1755 - British expedition against Fort Duquesne
The campaign lasted from May to July 1755
On February 20, his expeditionary force arrived at Hampton near Williamsburg in Virginia. This was not the best place to land for an expedition against Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh) on the Ohio. The expeditionary force would have to advance by a circuitous route from Wills' Creek. Braddock marched the two regiments up the Potomac River to Alexandria.
Braddock had great difficulty assembling transportation. The quartermaster-general had assured him that he might depend on 2,500 horses and 200 wagons from Virginia and Maryland. However, Braddock received only 20 wagons and 200 horses from these colonies. He finally obtained wagons and horses from Pennsylvania. The fact that he expressed contempt for the Colonial militia did not facilitate his task.
A fort, called Fort Cumberland, had been recently erected at the junction of Wills' Creek with the Potomac. The small wooden fort was armed with 10 small guns. On May 10, the expeditionary force reached the fort. Braddock commanded the force seconded by Captain Robert Orme and by two aides-de-camp: Captain Roger Morris and Colonel George Washington. The expeditionary force counted some 2,150 officers and men organised as follows:
- Royal Regiment of Artillery (company of 71 men)
- 1 captain (Thomas Ord who joined Braddock's Column after June 8)
- 1 captain-lieutenant (Robert Hind)
- 3 lieutenants
- 1 lieutenant (adjutant)
- 1 lieutenant (quartermaster)
- 1 surgeon
- 2 sergeants
- 10 corporals & bombardiers
- 18 gunners
- 32 matrosses (only half of the expected number)
- 1 drummer
- Sailors of the Royal Navy (30 men and 2 midshipmen) under Lieutenant Spindelow
- Native American Warriors (8 men)
- Captain Robert Stewart's Virginia Troop of Horse Rangers (3 officers, 34 mounted rangers, 8 batmen)
- Pack-horses (600)
- 1st Brigade under Colonel Sir Peter Halket
- 44th Halket's Regiment of Foot (700 men including the recruits raised in Virginia)
- Captain Rutherford's New York Independent Companies (95 men)
- Captain Horatio Gates' New York Independent Companies (4 officers, 91 men)
- Captain William Polson's Virginia Carpenters (3 officers, 48 men)
- Captain William Peronee's Virginia Rangers (3 officers, 47 men)
- Captain Wagner's Virginia Rangers (3 officers, 45 men)
- Captain John Dagworthy's Maryland Rangers (3 officers, 49 men)
- 2nd Brigade under Colonel Thomas Dunbar
- 48th Dunbar's Regiment of Foot (700 men including the recruits raised in Virginia)
- Captain Paul Demerie's South Carolina Independent Companies (detachment of 97 men)
- Captain Brice Dobbs' North Carolina Rangers (3 officers, 80 men)
- Captain George Mercer's Virginia Carpenters (3 officers, 35 men)
- Captain Adam Steven's Virginia Rangers (3 officers, 48 men)
- Captain Peter Hogg's Virginia Rangers (3 officers, 40 men)
- Captain Thomas Cox's Virginia Rangers (3 officers, 48 men)
Braddock then waited a week for the artillery pieces (6 x 6-pdr guns, 4 x light 12-pdr guns, 4 x 8-in howitzers, and 15 x cohorn mortars) to arrive. Poor planning at Braddock's headquarters led to further delays.
The French sent 204 militiamen of the Milice du district de Montréal to the Ohio under Captain de Beaujeu. All came from 28 parishes of the Government of Montréal.
On June 10, Braddock's force left Fort Cumberland and began its long march (some 170 km) through the forest towards Fort Duquesne. He left a garrison at Fort Cumberland (probably including 50 men of the 48th Dunbar's Regiment of Foot) under Colonel Innes. A 3,5 meter wide road was cleared by 300 axe men in front of the advancing column. Wagons, packhorses and artillery advanced on the road while troops marched in the forest on both sides. Scouting parties reconnoitred the terrain ahead and flanking parties protected the columns against surprise attacks. The column advanced at a very slow pace (2 to 7 km per day).
On June 15, the expedition reached the ridgeline of the Alleghenies.
On June 18, the expedition reached Little Meadows. It had advanced only 48 km in 8 days. Braddock was informed that 500 French were on their way to reinforce Fort Duquesne. Washington advised him to leave the heavy baggage behind under the guard of Colonel Dunbar and to advance at an increased pace with some picked troops.
On June 19, Braddock continued his advance with 1,200 selected men. His column was accompanied by 10 guns, 30 wagons, and several hundred pack-horses. During his advance, Braddock created a gap of some 60 km between his division and Dunbar, who led a second division of about 1,000 men escorting the provision stores and heavy baggage.
