Sunday, August 27, 2017

Episode 007: Acadia, Lake George, and Loudoun's Arrival

Last week we looked at Gen. Braddock’s advance on Fort Duquesne in what it today western Pennsylvania and the massacre of him and most of his army primarily by Indians and a few Frenchmen. The British retreat, overseen by junior officers like George Washington and Thomas Gage, gave France undisputed control of the Ohio valley.  But Fort Duquesne was one of only four goals British military planners had for the summer of 1755 in North America.

Removal of the Acadians

British forces in Acadia (now called Nova Scotia) were having better luck.  For years, the French and British had stood eyeball to eyeball in forts across the Missaguash River.  The French Fort Beauséjour and the British Fort Lawrence kept each side in check.
Forts Beauséjour and Lawrence (from Wikiwand)

Ever since the British had taken control of the area in 1713, the local French Acadians living under British rule had caused trouble for the army. London had tasked Gen. William Shirley, who was also Governor of Massachusetts, with advancing into Canada and taking as much territory as possible.  Gen. Shirley did not share Gen. Braddock’s disdain for militia.  Shirley raised about 2000 New England militia to join about 270 British regulars in laying siege to Fort Beauséjour. The French had only 162 French regulars and about 300 militia from the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq Indians to defend the fort..

Given the overwhelming numbers, it took only a few weeks before the French surrendered and withdrew. Once victorious, the British took the highly unusual step of removing the civilian population. British authorities demanded that the local Acadian cease the practice of Catholicism and swear allegiance to King George II.  When they locals understandably balked, officials declared them enemies of the State.  The government seized all of their lands and possessions and forcibly deported about 5400 Acadians to England or other English colonies.  Another 7000-10,000 fled the area for other parts of Canada. Considering the entire French population of Canada was only about 75,000 at this time, this was a massive disruption.

The the area effectively depopulated, thousands of New Englanders moved into the many towns and farms snatching up land at bargain prices.  Within a few years, the region went from an almost entirely French Catholic population, to an English Protestant one..

With Gen. Braddock death at the Monongahela, Gen. Shirley assumed overall command of forces in North America.  He continued to follow the general plans laid out in London months earlier.

Battle of Lake George

With the 1755 summer fighting season coming to an end, the British had accomplished little outside of Acadia.  News of the destruction of Braddock’s army in June still reverberated across the continent.  The British naval blockade of the St. Lawrence River had been a failure.  The French had sent six battalions of regulars (about 3000 men) to reinforce Quebec and Louisburg.  The British captured only two ships containing about 400 of the reinforcements.

William Shirley
(from Wikipedia)
Gen. Shirley still talked about taking Fort Niagara, but had made little progress.  Fights over supplies and logistical problems transporting equipment meant that troops only reached the eastern shore of Lake Ontario by September.  The old trading post, Fort Oswego, was too small and dilapidated to serve as a base of operations. So, Shirley decided to spend several months building a proper fort and put off the attack on Fort Niagara until the following spring.

Col. William Johnson’s assault of Fort Saint-Frédéric at Crown Point also fell behind schedule.  By September, his forces had arrived at the southern tip of Lac St. Sacrement, which he decided to rename Lake George, in honor of the King.  There, he built Fort Edward, named in honor of the Edward, Duke of York, one of the King’s grandsons.

While the British colonial troops made their tentative advances, the French planned to counter these moves.  Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, was among those who had slipped past the British blockade back in June.  Dieskau, a German born officer, commanded the French regulars who had been sent to Canada. Also arriving was a new Canadian Governor General, Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, who I’m just going to call "Regaud."  The new political and military leaders planned to respond to British advances much more aggressively.

Both men initially thought the defense of Fort Niagara was they key to the theater of operations and placed the bulk of their troops there.  However, after realizing that the British did not seem inclined to move on Niagara, and receiving exaggerated reports of movement against Fort Saint-Frédéric, Dieskau took about 3000 men, regulars, militia, and Indians to defend the Fort.

French and British Forts. The battle between Dieskau and
Johnson took place where Fort William Henry would be built
the following year. (from Wikimedia)
When he arrived, he realized that the fort was not in any immediate danger and decided to go on the offensive.  Leaving most of the French regulars at the fort, Dieskau took about 1500 troops (200 regulars, 600 Canadian militia, and 700 Indians) to attack Fort Edward.  When the Indians seemed reluctant to attack the fort directly, they found a new target, a camp several miles from the fort where Col. Johnson was planning to build a second fort.

Col. Johnson heard that the enemy was near Fort Edward and sent much of his own troops, a force of about 1000 Massachusetts militia and 200 Mohawk allies to attack the French.  So at the same time Dieskau was trying to advance on Johnson, Johnson’s troops were also advancing on Dieskau.  Although the French had only a small numerical advantage, they were able to ambush the British and force a panicked retreat.  The men, however, were able to recover and restore order upon returning to the main camp.  This first skirmish became known as “Bloody Morning Scout.”

Col. Johnson, alerted by the sounds of battle, had placed temporary breastworks and cannon to defend the camp.  This was enough to stop the Indians who had been chasing down the British retreat.  They did not want to rush the cannons.  In hopes of shaming the Indians into attack, Dieskau ordered his 200 regulars to charge the cannon.  They obeyed, but watching the regulars get cut down en masse by canister shot did not encourage the remaining troops to follow them.

For the rest of the day, the troops fired at each other from a distance with little impact on either side, other than Dieskau suffering a serious but not mortal wound.  On the other side, Col. Johnson also suffered a less serious wound.

Wm Johnson Saving Baron
Dieskau (from Wikimedia)
As night began to fall, the French forces began to pull back for a return to Fort Saint-Frédéric.  About 400 Indians returned to the site of the original ambush to collect booty, scalps, and prisoners whom they had left tied up there.  There, about 200 New Hampshire militia sent from Fort Edward to aid Col Johnson, stumbled across the Indians, resulting in an evening firefight. A few on each side were killed, but the main result was that the Indians decided to kill and scalp all of their prisoners so they could retreat faster without the prisoners.

In the end, the battle was more or less a draw.  Both sides lost about 330-340 men (exact numbers are in dispute).  The British held the field, which made them the winners.  The main result though was that both sides spent the winter building much better forts.  The French built Fort Carillon at the north end of Lake George, about 15 miles south of Fort Saint-Frédéric to prevent a spring landing by the British.  The British built Fort William Henry on the site of Col. Johnson’s camp to protect against a French landing against Fort Edward.  The fort was named after William, Duke of Cumberland, King George’s son, and Henry, duke of Gloucester, another of the King’s grandsons in an apparent attempt to honor as many members of the royal family as possible.  Col. Johnson had serious political ambitions.  Brown nosing with the royal family never hurt one’s chances for advancement.

