Colonel George Washington - General Braddock– Fort Necessity
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We continue the remarkable adventure of the early formation of the United States of America, Canada and the French speaking province of Quebec. To immerse our senses in these political, social, religious and early settlement battles, is to appreciate why the United States of America has become the most influential nation in the world.
It is also to perceive why the English-speaking hegemony and their values of individual freedom are spreading throughout the Globe. Within this drama, the indomitable human spirit can be seen as men finally realize that they alone, as individual men and women, must determine their own destiny. Good leadership is vital but only when it reflects the inherent values of the governed and all, without exception, are subject to the laws agreed upon by the majority.
We left Chapter 4 very much aware that an undeclared war between the French and the British in North America has begun with shots fired by a party of Colonial soldiers from Virginia, led by George Washington, in a minor attack upon a group of French soldiers and Indians not far from the Great Meadows. A number of French had been killed. Unfortunately the leader of the French, a junior officer named Joseph Colon de Villiers was one of them. The Commander of Fort Duquesne happened to be older brother, Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers, so it was certain an attack would soon be forthcoming.
It was therefore a race between the British colonials obtaining sufficient reinforcements in time to launch an attack on Fort Duquesne and drive out the French or having to go on the defensive and repulse a French attack upon them.
Washington prepares for the coming Battle
As the curtain opens and we look back some 255 years on a scene that slowly brightens before our eyes. A lush green meadow, known as the Great Meadows, lies before us. There, in the middle of the meadows, about half a mile away, a small palisade log structure appears to have been erected in the form an irregular square.
We see the red coats of the British soldiers and the colonial’s darker garments thrown aside as stripped to the waist they dig a number of trenches some eight or so yards to the west of the palisaded tiny fort; all designed to offer the defenders cover and allow them to fire upon the road leading from Fort Duquesne and into the forested hills to the south and west of the road.
Nearby, horses and cattle graze on the sweet new summer grass, for it is early June. Other soldiers are also seen passing in and out of the fort and just visible, bobbing above the walls of the fort are the heads of soldiers working on fire steps inside the walls from which some of the defenders will fire their muskets and the fort’s swivel gun. The roof of a single small structure can be seen inside the fort, probably to act as a place to eat, a storage place and a rest area for men and officers off duty. The sun shines gloriously on the peaceful, industrious scene.
During this same month, Washington is elsewhere, working with the main body of his Virginian troops to complete the road towards the Monongahela River to the North West while using the Great Meadows location as his transit camp for supplies being sent from his main base at Wills Creek, Virginia.
Washington had first arrived in Great Meadows May 24, 1754 with some 160 Virginia volunteers and for nearly two months this poorly trained and badly provisioned army had been hauling supplies and heavy equipment all the way from Alexandria over the narrow mountain trails. There had been desertions and the men were hungry tired and dissatisfied. He had therefore chosen the location because it provided nourishment for the animals and water from two small creeks that ran along the back and side of the meadow. The flat grassy surface also provided adequate space to pitch tents and park their wagons and equipment.
The colonial army continued to increase in size as the remainder of the Virginia Regiment arrived on June 9, 1754 and the South Carolina Independent Company of regular troops came in bringing his force up to about 400 officers and officers and men.
It was at this time that Washington received news of the death of the Commander of the entire operation, Colonel Fry. Governor Dinwiddie then commissioned Washington a full Colonel and placed him in command of the Virginia Regiment and Captain James Mackay was put in charge of the British regulars from South Carolina. Colonel James Innes of the British army was appointed the overall commander of the operation and while Washington and Mackay carried on, Colonel Innes left for Williamsburg to continue to mobilize reinforcements. They still planned to attack the French at Fort Duquesne and evict them.
Captain Mackay and Colonel Washington argued over who was to be the local commander in Colonel Innes’s absence because military commissions from the British government were considered higher in rank than those issued to colonial officers. This argument became a major issue, but much more so later, especially after the fall of New France, when the British government felt they had to suppress what they saw as a troublesome independent streak in the colonial way of thinking.
In a military sense it was one of the difficulties the British colonies suffered from compared to the French. All orders came from France and all operations were undertaken at the direction of one source, the French King and government at Versailles.
In contrast, the New England colonies were headed by thirteen different colonial governors appointed by the British parliament and frequently the New England local governments would not fully comply or even contested orders from England. Often they would not even support or cooperate with other English colonies. As a result, their response to Indian and French attacks was often weak, divided or confused and frequently the settlers themselves paid the inevitable horrible price.
However, with the coming attack imminent, the two officers agreed to command by joint consultation with Colonel Washington retaining control of his Virginia Regiment and Captain Mackay in charge of his South Carolina regulars. The hope was that they would be prepared to attack Fort Duquesne before the French and their Indians were able to strike.
