Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock's Defeat)

European War Comes to America

A map showing British and French territorial claims prior to the French and Indian War.  The subject of this web page and related events are circled above. Fort Duquesne on the map is now the city of Pittsburgh, PA.

The summer of  1754 was not a good one for the British Empire in North America.  Long simmering tensions with France and the Native Americans over control of the Ohio River Valley exploded into open warfare at Jumonville Glen and Fort Necessity.  When George Washington abandoned the fort on July 4, 1754 after surrendering it to the French, he took with him the only British military presence on the western frontier. This encompassed the territory of modern day western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, western Maryland and northwestern Virginia.  North America was now part of the Seven Years War. The campaigns fought here are referred to as the French and Indian War.

The stakes couldn't have been higher.  Each of the three combatants were fighting for their culture and way of life. The French wanted to use the rivers and waterways of the region for commerce and trade.  Control would give them access to the ocean and the Great Lakes from anywhere in the resource rich interior. 

The British wanted to settle the land.  Between 1700 and 1750, the population in the British colonies went from 250,000 to one and a quarter million.  Many of these people headed west and were soon encroaching on French territorial claims.  Both sides were heavily in debt from fighting wars and were relying on revenue from North America to finance them.

 

18th century Native American locations displayed on a map with modern state boundaries.  This is not an all inclusive list or drawn to scale.  Many tribes went by multiple names, such as Delaware/Lenape or were linked by common languages.

The Native American nations of the region -  Iroquois, Huron, Shawnee, Seneca and others - wanted only to be left alone in their respective homelands. They settled on the French as the lesser of two evils and overwhelmingly supported them throughout the war. This put the British at a distinct disadvantage in their wilderness campaigns. The American Indians of the mid-1700's were some of the best light infantry fighters the world has ever seen. Their reconnaissance and ambush skills were superb. They picked their fights carefully to conserve manpower and engaged when they had maximum advantage.  They were also extremely violent and cruel.  Scalpings, mutilations and looting were part of their way of warfare.  They spared no one. The wounded were slaughtered. Captive women and children became slaves.  Male captives were ritually tortured to death, sometimes for days.  They routinely made war on each other and alliances changed often.  But for the next several years, they would put aside their differences and take the fight to the British, who were wholly unprepared for what they were about to face.

 

 

The British Raise the Stakes

King George II was a native-born German who spoke English as a second language. He was the last king to be born outside Britain and the last to personally lead his armies in battle. He died halfway through the war and was succeeded by his grandson, George III.

Up until this point, the conflict with the French in America was a low priority and left to the colonials to handle.  The British military was fully engaged around the world as part of the Seven Years War. That soon changed. As soon as Washington exited the area,  the French and Indians began launching raids up and down the frontier and deep into British territory.

This caused multiple problems. Terrified settlers abandoned their homesteads and businesses.  They  poured out of the frontier and headed back east. In addition to the loss of desperately needed revenue and commerce, the British now faced a refugee crisis, the likes of which they had never seen.

In late 1754, King George II decided to settle the French problem once and for all. He committed manpower and resources for a major campaign in North America.  To lead this effort, he chose Major General Edward Braddock.

Braddock Takes Charge

Braddock's 1755 four pronged attack plan.
A map showing Braddock's plan for four simultaneous attacks to route the French in the summer of 1755.

Braddock, a Scotsman, was the son of a British General.  At the time of his assignment, he was 60 years old and had been in the army for 45 years, most of it in the Coldstream Guards.  Although he had been on many deployments and campaigns, he had never led troops in battle or personally seen any combat.  The choice of Braddock was an odd one.  He had not curried any favor with the royal family and there were certainly more capable and experienced generals available.  It is thought by some that he got the job because no one else wanted it. 

On January 8, 1755, Braddock set sail for Norfolk, Virginia with two Irish regiments.  He was the senior military commander in North America and his mission was to expel the French from the continent.  To accomplish that, Braddock planned an ambitious four pronged assault during the summer of 1755.  William Shirley, the Governor of Massachusetts, was to attack and seize Fort Niagara at the western end of Lake Ontario with a force of American troops and Indians.  Another force of Americans, commanded by General William Johnson, was to capture Fort St. Frederic (also known as Crown Point) at the southern end of Lake Champlain. A third attack to capture Fort Beausejour in Nova Scotia was assigned to General Robert Monckton and a combined force of British and American troops. These three attacks would cut off the main French avenues of approach to and from Canada, then called New France.  Additionally, with a base in Nova Scotia, the British could use the St. Lawrence River and its estuaries to strike at the heart of New France - the fortress city of Quebec.

