Alexandria History: Braddock’s Defeat Solidifies Washington’s Military Credentials

Alexandria History: Braddock’s Defeat Solidifies Washington’s Military Credentials

Braddock’s Defeat Solidifies Washington’s Military Credentials

In 1755, in midst of the French and Indian War, Major General Edward Braddock arrived in Virginia as commander in chief of the British forces in North America against the French. His immediate objective was the French stronghold at Ft. Duquesne (now Pittsburgh). He left Alexandria with about 2,000 British regulars and 700 colonial militiamen, along with a long train of supplies. General Braddock, having heard of Colonel Washington's exploits, invited him to become a special aide, which made him the senior militia officer. Washington was so ill that on the march he had had to ride in one of the wagons. Braddock proceeded westward out of Alexandria on what is now Braddock Road. As he reached wilderness around Cumberland, Md., he began building a road, as he progressed. This road later developed into U.S. Route 40 or National Road. As result of road building, the progress was slow. Braddock began to fear the French would reinforce Duquesne before he could reach it. Adopting the suggestion of Washington, he left the wagons behind him with one of the two British regiments and pushed ahead with about two-thirds of his total force. He neared his destination on July 9, 1755 and was met by a force of not more than 900 Indians led by French and Canadian soldiers, while crossing the Monongahela River.

Braddock accustomed only to European tactics and contemptuous of Indian fighting against his superior trained force, was taken by surprise by an ambush, even though Washington and others had tried to warn him and take precaution. In reaction to the attack, the British regulars were unable to properly respond and were cut down brutally. Although still very ill, Washington was at Braddock’s side during the attack. As the other officers fell, Washington role in the battle increased. He had two horses shot from under him, and four bullets went through his clothes.

The Colonial Militia under Washington however broke column and fought “Indian Style” and suffered proportionately fewer loses. While the Indians stopped to scalp and gather trophies, the remaining Redcoats and Militia under Washington were able to rejoin the rear guard and both retreated safely to Fort Cumberland. The results of the battle were horrendous for the British who lost 977 killed or wounded out of the 1,475. This included 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, leaving the entire border at the mercy of the raids of the French and Indians. In response to the crisis, Virginia Governor Dinwiddie authorized the raising of a regiment of 1,000 men under Colonel George Washington as commander in chief of all of the forces raised in Virginia. This commission was the answer to the general opinion that his actions evidenced his military leadership and qualities. He was only a 23-year-old officer at the time, but his exploits and experience to date had solidified his military credentials. He continued to perform service during the war that was later to make him a logical choice to lead the American Revolutionary Army in years hence.

Submitted by Richard Kusserow, past president, George Washington Chapter, Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution.