George Washington Papers

Memorandum, 8–9 July 1755


[8–9 July 1755]

N.B. The 8th of July I rejoined (in a covered Waggon) the advanced division of the Army under the immediate Comd of the General.1 On the 9th I attended him on horse back tho. very weak and low2—on this day he was attacked and defeated by a party of French & Inds. adjudged not to exceed 3003—When all hope of rallying the dismayed troops & recovering the ground, our provisions & Stores were given up I was ordered to Dunbars Camp.4

LB (original), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW. This memorandum is written entirely in GW’s later hand.

1Braddock’s advanced division marched 8 miles on 8 July to reach a camp at the head of Sugar Run about a mile from the Monongahela River in the vicinity of present-day McKeesport, Pa.

2GW many years later said that he “mounted his horse on cushions” on this day (GW Biographical Memorandum, c.1786, ViMtvL, photostat).

3By early afternoon Braddock’s force had made two crossings of the Monongahela to avoid a dangerous defile on the east side of the river and was advancing through woods in the vicinity of present-day Braddock, Pa., when it unexpectedly encountered an enemy party consisting of 36 officers, 72 French regulars, 146 Canadians, and 637 Indians, a total of 891 men. The French and Indians, who had planned to ambush the British at another place, were not yet fully ready to attack. They nevertheless spread out quickly in the woods and opened fire from concealed positions. Within a short time Braddock’s column was nearly surrounded, and the ranks dissolved in confusion. For GW’s description of the fighting, see his letters of 18 July 1755 to Mary Ball Washington, Robert Dinwiddie, and John Augustine Washington. Almost everyone on the British side in the battle greatly underestimated the strength of the French and Indians because they had only fleeting glimpses of their opponents. “If we saw of them five or six at one time,” said Capt. Robert Cholmley’s batman, it “was a great sight and they Either on their Bellies or Behind trees or Runing from one tree to another almost by the ground” (Hamilton, Braddock’s Defeat description begins Charles Hamilton, ed. Braddock’s Defeat. Norman, Okla., 1959. description ends , 29). According to Harry Gordon, the “whole Numbers” of French and Indians “did not Exceed 300” (Gordon to —, 23 July 1755, in Pargellis, Military Affairs in North America description begins Stanley Pargellis, ed. Military Affairs in North America, 1748–1765: Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle. 1936. Reprint. Hamden, Conn., 1969. description ends , 104–9). An anonymous officer reported that “the Number of the Enemy by those who makes the largest allowance did not appear to be above Three hundred and others dont scruple to say did not exceed one hundred” (25 July 1755, ibid., 112–24).

4After enduring an intense cross fire in the open for much of the afternoon, Braddock’s surviving men began retreating without orders. GW recalled many years later that he put the fatally wounded general “in a small covered Cart, which carried some of his most essential equipage,” and “with some of the best Troops” took him back across the lower of the two Monongahela fords that they had crossed earlier in the day. While Braddock and some of his officers tried to make a stand near the lower ford with about 100 men, GW crossed the upper one to halt the many troops who had fled ahead of the general. Finding Gage on the other side striving to rally a force, GW gave him Braddock’s order to stop the retreat and returned across the upper ford to inform the general of the situation. It was after sunset when GW met Braddock on the road, traveling to the rear in a litter. Most of the men at the lower ford had deserted him despite the fact that the French and Indians did not pursue beyond the river. Braddock, having given up any thought of holding a position near the battlefield, now sent GW to Colonel Dunbar with orders for Dunbar to forward provisions, medical supplies, and wagons for the wounded to Gist’s plantation or some place farther, if possible. GW, who was still very weak from his illness, traveled through the night and part of the next morning with two guides to reach Dunbar’s camp about 6 miles south of Gist’s plantation and about 50 miles from the battlefield. “The shocking Scenes which presented themselves in this Nights march are not to be described,” GW later wrote. “The dead—the dying—the groans—lamentation—and crys along the Road of the wounded for help . . . were enough to pierce a heart of adamant. The gloom & horror of which was not a little encreased by the impervious darkness occasioned by the close shade of thick woods which in places rendered it impossible for the two guides which attended to know when they were in, or out of the track but by groping on the ground with their hands” (GW Biographical Memorandum, c.1786, ViMtvL, photostat). Braddock received wagons and supplies from Dunbar at Gist’s plantation on the evening of 10 July and arrived at Dunbar’s camp late the next day.

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