A diorama of Fort Duquesne in 1755,
Braddock's objective - Fort Duquesne.  Now the city of Pittsburgh.  The outline of the fort can be seen at Point State Park downtown. Braddock's attack would have come from the upper right corner.

The main attack, led by Braddock himself,  would be against Fort Duquesne at "The Forks" which is now the city of Pittsburgh.  This confluence of three major rivers controlled the eastern waterways of the interior from the Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.  The loss of Fort Duquesne would cut off French access to the interior and flank their other strongholds in New York and Canada. Its capture was the main British  objective in North America.

Braddock arrived in Alexandria, Virginia on March 16 and immediately got things moving.  His attacking force would be the largest army ever assembled on the continent up to that time.  He had 2,400 troops, a significant number of artillery pieces and a huge wagon train to carry supplies.  On May 1, he crossed the Potomac River and began his 250 mile march on Fort Duquesne.

Braddock and Washington

General Edward Braddock

Braddock

By all accounts, Braddock was ambitious, vain and arrogant. In other words, he was a typical General.  He held the colonial militia in low regard and dismissed their advice on how to move and fight against the enemy they were facing.  In particular, he had nothing but contempt for the Native Americans.  In the early days of the march, he held several parlays with Indian leaders, trying to form alliances with them.  It didn't go well. He pronounced them "savages" who would never be able to stand up to a regular British army unit.  He also told them that any land the British occupied became the King's property and would not be returned. Thus, he campaigned in the heavily wooded mountains with almost no Indian support.

 

George Washington

Washington

There was one colonial officer who impressed Braddock - George Washington.  Now 24 years old, a successful planter and combat veteran,  Washington was hoping for a commission in the British army.  His rank as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia militia meant nothing.  Braddock had the authority to make direct commissions, but making the unknown American-born Washington a British officer would have been viewed as highly irregular. Instead, he offered Washington another path - to serve on the General's personal staff as an unpaid volunteer with no rank.  This was a common route to commissioning and Washington accepted. Washington was the most experienced French and Indian fighter in the colonies and knew the Ohio Valley well. Soon, he was Braddock's most trusted advisor.  It was Washington who would recommend splitting the army to move faster.  It was Washington who urged Braddock to put out scouts and flankers on the final movement to the objective. It was Washington who would personally save the severely wounded Braddock and prevent the annihilation of the entire force.  And it was Washington who would bury Braddock.

The March

The Allegheny Mountains in southwest Pennsylvania.  These are the same ones in the same area Braddock had to traverse on the way to Fort Duquesne.

Just getting to Fort Duquesne was going to be an epic undertaking.  The Potomac River was navigable up to Cumberland, MD.  Beyond that, everything had to go overland, but there were no roads capable of supporting heavy military traffic. In Washington's ill-fated expedition the previous summer, they had followed an old Indian trading path called the Nemacolin Trail, which ran from Cumberland to The Forks. They widened it into a passable dirt road but it wasn't ready for an army.  Braddock's force had to improve the existing 60 miles of road built by Washington, then build a new one for the remaining  40 miles to the Monongahela River.  Once across, they had several routes available for the final approach to the fort.

The new road needed to be at least 12 feet wide with bridges over streams and gaps and packed hard enough to sustain wheeled artillery, wagons and horses.  All this had to be done while on the march and under the constant threat of ambush.

Braddock organized the column with an infantry company as advance guard, a 300 man working party to build the road, the main body, then the logistics train.  On Washington's recommendation, small units screened the flanks away from the column.  Other units guarded the point and the rear. 

 

A 19th century lithograph showing Braddock's army on the march.
A 19th century lithograph showing Braddock's army on the move. Note the cut trees stacked on the side of the road and the wagons lined up as far as the eye can see.

The working party chopped trees. Horses and explosives were used to remove stumps and boulders. Explosives were used on stumps and boulders.  Logs were pruned and laid to form a corduroy road or used for bridges. Along the way, they would establish a series of temporary camps to re-group and prepare.   There would end up being a total of 20. 

March problems started the first day.  Progress was agonizing and slow.  In the first week, a spring snowstorm dumped over a foot of snow on them.  The entire column stretched for five miles or more, which was often longer than the road they had built that day. It took hours to catch everything up.  They would never get to Fort Duquesne this way.