The idyllic Great Meadows scene we originally viewed was quite a different experience from that of the Virginia soldiers laboring on the road construction because the British Regulars from South Carolina under Captain Mackay had refused to labor on the road without pay. Washington had no resources to pay the regulars, so they were left at the Meadows to complete the defenses of the fort and it was they we saw working on the fortifications that lovely sunny day.
Meanwhile, Washington, being determined to complete the road to the Monongahela River and build a fortification at the mouth of Redstone Creek, continued to push his men without respite from their heavy work. It was his intention that they would then use the new as a defensive position to assemble the main body of the army and launch the attack on Fort Duquesne. His letter to Governor Dinwiddie, stated, “We will endeavour to make the road sufficiently good for the heaviest artillery to pass and when we arrive at Red-stone Creek fortify ourselves strongly as the short time will allow.”
Alarm! - French Troops on the move from Fort Duquesne
Towards the end of June the alarm was given that the French were on the move and it was decided to retire to the Great Meadows position. The fort was not then known as Fort Necessity but it seems to have acquired the name later as a descriptive term because it had been built there out of “necessity.” It was an ideal resting place for the troops and animals but certainly not chosen for its military attributes. Apparently, Washington first referred to it by that name in one of his letters and the location is known by that name, even today.
A Remarkable new Actor enters the Scene – Captain Robert Stobo
On June 9, 1754, two more companies of the Virginia Regiment of men under Captains Robert Stobo and Andrew Lewis had arrived at Fort Necessity; they had left Alexandria, Virginia a few weeks before to bolster Washington’s force. Robert Stobo was a Scot who had arrived in Virginia a few years before and had become well known in Williamsburg’s social and business circles.
Stobo was a distant relative of Governor Dinwiddie and had developed a successful and much in demand business importing the latest fashions from Europe. He was also single, handsome and a favourite of the ladies. He lusted for adventure though, and wanted to serve his new country and the colony of Virginia. Stobo had acquired some knowledge of military construction so was named a regimental engineer and appointed a Captain in charge of a company of the Virginia Regiment.
Being fairly wealthy, he arrived in camp supported by a retinue of ten personal servants, who were mechanics, and a covered wagon carrying a butt of Madeira wine (about 480 litres). He was a most welcome addition to the thirsty officers in camp, as one can imagine.
The Battle of Fort Necessity
Just four weeks later on July 3, 1754 the expected force of 500 Frenchmen and their 100 Indian allies led by Francois Coulon de Villiers, the older brother of Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, arrived at Fort Necessity. Francois was undoubtedly eager to avenge the death of his younger brother at the hands of Lieutenant-Colonel Washington. Among the Indian allies were representatives from seven tribes; the Algonquin, Abenaki, Delaware, French Iroquois, Huron, Nippissing and Ottawa, whose stated purpose was; ”to march against the British…in order to avenge ourselves and chastise them for having violated the most sacred laws of civilized nations.”
The weather was now terrible; the rain had fallen heavily all day and the trenches were filling with water. The soldiers had difficulty keeping their powder dry and were thoroughly wet, cold and hungry. The ground was soggy, muddy and hard to navigate.
The battle began about 11:00 AM but the poorly built Fort Necessity did not afford much protection for Washington’s men. Unfortunately, well forested hills surrounded the meadows on three sides, so the French-Indian forces soon occupied the hills and were able fire down on the troops from behind the trees, exacting a considerable toll of killed and wounded without having to launch a direct attack. Captain de Villiers decided not to launch a direct assault and towards the end of the day sent a message asking Washington to surrender.
A ceasefire was arranged and Major Washington sent two of his officers; Captain Jacob Van Braam, his long time family friend, and Ensign William L. Peyronie to parley with the French, because they were the only two men in Washington’s force that could speak any French. The Virginians knew that they were beaten but surprisingly Captain Francois de Villiers offered very generous terms to Washington because he realized that Britain and France were not at war and the battle and surrender terms were on shaky legal grounds. As is often said though, the “devil is in the details.”
When four hours later Van Braam and Le Peyronie returned to Washington with the offer that de Villiers had made, saying that there was no other choice, Washington realized he was totally defeated and must surrender to save the remainder of his small army. He signed the surrender agreement that was written in French and drafted by Captain Jacob Van Braam. Unfortunately the agreement was badly worded, because Van Bram did not know French fluently, as his mother tongue was neither English nor French but Dutch. In his failure to thoroughly understand French, Van Braam had described Washington as an “assassin.” It would come back to haunt Washington both at home and abroad.