The Prime Minister

In the last episode, I introduced Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, who had been Secretary of State and who became Prime Minister in 1754.  The notion of Prime Minister was still a relatively new one.  When King George I stopped attending ministerial meetings a few decades earlier.  The ministers decided they needed to have one person running things or else everything got out of control.  There never really was a formal establishment of the job.  It really evolved out of necessity and over time.  Although the title was sometimes used earlier, historians generally consider Robert Walpole to be the first Prime Minister beginning in the 1720’s.  Even then, it was not a formal title, in a nation obsessed with formal titles.

After Walpole left office in 1742.  Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, served for just over a year.  At 70 years old, he was seen as more of a temporary caretaker.   A year later in 1743, Henry Pelham, a protégé of Walpole, landed the role, which he held until his death in 1754.  His brother, Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle took over as Prime Minister.

So as you can see there was relatively little tradition behind this role.  The Prime Minister was not elected but was appointed by the King.  OK, technically the King or Queen still appoints Prime Ministers.  Today, however, that appointment is largely ceremonial.  The leader of the  political party what wins a majority gets the appointment.  Back in the 1700’s the King may have paid some attention to politics, but in the end appointed whomever he wanted.

Thomas Pelham-Holles,
Duke of Newcastle
Because Pelham-Holles was the Duke of Newcastle, he was ineligible to sit in the House of Commons.  He sat in the House of Lords.  Even in the 1700’s, Commons served as the center of political power for the country. The House of Commons drove politics. Pelham-Holles (who I will now go back to calling simply “Newcastle” to make things easier) needed a leader in the House of Commons to get things done.

There were two strong candidates in the House of Commons.  William Pitt and Henry Fox.  Newcastle did not really like either of them, and they did not like each other much either.  Fox was an ally of the Duke of Cumberland, the King’s favored son, and the man who had worked to create the aggressive plan of attack in North America.  Newcastle was not happy when Cumberland had replaced his plans for the American assault with a much more ambitious one that, predictably, did not work.

Pitt had spent much of his time in Parliament attacking Newcastle’s policies.  Earlier in his career, Newcastle had attempted to bring Pitt into the Ministry, but George II vetoed the idea.  Pitt opposed all the military spending on Hanover, and thought British defenses were better spent on a strong Navy.  King George, who was also still the Elector of Hanover and considered it home, was not a fan of anyone who did not see Hanover as part of the vital national interest.  As a result, Pitt remained out of power criticizing the ministry.  Even worse, Pitt became close to George, Prince of Wales (the future King George III).  Prince George openly disagreed with many of the policies of King George II (his Grandfather).  The Prince of Wales was the heir apparent, as his father Frederick had died in 1751 making him next in line.  Despite the rules of primogeniture, it is clear the King would have preferred Frederick’s younger brother William, Duke of Cumberland, rather than Frederick’s eldest son George, to rule after him.

Henry Fox (from .UK National Trust)
In the end, Newcastle grudgingly forged an alliance with Fox, which also meant working closely with Cumberland.  Pitt essentially became the voice of opposition in the Commons, even though everyone involved was a Whig.

The next step was deciding what to do with American strategy for the coming year.  The hope in 1755 had been to strike quickly and decisively capturing the disputed territory and critical French defenses before the French really could react.  All this was being done before there was even a declaration of war.  By 1756, with Braddock’s defeat in the Ohio Valley, and with Gen. Shirley and Col. Johnson failing even to make an attack on two of the other three targets for the prior year, the chance for a first strike was gone.  The French were understandably outraged at what had happened and would end up formally declaring war in the spring.  The French still controlled the Ohio Valley and all the important forts along the New York and New England frontier.

Gen. Shirley

With Gen. Braddock’s death, Gen. Shirley assumed command.  Although Shirley was born in England, he had clearly gone native from his many years in the colonies.  Shirley, who was also Governor of Massachusetts, had paid New England militia the going rate that they would make as common laborers.  This was more money than British regulars made.  While it allowed him to fill his regiments with volunteers, it clearly irritated the bean counters back in London.

More importantly, Shirley had tried to avoid two contentious issues that London considered essential to the good order of the empire.  One was a royal proclamation that all colonial militia officers would be subordinate to regular army officers.  This meant the lowest lieutenant or ensign in the regular army could give orders to Generals and other top commanders in the militia.  As you might guess, militia officers took this as a HUGE insult.

Second, enlisted militia were subject to the same rules of discipline that existed for enlisted soldiers in the regular army when acting in conjunction with British forces.  Life for enlisted regulars was harsh.  Whipping was common for the most minor of offenses.  Execution was also commonplace for more significant offenses that would probably be considered minor in civilian life.  Shirley knew these rules would be major impediments to obtaining the officers and soldiers he needed for the coming fight.

Col. William Johnson
(from Wikimedia)
Shirley assured provincial leaders that militia units would fight in separate areas from regulars.  This ensured that no regular officers of lower rank would be around to give orders to militia commanders.  Shirley also promised enlistees that they would be subject only to provincial discipline, not regular army discipline.  Since the militia were operating in entirely separate theaters of battle, he interpreted this as not acting “in conjunction” with regular forces and so the rules on regular discipline would not apply.

What Shirley did not fully appreciate was that political backstabbers were active within his own army as much as they were back in London.  Col. Johnson was regularly corresponding with officials in London.  He took every opportunity to criticize just about everything that Shirley did.  Johnson was a political ally of NY Lt. Gov. James De Lancey.  Delancey was upset at Shirley’s appointment as a General, which also allowed him to benefit financially from all the military contracts. De Lancey, who wanted those contracts for himself,  did not get them and was looking for revenge.  His protégé Col. Johnson was in the perfect position to undermine Gen Shirley.

Thomas Pownall
(from Wikimedia)
Another backstabber was Thomas Pownall, who had arrived in the colonies in 1753 and became Lt. Gov. of New Jersey in 1755. He had close friends on both sides of the Atlantic.  During the Albany Conference, he had allied himself with Johnson and was now working with him to undercut Shirley with the leaders back in London.

In London, Newcastle only saw that all the aggressive plans for advancement had failed, costs were far over budget, and everyone was telling him that Shirley was a disaster.  When Cumberland and Fox brought him a new plan which called for replacing Shirley with an experienced military administrator named John Campbell, the Earl of Loudoun, he agreed with the consensus.

Col. Johnson, who hadn’t been any more successful than Shirley, received a baronetcy, making him Sir William.  He also received a prize of £5000 for his heroism at Lake George.  His buddy Thomas Pownall landed a new gig as “secretary extraordinary” to the new military commander Loudoun.  He had returned to London to complain about Shirley.  When Loudoun became Shirley’s replacement, Pownall came back on the same ship with Loudoun.

Loudoun Takes Command

Loudoun arrived in Virginia in the July of 1756 ready to straighten out the mess and save the colonies.  About 6000 regular troops would also soon arrive to assist in the new major offensive against the French. In addition to serving as military commander in chief, Loudoun also became the new governor Virginia.  Almost immediately, Loudoun heard complaints from all sides about Shirley.  He had promoted colonial officers without authorization.  He had recruited militia by making promises related to how they would serve, and deployed them without regular army supervision.  Many complained about military contracts that benefited his friends and family.

