250 years ago a British army led by General Edward Braddock arrived in Alexandria in route, unknowingly, to a bloody defeat at the hands of the French and Indians. Following is one of a series of weekly articles on that army.
Mid-March, 1755, ALEXANDRIA: To a soldier standing on the deck of one of the transport ships approaching Alexandria in mid-March 1755, the village would appear as a cluster of houses sitting slightly back from the edge of 15-to-20-foot bluffs that enclose a small bay shaped like a crescent.
One point of the crescent was at the foot of Duke Street. From there the shoreline gradually curved inward until the waters of the shallow bay flowed over what is now the middle of Lee Street (then appropriately called Water Street). From there the shoreline curved out again to the other point of the crescent at the foot of Oronoco Street. Here was the transports’ destination, a long wharf where normally ships off loaded English goods and loaded tobacco. A ferry also ran to and from there and the Maryland side of the Potomac.
When the first transport tied up at the wharf excited townspeople started to gather, and with the yelling of orders and the beating of drums, soldiers began to walk down the gangplank and form ranks on the wharf.
They were a company of the 44th Regiment of Foot, striking in their bright red coats (with yellow lapels and wide yellow cuffs) worn over white, slightly soiled waistcoats; red breeches tucked into long brown leggings that buttoned over the knee; and a flat, black tricorne hat edged in white for a private or a tall, narrow, tombstone-shaped hat with a thin metal plate in front for a grenadier.
Once formed, the soldiers shouldered their muskets and marched off the wharf to the rattle of drums, followed Oronoco Street through the bluff, and then wheeled left onto Fairfax Street (avoiding a large marsh that extended from the river across the tops of Oronoco, Princess, and Queen Streets).
Townsmen, women, children, and African-American servants stood in front of log or wooden frame houses to watch and cheer as the redcoats, their fifes squealing, drums beating, regimental flags flapping, came up the dirt street scattering hogs, geese, dogs from their path (according to research by historian Lee McCardell).
Turning right onto Cameron Street, the troops quickly reached the town’s boundary, the end of the lots on the far side of Royal Street, and arrived at the place quartermaster Sir John St. Clair had chosen for their camp.
Gradually this area on a plain northwest of town was filled with rows and rows of white tents stretching into the distance with red-coated soldiers milling around them.
Before long all 17 ships had arrived at the waterfront carrying munitions, cannon, food, more troops, and more supplies until they lined the anchorage outside the bay and the bay itself was filled with small boats going to and fro helping to unload.
Everyone was preparing for the arrival next week of the General himself.
Ted Pulliam is a member of the Alexandria Archaeological Commission. He can be contacted at email@example.com