On July 5, the French received information about Braddock's force. M. Contrecoeur, commanding at Fort Duquesne, had a force consisting of a few companies of French regulars, a large body of Canadiens and some 900 Native Americans.
On July 7, Braddock's column reached the mouth of Turtle Creek, a stream flowing into the Monongahela about 13 km from Fort Duquesne, at the junction with the Allegheny. However, the direct way ran through difficult terrains and a dangerous defile. Braddock decided to ford the Monongahela twice rather than to take this direct path.
Early on July 8, M. Contrecoeur detached Captain Beaujeu with 70 French regulars, 140 Canadiens, and 650 Native Americans to ambush Braddock's column which was now crossing the Monongahela.
On July 9, Braddock's column was only 16 km from Fort Duquesne when it clashed with Beaujeu's force advancing to meet it in the engagement of the Monongahela. The French were behind defences in front and the Native Americans on each flank. Braddock had five horses shot under him and was severely injured before being carried off the field. The British force was crushingly defeated and broke into a rout.
On July 10, order was restored in the British force and the retreat continued towards Fort Cumberland, 110 km to rear. Meanwhile stragglers had already reached Dunbar's camp with news of the disaster.
On July 11, Braddock was carried into Dunbar's camp. The British burned more than 100 wagons and stores that could not be brought back to Fort Cumberland. Guns, howitzers and shell were burst or buried. What remained of the British expeditionary force now retreated towards Fort Cumberland, still 96 km to the rear.
On Sunday July 13, the retreating British force reached Great Meadows where, at about 8:00 p.m., General Braddock died.
On Monday July 14, Braddock was buried in the road and the troops passed over his grave, effacing every sign of it. The remnants of the expeditionary force finally reached Fort Cumberland.
From a total force of 1,373 NCOs and men, only 459 men came back unharmed to Fort Cumberland. The wounded abandoned on the field were tortured and killed by the Native Americans. The French lost only 3 officers, 9 soldiers and an undetermined number of Native Americans.
Once at Fort Cumberland, Dunbar dispatched a Native American messenger to General Shirley with an account of the defeat. Meanwhile, Mr. Dinwiddie proposed to Dunbar a second attempt on Fort Duquesne.
On August 1, Dunbar then held a council of war with Lieutenant-Colonel Gage, Governor Sharpe, Major Chapman, Major Sparke, and Sir John St. Clair. The council rejected Dinwiddie's proposal as impracticable.
On August 2, Dunbar left Fort Cumberland and began his march towards Philadelphia with 1,600 men, four 6-pdrs and four cohorns. The fort was now garrisoned by invalids and companies from Virginia, some 400 men all together.
After the defeat, Virginia voted to raise 1,000 men for the defence of their frontier. Four companies of rangers were also ordered out.
Dumas replaced Contrecoeur in the command of Fort Duquesne. His first care was to send the Western tribes to attack the border settlements. The Lenapes and Shawnees, old but neglected friends of the British, now took the lead against them. Many tribes of the Ohio also took up the hatchet, as did various remoter tribes.
Some seven war parties accompanied by French officers and soldiers took the field. They raided the frontier of the three adjacent provinces, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. The inhabitants were driven off and the settlements totally destroyed over a tract of land 120 km wide.
In Virginia, Washington had to protect a frontier of about 550 km with a force of some 1,000 undisciplined men, later raised to 1,500. His headquarters were at Winchester. Virginians were in mortal fear of a slave insurrection and dared not go far from home.
As autumn advanced, the Native American war parties grew more and more audacious. Braddock had opened a road for them by which they could cross the mountains at their ease. Some 240 people were killed in the area of Patterson's Creek.
Early in October, 100 persons were killed near Fort Cumberland. Repeated tidings followed of killings on the Susquehanna. Settlements in the valley called the Great Cove were completely destroyed. The upper part of Cumberland County was laid waste. The settlement of Tulpehocken, only 100 km from Philadelphia, was destroyed and the Moravian settlement of Gnadenhütten was burned, and nearly all its inhabitants massacred.
This description is a combination of abridged and adapted excerpts from the following books, which are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761.
- Carlyle T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia, vol. 16.
- Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 271-281.
- Parkman, Francis: Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 106, 112, 131, 192-194, 200-203.
Dechêne, Louise: Le Peuple, l’État et la Guerre au Canada sous le Régime français, Éditions du Boréal, 2008 p. 312
Jean-Pierre Loriot for the detailed order of battle of Braddock's force.
Kenneth P Dunne for the detailed breakdown of the detachment of British Royal Artillery.