Loudoun quickly went from simply replacing Shirley to sending him back to England to face criminal charges.  So Shirley headed back to London, where he spent the next few years trying to justify his positions.  When Loudoun’s plans failed miserably the following year, Shirley could basically say I told you so to London officials.  The Ministry eventually made him Governor of the Bahamas.

John Campbell. 4th Earl of
Loudoun (from Wikimedia)
For Loudoun, even if Shirley was not a criminal, the new commander decided that British and colonial forces were deployed terribly.  Like most British officers, Loudoun took a dim view of Indians or colonial militia as useful soldiers.  The notion that provincials could manage an entire offensive without even guidance from regular officers seemed like a terrible idea.  The fact that the provincials were occupying a series of forts along the New York frontier just set them up as easy targets for attack.

When Loudoun learned that the militia refused to serve alongside regulars, he angrily summoned the top provincial officers for a conference.  Loudoun was a professional officer.  He knew how to take orders from superiors and expected nothing less from his subordinates. He had gotten a modification so that senior provincial officers would be treated as “senior captains” meaning they would only have to take orders from regular officers with the rank of Major and higher.  The colonial officers were unmoved.  They had signed up based on certain conditions, including not having to take orders from regular field officers of lower rank and not being subject to regular army discipline.  If Loudoun insisted on changing these conditions, his provincial army would evaporate through resignation of officers and desertion of the enlisted men.

Realizing his impossible position, Loudoun backed down and allowed the provincials to proceed as planned.  However, he wrote a series of angry letters back to London describing the unreasonable lack of obedience among the colonists and blaming Shirley for making these deals in the first place.

Loudoun’s frustration was not limited to militia.  Colonial governments refused to provide housing for the thousands of regular troops he had brought with him, or provide any other assistance that was not paid for at market rates.  Loudoun’s outrage seemed to be that he and his men should be greeted as liberators, there at great expense to protect these colonists from the French and Indians.  He did not want to hear arguments about how the English Bill of Rights guaranteed protection from the quartering of troops.  Loudoun frequently had to threaten to use military force take control of homes in order to get local governments to act appropriately and provide housing.

Marquis de Montcalm-Gozen
(from Upper Canada History)
None of Loudoun’s views would be seen as inappropriate in London.  Gen. Braddock had evinced similar views a year earlier.  His quick death was the only thing that prevented Braddock from getting into similar fights with the colonial governors.  These leaders were seeing the fundamental schism that would eventually lead to future war and independence.  The British government was designed around obedience by those in lower stations to those in clearly defined higher stations.  The nearly universal view among the colonists that contractual agreements and basic age old fundamental rights of all people were more important than deference to superiors.

The more fundamental problem was that the change of leadership during the prime summer fighting months of 1756, and the internal squabbling with the colonials had led to almost nothing happening in the fight against the French.

Since France had declared war officially in May 1756, the gloves were off.  Both sides did not need to worry about diplomacy any more.  That same month, Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm-Gozen de Saint Veran (we’ll just call him Montcalm) had arrived in Canada with hundreds of French Regulars to command French forces against Britain and her colonies.  With the British squabbling, Montcalm was free to take the initiative.

Next week, he will do just that.

Next Episode 8: Surrender of Fort Oswego

Previous Episode 6: British Take Charge: Battle of the Monongahela

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Further Reading


Battle of Lake George:

List of Britain’s Prime Ministers, with biographies:

William Pitt, the Elder

Henry Fox

Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial:

Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau:

Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm:

Free eBooks:
(from unless otherwise noted)

The History of Acadia: from its first discovery to its surrender to England by the Treaty of Paris, by James Hannay (1879).

The Fall of New France, 1755-1760, by Gerald E. Hart, (1888).

The History of Canada, Vol. 3 by William Kingsford (1887).

An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760Vol 1Vol. 2, & Vol. 3, by John Knox (1914).

England In The Age Of The American Revolution, by J.B. Namier (1930).

Montcalm and Wolfe, Vol. 1, by Francis Parkman (1885).

Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60, by Pierre Pouchot, Vol. 1, & Vol. 2 (1866).

The Administration of the British Colonies, by Thomas Pownall (1777) (another contemporary account of events).

A review of the military operations in North America : from the commencement of the French hostilities on the frontiers of Virginia in 1753, to the surrender of Oswego, on the 14th of August, 1756, by William  Livingston, William Smith, and William Alexander, called Lord Stirling (1757) (This was written by contemporaries living in the colonies as the events transpired).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Anderson, Fred Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Brumwell, Stephen Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas 1755-1763, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002.

Fowler, Willam F. Jr. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763, Walker Books, 2005.

Jennings, Francis Empire Of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies & Tribes in the Seven Years War in America, W.W. Norton & Co. 1988.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Episode 006: British Take Charge, Battle of the Monongahela

Last week I talked about Young George Washington’s attempt to push the French out of the Ohio Valley with his Virginia militia.  That mission ended with his forces killing French soldiers just sent to talk with him, then his men captured at Fort Necessity.  Washington had to sign a document taking responsibility for the assassination of French soldier, giving France a justification to go to war with Britain.

Planning in London:

Thomas Pelham-Holles,
Duke of Newcastle
As word of the summer of 1754’s disasters in the Ohio Valley reached Britain in September, the government decided to take decisive action. Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, had become Prime Minister following the death of his brother earlier that year.  Newcastle was a long time Whig politician who had been Secretary of the Southern Department, which was in charge of colonial affairs in North America.  He understood international relations and was a strong proponent of expanding the colonies in North America.

Newcastle believed that France was pretty well blocked in Europe through a series of strategic alliances against them.  A swift and decisive action in America to recapture disputed territory should be possible without engulfing Europe in another major war.  He worked with William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and King George II’s son, to develop a plan of attack.  Cumberland had a reputation as a hardened soldier who fought aggressively and without mercy.  When Cumberland had brutally crushed the Jacobite Uprising in 1745 people started calling him  “Butcher Cumberland.”

William Augustus,
Duke of Cumberland
Newcastle and Cumberland did not always agree on foreign policy issues, but it would be helpful to the plan if Newcastle could get the Duke to support an aggressive policy that would decisively secure the North American colonies.  The King greatly valued his son’s views and relied on him as a military and political adviser.  Unfortunately, once Newcastle brought Cumberland onto the team, Cumberland brought in Secretary of War, Henry Fox, who was a political enemy of Newcastle. Cumberland and Fox developed an even more aggressive plan than Newcastle intended.  At that point though, Newcastle had no choice but to go along with it.

The team put forth an aggressive four part plan.  One Army would advance on the Ohio Valley and take the French forts recently built there, as Washington had tried to do.  A second would take out Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario (near Niagara Falls).  A third would assault Fort Saint-Frédéric at the tip of Lake Champlain.  A fourth attack would take out the French Forts on the isthmus that kept British soldiers in Nova Scotia from encroaching on mainland Canada.  Such a plan not only required a significant commitment of money and resources.  It required top military leaders to coordinate the assaults.