On June 5th, they reached Camp #4 at Little Meadows near Grantsville, MD.  Here at the urging of George Washington, Braddock split his force. A lighter attack element, called the "flying column," would advance to lay siege to Fort Duquesne. It consisted of 1400 men, including the road builders, light artillery and just enough wagons to carry immediate supplies.  The heavier logistics train, which included heavy artillery needed for siege warfare, would follow in trace with the understanding they would be moving along the same route, only slower. They would further improve the route as they progressed. Everybody would meet at Fort Duquesne.

The logistics train was left under the command of Colonel Thomas Dunbar. The entire force stayed stayed at Little Meadows for two weeks. The flying column moved out on June 18.  The logistics train left a few days later but was soon miles behind.  Colonel Dunbar's force got as far as Camp #11 shortly before the battle. 

Camp #11 was only 1/2 mile from Jumonville Glen, where the fighting had begun a year earlier. Also close by were the Great Meadows, where the ruins of Fort Necessity lay.  Known to history as Dunbar's Camp, Camp #11  was an open grassy area on top of a mountain ridge on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains. It was a good place for an encampment to get ready for the final push. Now that they were coming out of the mountains, they needed to pick up the pace to make up the 40 miles between them and Braddock. However, that was not to be. This was the closest the supply train would  ever get to Fort Duquesne.  The next time they saw Braddock, he would be almost dead and 2/3 of the flying column would be killed or wounded.

The Approach

A preserved section of Braddock's Road near Uniontown, PA.
A preserved section of Braddock's Road. The British army marched down this road after leaving Dunbar's Camp and again during the retreat.  It looks much today like it did then except for the heavy small growth cover.  This was old growth virgin forest in Braddock's day and would have been more open on the ground due to the overhead canopy.

During the march, Braddock's officers drilled their units in battle drills - European style.  They practiced marching, forming up in straight ranks and firing in volleys.  Although not great practice for wilderness fighting, it was better than nothing.  The two Irish regiments were undermanned and not well trained.  The colonial militia troops were poorly equipped.   Drought, heat, boredom and skimpy rations began to take their toll.  Discipline started to break down. Illness was rampant. Washington himself was laid up for days with a high fever and rode in the back of a wagon for much of the trip, dragging himself up on to his horse the day before the battle.

Nevertheless, the movement of the flying column went well.  They marched from Camp #4 to their planned crossing site on the Monongahela River in 21 days, a distance of over 100 miles.  In the final days, they also had their first Indian contact.  Three soldiers were killed in these skirmishes and their bloody scalps were hung up where the column could see them.  Additionally, the troops heard for the first time what they called the "scalp halloo" - the blood curdling cry the Indians did when attacking, killing and scalping. The British regulars had never seen anything like this before and were completely unnerved by it.  Nothing in their battle drills had prepared them for this.

 

A map showing Braddock's approach to the river and Fort Duquesne.

Braddock's route from Dunbar's Camp to the battlefield.

 

Several days before the battle, Braddock moved his column off the Nemacolin Trail near present-day Irwin, PA and moved west to McKeesport. There he established Camp #20, their last one. He did this to avoid the narrow and ambush-prone Turtle Creek Valley, which the Nemacolin Trail ran through. This change would require them to cross the Monongahela River twice, but the terrain was more open.  The last part of the movement to contact would be cross-country.

Meanwhile, at Fort Duquesne, the French commander had a decision to make.  He knew his fort couldn't survive a direct attack by Braddock.  The force was simply too big.  He considered burning the fort and heading north, but younger and more aggressive officers talked him into sending a force out to attack the British first, ideally as they crossed the Monongahela River.

On the morning of July 9, 1755, the British arrived at their final crossing site.  Located below the high bluffs where Kennywood Park now stands, it was only eight miles from Fort Duquesne. At about the same time, Captain Daniel Beaujeu led a force of 200 French soldiers and 500 Indians out of Fort Duquesne.  Beaujeu and many of his soldiers were stripped to the waist Indian style.

The name Monongahela is a anglicized version of an Indian word for "falling banks". The river was shallow and easily forded but the steep banks were unstable and needed some preparation. Braddock's force knew they were most vulnerable here and executed a textbook river crossing.   Security forces went across first covered by fire from overwatch positions.  With the far side secured, the engineers quickly got the banks ready and the main body moved rapidly to expand the foothold.  Captain Beaujeu was fortunate that he didn't reach the river in time. The British would have been ready for him.

Since there had been no resistance at the river, Braddock assumed that the French were either holed up in the fort or had abandoned it altogether.  Euphoria and visions of Sir Edward Braddock took over.  He wanted to move fast. The flankers and scouts were pulled in.  Troops in their red tunics were formed in close ranks and marched at shoulder arms.  Colors were unfurled.  Drums played. It was a magnificent display.  By 1:00 PM, Braddock was on the move to claim his prize and his place in British military history.

