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The Braddock expedition, also called Braddock's campaign or, more commonly, Braddock's Defeat, was a failed Britishmarker attempt to capture the Frenchmarker Fort Duquesnemarker in the summer of 1755 during the French and Indian War that ended with the Battle of the Monongahela. The expedition takes its name from General Edward Braddock, who led the British forces and died in the effort. Braddock's defeat was a major setback for the British in the early stages of the war with France and one of the most disastrous defeats for the British in the eighteenth century.

Background

Braddock's expedition was just one part of a massive British offensive against the French in North America that summer. As commander-in-chief of the British Army in America, General Braddock led the main thrust against the Ohio Country with a column some 2,100 strong. Braddock's command consisted of two regular line regiments, the 44th and 48th with about 1,350 men also, about 500 regular soldiers and militiamen from several British American colonies and artillery and other support troops. With these men Braddock expected to seize Fort Duquesne easily, and then push on to capture a series of French forts, eventually reaching Fort Niagaramarker. Twenty-three year-old George Washington, who knew the territory, served as a volunteer aide-de-camp to General Braddock. Braddock's Chief of Scouts was Lieutenant John Fraser of the Virginia Regiment, who owned land at Turtle Creek and who had previously served as Second-in-Command at Fort Prince George at the confluence of the Allegheny and Mononghela Rivers, the site of Fort Duquesne by the time of the Braddock Expedition, and who had been at Fort Necessity.

Braddock's attempt to recruit Native American allies from those tribes not yet allied with the French proved mostly unsuccessful; he had but eight Mingo Indians with him, serving as scouts. A number of Indians in the area, notably Delaware leader Shingas, remained neutral. Caught between two powerful European empires at war, the local Indians who were committed to their lands could not afford to be on the side of the loser. Braddock's success or failure would influence their decisions.

Braddock's Road

Setting out from Fort Cumberlandmarker in Marylandmarker on May 29, 1755, the expedition faced an enormous logistical challenge: moving a large body of men with equipment, provisions, and (most importantly for the task ahead) heavy cannon, across the densely wooded Allegheny Mountains and into western Pennsylvaniamarker, a journey of about 110 miles. Braddock had received important assistance from Benjamin Franklin, who helped procure wagons and supplies for the expedition. Among the wagoners, incidentally, were two young men who would later become legends of American history: Daniel Boone, and Daniel Morgan. Other members of the expedition were Ensign William Crawford and Charles Scott . Among the British were Thomas Gage; Charles Lee, future American president George Washington, and Horatio Gates.

The expedition progressed slowly because Braddock considered making a road to Fort Duquesne a priority (in order to effectively supply the position he expected to capture and hold at the Forks of the Ohio), and largely due to the lack of sufficient healthy draft animals. In some cases, the column was only able to progress at a rate of two miles a day, creating Braddock's Road—an important vestige of the march—as they went. To speed up movement, Braddock split his men into a "flying column" of about 1,300 men which he commanded and a supply column of 800 men with most of the baggage commanded by Colonel Thomas Dunbar. Dunbar's command lagged far behind. They passed the ruins of Fort Necessitymarker along the way, where the French had defeated Washington the previous summer. Small French and Indian war bands harried Braddock's men during the march, but these were minor skirmishes.

Meanwhile, at Fort Duquesne, the French garrison consisted of only about 250 regulars and Canadian militia, with about 640 Indian allies camped outside the fort. The Indians were from a variety of tribes long associated with the French, including Ottawasmarker, Ojibwas, and Potawatomis. The French commander, after receiving reports from Indian scouting parties that the British were on their way to besiege the fort, realised that his fort could not withstand Braddock's cannon, decided to launch a preemptive strike: an ambush of Braddock's army as he crossed the Monongahela River. The Indian allies were initially reluctant to attack such a large British force, but the French commander Liénard de Beaujeu, who dressed himself in full war regalia complete with war paint, convinced them to follow his lead.

Battle of the Monongahela

By July 8, 1755, the Braddock force was on the land owned by the Chief Scout, Lieutenant John Fraser. That evening, the Indians sent a delegation to the British to request a conference. Braddock sent Washington and Fraser. The Indians asked the British to halt their advance so that they could attempt to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal by the French from Fort Duquesne. Both Washington and Fraser recommended this to Braddock but he demurred.