Gen. Edward Braddock
Major General Edward Braddock received command over all British forces in North America.  Braddock was a professional officer with a solid reputation.  He was the son of a British General of the same name.  The younger Braddock joined the army at age 15 and served with distinction as a Lt. Col. in the War of Austrian Succession in the 1740’s.  His promotion to Major General came in 1754 along with his command of North American forces.

Braddock had under his command, three regiments in Nova Scotia and seven independent companies stationed in New York and South Carolina.  Two more regiments which had been deactivated at the end of King George’s War would be reactivated and draw in recruits. Two more Irish regiments of regulars would travel to Virginia to provide more resources.  Braddock would coordinate all four simultaneous assaults using these regulars as well as any militia or Indian warriors he deemed appropriate to supplement his needs.

The colonies would have to foot the bill to pay for all these operations.  The Ministry authorized Braddock to compel the colonial governors to provide for a common military fund, as well as provide quarters, supplies, and transport.  Governors would help with recruiting for the two local regiments as well as provide militia.

All the major players in the British government formed a consensus that this strategy would fortify British control of North America, force France to deploy more forces to North America, thus weakening French military threats to British allies in continental Europe, and would create a unified organized military authority that could coordinate the resources of all the colonies into a single purpose.  It sounded great on paper!

Braddock Organizes for Attack:

In early 1755, Gen. Braddock set sail for America with his two Irish regiments, with the intent of winning several swift and decisive victories with superior numbers of regular troops before the French had a chance to react and reinforce their North American forces.

Albany Congress

While the British attempted to unify efforts against the French in North America, the colonies themselves remained hopelessly divided.  Colonial leaders though, attempted to coordinate their own response to the growing threats.  In late 1754, seven colonies as well as the Iroquois Confederacy and other key tribes met in Albany NY, at what became known as the Albany Congress to discuss plans for a united front against French encroachment.  It seemed few could agree on anything. Pennsylvania and Connecticut fought with each other over the Wyoming Valley, millions of acres in what is today northeastern Pennsylvania.  New England colonies refused to be dragged into a scheme that would force them to commit money and resources to protect the New York border from attack.  No colonies south of Maryland even bothered to attend.  Notably absent Virginia claimed most of this land for themselves, and would be just as opposed to encroachment by Pennsylvania as it would the French.
Albany Congress, by Allyn Cox in US Capitol

Despite the contention, several budding colonial leaders, including Indian trader William Johnson, Massachusetts Governor William Shirley and his protege Thomas Hutchinson, soon to be New Jersey Lt. Gov. Thomas Pownall, Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin, and New York Lt. Governor James De Lancey were among the delegates who created a Plan of Union.  The plan created a single continental government with a head appointed by the King and delegates from every colony.  This united body would coordinate military action across all colonies for the common defense.

The proposal met with near universal rejection by every colonial legislature that considered it.  None of them wanted to cede power to a central authority.  Doing so would mean a loss of political power by the colonial governments and force them to provide men and money to military adventures that did not impact them.  Further, many of the colonies still had land disputes with each other, and were in no hurry to create an authority that might deprive them of their claims.  The plan went nowhere.  The only hope for coordinated action rested with the introduction of a strong and politically astute leader who could force the colonies to unite.

Braddock Frustrated by Local Politics

The man selected to be that leader,, Gen. Braddock, arrived in Virginia in February 1755.  As a military leader, Braddock had a reputation as a capable administrator and strict disciplinarian. Throughout the spring, Braddock sent out directives instructing the various colonies as to what money, resources, and provisions they would be required to supply to the general war effort.

Braddock Campaign, 1755 (from
At the same time, he began implementing the plan of attack that had been laid out in London.  Braddock would personally lead the 41st and 44th Irish regiments, along with Virginia militia, up the same path Col. Washington had taken the prior year.  He would take Fort Duquesne and then work his way up the rest of the French forts in the Ohio Valley.  Massachusetts Gov. William Shirley received a commission as Major General and became second in command to Braddock in the theater of operations.  Shirley would lead the reactivated 50th and 51st regiments, recruited from the colonies against the French fort at Niagara.  William Johnson, an Indian trader from western New York would lead a command of Mohawk warriors and other provincial soldiers from New England and New York against Fort Saint-Frédéric.  A fourth expedition of New Englanders would assault the French forts in Nova Scotia.  Meanwhile, Admiral Edward Boscawen would use the British fleet to prevent the French from bringing in any reinforcements down the St. Lawrence river to any of the French colonies.

Almost all the colonists, including Shirley and Johnson, thought all this was far too unrealistic.  The colonies almost uniformly failed to provide the money, men, and material needed for the various military actions.  Undeterred, Braddock simply purchased the needed resources on credit and figured he would stick the bill to the colonies later.

As an aside, one of the roadblocks in Virginia toward funding any military campaign was the Pistole Fee Controversy.  Essentially Gov. Dinwiddie was trying to extract a fee of one Pistole (less than £1) to sign all land patents.  He had the approval of the Board of Trade in London as well as the Virginia Council.  The House of Burgesses, balked, issuing a resolution that read in part: Resolved, That whoever shall pay a Pistole, as a fee to the Governor, for the Use of the Seal to Patents for Lands, shall be deemed a Betrayer of the Rights and Privileges of the People. Dinwiddie essentially responded: no fee paid, you get no land patent, meaning no proof of land ownership.  The Governor and legislature were stuck in this standoff, which prevented virtually anything else from getting done.  Not even paying for the war seemed to break the stalemate.  It is just an interesting example of how touchy the colonists could be about virtually any government fee.

Braddock Prepares his Army

Braddock wisely ignored all the petty political squabbling and focused on his military mission. Leading what was considered the main thrust of the operation Braddock began to move his army toward Fort Duquesne.  Two colonists who proved valuable to this effort at least, were Benjamin Franklin, who was able to provide much of the supplies needed for the operation.  George Washington volunteered to serve as an aide-de-camp to Gen. Braddock.  Despite his failures the year earlier, Washington came highly recommended and was clearly familiar with the land from which he had retreated.  Washington saw Braddock as a mentor who might assist with his goal of obtaining a commission in the Regular army.

Braddock knew that his professional soldiers would fight much better than the provincials. He also had far more of them than the 150 militiamen that went up against the French in the previous year. Braddock had two full regiments of Irish men, over 1000 professional soldiers. Local recruitment had increased the regimental numbers to around 1500. He also had companies from Virginia and Maryland to provide assistance.  In all, Braddock commanded a force of around 2200 men.

Among his officers and men were a great many who would go on to play key military roles in the Revolution.  Aside from Washington, the expedition included Lt. Col. Thomas Gage, future British Commander, also future American Generals Charles Lee, Horatio Gates, Hugh Mercer, Daniel Morgan, and Adam Stephen, as well as future frontiersman Daniel Boone.