The Battle

A Google Earth view of the battlefield.  As you can see, there's nothing left.  The redline line is the British advance and retreat.  The blue line is the French. The distance between the icons on each end is around a mile.  You can see a greatly enhanced and interactive version of this view by clicking this link. While in Google Earth, you can click on the yellow thumb tacks for more information about each location.  It does require Google Earth or the browser plugin to view.  There are links to each down below in the "Exploring the Area" section.

An increasingly nervous George Washington kept scanning for trouble.  So did the militia troops.  They had seen this kind of thing before.  Washington tried unsuccessfully to convince Braddock to put out security and get tactical with the column.  Braddock pointedly refused. 

The column moved cross country uphill from the river, passing John Fraser's cabin.  Once on higher ground, they turned west towards their objective. Their final trace before the battle was roughly parallel to  present-day Bell Street in downtown Braddock.

Meanwhile, the French continued to close rapidly towards the British without knowing their exact dispositions or location.  As fate would have it, the two columns were headed straight for each other.

An hour later and a mile from the river, on a spot which is now the parking lot of an apartment building, the lead elements of the two forces collided head-on.  Both sides were surprised by the sudden appearance of the other - a classic "meeting engagement." The French got off the first rounds, opening fire on the advance guard commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Gage.  Gage's men formed up in ranks and volley fired, killing Captain Beaujeu  and throwing the French into momentary confusion.  They weren't sure what to do next but the Indians did.  They whipped around both flanks and began cutting Braddock's magnificent army to pieces.

Firing unseen from cover along the flanks, the Indians first targeted the officers and the drummer boys - those who gave and transmitted orders.  The best counter-tactic for the British would have been to move into the trees and engage the enemy man-to-man.  Instead, the officers responded with tactics and formations from European battlefields but there wasn't enough time or room for them.  The situation was too fluid and the road too narrow.

This type of fighting was totally foreign to the British regulars. The front of the column began moving back while the back of the column was rushing forward. The army literally collapsed on itself. The 1400 men were soon crammed shoulder to shoulder with wagons, cannons and panicked horses - a scarlet kill zone as long as several football fields. The French and Indians raked it with fire from all sides.  When the French overran the advance guard, they captured two cannons - then turned them around and started blasting away down the road. Many British soldiers were shot by friendly fire, as groups volley fired into the smoke and hit their own men.  Virginia militia troops tried moving into the trees to fight and were killed by both sides.

"The Wounding of General Braddock"

by Robert Griffing

 

Robert Griffing is the foremost artist in America for colonial-era historical art.  All his works show clarity, historical accuracy and attention to detail. Note the tree cover as compared to the view above.  Confusion reigns on the battlefield.  Notice you don't see any French or Indians.  They are in covered positions.  You can also see an artillery piece - probably a brass six pounder - sitting unused. Washington, who is standing in the blue coat, will soon use one of these to lead the rear guard action that saves the force from complete annihilation.

Confusion and chaos reigned. The air was thick with lead, smoke and the scalp halloos of the Indians. In the middle of it all was General Braddock, with George Washington at his side.  Both were on horseback.  Both had bullets tear at their clothing and had horses killed underneath them.  For three hours, the British stood their ground.  Then, General Braddock was shot. A bullet went through his upper right arm and into his chest.  Washington leapt to his aid and found the general alive but unconscious.  He commandeered a wagon, put Braddock in it and told the driver to get back across the river.

Seeing their commanding general go down triggered a wholesale panic among the British troops.  They broke and ran for the water.  The Indians gave chase, tomahawks and scalping knives in hand.   The rout became a slaughter. Washington, back on horseback, was able to stem the flow near the river and organize a rear guard action.  He personally wrestled a six-pounder cannon into position and poured fire into the enemy, enabling  his men to disengage  and prevent a pursuit across the river.  Having won a great victory with a loss of only 30 men, the French decided not to press their luck.  The Indians were already busy looting and scalping.  In fact, the Indian penchant for plunder and their aversion to fighting a prepared enemy may have done as much to stop the carnage as Washington did.  

