Life of George Washington

Washington himself thought so when more experienced in warfare. Being
asked, many years afterwards, whether he really had made such a speech
about the whistling of bullets, “If I said so,” replied he quietly, “it was
when I was young.” [Footnote: Gordon, Hist. Am. War, vol. ii., p. 203.] He
was, indeed, but twenty-two years old when he said it; it was just after
his first battle; he was flushed with success, and was writing to a



Scarcity began to prevail in the camp. Contracts had been made with George
Croghan for flour, of which he had large quantities at his frontier
establishment; for he was now trading with the army as well as with the
Indians. None, however, made its appearance. There was mismanagement in the
commissariat. At one time the troops were six days without flour; and even
then had only a casual supply from an Ohio trader. In this time of scarcity
the half-king, his fellow sachem, Scarooyadi, and thirty or forty warriors,
arrived, bringing with them their wives and children–so many more hungry
mouths to be supplied. Washington wrote urgently to Croghan to send forward
all the flour he could furnish.

News came of the death of Colonel Fry at Wills’ Creek, and that he was to
be succeeded in the command of the expedition by Colonel Innes of North
Carolina, who was actually at Winchester with three hundred and fifty North
Carolina troops. Washington, who felt the increasing responsibilities and
difficulties of his situation, rejoiced at the prospect of being under the
command of an experienced officer, who had served in company with his
brother Lawrence at the siege of Carthagena. The colonel, however, never
came to the camp, nor did the North Carolina troops render any service in
the campaign–the fortunes of which might otherwise have been very

By the death of Fry, the command of the regiment devolved on Washington.
Finding a blank major’s commission among Fry’s papers, he gave it to
Captain Adam Stephen, who had conducted himself with spirit. As there would
necessarily be other changes, he wrote to Governor Dinwiddie in behalf of
Jacob Van Braam. “He has acted as captain ever since we left Alexandria. He
is an experienced officer, and worthy of the command he has enjoyed.”

The palisaded fort was now completed, and was named Fort Necessity, from
the pinching famine that had prevailed during its construction. The scanty
force in camp was augmented to three hundred, by the arrival from Wills’
Creek of the men who had been under Colonel Fry. With them came the surgeon
of the regiment, Dr. James Craik, a Scotchman by birth, and one destined to
become a faithful and confidential friend of Washington for the remainder
of his life.

A letter from Governor Dinwiddie announced, however, that Captain Mackay
would soon arrive with an independent company of one hundred men, from
South Carolina.

The title of independent company had a sound ominous of trouble. Troops of
the kind, raised in the colonies, under direction of the governors, were
paid by the Crown, and the officers had king’s commissions; such,
doubtless, had Captain Mackay. “I should have been particularly obliged,”
writes Washington to Governor Dinwiddie, “if you had declared whether he
was under my command, or independent of it. I hope he will have more sense
than to insist upon any unreasonable distinction, because he and his
officers have commissions from his majesty. Let him consider, though we are
greatly inferior in respect to advantages of profit, yet we have the same
spirit to serve our gracious king as they have, and are as ready and
willing to sacrifice our lives for our country’s good. And here, once more,
and for the last time, I must say, that it will be a circumstance which
will act upon some officers of this regiment, above all measure, to be
obliged to serve upon such different terms, when their lives, their
fortunes, and their operations are equally, and, I dare say, as effectually
exposed as those of others, who are happy enough to have the king’s

On the 9th arrived Washington’s early instructor in military tactics,
Adjutant Muse, recently appointed a major in the regiment. He was
accompanied by Montour, the Indian interpreter, now a provincial captain,
and brought with him nine swivels, and a small supply of powder and ball.
Fifty or sixty horses were forthwith sent to Wills’ Creek, to bring on
further supplies, and Mr. Gist was urged to hasten forward the artillery.

Major Muse was likewise the bearer of a belt of wampum and a speech, from
Governor Dinwiddie to the half-king; with medals for the chiefs, and goods
for presents among the friendly Indians, a measure which had been suggested
by Washington. They were distributed with that grand ceremonial so dear to
the red man. The chiefs assembled, painted and decorated in all their
savage finery; Washington wore a medal sent to him by the governor for such
occasions. The wampum and speech having been delivered, he advanced, and
with all due solemnity, decorated the chiefs and warriors with the medals,
which they were to wear in remembrance of their father the King of England.