Missing from his forces were any significant numbers Indian warriors.  As he assembled his men at Fort Cumberland, formerly called Wills Creek, Braddock had an opportunity to take on hundreds of warriors into his command.  Six different tribal chiefs came to meet with Braddock.  One even brought with him detailed plans about the defenses at Fort Duquesne.  These tribes were eager to see the French forts removed from the Ohio Valley so that the pro-English could reassert control.  Braddock informed them that if the forts were captured, the British would take control of the forts and that much of the land would be used for British colonization.

Not interested in helping the British acquire their land, virtually all of the local tribes walked away.  Commenting on Benjamin Franklin’s concerns about the lack of native support, Braddock told him, “Savages may indeed be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia; but upon the king’s regular and disciplined troops, Sir, it is impossible they should make an impression.”

Braddock had some reason for confidence.  He heavily outnumbered the French force at Duquesne, which had less than 1000 soldiers, overwhelmingly Canadian militia and not regular troops.  The remainder of the roughly 1600 man force were Indians.  A few of the Indian warriors were from local tribes, mostly Shawnee.  The bulk of the native contingent were from French allied tribes from other parts of Canada:  Ottowas, Mississaugas, Wyandots, and Potawatomis.  Fort Duquesne itself offered little advantage for such a large battle since the fort could only house about 200 troops.

The Battle of the Monongahela

The French commander, receiving intelligence about the large British force preparing to attack, developed plans to destroy the fort and retreat.  Before doing so, however, he thought it was worth an attempt to ambush the British army in the field.  He sent a contingent of more than half his force, over 800 men, to attack the advancing British.  Only about 100 were French regulars.  Another 150 were Canadian militia, with the remainder Indians.

Braddock’s advance slowed to a crawl because of the need to carry so many wagons and heavy artillery through the woods, over mountains, and through swamps.  He moved forward with about 1300-1500 of his best soldiers (historians differ on the exact number) with the remaining third of his force lagging behind to deal with the wagons and heavy equipment.  This way, he could attack the force with infantry, as soon as possible, but still have artillery for a siege a short time later if needed.

Battle of the Monongahela (from
By July 9, Braddock’s main force arrived about ten miles from Fort Duquesne.  Lt. Col. Thomas Gage led an advance guard of about 300 infantry to protect about 250 men who were cutting trees and creating a road for the main column.  Around 1:00 PM the two sides made contact.  The ensuing battle is one that historians often use to point the stupidity of European tactics of war in the American wilderness.

The Indians allied with the French immediately scattered behind trees and other cover, taking shots at the British who remained shoulder to shoulder in lines as they fired into forests where they rarely even saw a target.  The result was a one-sided slaughter.  The Indians picked off most of the officers and killed large numbers of troops.  Gen. Braddock was able to rally the troops for a time, but after he was shot in the lung, the British lines began to break.

Military Tactics

This might be a good time to ask the question, why on earth did anyone think it was a good military tactic to stand out in the open, shoulder to shoulder, and make one’s self an easy target?  Part of the reason was motivation.  European soldiers were often uninterested in the outcome of a war.  It mostly just determine which ruler would be exploiting them next.  Left to their own devices, they had every incentive to flee the battlefield at the earliest opportunity.  Maintaining lines prevented most of them from running.

The lines also made sense given the weapons of the day.  Muskets were terribly inaccurate.  The only chance of hitting anyone was to have everyone shoot at once from a concentrated point and hope that some of the balls would make it to the enemy.  If the enemy kept lines, it meant none of them could get behind you either.  Whichever side broke its lines and ran first would likely be the ones decimated by the charge of the victorious lines chasing them down.

One might also ask why muskets were so terribly inaccurate.  Much more accurate rifles had been around for over 200 years, but were almost never used in battle.  The reason was that loading a rifle was much more difficult and time consuming.  The ammunition literally had to be hammered down the barrel of the rifle since the ball had to be the same size as the barrel.  As a result, it could take several minutes to load one shot.  By contrast, a musket could be loaded and fired about three times per minute.  The time it would take to reload a rifle was more that it would take the enemy to run 100 yards across the field and bayonet you.  Also after a few shots, a residue would build up in rifle barrels, making them impossible to load again until cleaned.  It was not until the mid-1800’s that balls were developed that could expand on firing, thus making loading a rifle just as fast as a musket.  So in the 1700’s, rifles made sense for hunting, but not combat.

Heavy British Casualties

Back to the battle: it seems that many of the Indians had hunting rifles.  This allowed them to take out the officers and pick off others from a greater distance.  Since they could disperse and take cover, there was nowhere for the British to charge.

The Wounding of Gen. Braddock by Robert Griffing (from
After Braddock died, British lines, which had already taken heavy casualties, began to fall back.  The Indians then charged with knives and tomahawks, causing the British to break their lines and run for their lives.  Washington tried to coordinate the retreat.  By all accounts, he behaved gallantly.  He had several horses shot out from under him, and later discovered four different bullets had clipped his uniform, though none actually hit his body.  The men spent two days falling back to reach the rear guard of 800 soldiers handling the wagons and equipment.  They decided to destroy what they could not carry quickly and spent the next five days making their way back to Fort Cumberland.

Of the 1300 or so British who engaged in battle, records show 456 killed and 422 wounded.  Out of 86 officers, 63 were killed or wounded.  Many of those killed likely survived the initial battle but were killed as the victorious Indians took scalps and killed any wounded who could not be taken as slaves.  By contrast, the French and Indians only suffered 30 killed and 57 wounded.

Ironically, after the battle, the British had their best opportunity to take Fort Duquesne.  Once the Indians had secured scalps, prisoners, and captured equipment, they decided they were done and went home.  Fort Duquesne’s defenses were reduced to a few hundred men, mostly Canadian militia.  This was exactly why professional officers did not like to rely on Indians.

The British still had over 1300 troops.  Had they not destroyed their canon and fled, but instead advanced on the Fort after regrouping, they probably could have easily won.  But they did not know the Indians had left.  They had lost their commander, and the men were probably too terrified to return.  The result was a humiliating loss for the British


The surviving British regulars fled back to Philadelphia.  There, they demanded to be put up in “winter quarters” despite the fact that it was July.  They had decided they were done for the season. Most of the militia deserted as well.  Only a few hundred men remained at Fort Cumberland.  Local Indians in the Ohio valley had no choice but to throw in their lot with the French.  Indian war parties continue to raid any British farms or settlements anywhere west of the Alleghenies, as far down as the Shenandoah Valley.  There was no force available to stop them.  Any British colonists not killed, got the message and moved back east.  The French now decisively controlled the Ohio Valley.

Next Week: We’ll take a look at some of the other military engagements of 1755, and then get the British Plan B after losing the fight for the Ohio Valley.