Of the 1400 British who crossed the river, over 500 didn't come back.  A dozen or so British troops were taken prisoner.  The Indians  marched them back to Fort Duquesne naked and tortured them to death. The French stood by and watched.  Most of the survivors were wounded.  Washington was one of the few officers not hit and the only one left on Braddock's staff.   The dead and wounded were not all the British lost.  Left behind were weapons, artillery, large quantities of supplies and ammunition, wagons, horses, 200 gallons of rum, a chest full of money and gold and Braddock's field trunk with all his official  papers.   Braddock's army had been decimated by a force half its size just when victory was  within reach.  General Edward Braddock became famous but not in the way he envisioned just a few hours earlier.

An old military adage says "A commander can be forgiven for being defeated but never for being surprised." For over 250 years, this debacle has been a case study in battlefield hubris, overconfidence and stupidity.  It will be known forever as  Braddock's Defeat.

The Retreat

The site of Dunbar's Camp.
The site of Dunbar's Camp.  Fort Duquesne is 40 miles to the right.  Braddock's Grave is four miles to the left. Braddock's Road would have followed the trace of the road at the top of the picture. This has been the home of the Jumonville Christian Center for 70 years.  Their 60 foot cross on Dunbar Knob is a western Pennsylvania icon. They are sitting on an archaeological gold mine and have a small museum with a good collection of artifacts from Braddock's expedition.

It was 40 miles to the safety and security  of Dunbar's Camp. The terrified soldiers expected the Indians to set upon them at any time and wanted to get as far away as possible. The retreat turned into a panicked every-man-for-himself bug out.  Men were dying in droves.  The wounded fell out or were dropped along the wayside.  Equipment and clothing were ditched.  There was no water or food.  The thing that kept men moving were the echoes of the scalp halloos and the images of their comrades tomahawked and scalped.

Several miles down the road, Washington and the few remaining officers started re-grouping and bringing some order to the march. Washington then rode overnight to Dunbar's Camp, returning with food, water and wagons.  Within two days, he had gathered the remnants of the shattered army there.

Colonel Dunbar was now in command and he wanted no part of any more Indian fighting.  Afraid that the French were in hot pursuit,  Dunbar ordered a full retreat.  Even though he still had over 1,000 troops and enough supplies for a major campaign, he couldn't get out of there fast enough. Transporting the wounded had priority for the wagons.  This left him with thousands of tons of supplies and equipment and nothing to carry it with.  What they couldn't carry on their backs was burned, buried or simply abandoned.  Much of it was later recovered by French foraging parties.

On July 12, Dunbar moved out.  Dropping units along the way in Cumberland and Alexandria, he didn't stop until he got to Philadelphia on August 28. Meanwhile, British soldiers continued to straggle back along the road they had built.  The last recorded straggler arrived at Fort Cumberland on July 26.

Braddock's Grave

Braddock's final resting place. His original burial site was about 100 yards behind the monument right in the center of the road that bears his name.  A well-preserved section of Braddock's Road is just off to the right and leads down to a placard that marks the location of the first burial.

On July 13, General Braddock died just a few miles from Dunbar's Camp.  George Washington presided over a service, then ordered Braddock buried in the middle of the road his men had built.  The retreating army would obliterate any sign of a grave and eliminate the possibility that it would be dug up and desecrated.

After the war, the Braddock Road was a main east-west thoroughfare. In 1804, road crews found Braddock's remains, which were positively identified by the coat buttons and other accoutrements. The General was re-buried at the present location - along the Braddock Road on a small hill about 100 yards away.  The current monument was erected in 1913 by Braddock's old regiment, the Coldstream Guards.  It is now a small park and administered as part of the Fort Necessity National Battlefield. One of the few remaining segments of Braddock's Road is preserved here, looking much as it did when the British army marched on it in 1755.

Before Braddock died, he gave Washington a red ceremonial sash and a pistol.  Washington carried both for the rest of his life. He later reported that Braddock's last words to him were "Next time, we shall know how to fight them."

 

The Unbelievable Exploits of Captain Robert Stobo

One of the fascinating things about studying history is discovering facts and people that had a material effect on the events of the day but have been lost to time.  One of those people from the French and Indian War was Robert Stobo, whose exploits could have been an epic fiction novel if they weren't true. Despite his heroics, there are no known pictures of Stobo.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1726, he migrated to Virginia to become a merchant like his father.  As it turned out, he wasn't crazy about a merchant's life. His real call was the military.  His family was friends with Governor Dinwiddie and Robert was commissioned a Captain in the Virginia militia.  Shortly thereafter, he led an infantry company that reinforced George Washington at Fort Necessity, arriving just before the battle.  When Washington surrendered to the French, he was required to provide them with two officers to hold as hostages to ensure the return of French prisoners taken at Jumonville Glen.  Robert Stobo volunteered to be one of them.

Captain Stobo's diagram of Fort Duquesne.  It was smuggled to General Braddock, then found in his field trunk after his defeat. Stobo had also written several long letters about the French defenses and troops.  These were found also.

Taken back to Fort Duquesne, Stobo was free to roam the grounds, since he was not a POW.  He drank and played cards with the French and became fluent in the language, all the while gathering detailed information about the fort and its defenders.  When the British refused to release the French prisoners, Stobo was sent to the French stronghold at Quebec.  Before he left, he convinced a friendly Indian to deliver his intelligence to the British.  He did and it ended up with General Braddock, who had it with him the day of the defeat.  When the French ransacked what the British had left behind,  they opened Braddock's field trunk and found Stobo's letters and diagrams of the fort.  Stobo had signed them to prove their authenticity but in doing so, signed his own death warrant.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Stobo was doing his thing again.  He had the run of the place and was allowed to mingle in the upper echelons of French-Canadian society.  He was in the process of amassing a dossier on the French stronghold - right up to the point where they put him in chains and threw him in the dungeon as a spy.  He was tried and convicted of espionage and sentenced to the gallows.  The sentence was commuted to "long term confinement" by King Louis XV.

Stobo languished in Quebec's dungeons for three years.  He escaped twice only to be re-captured shortly after.  Each time, his conditions became harsher.  His third escape attempt was successful.  He canoed for 36 days from Quebec to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a distance of almost 700 miles.  That included negotiating the treacherous Gulf of St. Lawrence even though he knew nothing of seamanship.

By now, it was July 1759 and as fate would have it, British General Wolfe was preparing to attack Quebec from his base in Halifax.  Stobo gave his detailed intelligence to Wolfe, who used it to modify his plans and successfully take the French bastion.  The capture of Quebec in September 1759 broke the back of the French forces in America. Less than a year later, in August 1760, they would lose Montreal and cease hostilities, although a formal peace treaty was still three years away.

Wolfe sent Stobo back to Williamsburg, VA. Arriving there over five years after he had originally left for Fort Necessity,  he received a hero's welcome, all his back pay and a commission in the British army.  Stobo returned to the fighting. Commanding a company of British regulars, he saw extensive action in the Caribbean theater.  He was seriously wounded while leading an attack on Morro Castle at the entrance to the harbor in Havana, Cuba. Occupation duty in America followed as the British strived to bring order to their new lands. He returned to England in 1768 intent on finishing his army career.  However, he quickly became bored  with peacetime garrison duty and disillusioned by army politics.  A decade of fighting, captivity and depredation had taken their toll.  He began to have health problems along with financial difficulties and started drinking heavily.

On June 19, 1770, 44 year old Robert Stobo blew his brains out.

The Aftermath

In this writer's humble opinion, it is hard to overstate the significance and the consequences of this often overlooked battle. It changed the course of the war and the history of the continent.

Pittsburgh and its three rivers.

"The Forks" - Pittsburgh, PA

If Fort Duquesne had been taken in 1755, there would not have been a French and Indian War.  The Native Americans would have abandoned the French and probably gone over to the British. The remaining French forts on the frontier, isolated and flanked, would have been rolled up while the British base in Nova Scotia blocked free access to the Atlantic. The French would have been backed into a corner.

No war had been declared yet. Neither side was in a hurry to go to war in North America because neither side could afford it. They likely would have negotiated a settlement or the French would have abandoned the continent altogether. Eventually, that's what happened anyway, except it took nine years of fighting (1754-1763) to get there. The scenario for the greater conflict - the Seven Years War - would have also changed but it's impossible to say where it would have gone.

There also would have been profound implications for the American Revolution 20 years later. Many of the leaders on both sides "earned their spurs" in the French and Indian War. In this battle alone, George Washington, Thomas Gage, Horatio Gates, Daniel Morgan and Daniel Boone saw action. 

By holding Fort Duquesne, the French retained control of the Ohio River Valley for over three more years and lengthened the war even longer.  After the battle, Indians flocked to fight on the side of the French, greatly increasing their war fighting capabilities even as the British were losing theirs.  The fort was a major base of operations.  At the time of the battle, a formal declaration of war had not even been made yet.  That wouldn't happen until May 1756.  Nevertheless, a full scale frontier war had broken out.  From 1754 to 1758,  the British got the worst of it by far. 

As for Braddock himself, there's no doubt that he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  In many respects,  he did a capable job. He marched his army 200 miles through the wilderness with no roads, no Indian support and major transportation problems.  He built the road and trained the troops along the way. The whole operation was an impressive feat of both engineering and logistics. Braddock was no coward, as his actions during the battle proved. But he will always be remembered for what he didn't do - win.

