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
(from parliament.uk)
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
(from thepeerage.com)
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
(from route40.net)
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
(from flickr.com)

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 fortedwards.org)
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 kronoskaf.com)
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 lordnelsons.com)
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

Retreat

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

Visit American Revolution Podcast (http://amrev.podbean.com).

Further Reading:

Web Sites:

Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Pelham-Holles-1st-duke-of-Newcastle

William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, http://www.unofficialroyalty.com/prince-william-augustus-duke-of-cumberland

Jacobite Rising, 1745: https://britishheritage.com/jacobite-rebellion-1745

Henry Fox, http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/fox-henry-1705-74

Fort Niagara: https://www.oldfortniagara.org/history

Fort Saint-Frédéric: http://www.fortwiki.com/Fort_St._Frederic

Gen. Edward Braddock: http://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/us-history-biographies/edward-braddock

Proceedings of the Albany Conference: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-05-02-0096

Albany Plan of Union: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1750-1775/albany-plan

William Johnson: https://www.varsitytutors.com/earlyamerica/early-america-review/volume-1/sir-william-johnson-indian-superintendent-colonial

Gov. William Shirley: http://www.celebrateboston.com/biography/governor/william-shirley.htm

Thomas Hutchinson: http://www.americanrevolution.com/biographies/colonials/thomas_hutchinson

James De Lancey: http://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-01/history-era-01-delancey.html

Thomas Pownall: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/pownall-thomas-1722-1805

Adm. Edward Boscawen: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/boscawen_edward_3E.html

The First "No Taxation Without Representation Crisis,, by Bob Rupert (Pistole Fee ControversyJournal of the American Revolution (2016):
https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/03/the-first-no-taxation-without-representation-crisis

Gen. Charles Lee: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1117.html

Gen. Horatio Gates: http://www.revolutionary-war.net/horatio-gates.html

Gen. Hugh Mercer: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/hugh-mercer

Gen. Adam Stephen: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/adam-stephen

Daniel Boone: http://www.notablebiographies.com/Be-Br/Boone-Daniel.html

Fort Cumberland: http://www.fortedwards.org/braddock/sites/cbe.htm

Fort Duquesne http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/fort-duquesne

Battle of the Monongahela: http://www.britishbattles.com/french-indian-war/battle-of-monongahela-1755-braddocks-defeat

Free eBooks:
(links to archive.org 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 Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

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

Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas 1755-1763, by Stephen Brumwell (2002).

Empires at War, by William M. Fowler, Jr. (2005).

Empire of Fortune, by Francis Jennings (1988).

Braddock’s Defeat, by David Preston (2015).

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).



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