George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 18 July 1755

To Robert Dinwiddie

[Fort Cumberland, Md., 18 July 1755]

To The Honble Robt Dinwiddie Esqr.Williamsburgh
Honble Sir

As I am favourd with an oppertunity, I shoud think myself inexcusable, was I to omit givg you some acct of our late Engagemt with the French on the Monongahela the 9th Inst.

We continued our March from Fort Cumberland to Frazer’s (which is within 7 Miles of Duquisne) witht meetg with any extraordinary event, havg only a stragler or two picked Up by the French Indians.1 When we came to this place, we were attackd, (very unexpectedly I must own) by abt 300 French and Indns;2 Our number’s consisted of abt 1300 well armd Men, chiefly regular’s, who were immediately struck with such a deadly an inconceivable Panick, that nothing but confusion and disobedience of order’s prevaild amongst them: The Officer’s in genl behavd with incomparable bravery, for which they greatly sufferd, there being near 60 killd and woundd A large Proportion out of the number we had!3 The Virginians Companies behavd like Men, and died like Soldier’s;4 for I believe out of 3 Companys that were there on the ground that Day, scarce 30 were left alive: Captn Peyrouny and all his Officer’s down to a Corporal, were killd; Captn Polson shard almost as hard a Fate, for only one of his Escap’d: In short the dastardly behaviour of the English Soldier’s Regular Troops exposd all those who were inclin’d to do their duty, to almost certai⟨n⟩ Death; and at length, in despight of every effort to the contrary, broke & run as Sheep before the Hounds, leavg the Artillery, Ammunition, Provision, and every individual s Baggage & in short every thing we had with us a prey to the Enemy; and when we endeavourd to rally them in hopes of regaining our invaluable loss, the ground and what we had left upon it it was with as much little success as if we had attempted to have stopd the wild Bears of the Mountains. or rivulets with our feet, for they wd break by in spite of every effort that could be made to prevent it.5

The Genl was wounded behind in the Shoulder, & into the Breast; of wch he died three days after; his two Aids de Camp were both wounded, but are in a fair way of Recovering; Colo. Burton and Sir Jno. St Clair are also wounded,6 and I hope will get over it; Sir Peter Halket, with many other brave Officers were killd in the Field: I luckily escapd witht a wound, tho I had four Bullets through my Coat and two Horses shot under me: It is supposed that we left had 300 or more dead in the Field killed; abt that number we brought off wounded; and it is imagin’d conjectured (I believe with great justice too much truth) that two thirds of both those number’s receiv’d their shott from our own cowardly dogs of Soldier’s Regulars, who gatherd themselves into a body contrary to orders 10 or 12 deep, woud then level, Fire, & shoot down the Men before them.7

I Tremble at the consequences that this defeat may have upon our back setlers, who I suppose will all leave their habitation’s unless their are proper measures taken for their security.

Colo. Dunbar, who commands at present, intends so as soon as his Men are recruited at this place, to continue his March to Philia into for Winter Quarter’s; so that consequently there will be no Men left here unless it is the poor shattered remains of the Virginia Troops; who now are, & will be too small to guard our are totally inadequate to the protection of the Frontiers.8 As Captn Orme is writg to yr honour I doubt not but he will give you a circumstantial acct of all things,9 which will make it needless for me to add more than that I am Honble Sir Yr most Obt & most Hble Servt

G. W——n

LB (original), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW; copy in the hand of William Withers, ViU: Pocket Plantation Records; copy, P.R.O., C.O. 5/16, ff. 51–52; copy, British Museum: Add. MS 32857; copy, MWA; copy, Great Britain, Lambeth Palace; copy, P.R.O., C.O. 5/46, ff. 47–49; copy, CSmH; copy, DLC:GW. Withers’s copy includes a memorandum of Virginia officer casualties which is not in either of the GW letter books. For this memorandum, see note 10 below. Dinwiddie sent copies of the letter to the secretary of state, the Board of Trade, and other colonial governors.

1For the casualties incurred before the battle, see GW to John Augustine Washington, 28 June–2 July 1755, n.19.

2There were almost 900 French and Indians in the attacking party. See GW Memorandum, 8–9 July 1755, n.3.

3For the officer casualties, see GW to Mary Ball Washington, 18 July 1755, n.3.

4Braddock, according to John Bolling, a Chesterfield County burgess who was not with the army, told the Virginians on the battlefield: “you Fight like Men, & will die like Souldiers” (John Bolling to Robert Bolling, 13 Aug. 1755, in Schutz, “Report of Braddock’s Defeat,” description begins John A. Schutz, ed. “A Private Report of General Braddock’s Defeat.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 79 (1955): 374–77. description ends 376–77). See also John Martin to GW, 30 Aug. 1755, n.1.

5For the attempt to rally the troops near the lower Monongahela ford, see GW Memorandum, 8–9 July 1755, n.4.