Out of the 1400 men who marched with Braddock, 500 were killed and another 500 were wounded, including most of the officers. His defeat shook the empire to its core.  His losses constituted  a significant portion of British combat power in North America.  Much of it was captured by the French, who put it to good use against the former owners.  Britain had to reinforce the colonies with thousands of additional troops, re-constitute their war stocks and commit naval forces to the effort.  They also had to re-evaluate their tactics and their relations with the local militias.  While they were doing all that, French and Indian raiders were running amok and winning major battles,  terrorizing the entire region. 

As for the other three prongs of Braddock's master plan, the best one could say is that they weren't complete disasters.  Conceived in England, the plan totally ignored the realities of wilderness expeditions, including long distances, rough terrain and water obstacles.  There was also the fact that there weren't enough supplies and manpower in all the combined colonies to pull off four simultaneous campaigns.  When advised of this by the colonial governments, Braddock dismissed their concerns and ordered the plans forward.

 

Governor Shirley's attack on Fort Niagara never took place. He hesitated and floundered for weeks, accomplishing nothing. After Braddock's death, Shirley was made the commander of all British military forces in North America.  He bungled the job badly and was recalled to England.  After several years in limbo,  he became the Governor of the Bahamas in 1761, where he finished his career. He died of natural causes in 1771 and is buried in Boston. Among the dead at Braddock's Defeat was Shirley's oldest son, William.

 

 

General Johnson's attack on Fort St. Frederic (Crown Point) was disrupted at the last minute by a French pre-emptive attack on his own base forcing him to withdraw and go on defense. To re-group, he built Fort William Henry on Lake George, resulting in a two year stalemate in the region.  He returned to his pre-war duties as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in upstate New York. In August 1757, the French attacked the fort and compelled the British to surrender.  The French allowed them to retire with honors, knowing their Indian allies would not honor the terms. The next day, the Indians attacked the 2,000 unarmed soldiers and dependents, killing several hundred. The siege of Fort William Henry and the subsequent massacre were central events in James Fennimore Cooper's 1826 book The Last of the Mohicans and the 1992 movie version. Johnson never saw England again. He carried out his duties in upstate New York until his death by natural causes in 1774. He is buried in Johnstown, NY, a small village he founded in 1762.

 

General Monckton successfully captured Fort Beausejour in Nova Scotia on June 5, 1755.  This gave the British a vital foothold and a base of operations on the Canadian Atlantic coast. This region was inhabited by the Acadians - French speaking Catholics and citizens of New France.  When they refused to pledge loyalty to the British crown, Monckton began expelling them.  Hundreds were loaded on to ships which sailed the east coast and dropped them off at random places to make assimilation as difficult as possible.   Monckton carried out military duties around the world for the empire until his death by natural causes in 1782. He is buried in London. As for the Acadians, many ended up back home in a few years.  However, a large number migrated to New Orleans, where the French culture and language were ingrained.  The Acadians prospered there and came to be known in the local dialect as....Cajuns.

Fort Duquesne finally fell on November 26, 1758.  It was abandoned by the French in the face of a 6,000 man force led by General John Forbes.  Along the way, Forbes' army passed through Braddock's kill zone where many of the 500 dead still lay out in the open, their bleached skeletons dismembered and picked clean.  They were buried nearby in a mass gave which has never been located but is thought to be under the Edgar Thomson steel mill, which covers most of the battlefield. The fall of Fort Duquesne  effectively ended the French and Indian War on the western frontier, but several years of hard fighting lay ahead in New York, New England and Canada.

Braddock's Road was a major east-west thoroughfare for years after the war.  It eventually provided the basis for the construction of Route 40, also known as the National Road.  It was the first major road building project of the new US Government and has a history all its own.  The entire highway is a designated national landmark.  Small segments of the original Braddock's Road can still be seen today, including a half mile stretch in pristine condition at Claude Moore Park in Sterling, VA.

At Dunbar's Camp, the abandoned supplies have provided one of the greatest concentrations of colonial artifacts ever found.  The area is protected now, but a full archaeological dig has never been done.

George Washington, who performed heroically in the battle, went home to Mt. Vernon.  Lady Luck had smiled on him again.  He lost four horses to enemy fire and had multiple bullet holes in his hat and coat, but didn't get a scratch on him.  He wouldn't be home for long.  The governor of Virginia raised a militia regiment and put Colonel Washington in command.  For two years - 1755 to 1757 - they defended the western frontier from French and Indian attacks all by themselves.

