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History: Washington’s Military Credentials

— In 1755, amid the French and Indian War, Major General Edward Braddock came to Alexandria as commander in chief of the British forces in North America. His immediate objective was capturing the French stronghold at Ft. Duquesne (now Pittsburgh). He left Alexandria with about 2,000 British regulars, 700 colonial militiamen, and a long train of supplies.

Having heard of Colonel Washington's excellent abilities, General Braddock invited him to become his special aide. Washington became the senior militia officer as Braddock’s forces proceeded westward on what is now Braddock Road. After reaching the wilderness around Cumberland, Md., the army began building a road, now US Route 40. This undertaking slowed their progress, and Braddock feared the French would reinforce Ft. Duquesne before he could reach it. Adopting Washington’s suggestion, he left the wagons behind with one of the two British regiments and pushed ahead with about two-thirds of his force. On July 9, 1755, while crossing the Monongahela River, he was met by about 900 Indians led by French and Canadian soldiers.

Accustomed only to European tactics, Braddock was surprised by the ambush, although Washington and others had tried to warn him and take precaution. The British regulars, unable to respond appropriately to the attack, were brutally cut down. Although very ill, Washington was at Braddock’s side during the attack. As other officers fell, Washington’s role in the battle increased. He had two horses shot from under him, and four bullets went through his clothes, but he was unharmed.

The Colonial Militia under Washington broke their columns, fought “Indian Style” and suffered proportionately fewer loses. While the Indians stopped to scalp and gather trophies, the remaining Redcoats and Militia under Washington joined the rear guard and retreated safely to Ft. Cumberland. The battle’s results were horrendous: the British lost 977 killed or wounded of 1,475 men, including 63 of the 89 officers. Braddock was mortally wounded; however, Washington’s role in saving the remaining army elevated him in public esteem.

Colonel Dunbar, who commanded the rear of Braddock's army that had not participated in the battle, withdrew his men to Philadelphia. Thus the entire border was at the mercy of French and Indian raids. Responding to the crisis, Gov. Dinwiddie authorized raising a regiment of 1,000 men under Colonel George Washington as commander in chief of all Virginia forces. This commission was the response to the general opinion that his actions evinced his military leadership and other estimable qualities. He was only a 23-year-old officer, but his actions had solidified his military credentials. His continued service during that war later made him the logical choice to lead the American Revolutionary Army.

Contributors: These articles were prepared by the George Washington Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution (www.gwsar.org), who will be a participant in the George Washington Birthday Parade and events on Feb. 17. See www.washingtonbirthday.net.