- - -

Next Episode 7: Acadia, Lake George, & Loudon's Arrival

Previous Episode 5: Jumonville & Fort Necessity

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Further Reading


Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle,

William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland,

Jacobite Rising, 1745:

Henry Fox,

Fort Niagara:

Fort Saint-Frédéric:

Gen. Edward Braddock:

Proceedings of the Albany Conference:

Albany Plan of Union:

William Johnson:

Gov. William Shirley:

Thomas Hutchinson:

James De Lancey:

Thomas Pownall:

Adm. Edward Boscawen:

The First "No Taxation Without Representation Crisis,, by Bob Rupert (Pistole Fee ControversyJournal of the American Revolution (2016):

Gen. Charles Lee:

Gen. Horatio Gates:

Gen. Hugh Mercer:

Gen. Adam Stephen:

Daniel Boone:

Fort Cumberland:

Fort Duquesne

Battle of the Monongahela:

Free eBooks:
(links to unless otherwise noted)

The Ohio Company of Virginia and the westward movement, 1748-1792,by Kenneth P. Bailey (1939).

The Hero of the Monongahela; Historical Sketch, by Monongahéla de Beaujeu (1913) (short discussion from the French perspective).

Washington's expeditions (1753-1754) and Braddock's expedition (1755), by James Hadden, (1910).

The History of Canada, Vol. 3 by William Kingsford, (1887).

A review of the military operations in North America : from the commencement of the French hostilities on the frontiers of Virginia in 1753, to the surrender of Oswego, on the 14th of August, 1756, by William  Livingston, William Smith, and William Alexander, called Lord Stirling (1757) (This was written by contemporaries living in the colonies as the events transpired).

History of Cumberland, by William Harrison Lowdermilk (1878).

England In The Age Of The American Revolution, by J.B. Namier (1930).

Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60, by Pierre Pouchot, Vol. 1, & Vol. 2 (1866).

The History of an Expedition Against Fort Du Quesne, in 1755 Under Major-General Edward Braddock, by Winthrop Sargent (1855).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Anderson, Fred Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Brumwell, Stephen Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas 1755-1763, by Stephen Brumwell Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002.

Fowler, Willam F. Jr. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763, Walker Books, 2005.

Jennings, Francis Empire Of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies & Tribes in the Seven Years War in America, W.W. Norton & Co. 1988.

Preston, David Braddock's Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution, Oxford Univ. Press, 2015.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Episode 005: Jumonville & Fort Necessity

The close of King George's War in 1748 left no one satisfied.  In America, the two parties agreed to pull back to their borders that existed before the war. This frustrated New Englanders who had sacrificed a great deal to make small gains on the New England Canada border. More frustrating was the fact that the disputed territories in the Ohio Valley remained disputed.  A committee was supposed to make final border decisions in that area, but it never did.

Both France and England claimed that territory. The best way to secure a claim is to plant colonists on it and have them remain loyal to your country.  However, the Iroquois-controlled tribes living on that land did not want colonists from either side living there.  Moving in colonists too aggressively would simply cause the Indians to rise up and kill them and probably align themselves with the other country for future protection.

Over the prior decade, Indian tribes from Pennsylvania that had been forced to move west into the Ohio Valley had brought with them English traders. These were men who bought their furs and other goods and provided them with metal tools and other European goods that they could not manufacture themselves. So by the late 1740s, English trading posts dotted the territory with  support from local tribes.

France Attempts to Confirm its Land Claims

Concerned about these English encroachments, the French sent 200 Frenchmen and 30 Indians on a trip around the Great Lakes and through Ohio country in 1749.  The purpose was to renew French claims to the region, to gather intelligence on English presence in the area, and to impress upon the Indian populations that they remained under the French sphere of influence.  Capt. Pierre-Joseph de Céloronn de Blainville led the expedition.

The French were disturbed by the number of English traders they found on what they considered their territory.  However, they were not ready to start a war over the matter yet. They simply told the traders that they were trespassing on French territory and ordered them to leave they also ordered the local tribes to cease and desist trading with the English within their territory. In most cases, the English and the Indians simply ignored the orders, although they did report the incidents to colonial governments in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.  The French even buried lead plates at certain areas as a way of proving that they had been there, and that the land belonged to France.

The Ohio Company of Virginia

For the English colonists, moving into the Ohio Valley, as long as they could convince the local tribes to approve it, was their best method for laying claim to the land.  About the same time that the French Capt. Céloron was telling the English to “get off my lawn” and burying lead plates, King George II granted several new charters for Virginia colonists to claim land in the Ohio Valley and other western lands.

The King’s offer of free land was not without strings.  The Investors had to make agreements with the local tribes, settle at least 100 families, build a fort, and provide the necessary defenses and supplies to ensure the success of the venture.  All of this would cost money.

About two dozen investors, including wealthy Virginia Planters and a few London investors, formed a partnership called the Ohio Company of Virginia. The king had granted about 200,000 acres of land in the Ohio Valley with another three hundred thousand if they could successfully settle 100 families within 7 years.  Among the investors was Thomas Lee, Colonial governor of Virginia. Actually, the title he used himself was President of Virginia. Also among the original investors were Lawrence and Augustine Washington.

In addition to money, it was important the Company had political influence. The Colony would almost certainly have to provide military assistance and also promote policies that would encourage immigration into the new territories. Most of the investors were also members of the colony's House of Burgesses. When Governor Lee died suddenly in 1751. the astute investors quickly included the new Governor, Robert Dinwiddie to the group. Investor Lawrence Washington died in 1752. His younger half-brother George inherited some of his properties and also joined the company as a partner.

The Ohio Company established a “strong house” at Wills Creek, near modern day Cumberland Maryland, to be a launching point for expeditions into the Ohio Valley.  It was not big enough to be a fort.  Rather, it was a defensive building strong enough to defend against thieves or small raiding parties.  The company could store supplies there for use on expeditions.

France Establishes More Forts

France established Forts Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, 
and Machault in 1752-53.  The English estab- 
lished Fort Cumberland, then Washington built 
Fort Necessity during his advance, just south of 
"Jumonville Glen" where fighting took place. 
In July 1752, around the same time the Ohio Company was building its staging area at Wills Creek,  the Marquis Duquesne de Meneval, arrived at Quebec as the new Governor General arrived in Canada. He brought with him an aggressive agenda to secure as much land as possible.  The French erected a series of small forts, beginning with Fort Presque Isle on the southern shore of Lake Erie, where Erie, Pennsylvania now sits.  Fort Le Bouef was built a few miles south on French Creek a tributary leading into the Allegheny River.  Several miles further down river, they established Fort Machault.

The French also sent a military party of Canadians and Indians to destroy one of the largest English trading posts in the Ohio Valley.  While still trying to avoid starting a war by killing English colonists, they had no such compunctions about killing Indians who cooperated with the English.  The party ripped the heart out of one Indian trader and ate it. They allegedly boiled and ate another.  They destroyed the trading post and took other prisoners back to Detroit.