6Sir John St. Clair “was shot thro the Body under the Right Pap” soon after the beginning of the battle when he ran forward from his post near the head of Braddock’s column to see what was happening in front (Horatio Sharpe to William and John Sharpe, 11 Aug. 1755, in Browne, Sharpe Correspondence description begins William Hand Browne, ed. Correspondence of Governor Horatio Sharpe. 3 vols. Archives of Maryland, vols. 6, 9, and 14. Baltimore, 1888–95. description ends , 1:268). According to his own account, he sought out Braddock before fainting from loss of blood and “beg’d of him for God-Sake to gain the riseing ground on our Right to prevent our being Totally Surrounded” (St. Clair to Robert Napier, 22 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 , 102–3). St. Clair was “pretty well recovered of his wound” by 15 Sept. and returned to duty by the following spring, as did Lt. Col. Ralph Burton (Horatio Sharpe to William Sharpe, 15 Sept. 1755, in Browne, Sharpe Correspondence description begins William Hand Browne, ed. Correspondence of Governor Horatio Sharpe. 3 vols. Archives of Maryland, vols. 6, 9, and 14. Baltimore, 1888–95. description ends , 1:282–85).

7“The confusion and distraction was so dreadful,” Dr. Alexander Hamilton of Annapolis reported, “that the Men fired irregularly one behind another, and by this way of proceeding many more of our Men were killed by their own party than by the Enemy as appeared afterwards by the Bullets which the Surgeons Extracted from the wounded, They being distinguishable from those of the French & Indians by their Size, As they were considerably larger, For the bore of the Enemys Muskets, of which many were picked up, was very small. Among the wounded men there were two for one of these larger bullets extracted by the Surgeons, and the wounds were chiefly on the back parts of the Body, so we may reasonably conclude it must have also been among the killed” (Alexander Hamilton to Gavin Hamilton, Aug. 1755, in Breslaw, “A Dismal Tragedy,” description begins Elaine G. Breslaw, [ed]. “A Dismal Tragedy: Drs. Alexander and John Hamilton Comment on Braddock’s Defeat.” Maryland Historical Magazine 75 (1980): 118–44. description ends 131–40). For the British casualty totals, see GW to Mary Ball Washington, 18 July 1755, n.8; and for the effect of friendly fire on the Virginia troops, see the same, n.4.

8Dunbar had assumed command of the army several hours before Braddock died on the evening of 13 July. Despite the vigorous objections of Dinwiddie and many others in Virginia and Maryland, Dunbar marched for Philadelphia from Fort Cumberland on 2 Aug. 1755, taking with him all of the effectives in the two regiments and the three independent companies. “General Braddock’s scheme was to have made Philadelphia his winter quarters,” Dunbar explained to Dinwiddie in a letter of 1 Aug. 1755, “& when he join’d me [after the battle] his inclination was going there & I am now pursuing his design. When this command devolved to me I naturally enquired for General Braddock’s orders & instructions from the government & was told they were all lost & I am now wandering in the wilderness to find my way as well as I can” (Koontz, Dinwiddie Papers description begins Louis Knott Koontz, ed. Robert Dinwiddie Correspondence illustrative of his Career in American Colonial Government and Westward Expansion. Berkeley, Calif., 1951. description ends , 752–53). John Carlyle gave a very different explanation for Dunbar’s action to his brother in Scotland: “the British soldiers was seased with such a panick at the Indian method of fighting, that they are determined to go into Winter Quarters in July (brave English men)” (John Carlyle to George Carlyle, 15 Aug. 1755, ViAlCH).

9See Robert Orme to Dinwiddie, 18 July 1755, in Koontz, Dinwiddie Papers description begins Louis Knott Koontz, ed. Robert Dinwiddie Correspondence illustrative of his Career in American Colonial Government and Westward Expansion. Berkeley, Calif., 1951. description ends , 744–48.

10Withers’s copy of this letter in ViU includes the following memorandum after the dateline: “N.B. I have Inclosed a list of the officers distinguishing those that were killed and Wounded at the ⟨l⟩ast Ingaguement at Monongehela.

Virginia officers Killed and wounded in the last Ingaguement

Waggoners Company Perronys Company
Capt. Waggoner ____ Capt. Perrony, Lieutenant
Lieutenant Woodward ____ Wright, and Ensign
Ensign Steward Wounded Waggoner killed.
Polsons Company Detachment of the Light horse
Capt. Poulson Killed Capt. Stewart ____
Lieutenant Hambleton Do Cornit Splitdorf Killed
Ensign McNeal ____ Capt. Stephens wounded

N.B. There was Only a party of Light Horse with us and Capt. Stephens came up a few days before with his Company to Escort a Convoy of provisions.”

The lines after the names of Thomas Waggener, Henry Woodward, Hector McNeill, and Robert Stewart indicate that they were neither wounded nor killed in the engagement. All but McNeill became captains in the Virginia Regiment in Sept. 1755. The two men listed here as wounded are Walter Steuart and Adam Stephen; those killed are William Polson, John Hambleton (Hamilton), William La Péronie, John Wright, Edmund Waggener, and Carolus Gustavus de Spiltdorf.

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