The Capitulation of the British and Colonials at Fort Necessity
By the terms of capitulation agreement, Washington had to leave two officers as hostages with the French until the French soldiers captured earlier at the glen (now known as the Jumonville Glen) were handed back to the French. The two Captains who volunteered were Robert Stobo and Jacob Van Braam and they were taken to Fort Duquesne as hostages. Both were later imprisoned in the Citadel of Quebec.
On July 4, 1774, at around 10:00 AM the British army and the Virginia Regiment marched out of Fort necessity dragging their wounded on carts and all the supplies they could manage to carry. They headed back to Wills, Creek (today’s Cumberland, Maryland). Colonel Washington leaves the scene, a defeated and humbled man. The French destroy any unusable supplies the British have left behind and burn the stockade to the ground.
Robert Stobo, the newest member of the Virginia Militia, only recently commissioned a Captain, had not been a participant in the Jumonville Glen attack and was not really aware of what had happened while he was awaiting his orders in Alexandria to join Washington’s army. It was quite a reversal of fortune for the young ambitious officer. Though he could not have known it at the time, he would become a hero to the colony, respected by all at home and abroad and a legend of North American history!
While being kept hostage in Fort Duquesne, Captain Stobo, an excellent draughtsman, drew a detailed map of the fort showing the nature of its defenses, the location of the barracks, stores, officer’s quarters and other vital information. Later, this map drawn on the back of a letter sent to Governor Dinwiddie would fall into the hands of the French with very dire consequences for Stobo - perhaps too, for the life of New France itself!
General Braddock’s Campaign against Fort Duquesne
News of the battle and defeat of the British colonists at Fort Necessity reached both the English and French and alerted them to a conflict that was just beginning. Washington was very disturbed by his defeat at Fort Necessity, even though it was his baptism in battle and the experience would stand him in good stead in the future.
Fort Necessity and the Jumonville fight were the events that brought General Edward Braddock to North America with 2,000 British Regulars. Braddock was a distinguished soldier, but he had no experience in Indian methods of warfare and he felt the British regulars could take on any task. Washington and other colonist officers, who knew the Indian style of fighting, did not agree with Braddock, even though they respected him.
General Braddock heard of Washington’s exploits, and requested that he become his aide; Washington was pleased and accepted the offer. He developed a close friendship Braddock, even though he had misgivings about the General’s confidence in the methods of European warfare that he was certain would drive the French and their Indians out of British territories. In June 1755, General Edward Braddock, Colonel George Washington and five Royal Governors met at Carlyle House in Alexandria, Virginia to plan the campaign to liberate Fort Duquesne and the New England territories.
The Defeat of Braddock, the British Army and the Colonial Forces
Washington rejoined Braddock and their army continued the march to Fort Duquesne. Eventually, they crossed the Monongahela River and about fifteen miles from Fort Duquesne they were ambushed on July 9, 1755, by a French and Indian force led by Captain Daniel-Hyacinthe-Marie Lienard de Beaujeu and an Indian force under Charles-Michel de Langlade. The Indian forces were comprised of Shawnees, Delawares, Ojibwas, Pottawattamies and the Abenakis from Kahnawake. There were also some Indians from the Five Nations, loyal to the French and Huron’s from Montreal and Ancien Lorette, near Quebec City.
For the British, the ambush was a debacle. While the British Regulars were trained soldiers, they had never experienced a battle with the Indians who occupied the high ground on both sides of the roadway. They were taken by surprise. The army’s cannon were far back in their wagon train, the road was wet, soft and muddy and the troops following behind had little opportunity to get the cannons or themselves into action against Indians. All the time, the French and Indians were firing down on them from the cover of the trees.
Eventually, after terrible casualties the leading troops panicked. The local recruits from the New England Colonies did not fare much better because they were not well trained or disciplined and were easily overrun. The French allied Indians had a field day killing and scalping British soldiers and colonial militiamen. To the credit of the British officers and the Virginia militia, many stood their ground and fought valiantly. Ultimately, Braddock was forced to order a general retreat.
Braddock himself, though badly wounded, continued to fight on and each time his horse was shot from under him, he would mount another, until he was too badly wounded to be of any further use. He was then placed on a hose drawn wagon and accompanied by the retreating army, all the while fighting the off the following French and Indians as the battle raged. Braddock lingered on for three days while Washington ministered to him. His last words to Washington were, “who would have believed it.”
On the day Braddock died, Washington sought a place to bury him where his body would not be found and desecrated by the Indians. Therefore, they dug his grave in the roadway, placed his body in the trench, filled it in and then drove the retreating army’s wagons over the grave as well as marching their men over the location, thereby making it impossible to find. Unfortunately, Braddock’s personal belongings were lost along with much of the retreating army’s abandoned baggage.
Out of General Braddock’s army of 1,373 officers and men that began the march from Virginia, only 453 came back unscathed. This episode in North American history was well-remembered, because it showed that even trained professional soldiers badly led in North America cannot win and an untrained militia is not an asset but an impediment.
