The Braddock Expedition
The expedition organized by General Braddock was just one element of a major British offensive that had been planned following the Battle of Fort Beausejour. Braddock’s expedition to the Ohio Country was the main thrust of a British offensive in the second year of the French and Indian War. Braddock’s force of 2,100 men, consisted of the 44th East Essex Regiment of Foot and the 48th Northamptonshire Regiment of Foot, along with 500 British Regulars and militia from Britain’s North American colonies.
Prelude to the Braddock Expedition
Braddock set out from Fort Cumberland, Maryland on May 29, 1755. In order to meet the logistical needs of the mission, Braddock had to acquire wagons and supplies from Benjamin Franklin. Following the departure from Fort Cumberland, the pace of the expedition was slow, sometimes only covering two miles a day. The reason for this was because of the fact that Braddock focused his activities on building a road which he intended to use to bring up quick reinforcements. In order to increase the pace of the march, Braddock split his force in two. Braddock commanded a 1,300 man flying column and left Colonel Thomas Dunbar in command of a second force of 800 men, which was comprised of the expedition’s supply train.
In the meantime, the French garrison at Fort Duquense was composed of 250 French Regulars and Canadian militia, along with 640 First Nations allies. After receiving intelligence that the British were approaching, the French commander, Lienger de Beaujeu decided to launch a pre-emptive strike on Braddock’s position, intending to ambush the British as they crossed the Monongahela River.
The Battle of the Monongahela River
The battle took place on July 9, 1755 near what is now Braddock, Pennsylvania.
In spite of this attempt to ambush Braddock’s troops, the French left too late and quickly came into contact with the British vanguard, unaware of Braddock’s decision to split his forces. The commander of British advance force, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage, quickly ordered a volley of musket fire, which killed Beaujeu in the first few minutes of the battle.
As the British came under heavy fire, Gage’s advance guard took heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw. Despite their numerical advantage, the British were not used to fighting in the woods and were unnerved by the accurate Canadian musket fire. As a result the British fell into confusion and several British battalions began to fire at each other. The entire British battle force fell into disarray as the British were enveloped by the Canadians and the First Nations. At the same time, the French Regulars began advancing on the British position and succeeded in pushing the British back. In the meantime, Braddock had ridden forward in an attempt to rally his men.
At the same time, the American militiamen, who lacked the training and composure of the British, retreated to the trees where they began sniping at the Canadians. A number of American militiamen were shot by the British as a result of friendly fire, who believed them to be the enemy.
After three hours of intense combat, Braddock was struck in the chest with a musket ball and mortally wounded. In the wake of this sudden turn of events, British morale collapsed. The British conducted an orderly retreat back to the Monongahela River, where they were attacked by the First Nations, who were armed with tomahawks and scalping knives. Panic set in once again among the British, who believed that they were about to be massacred.
Even though he had no official authority in the expedition’s chain of command, George Washington was able to impose and maintain order, forming a rear guard and fighting a holding action that allowed the remnant of the British force to disengage.
Of the 1,300 men under Braddock’s command, 456 were killed and another 422 were injured. Commissioned officers also suffered a high rate of attrition. Of the 86 officers who took part in the battle, 26 were killed and 37 were injured. Braddock died on July 13, 1755. He was buried near the ruins of Fort Necessity.
Following the death of General Braddock, Colonel Dunbar took command after the survivors reached his position. He ordered an immediate retreat, and set fire to 150 wagons loaded with supplies and munitions to keep them from falling into French hands.
The Aftermath of the Braddock Expedition
In Britain, the battle was considered to be a devastating defeat. In addition to marking the end of the Braddock Expedition, the Battle of the Monongahela River awakened many in both Britain and the Thirteen Colonies to the scale of the forces needed to defeat the French and their First Nations allies.
The failure of the Braddock Expedition also had a profound effect on British tactical thinking. Even though Braddock had positioned troops to protect his flanks, they had not been trained to do anything except stand in line and deliver volleys of musket fire. The British learned from this mistake and applied these lessons learned in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.
The French remained dominant in the Ohio Country for another four years, until Fort Duquense finally fell to the Forbes Expedition in 1758.
Borneman, Walter R. (2007). The French and Indian War. Rutgers
Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America. New York: Norton, 1988
O’Meara, Walter. Guns at the Forks. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1965
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- May 9, 2010 / 6:41 pm
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