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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Story of Braddock’s Defeat

By William Livingston (1723–1790)

[From A Review of the Military Operations in North America. 1757.]

ABOUT this time the colonies were filled with universal joy, on the agreeable news that the New England troops were become masters of Beau Sejour and Bay Verte, on the isthmus of Nova Scotia, whereby a new province was added to the British empire in America; and that a strong fleet, under Admiral Boscawen, lay before Louisburgh, to intercept the French supplies—and which had also seized two of their capital ships, the Lys and Alcide, and sent them into Halifax. General Braddock was now on his march toward the Ohio, at the head of about 2,200 men, in order to invest Fort Du Quesne, and drive the French from their encroachments on the frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania. From Fort Cumberland to Fort Du Quesne the distance is not less than 130 miles. Mr. Braddock began his march from the former on the 10th of June, leaving the garrison under the command of Col. Innes. Innumerable were the difficulties he had to surmount, in a country rugged, pathless, and unknown, across the Alleghany mountains, through unfrequented woods, and dangerous defiles. From the little meadows the army proceeded in two divisions. At the head of the first, consisting of 1,400 men, was the General himself with the greatest part of the ammunition and artillery. The second, with the provisions, stores, and heavy baggage, was led by Col. Dunbar. Never was man more confident of success, than this brave though unfortunate officer. Being advised at the great meadows that the enemy expected a reinforcement of 500 regular troops, he pushed on by forced marches with so much dispatch, that he fatigued the soldiers, weakened his horses, and left his second division near forty miles in the rear.

The enemy, being not more than 200 strong at their fort on the Ohio, gave no obstruction to the march of our forces till the memorable 9th of July—a day never to be forgotten in the annals of North America. About noon our troops passed the Monongahela, and were then within seven miles of Fort Du Quesne. Unapprehensive of the approach of an enemy, at once was the alarm given by a quick and heavy fire upon the vanguard under Lieut.-Col. Gage. Immediately the main body, in good order and high spirits, advanced to sustain them. Orders were then given to halt, and form into battalia.

At this juncture the van falling back upon them in great confusion a general panic seized the whole body of the soldiery; and all attempts to rally them proved utterly ineffectual. The General and all the officers exerted their utmost activity to recover them from the universal surprise and disorder; but equally deaf were they to entreaties and commands. During this scene of confusion they expended their ammunition in the wildest and most unmeaning fire, some discharging their pieces on our own parties, who were advanced from the main body for the recovery of the cannon. After three hours spent in this melancholy situation, enduring a terrible slaughter, from (it may be said) an invisible foe, orders were given to sound a retreat, that the men might be brought to cover the wagons. These they surrounded but a short space of time; for, the enemy’s fire being again warmly renewed from the front and left flank, the whole army took to immediate flight, leaving behind them all the artillery, provisions, ammunitions, baggage, military chest, together with the General’s cabinet, containing his instructions and other papers of consequence. So great was the consternation of the soldiers that it was impossible to stop their career,—flying with the utmost precipitation three miles from the field of action; where only one hundred began to make a more orderly retreat.

What was the strength of the enemy has hitherto remained to us uncertain. According to Indian accounts, they exceeded not 400, chiefly Indians; and whether any were slain is still to be doubted, for few were seen by our men, being covered by stumps and fallen trees. Great indeed was the destruction on our side. Numbers of officers sacrificed their lives through singular bravery. Extremely unfortunate was the whole staff. The General, after having five horses shot under him, received a wound in his lungs, through his right arm, of which he died in four days. His secretary, eldest son of Major-General Shirley, a gentleman of great accomplishments, by a shot through the head was killed upon the spot. Mr. Orme and Capt. Morris, aid-de-camps, were all wounded. Of the 44th regiment, Sir Peter Halket, Colonel, was slain, with several other officers; and Lieut.-Col. Gage wounded. Lieut.-Col. Burton, of the 48th regiment, was among the wounded; and many gallant officers perished in the field. Our whole loss was about seven hundred killed and wounded.

To what causes this unhappy catastrophe is to be ascribed, has been matter of much inquiry and animated debate. The officers charged the defeat to the cowardice of the men; but, in a representation they made to Mr. Shirley by order of the Crown, they in some measure apologize for their behaviour—alleging that they were harassed by duties unequal to their numbers, and dispirited through want of provisions; that time was not allowed them to dress their food; that their water (the only liquor, too, they had) was both scarce and of a bad quality;—in fine, that the provincials had disheartened them, by repeated suggestions of their fears of a defeat, should they be attacked by Indians, in which case the European method of fighting would be entirely unavailing. But, my Lord, however censurable the conduct of the soldiery may be thought, Mr. Braddock, too sanguine in his prospects, was generally blamed for neglecting to cultivate the friendship of the Indians, who offered their assistance, and who, it is certain, had a number of them preceded the army, would have seasonably discovered the enemy’s ambuscade. The Virginian rangers also, instead of being made to serve as regulars in the ranks with the English troops, should have been employed as out-scouts. But this step, so necessary to guard against surprise, was too unhappily omitted, the whole army, according to the representation above mentioned, following only three or four guides. When the routed party joined the second division, forty miles short of the place of action, the terror diffused itself through the whole army. Your Lordship might naturally expect to hear that Col. Dunbar then intrenched himself, and called on the neighboring colonies for immediate reinforcements;—as by such a step the enemy might have been detained at Fort Du Quesne, prevented from ravaging the frontiers, or throwing succors into Niagara. But alas! my Lord, an infatuation seemed to accompany all our measures on the southern quarter. Fearful of an unpursuing foe, all the ammunition, and so much of the provisions were destroyed, for accelerating their flight, that Dunbar was actually obliged to send for thirty horse-loads of the latter, before he reached Fort Cumberland—where he arrived a very few days after, with the shattered remains of the English troops.