would began making preparations to train and equip the troops. Ray’s Town would be a major supply depot and training grounds. A stockade would be built called Fort Bedford. Most of July and early August was spent training the soldiers.

Problems began to set in with quality horses, wagons and supplies. Brig. Gen. Forbes was an experienced quartermaster officer and commander and knew who to deal with situations as they arose. This was one of the strongest traits of Brig. Gen. Forbes. Remaining behind in Philadelphia while Bouquet moved westward, Brig Gen. Forbes could manage and tackle these problems as quickly as they came.

Resources:

Cubbison, Douglas. The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, Jefferson, NC. 2010

Anna Kiefer The Logistics of Supply and the Forbes Campaign of 1758 http://web.hardynet.com/~gruber/supplies_forbes_road.html 2003

James P. Myers Preparations for the Forbes Expedition, 1758, in Adams County, with Particular Focus on the Reverend Thomas Barton 1995

Stewart, Irene. Letters of John Forbes, Allegheny Co. Committee, 1927.

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

1755braddockmsOn June 28, Maj. Gen. Braddock’s army was located at Stewart’s Crossing on the Youghiogheny River. The British would actually cross this river a couple of times as they marched west and north to Fort Duquesne, where they would encamp for a day. During the day, rain fell across the region, adding to the misery in the wilderness. The next morning, on June 30, Braddock forded the river, which was about 200 yards wide. Crossing the river was not an easy task, and often the British were outin the open, in full view. The advance guard was ordered over first to secure the opposite side of the river. Once secured, the artillery and wagon trains were next to cross, followed by the rest of the army. Camp was established to give time for the road workers to open the new road.

By July 2, Maj. Gen. Braddock was well into hostile territory. As the men marched, they noticed that coal was in abundance, lying on top of the ground. The area was also a swamp, and because of that the army encamped at Jacob’s Creek to allow bridges to be constructed for the army vehicles. The men also faced a new challenge. Rations were running low and had to be cut back until fresh supplies were brought up from the rear. Rations then consisted of bacon and flour. Colonel Thomas Dunbar was several days behind Braddock’s flying column due to the conditions of the roads and trying to move the heavier artillery and wagon loads of supplies.

The next day, on July 3, Braddock met with his officers regarding Colonel Dunbar’s men. Several officers had wondered if they should wait for the Colonel Dunbar to arrive and concentrate the two columns into one since Fort Duquesne was a few days march ahead. The vote was cast and it was decided that the flying column would continue moving ahead without Dunbar’s troops. As Braddock’s flying column encamped, pickets were ordered out, and were to be doubled up for security measures.

By July 6, camp was located at Monacatootha, roughly three to four days march from Fort Duquesne. For the past several days, the British had no contact with the natives or the French, and moved unopposed through the American wilderness. After being ordered to stall the British advance, the French, Canadian and Indian allies had not slowed Braddock’s advance.

On July 7, trying to avoid the Turtle Creek Narrows, Braddock’s column turned north. This detour would cause him to lose a day. After encamping at Turtle Creek, Braddock marched all day and well into the evening, coming to a halt at Sugar Creek at 8:00 p.m. As the British marched throughout the day, the French and their Indian allies at Fort Duquesne were rallying to attack. French Captain Louis L. Beaujeu rallied alongside his Native allies. Hundreds of Natives encamped just outside of the fort and planned to move out the next day, searching out Braddock’s army.

At 2:00 a.m. on July 9, Braddock’s army began forming up for the final push to Fort Duquesne. Major General Braddock’s plan was to hurry out and began laying siege on the French fort. Twenty-four rounds of fresh ammunition as well as two days rations were issued out to the 1,400 men in the flying column. The advance guard, under Captain Thomas Gage, was first to move out at 2:00 a.m. Following behind, two hours later, was the work detail under Major Sir John St. Clair. The main body under Maj. Gen. Braddock moved out at 5:00 a.m., with the rear guard moving out shortly thereafter.

The first of two Monongahela River crossings came into view. The advance guard and two 6-pound cannon forded the river, which was about knee deep and 200 yards wide. Once across the steep banks, the advance guard secured the river crossing. The work details soon came to the road, but for Braddock, the workers cutting in the road were moving too slow.

By 8:00 a.m., Braddock had reached the first river crossing. There, he reformed his units and moved forward. About four hours later, Braddock’s men had come to the second river crossing. Major General Braddock suspected that the enemy was watching his every move, as the river crossing was in a very exposed place. With the king’s colors and music playing “The Grenadiers March,” the men began to ford the Monongahela River in tight formation with bayonets gleaming. Never before had America witnessed such display of military might.

At 8:00 a.m., 254 French soldiers and Canadian militia and roughly 600-700 Indians under the command of Captain Jean-Daniel Beaujeu left Fort Duquesne. They moved out following the path that led to the Monongahela River crossing. Around 1:00 p.m., as the British were moving forward, the French, French Canadians, and their Indian allies were caught off guard seeing Braddock’s men so close. Captain Beaujeu quickly organized a frontal attack and sent the Indians to ambush the British flanks.