These barbaric acts, meant to shock and awe those who would fail to obey French rule, had their intended effect. The victims, Miami Indians, sought help from Pennsylvania, but  the Quaker government refused to get involved in a war.  As a result, the Miami secured a peace with the French and agreed to trade only with them.  The few colonists from Pennsylvania who had settled among the local tribes fled back east, not waiting until the French decided to turn on them as well.

Both the French and the British targeted the location where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers met to combine into the Ohio River as a key strategic point.  Whoever controlled that would control all river traffic in the Ohio Valley.  The French Fort Machault was about 75 miles up the Allegheny river.  The Ohio Company built another fortified strong house at Redcreek, about 40 miles up the Monongahela River.

Virginia Tells the French to Leave

In late 1753, Virginia and the Ohio Company decided it might be a good idea just to tell the French to leave.  They decided to send an emissary with a letter from Virginia Gov. Dinwiddie notifying the French that they were encroaching on British territory and that they should leave before things turned violent.  Such a mission called for diplomacy, tact, and experience to ensure the message was delivered without starting a war.  One would think the ability to speak French might also be a prerequisite.  Why they decided to leave the mission to an inexperienced 21 year old who knew no French has always bothered me.

The young man in charge of this mission was one of the youngest partners in the Ohio Company, an up and comer named George Washington.  Dinwiddie commissioned Washington a Major in the Virginia militia, despite no military training nor experience.  Washington assembled a small team of less than 10 men, some colonists, some Indians, including Jacob Van Braan, a translator who spoke both English and French, Christopher Gist, an agent for the Ohio Company who had already scouted out much of the territory, Tanaghrisson, the Iroquois leader in charge of overseeing the local tribes who were under Iroquois control, and a few others.
Washington and Gist traveling up
the Allegheny River*, by Daniel
Huntington (from

The expedition made its way through Ohio Valley, traveling down the Monongahela and up the Allegheny to Fort Machault. There, the commander told Washington to take his message further upstream to Fort LeBoeuf.  The French Commander at Fort LeBoeuf. Capt. Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre received the party and treated them respectfully.  Washington delivered a message from Gov. Dinwiddie demanding the French leave Virginia immediately.

Capt. Legardeur provided Major Washington with a written response that essentially said, I’ll pass this along to my higher ups, but this is French territory, and (respectfully) we are not leaving.

Both sides were determined not to back down, but neither wanted to be responsible for starting another war.  If war was inevitable, both sides wanted to say the other guy started it. Washington returned the note to Gov. Dinwiddie in Williamsburg.  He had done more than deliver a letter.  Washington took careful notes of French defenses and troop numbers.  He also kept an eye out for prime real estate where the Ohio Company might be able to set up villages.

Governor Dinwiddie promoted Washington to Lt. Col. and authorized him to raise a force of 200 soldiers to resist French encroachment into the Ohio Valley, which all Virginians believed was clearly just part of Virginia.  The Governor also handed out commissions to other Ohio Company members who were building additional strong houses in the Ohio Valley.  The next one would be the most controversial, a structure right at the forks of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.  The workers began construction in the middle of winter out of a concern that spring would see French ships moving down river to build their own fort.

Fort Duquesne

The local tribes were not outright hostile, but had no intention of cooperating with the English.  They refused to sell them food, even at inflated prices.  The local Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo well remembered the brutal French murder of Indians who had traded with the English a few years earlier.  The French seemed to be the better bet, and picking the wrong side could have fatal consequences.

Despite the local pro-French bias, Tanaghrisson, the Iroquois agent in charge of the Ohio Valley tribes was clearly pro-English. His authority came from the Iroquois, who though technically neutral, generally sided with the English.  He also told people that the French had killed and eaten his father.  Tanaghrisson personally helped build the strong house with the English where the three rivers met.

Just about the time they finished the house in April 1754, about 500 French Canadians and allied Indians arrived on the site with about 15 cannon.  The small force of about 40 men inside the structure, mostly builders, not soldiers, surrendered to the superior force.  The men were treated well and permitted to leave with their possessions.

The French decided that a much more imposing fort was needed at the site.  The named it Fort Duquesne in honor of the new Governor General of Canada.

As the French established Fort Duquesne, Washington had been making his way up to the forks when he received word of the surrender.  He had failed to recruit the 200 man regiment, having acquired only 160 men with little training, equipment, or supplies.  Most of them had joined with the inducement of receiving land around the forks to start their own farms.  Now that it was clear that the land would not be available, most wanted to give up and go home.

Gov. Dinwiddie refused to allow the advance to stop.  He told Washington the men should be satisfied with their agreed pay of eight pence per day.  If that doesn’t sound like much, you would be right.  It is about one-third of what a common laborer would make in a far less demanding and dangerous job.  The Governor ordered the Regiment to press on.  This pathetic 160 man regiment had no hope of retaking the entrenched French force of over 500.  Yet Washington was under orders to capture or kill anyone who resisted British settlement of the region.

Washington received promises of reinforcements, but had to press ahead until they arrived.  The men began cutting their way through the forest, building a trail toward the Red Creek Strong House.  They proceeded only 2-3 miles per day, hoping that the reinforcements would catch up with them before they made contact with the enemy.

Jumonville Massacre

Local Indians informed the French troop busily constructing Fort Duquesne that a force of several hundred British troops was headed in their direction.  The commander sent an Ensign named Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville with a command of 35 soldiers to find the English, gather intelligence and order them to leave French territory.  Jumonville was not expected to attack a force of several hundred with his 35 men.  Rather, his goal was simply to make first contact, size up the enemy, and report back to the Commander at Fort Duquesne.

Washington learned through informants that a French force was only a few miles away to the north.  His men were in open country, about half way between the Wills Creek Fort and Fort Red Creek. He sent about half his force, 75 men under Capt. Peter Hogg to move up river and intercept the enemy.  That night though, Tanaghrisson, arrived in camp with news that the French were only a few miles away.  The intercept force of 75 men had marched off in the wrong direction.  Now Washington was in the middle of nowhere, at night, with an enemy force nearby with unknown intentions.

Washington led a force of 47 men, along with Tanaghrisson and a few of his warriors, to seek out the enemy in a nighttime raid.  What happened next differs greatly depending on the account.  Based on the varied accounts, this is what I think happened:

Washington and his men approached the French camp near dawn on May 28, 1754.  Their Indian allies moved to the other side of the camp to surround the French.  French soldiers became alerted to the English presence and began to stir excitedly, going for their guns and getting ready to defend against a surprise attack.  A French soldier may have fired a shot in the excitement, but the British fired at least two volleys into the camp, killing or wounding at least a dozen men.  Some French tried to flee the camp, only to encounter Tanaghrisson and his Indians in their rear.
Washington at Jumonville Glen* by Junius Brutus Stearns
(from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

At some point, the French commander Jumonville was able to call for a ceasefire, after being wounded.  He stated that he was there simply to deliver the French message that the British were trespassing and should depart, much like Washington had done at Fort LeBoeuf the prior year.  Before he could finish reading the letter, Tanaghrisson grabbed a tomahawk and split open his skull.  According to some witness accounts, Tanaghrisson made a comment that he was doing this to avenge his father.  At this point the other Indians began killing the French wounded before the British could stop them.  The surviving French were returned to Virginia under guard as prisoners.  At least one though, escaped to return to Fort Duquesne and report on the massacre.