Among the warriors thus decorated was a son of Queen Aliquippa, the savage
princess whose good graces Washington had secured in the preceding year, by
the present of an old watchcoat, and whose friendship was important, her
town being at no great distance from the French fort. She had requested
that her son might be admitted into the war councils of the camp, and
receive an English name. The name of Fairfax was accordingly given to him,
in the customary Indian form; the half-king being desirous of like
distinction, received the name of Dinwiddie. The sachems returned the
compliment in kind, by giving Washington the name of Connotaucarius; the
meaning of which is not explained.

William Fairfax, Washington’s paternal adviser, had recently counselled him
by letter, to have public prayers in his camp; especially when there were
Indian families there; this was accordingly done at the encampment in the
Great Meadows, and it certainly was not one of the least striking pictures
presented in this wild campaign–the youthful commander, presiding with
calm seriousness over a motley assemblage of half-equipped soldiery,
leathern-clad hunters and woodsmen, and painted savages with their wives
and children, and uniting them all in solemn devotion by his own example
and demeanor.

On the 10th there was agitation in the camp. Scouts hurried in with word,
as Washington understood them, that a party of ninety Frenchmen were
approaching. He instantly ordered out a hundred and fifty of his best men;
put himself at their head, and leaving Major Muse with the rest, to man the
fort and mount the swivels, sallied forth “in the full hope” as he
afterwards wrote to Governor Dinwiddie, “of procuring him another present
of French prisoners.”

It was another effervescence of his youthful military ardor, and doomed to
disappointment. The report of the scouts had been either exaggerated or
misunderstood. The ninety Frenchmen in military array dwindled down into
nine French deserters.

According to their account, the fort at the fork was completed, and named
Duquesne, in honor of the Governor of Canada, It was proof against all
attack, excepting with bombs, on the land side. The garrison did not exceed
five hundred, but two hundred more were hourly expected, and nine hundred
in the course of a fortnight.

Washington’s suspicions with respect to La Force’s party were justified by
the report of these deserters; they had been sent out as spies, and were to
show the summons if discovered or overpowered. The French commander, they
added, had been blamed for sending out so small a party.

On the same day Captain Mackay arrived, with his independent company of
South Carolinians. The cross-purposes which Washington had apprehended,
soon manifested themselves. The captain was civil and well disposed, but
full of formalities and points of etiquette. Holding a commission direct
from the king, he could not bring himself to acknowledge a provincial
officer as his superior. He encamped separately, kept separate guards,
would not agree that Washington should assign any rallying place for his
men in case of alarm, and objected to receive from him the parole and
countersign, though necessary for their common safety.

Washington conducted himself with circumspection, avoiding every thing that
might call up a question of command, and reasoning calmly whenever such
question occurred; but he urged the governor by letter, to prescribe their
relative rank and authority. “He thinks you have not a power to give
commissions that will command him. If so, I can very confidently say that
his absence would tend to the public advantage.”

On the 11th of June, Washington resumed the laborious march for Redstone
Creek. As Captain Mackay could not oblige his men to work on the road
unless they were allowed a shilling sterling a day; and as Washington did
not choose to pay this, nor to suffer them to march at their ease while his
own faithful soldiers were laboriously employed; he left the captain and
his Independent company as a guard at Fort Necessity, and undertook to
complete the military road with his own men.

Accordingly, he and his Virginia troops toiled forward through the narrow
defiles of the mountains, working on the road as they went. Scouts were
sent out in all directions, to prevent surprise. While on the march he was
continually beset by sachems, with their tedious ceremonials and speeches,
all to very little purpose. Some of these chiefs were secretly in the
French interest; few rendered any real assistance, and all expected

At Gist’s establishment, about thirteen miles from Fort Necessity,
Washington received certain intelligence that ample reinforcements had
arrived at Fort Duquesne, and a large force would instantly be detached
against him. Coming to a halt, he began to throw up intrenchments, calling
in two foraging parties, and sending word to Captain Mackay to join him
with all speed. The captain and his company arrived in the evening; the
foraging parties the next morning. A council of war was held, in which the
idea of awaiting the enemy at this place was unanimously abandoned.

