Braddock’s Defeat at the Monongahela (Report)

Caledonian Mercury/December 27, 1755

Copy of a Letter from New York to a Gentleman in this City, dated November 7th.

As the Continent of North America is like to prove the Bone of Contention and Seat of War betwixt the English and French, and is now become the chief Topic of Conversation over the whole of the British Dominions; you will expect no Doubt, as I happen to be placed in the middle of the Fray, to hear something from me on the Subject. You have heard I suppose long e’er this Time of General Braddock’s shameful Defeat in his March to the French Fort (Du Quesne) on the River Ohio; It will, I am very certain puzzle all the Politicians in Britain to find out a true and genuine Account of the Particulars of that Action; for we who are here almost upon the Spot cannot tell what to make of the various and contradictory Accounts given of it. I have myself conversed with many that were personally engaged in it, amongst whom were some of the principal Officers, and I scarcely ever met with two that exactly agreed in any two Particulars. Sir John St. Clair the Quartermaster-general, and Capt. Orme, General Braddock’s Aid de Camp were in this City about three Weeks ago, and tho’ they were commonly civil and complaisant to each other in Company, yet when they were talked with separately about the Affair, they told two as different Stories, as if they had been relating an Account of two different Battles. This much is certain, that the Army having been suffered to go through several narrow and dangerous Passes unmolested, where it is said they might have been all easily cut to Pieces; the General despised his Enemy, and was entirely off his Guard; so very secure was he, that the very Night before the fatal Day he called in all his Scouts, who had very carefully reconnoitered the Woods for several Miles round them every Day from their first setting out, and to that single Mistake was owing the dreadful Event; for as soon as they had passed a little Creek not quite six Miles from Fort Du Quesne, they were attacked by a covered and unseen Enemy (they never saw above five of them together, and their Number is not known to this Day) from behind Trees in the Woods, while our Army were so far from suspecting any Thing of the kind, that they were all moving carelessly and securely along in their Line of March when they received the first Fire. And tho’ the Aid de Camp in his public Account of this Matter talks of having tried every military Expedient to keep the Men in Order, and make them do their Duty, yet he may talk in that Strain as much as he pleases, but it evidently appears that such was their Surprise, and such the sudden Slaughter, (being knocked down like Partridges) that instant Confusion seized the whole, and no military Expedient ever was or indeed well could be put into execution. The only Things it is said could possibly have been of any Service, it is said General Braddock obstinately refused; which was either to order the Men to spread through the Woods and fight their covered and irregular enemy in their own Way, or, instead of pushing forward in a Column, amidst a surrounding and unseen Enemy who could easily shift their Ground as fast as they advanced, to make as quick a Retreat as possible behind their own Artillery and Waggons which were in their Rear, and endeavor to form and defend themselves. But neither of these Expedients were ever attempted, tho’ repeatedly pressed by some of the best Officers present. When the General fell, such was his Confusion and Surprise, (I had it from a Gentleman of Credit who was by and heard it) “G-d damn me,” says he, “I never thought of this.” The Consequences of this Defeat has proved very terrible to the Frontier Inhabitants of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, many of whom have been since murdered by the Indian Savages of these Parts, who are almost to a Man gone over to the Interest of the French since this Battle. These poor people are all flying (those of them that can get away with their Lives think themselves happy) from their Habitations leaving all their Effects behind them, into the Towns and thick settled Parts, and we are every Day at this Time hearing of fresh Massacres committed.

God only knows what may happen to Philadelphia itself this Winter, for there are certain Accounts brought here by the last Post that there are 1500 French and Indians now encamped within less than 100 Miles of that City; and tho’ it be one of the richest and best peopled Provinces in North America, it is in the most naked and defenseless State of any, and if the Parliament of Britain does not interpose, and disable the Quakers from being Members of the Legislature (as indeed their professed Principles are a Contradiction to the executive Powers of all Government) it is hard to say what the Consequences may be, not only to that Province of Pennsylvania, but as it is a central Province, to all North America. But to proceed.