On July 9, 1755, Braddock's men crossed the Monongahela without opposition, about ten miles south of Fort Duquesne. The advance guard of 300 Grenadiers and colonials with two cannon under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage began to move ahead, and unexpectedly came upon the French and Indians, who were hurrying to the river, behind schedule and too late to set an ambush.

In the skirmish that followed between Gage's soldiers and the French, the French commander, Beaujeu, was killed by the first fire of the Grenadiers' line. Although some 100 French Canadians fled back to the fort and the noise of the cannon had held the Indians off, Beaujeu's death did not have a negative effect on French morale as Dumas rallied the rest of the French and their Indian allies. The battle, known as the Battle of the Monongahela, or the Battle of the Wilderness, or just Braddock's Defeat, was officially begun. Braddock's impressive force was approximately 1,400 men. The British faced a French and Indian force, estimated to number between 300 and 900. The Battle of the Monongahela has often been described as an ambush. The encounter was actually a meeting engagement, where two forces clash at an unexpected time and place. The quick and effective response of the French and Indians - despite the early loss of their commander - led many of Braddock's men to believe they had been ambushed. However, French documents reveal that the French and Indian force was too late to prepare an ambush, and had been just as surprised as the British.

After an exchange of fire, Gage's advance group fell back. In the narrow confines of the road, they collided with the main body of Braddock's force, which had advanced rapidly when the shots were heard. The entire column dissolved in disorder as the Canadian militamen and Indians enveloped them and continued to snipe at the British flanks from the woods on the sides of the road. At this time, the French regulars began advancing from the road and began to push the British back.

Following Braddock's example, the officers kept trying to reform units into regular order within the confines of the road, mostly in vain and simply providing targets for their concealed enemy. Cannon were used, but in such confines of the forest road, they were ineffective. The colonial militia accompanying the British took cover and returned fire. In the confusion, some of the militiamen who were fighting from the woods were mistaken for the enemy and fired upon by the British regulars.

19th century engraving of the death of Major-General Braddock at the Battle of the Monongahela.
Finally, after between an hour to three hours of intense combat, Braddock was shot off his horse as effective resistance collapsed. Colonel Washington, although he had no official position in the chain of command, was able to impose and maintain some order and formed a rear guard, which allowed the remants of the force to disengage. This earned him the sobriquet Hero of the Monongahela, by which he was toasted, and established his fame for some time to come.

"We marched to that place, without any considerable loss, having only now and then a straggler picked up by the French and scouting Indians.
When we came there, we were attacked by a party of French and Indians, whose number, I am persuaded, did not exceed three hundred men; while ours consisted of about one thousand three hundred well-armed troops, chiefly regular soldiers, who were struck with such a panic that they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive.
The officers behaved gallantly, in order to encourage their men, for which they suffered greatly, there being near sixty killed and wounded; a large proportion of the number we had."


By sunset, the surviving British and American forces were fleeing back down the road they had built. Braddock died of his wounds during the long retreat, on July 13, and is buried within the Fort Necessitymarker parklands.

Of the approximately 1,300 men Braddock had led into battle, 456 were killed and 422 wounded. Commissioned officers were prime targets and suffered greatly: out of 86 officers, 26 were killed and 37 wounded. Also, of the 50 or so women that accompanied the British column as maids and cooks, only 4 survived. The French and Canadians reported 8 killed and 4 wounded; their Indian allies lost 15 killed and 12 wounded.

Colonel Dunbar, with the reserves and rear supply units, took command when the survivors reached his position. He ordered the destruction of supplies and cannon before withdrawing, burning about 150 wagons on the spot. Ironically, at this point the defeated, demoralised and disorganised British forces still outnumbered their opponents. The French and Indians did not pursue and were engaged with looting and scalping. Dumas realized the British were utterly defeated and he didn't have enough of a force to continue organized pursuit.