The most significant legacy of the Battle of the Monongahela is that it showed the invincible British war machine could be beaten along with a graphic demonstration of how to do it.  General Braddock's last words to Washington - "Next time, we shall know how to fight them" - were more prophetic than either of them realized.

Exploring the Area

The Battle of the Monongahela can't be explored like you would Gettysburg or the Little Bighorn.  There's nothing left of the battlefield. The US Steel Edgar Thomson Works sits on top of most of it and the mill town of Braddock sits on the rest. It's a shame that battlefields get plowed under by "progress" but that's the way the world is sometimes.  Braddock, or Braddocc as some now like to call it, has seen its better day. Most of the people are gone and most of the buildings are condemned. Ongoing attempts to re-vitalize it have met with very limited success.  Needless to say, military history was not a priority.  For decades, there were only two small items in the city to draw attention to the momentous battle that occurred here.  If not for a dedicated group of re-enactors and preservationists, the battle may have completely faded away.

The George Washington statue in Braddock, PA.   Commemorative plaque in Braddock, PA.
On the left is the George Washington Statue, erected in 1930 when Braddock was a steel boomtown.  This marks the area of the heaviest fighting and where General Braddock was shot.  Historians refer to this small park as "Braddock's Field" and it would be a focal point of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.  On the right is a plaque commissioned by the borough of Braddock in 1917.  It was originally part of a large stone monument.  It is now bolted to the side of the apartment building that stands on the spot where the lead elements of the two armies collided.

 

Recently,  there was a very positive development concerning the battle and its legacy.  A very determined attorney, Robert Messner, spearheaded an effort to get a visitor's center in downtown Braddock dedicated to the battle.  It took from 1995 to 2012, but on August 18, 2012, the Braddock's Battlefield History Center opened its doors on the three acre site of an abandoned car dealership.  The center sits astride some of the main battle area and is a welcome addition to the history of this area. Here is an additional link to a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article that gives a good background on Mr. Messner's efforts and the development of the center.

 

In addition to the Braddock battlefield, Fort Necessity, Jumonville Glen, Braddock's Grave and Bushy Run are within easy driving distance of each other and can be seen in a day.  Along with Braddock's Defeat, they are all related events in the same conflict. You really have to take in all of them to understand what happened here. They have visitors centers, museums, movies, gift shops, ranger talks, self-guided tours, re-enactments and information placards.  There are many geocaches either on or near the grounds except for Braddock, which has none. There is much information about Braddock's campaign at these other places. It can make for a great day or weekend of exploring and learning.

Fort Necessity

 

Bushy Run

Fort Necessity today.

 

The Visitor Center at Bushy Run Battlefield.

The Rindfuss Museum at Jumonville, operated by the Braddock Road Preservation Association, contains artifacts from  Dunbar’s Camp and the Braddock Road. You can explore the area where Braddock's supply train encamped and where the army retreated to after the battle.  This is where all the supplies and equipment were dumped, making this small area an archaeological treasure. No souvenirs allowed though. Tours and special programs about Braddock's expedition are available by appointment. For more information visit their website at www.jumonville.org.

You can follow Braddock's Route and other historical events via the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program. There are over 2,000 blue and gold roadside markers throughout the state. Another great exploring tool is waymarking dot com, an online pictorial catalog of unique, interesting and useful places all over the world. You can target your subject or area with keyword searches.  This link takes you to a waymarking page with General Braddock historical markers.  Historical markers and waymarks are great for road trips.

While you're at it, you can check out Fort Ligonier and the Fort Pitt Museum, both of which may become part of this web site at some point.

You can check out all the sites in advance, along with additional notes and places of interest, in this interactive Google Earth presentation.

To view it, you'll need Google Earth or the Google Earth browser plugin.  Both are free. Click on the links to download them if you don't already have them.

The presentation has the Google Earth Geocache Viewer embedded in it.  It will show geocaches in the region as you zoom in and out.  To toggle it on and off, use the checkbox in the Places bar on the left hand side. The viewer and all the other place markers will be in temporary places.

The GPS coordinates to the site of the Battle of the Monongahela in Braddock, PA are 40.404816º, -79.864664°.  The GPS coordinates to Braddock's Grave, which is just a few miles west of Fort Necessity on Route 40, are 39.83243º, -79.60052º. Click on the coordinates for interactive Google maps.

I hope you enjoyed this page and that you will find this corner of history as interesting as I do.

Semper Fi......out here.......Alpha6