As two Thirds of our Army under General Braddock were almost entirely routed, the General killed, and a very fine train of Artillery lost, all Hopes of succeeding against the French in that Western Part of the Continent, for this Season at least, were at an End. Indeed the Scheme was originally wrong, which I shall endeavor, as well as my present Hurry (for I hear the Vessel sails in an Hour or two at farthest) will permit to give you some Idea of. The French in Canada (their old Settlements) hold a Communication with their new Settlements upon the Ohio, by means of two large Lakes. The First called Lake Ontario runs almost due West, about 150 miles in Length, and 30 in Breadth. This Lake at its West End communicates with Lake Erie, which runs about South-West, near 300 Miles in Length, and 40 in Breadth. The Settlements of the French upon the Ohio are a little beyond the South-West End of this last Lake. You see then that to keep up a Communication betwixt these new and old Settlements, they must be Masters of these two Lakes in order to have a free Passage through them. In order to secure that, they have built a Fort upon a Place called Niagara, which is that narrow Pass where the Lakes communicate. Now could the English get Possession of that Pass, and make themselves Masters of Lake Ontario by keeping a small Fleet of armed Vessels upon it, the French Settlements upon the Ohio must drop of course, as their Communication betwixt the old French Settlements in Canada, where their whole Strength lies, and from whence they must be supplied with every Thing, must be entirely stopped, there being no other Way of preserving the Communication, but by going a Matter of 1500 Miles round by Land, through a wild uncultivated Desert, which would be absolutely impossible. This is the Method which everybody here is convinced should have been pursued from the Beginning; and instead of sending Forces, etc., from England to Virginia, to march through a horrid Wilderness, where besides being exposed to all the Dangers of skulking Savages, who know every Hole and Corner of the Country, and delight in Murder, it was extremely difficult to supply them with the common Necessaries of Life. Instead of this, I say, these Forces should have been sent immediately to New York, from thence to have proceeded up Hudson’s River, which is navigable as far up as within a few Miles of Oswego, the name of the English Fort upon the South and West End of the Lake Ontario. Had this been done, in all human Probability we should have been Masters of Fort Niagara and the Lakes long e’er this Time, and many brave Men alive that were starved and butchered in that unfortunate March. But after Braddock’s Defeat, tho’ General Shirley (who succeeded Braddock in Command) ordered the shattered Remains of the Army to proceed as fast as possible to join him at Oswego (for he was there with some new Levies, but not sufficient for the Enterprise) yet the poor Men had so far to march, where already so fatigued in in so miserable a Condition, that it was too late in the Season before this could be accomplished. Upon the whole all thoughts of doing anything here are laid aside for this Winter, but I hope a proper Plan will be concerted, and they will go on briskly in the Spring. By that Time 100 more Troops are expected from England. There is another Body of Troops not yet mentioned, raised by the Provinces of New York and New England, designed to attack Crown Point, one of the strongest Fortifications the French have in this Part of the World, which they have had the Impudence to erect on the East End of Lake Champlain, we say within the Limits of the Province of New York. It is however on the Frontiers of New York and New England Governments. These Forces to the Number of about 3000 Men were  put under the Command of General Johnson, a Man not bred a Soldier, but greatly esteemed here, and greatly beloved by the Indians of these Parts, among whom he has lived long with the utmost Amity and Friendship, a great many of which joined him on this Occasion. About six Weeks ago, 1800 French and Indians attacked a Party of 1200 of Johnson’s Army, which retreated to the main Body; a bloody Battle ensued, which ended in our Favour. The French were repulsed with a considerable Loss, their General wounded and taken Prisoner. Thus Matters seem to be nearly balanced as to Battles this Summer betwixt the French and English here. But my Time will not permit me to proceed any farther.

I am, Sir, etc.  


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