The Virginia House of Burgesses met and Governor Dinwiddie voted 40,000 pounds for the recruitment of a regiment of 1,000 men to protect the Virginia frontier. Dinwiddie then commissioned George Washington as Colonel and Commander-in-Chief of the forces. The Burgesses were not too cooperative though, and Washington found himself hampered by red tape. His ideas on defence were more often than not cast aside without much thought as to their benefit, yet he was expected to defend some 350 miles of frontier with less than 1,000 men.
He wanted to attack Fort Duquesne, the centre of French military operations on the frontier and destroy it. The expedition was to be commanded by British Brigadier-General Forbes, and Washington was to lead some 2,000 Virginia militiamen. Washington wisely outfitted his men with light green Indian hunting clothes. It was a change from the heavy garb worn by soldiers of that period. It proved to be a great advantage in moving quickly through the forests and was more comfortable, as well as being less visible.
Washington was eager to set out for Fort Duquesne, by the same route he had traveled with Braddock at the time of the ambush. While he was away on military duty, Washington was honoured by being elected to the House of Burgesses as a representative for Frederick County.
While General Braddock had disregarded Washington’s advice, the new British General Forbes showed him respect and asked his advice on military tactics. Forbes requested Washington draw up tactical plans for the march on Fort Duquesne with an expeditionary force of 4,000 men. The plan was adopted by Forbes.
These plans were shelved after Lieutenant-Colonel John Bradstreet, operating out of Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario, captured Fort Frontenac in August 1758 and the French decided to abandon Fort Duquesne and retreated up the Allegheny. The fort was then repaired and renamed Fort Pitt by Washington (afterwards Pittsburgh). Two hundred members of Washington’s Virginia Militia were left to garrison Fort Pitt and the Forbes expedition headed back to Virginia.
All Indian attacks on settlements in the area ceased after Fort Duquesne was abandoned by the French, as Washington had advised they would. With order restored on the border, the war for Virginia had ended. The French were defeated. The end of the French Indian Wars on the Virginia and western Ohio front brought about the end of Colonel George Washington’s first military career. He would rise again to become one of the most significant heroes of World history.
Most of our references will have been obtained from many internet sites. However, the references to Robert Stobo are also from “The Extraordinary Adventures of Major Robert Stobo” a book by Robert C. Alberts published by Houghton Mifflin Company Boston in 1965. Library of Congress Cat. Card No. 65-10675. As stated before, we will do our best to answer specific source requests.
Your Host’s Comments
Some readers have wondered why this tale of hardship and adventure is pertinent to today’s America, Canada and the French speaking province of Quebec. Why, spend the time? Aren’t there other more critical problems to be dealt with?
The answer is that it is necessary to have most of the story in one place. Too many of our decision makers and the citizens who elect them have no idea how these countries, states and provinces came to exist. For example, our Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced that the French language should be learned by all Canadians because the French had settled Canada from coast to coast. No, they did not.
In fact, they did very little to settle any part of North America except the sparse settlements along the St. Lawrence River valley and Gulf. It is not an insult to those citizens who did most of the work turning the sod and building the great railways and infrastructure that made our vast settlements possible. Such false views of the past lead to bad modern policy decisions.
French Canadiens feel that they were unfairly dispossessed by the British. Yes, they were, but by a people who essentially share their same bloodlines and language and even in many cases, their Roman Catholic religion. For the Quebecois, like many of the British, originally came as Viking raiders from Norway and settled in Britain or Normandy, adopting the local language.
Newcomers to Canada and the USA have no idea what the ongoing French-English aggravation in Canada is all about. The Quebecois do not tell the story as it was. Neither do the English-speaking parts of Canada because they are trying desperately to placate the Quebecois speakers by ignoring and in fact destroying their own history.
French speakers are told they have been badly treated by les maudis Anglais. Our story tells the truth, warts and all. It was a fight that had to be fought, given the differences in political viewpoints. It was a war between absolute monarchial rule (rule by divine right) versus a constitutional monarchy (rule by a parliament of the people) whereby the monarch is an icon, a figurehead, representing the progression of democratic freedom and the rule of law over time.
In summary, a body of lies does not serve any civilization well and ultimately will destroy it. These and a myriad other reasons are why Ken and I feel we need to put the entire pertinent story in one place. With some additional work it should be an excellent one term course for all American, Canadian and Quebecois high school students.
We welcome comments, criticisms and suggestions.
Chapter 6 - French attacks on the Northern Frontier continue.
Watch for it!
Ken Tellis is an ex sailor who has traveled the world lived in Quebec and raised a family in the French milieu. Ken can be reached at