A rapid and toilsome retreat ensued. There was a deficiency of horses.
Washington gave up his own to aid in transporting the military munitions,
leaving his baggage to be brought on by soldiers, whom he paid liberally.
The other officers followed his example. The weather was sultry; the roads
were rough; provisions were scanty, and the men dispirited by hunger. The
Virginian soldiers took turns to drag the swivels, but felt almost insulted
by the conduct of the South Carolinians, who, piquing themselves upon their
assumed privileges as “king’s soldiers,” sauntered along at their ease;
refusing to act as pioneers, or participate in the extra labors incident to
a hurried retreat.

On the 1st of July they reached the Great Meadows. Here the Virginians,
exhausted by fatigue, hunger, and vexation, declared they would carry the
baggage and drag the swivels no further. Contrary to his original
intentions, therefore, Washington determined to halt here for the present,
and fortify, sending off expresses to hasten supplies and reinforcements
from Wills’ Creek, where he had reason to believe that two independent
companies from New York, were by this time arrived.

The retreat to the Great Meadows had not been in the least too precipitate.
Captain de Villiers, a brother-in-law of Jumonville, had actually sallied
forth from Fort Duquesne at the head of upwards of five hundred French, and
several hundred Indians, eager to avenge the death of his relative.
Arriving about dawn of day at Gist’s plantation, he surrounded the works
which Washington had hastily thrown up there, and fired into them. Finding
them deserted, he concluded that those of whom he came in search had made
good their retreat to the settlements, and it was too late to pursue them.
He was on the point of returning to Fort Duquesne, when a deserter arrived,
who gave word that Washington had come to a halt in the Great Meadows,
where his troops were in a starving condition; for his own part, he added,
hearing that the French were coming, he had deserted to them to escape

De Villiers ordered the fellow into confinement; to be rewarded if his
words proved true, otherwise to be hanged. He then pushed forward for the
Great Meadows. [Footnote: Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania, vol. iv., p.

In the mean time Washington had exerted himself to enlarge and strengthen
Fort Necessity, nothing of which had been done by Captain Mackay and his
men, while encamped there. The fort was about a hundred feet square,
protected by trenches and palisades. It stood on the margin of a small
stream, nearly in the centre of the Great Meadows, which is a grassy plain,
perfectly level, surrounded by wooded hills of a moderate height, and at
that place about two hundred and fifty yards wide. Washington asked no
assistance from the South Carolina troops, but set to work with his
Virginians, animating them by word and example; sharing in the labor of
felling trees, hewing off the branches, and rolling up the trunks to form a

At this critical juncture he was deserted by his Indian allies. They were
disheartened at the scanty preparations for defence against a superior
force, and offended at being subjected to military command. The half-king
thought he had not been sufficiently consulted, and that his advice had not
been sufficiently followed; such, at least, were some of the reasons which
he subsequently gave for abandoning the youthful commander on the approach
of danger. The true reason was a desire to put his wife and children in a
place of safety. Most of his warriors followed his example; very few, and
those probably who had no families at risk, remained in the camp.

Early in the morning of the 3d, while Washington and his men were working
on the fort, a sentinel came in wounded and bleeding, having been fired
upon. Scouts brought word shortly afterwards that the French were in force,
about four miles off. Washington drew up his men on level ground outside of
the works, to await their attack. About 11 o’clock there was a firing of
musketry from among trees on rising ground, but so distant as to do no
harm; suspecting this to be a stratagem designed to draw his men into the
woods, he ordered them to keep quiet, and refrain from firing until the foe
should show themselves, and draw near.

The firing was kept up, but still under cover. He now fell back with his
men into the trenches, ordering them to fire whenever they could get sight
of an enemy. In this way there was skirmishing throughout the day; the
French and Indians advancing as near as the covert of the woods would
permit, which in the nearest place was sixty yards, but never into open
sight. In the meanwhile the rain fell in torrents; the harassed and jaded
troops were half drowned in their trenches, and many of their muskets were
rendered unfit for use.

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