Washington’s official account does not mention that several of those killed, including Ensign Jumonville, were wounded in the battle and executed after the fighting ceased.  Washington’s account also says the French fired first. The French report that Washington’s men fired on them while they were in camp and before the French even knew they were there.  French and Indian witnesses also say that the British began murdering the wounded after they had surrendered and that their Indian allies had to intervene to stop the killing.  English witnesses say the Indian allies began to kill the wounded and that the British had to stop them.

Regardless of what actually happened, the French were convinced that the British had massacred their diplomatic party.  The British believed that the French had been rightfully prevented from a continued invasion of British territory and that the Indian allies may have gotten a little out of control, as they were often prone to do.  Both sides blamed the other for what was well on its way to becoming a real war.

Fort Necessity

After the battle, Washington built a small log palisade nearby which he named Fort Necessity.  This was a circular log fence about 50 feet in diameter with a few trenches. Washington, who had never built a fort before and had no engineering education or experience, thought it an adequate defense to repel any force of up to 500 men.

Reinforcements finally arrived in June, 200 more militiamen from Virginia and about 100 British Regulars from South Carolina.  On June 16, 1754, Washington decided to leave the British Regulars at Fort Necessity (since they refused to take orders from a Colonial Militia commander) and press forward with 300 Virginians to take back Fort Duquesne.

The reinforcements had brought supplies and arms, including nine swivel guns (small cannon). Washington did not know the size of the force at Fort Duquesne but was determined to defeat it.  He also relied on Tanaghrisson to rally local allies from among the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo tribes.

Not only did the tribes refuse to join, they indicated that they were likely going to help the French.  The British were offering nothing but great risk to themselves and their families.  If they won, the British would simply begin bringing in colonists that would force the local tribes to give up even more land.  They had no inclination to help with any of this.  Disheartened, Tanaghrisson not only gave up recruitment efforts, he gathered up his remaining warriors and families and retreated back to the relative safety of central Pennsylvania.  Ironically, he would die there, of pneumonia, less than a year later.

Without Indian allies, Washington continue to press on, making extremely slow time trying to get the heavy weapons and wagons through the forest.  On June 28, still miles from Red Creek Fort, and after receiving word that a large French force had left Fort Duquesne with the purpose of driving all the British out of the Valley, Washington decided to give up his advance and pull back to Fort Necessity.  There, at least, he could meet the French in a defensive posture.

Most of their horses had died during the difficult advance.  Washington’s troops had to drag the wagons and weapons 20 miles back to Fort Necessity over two days.  The men were exhausted when they arrived on July 1.  The following day it began to rain.  The fort was built in a valley which pooled the water, and filled the trenches.  There was no roof so only those few soldiers with tents had any shelter.  By July 3, only 300 of the 400 soldiers were fit for duty.  Most of those who were fit were still wet, hungry, and generally unhappy.

At around 11:00 AM the 600 French soldiers and militiamen, along with about 100 Indian allies arrived at the Fort.  Their commander was Capt. Louis Coulon de Villiers, half-brother of the deceased Ensign Jumonville.  Washington marched his men out of the Fort and lined them up for battle, expecting European style face to face field combat.  The French commander though, saw no point to that.  He deployed his men behind trees on the hills overlooking the fort and began firing.

Washington’s men ran back into the fort where they spent the day hiding from French who fired into the fort from the surrounding hills.  The rain had disabled most of the British guns, meaning they could not fire back even if they saw a target.  By evening, nearly one-third of the fort’s defenders were dead or wounded.  The men, assuming they would be massacred the following day, broke into the Fort’s store of rum and got drunk.  Things did not look good.
Night Council at Fort Necessity*
(from Wikimedia Commons)

Then came some  hope.  Around dusk, the French called out to discuss terms.  The French demanded that Washington sign articles of surrender, return prisoners who had been captured at the Jumonville massacre, and agree to leave and stay out of the Ohio Valley for at least one year.  Under these terms, the men would be free to leave with their possessions and arms, except for a couple of hostages to be held until the French prisoners were returned. Given the circumstances, this seemed rather generous.

What was unclear about the terms, written in French as Washington was struggling to read at night and in the rain, was that they blamed Washington for the “assassination” of Jumonville and provided the French with a justification to declare war based on the young colonist’s actions.  Washington signed the treaty and returned home.

The Marquis Du Quesne had successfully removed all British from the Ohio Valley, established a French military presence down to the Ohio River, and forced the British to accept all blame for the conflict.  With his goals achieved, he sought reassignment to a naval command.

Washington was seen as a failure.  Facing demotion, he resigned his commission.  Having failed to accomplish any of the goals laid out by Britain or Virginia, and having been responsible for starting a war, the 22 year old Washington may have felt that military life perhaps was not for him.

Next week:  British officials in London send a force to clean up Washington’s mess in the Ohio Valley.

* Artist renderings made long after the fact may not portray events accurately.

Next Episode 6: British Take Charge: Battle of the Monongahela

Previous Episode 4: Britain, France, and the Indians

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Further Reading


The Ohio Company of Virginia:

Thomas Lee’s Vision for Virginia:

Fort Le Boeuf:

Frontier Forts:

Gov. Dinwiddie’s letter to the French demanding they leave the Ohio Valley (1753):

French Response to Dinwiddie (1753):

Washington’s Journal Account of Jumonville (1754):

Shaw’s Account of Jumonville (1754):

French Report of Jumonville (1754)

Free eBooks
(from unless otherwise noted)

The Ohio Company of Virginia and the Westward Movement, 1748-1792, by Kenneth Bailey (1939).

Washington's expeditions (1753-1754) and Braddock's expedition (1755), by James Hadden, (1910).

The History of Canada, Vol. 3, by William Kingsford,  (1887).

History of Cumberland, by William Harrison Lowdermilk (1878).

Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60, by Pierre Pouchot, Vol. 1, & Vol. 2 (1866).

George Croghan and the Westward Movement, 1741-1782, by Albert Volwiler (1922)

A review of the military operations in North America: from the commencement of the French hostilities on the frontiers of Virginia in 1753, to the surrender of Oswego, on the 14th of August, 1756, by William  Livingston, William Smith, and William Alexander, called Lord Stirling (1757) (This was written by contemporaries living in the colonies as the events transpired).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Anderson, Fred Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Brumwell, Stephen Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas 1755-1763, by Stephen Brumwell Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002.

Foster, Emily (ed) The Ohio Frontier: An Anthology of Early Writings, Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1996.

Fowler, Willam F. Jr. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763, Walker Books, 2005.

Jennings, Francis Empire Of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies & Tribes in the Seven Years War in America, W.W. Norton & Co. 1988.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.