Aftermath

Braddock's defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela was a momentous event for the people of the region. Dunbar retreated all the way back to Philadelphia where he went into winter quarters in August. The French and their Indian allies gained the upper hand in the struggle for control of the Ohio Country, and a ferocious frontier war quickly escalated. Indians in the area who had been inclined to remain neutral now found it nearly impossible to do so. And the colonists of "backcountry" Pennsylvania and Virginia now found themselves without professional military protection, scrambling to organize a defense. This brutal frontier war would continue until Fort Duquesne was finally abandoned by the French as a result of the successful approach of the Forbes Expedition in 1758.

Another notable outcome of Braddock's defeat was the effect it had on the reputation of George Washington. Washington, despite being in poor health before the battle, distinguished himself as being calm and courageous under fire. He emerged from the disaster as Virginiamarker's military hero.

Debate

The debate on how Braddock, with professional soldiers, superior numbers, and artillery, could fail so miserably began soon after the battle and continues to this day. Some blamed Braddock, some blamed his officers, some blamed the British regulars or the colonial militia. George Washington, for his part, supported Braddock and found fault with the British regulars.

Braddock's tactics are still debated. One school of thought holds that Braddock's reliance on time-honoured European methods, where men stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the open and fire mass volleys in unison, was not appropriate for frontier fighting and cost Braddock the battle. Skirmish tactics that American colonials had learned from frontier fighting, where men take cover and fire individually, "Indian style", was the superior method in the American environment.

However, in some studies, the interpretation of "Indian style" superiority has been argued to be a myth by several military historians. European regular armies already employed irregular forces of their own and had extensive theories of how to use and counter guerilla warfare. Stephen Brumwell argues just the opposite stating that both Forbes and Bouquet, at the time, recognized that "war in the forests of America was a very different business from war in Europe." Russell argues it was Braddock's failure to rely on the time-honoured European methods that cost him the battle. The British had already waged war on the irregular forces of the Scots, and Balkan irregulars, such as Pandours and Hussars, had already made their impact on European warfare and theory by the 1740's. Braddock's failure, according to proponents of this theory, was that he failed because he did not adequately apply traditional military doctrine (particularly by not using distance), not the lack of use of frontier tactics. Peter Russell, in his study, shows that on several occasions before the Battle of the Monongahela, Braddock successfully adhered to standard European tactics to counter ambushes, and as a result had been nearly immune to earlier French and Canadian attacks.

Footnotes

  1. Some accounts state that Washington commanded the Virginia militia on the Braddock Expedition, but this is incorrect. Washington did command the Virginia militia before and after the expedition. As a volunteer aide-de-camp, Washington essentially served as an unpaid and unranked gentleman consultant, with little real authority, but much inside access.
  2. George Washington, July 18, 1755, letter to his mother. Similarly, Washington's report to Governor Dinwiddie. Charles H. Ambler, George Washington and the West, University of North Carolina Press,1936, pp. 107-109.
  3. See, for example, Armstrong Starkey's European and Native American Warfare, 1675-1815 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998).
  4. Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats, The British Soldier and War in the Americas 1755-1763, Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0 521 80783 8, pp. 198-205.
  5. See the in-depth study of Peter Russell: "Redcoats in the Wilderness: British Officers and Irregular Warfare in Europe and America, 1740 to 1760", The William and Mary Quarterly > 3rd Ser., Vol. 35, No. 4 (Oct., 1978), pp. 629-652
  6. This argument is most recently presented in Guy Chet's Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in the Colonial Northwest (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).


References

  • Chartrand, Rene. Monongahela, 1754-1755: Washington's Defeat, Braddock's Disaster. United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-84176-683-6.
  • Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America. New York: Norton, 1988. ISBN 0-393-30640-2.
  • Kopperman, Paul E. Braddock at the Monongahela. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973. ISBN 0-8229-5819-8.
  • O'Meara, Walter. Guns at the Forks. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1965. ISBN 0-8229-5309-9.
  • Russell, Peter. "Redcoats in the Wilderness: British Officers and Irregular Warfare in Europe and America, 1740 to 1760", The William and Mary Quarterly > 3rd Ser., Vol. 35, No. 4 (Oct., 1978), pp. 629-652


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