Major General Braddock’s army was about 1/8 of a mile wide with flankers and about one mile in length strung out. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage and his advance guard were ahead of Braddock’s flying column, and received word from a guide that the French were approaching. With very little time, Gage began preparing for the pending battle. Gage quickly ordered bayonets to be fixed, and the British battle line moved forward.

The soldiers were half stupifiedThe French Marines fired a volley at Gage’s men, which was quickly answered by the British. After a short exchange, the French Marines and Canadian militia began to fall back as Gage’s men tried taking a hill on their right flank. As Captain Beaujeu was rallying his men and reorganizing his command, the British fired a third volley, killing Captain Beaujeu.

French command fell upon Captain Dumas, who rallied his men just as the Indians were beginning their attack, hitting the British flanks. The French battle formation was now taking on the shape of a half moon. Once the British flanks came under fire, the advance guard’s battle line became compromised, and they fell back, causing a great deal of confusion. The Indians had taken positions behind fallen trees on the British right flank, and kept up a severe fire hitting their left flank.

Hearing the sounds of the battle ahead, St. Clair quickly ordered his two 6-pounders to be readied, and for the workers to form ranks. The artillery threw grape shot though the woods, tearing up the landscape in its front. The cannons provided aid to Gage’s men during the second attack, but were exposed once the advance guard fell back onto St. Clair’s line, causing more confusion. At the same time, a half mile away, Braddock also heard the sounds of what might be a battle unfolding and thought perhaps that this was another false alarm. During the confusion, St. Clair was struck in the right lung and began riding back to find Maj. Gen. Braddock, where he collapsed.

Standing next to his artillery with his aides, the Royal Naval Detachment, and Virginia horsemen, Braddock was quickly met by members of his staff including George Washington. With the battle going into its fifteen to twenty minute mark, Braddock rode forward, along with several mounted Virginian horsemen to see what was in his front. Arriving on scene, Maj. Gen. Braddock saw men falling all over the place. Many were in a panic stricken state of mind. Several British soldiers were wounded or killed by friendly fire.

Maj. Gen. Braddock ordered the wagons and artillery to be secured, and at the same time, he ordered the 500 men marching on both sides of the wagons to quickly move forward. This left Colonel Halkek with 250 men to guard the wagons. The Indians moved to the rear of Braddock’s column, where the wagons were located, and began attacking them. At the same time they continued putting pressure on the flanks of the British. The half moon battle tactic never took on a full circle, which was most likely the only thing that saved the British from being completely destroyed. During this portion of the fight, Colonel Halket was killed and his son, Lieutenant James Halket fell wounded upon his father’s chest.

While Braddock was commanding the field, many of the Colonial troops began taking positions in the same manner as the Indians. At one point, Colonel George Washington suggested to Braddock that he order men to take cover behind the trees, but Maj. Gen. Braddock cursed the idea as being cowardly. As Maj. Gen. Braddock rode back and forth, the scene became worse. Many of the British troops, who were earlier issued twenty-four rounds of ammunition, were running low and began empting the cartridge boxes of the dead and wounded.

Many men were still trying to take to higher ground on their right, but were not able to, as the firing came from their front, flanks, and rear. Eventually Lt. Col. Gage fell wounded upon the battlefield. This caused more troops to panic and fall back onto more oncoming British troops. During the confusion, Maj. Gen. Braddock had four horses shot out until a bullet hit his arm and entered into his lung.

FrenchAndIndianWarNot long after Maj. Gen. Braddock was wounded, the British and Colonial troops broke. The trouble began with the wagoneers, and soon after the army was in flight. By 5:00 p.m., most the shattered remains of Braddock’s flying column were hastily headed to the Monongahela River crossing. Lieutenant Robert Orme, along with Washington, and Captain Robert Stewert carried the wounded Braddock to safety. As the British retreated, the Indians and French followed suit. By the time that the British made it to the other side of the river, the Indians and French began looting what the British had left behind in the wagons.

Out of less than 1,500 British soldiers and Colonials at the battle, 456 were killed, 421 were wounded, and many more were captured. Other resources state that the British casualties were much higher. The French suffered far less with about 30 killed, and 57 wounded. The shattered British army retreated to Colonel Dunbar’s camp, west of Great Meadows, arriving there on July 11. There, most of the supplies were destroyed to lessen the baggage so that the army could fall back to Fort Cumberland for a faster retreat.

616x510During the evening on July 13, near Great Meadows, Braddock had called upon Colonel George Washington and asked him to oversee his burial. Shortly afterward, Braddock died. The next morning, Maj. Gen. Braddock was placed into a hasty coffin and buried in the middle of the road.

The British continued their march, arriving at Fort Cumberland on July 17. Although the French did not pursue the British, Colonel Dunbar, now commanding the army, fell back to Philadelphia after he realized that he had no resources at his disposal to launch an attack to take Fort Duquesne.

Resources:
Braddock, Edward. Major General Edward Braddock’s Orderly Books. Lowdermilk, Cumberland, MD, 1878
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.
Parkman, Francis. Braddock’s Defeat, 1755, The French and English in America, Maynard, New York, NY, 1890
Wahll, Andrew J. Braddock Road Chronicles 1755, Heritage Books, Westminster, MD. 2006.
Preston, David. Braddock’s Defeat, Oxford University, Oxford NY. 2015.

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.