Life of George Washington

Gage ordered his men to fix bayonets and form in order of battle. They did
so in hurry and trepidation. He would have scaled a hill on the right
whence there was the severest firing. Not a platoon would quit the line of
march. They were more dismayed by the yells than by the rifles of the
unseen savages. The latter extended themselves along the hill and in the
ravines; but their whereabouts was only known by their demoniac cries and
the puffs of smoke from their rifles. The soldiers fired wherever they saw
the smoke. Their officers tried in vain to restrain them until they should
see their foe. All orders were unheeded; in their fright they shot at
random, killing some of their own flanking parties, and of the vanguard, as
they came running in. The covert fire grew more intense. In a short time
most of the officers and many of the men of the advance were killed or
wounded. Colonel Gage himself received a wound. The advance fell back in
dismay upon Sir John St. Clair’s corps, which was equally dismayed. The
cannon belonging to it were deserted.

Colonel Burton had come up with the reinforcement, and was forming his men
to face the rising ground on the right, when both of the advanced
detachments fell back upon him, and all now was confusion.

By this time the general was upon the ground. He tried to rally the men.
“They would fight,” they said, “if they could see their enemy; but it was
useless to fire at trees and bushes, and they could not stand to be shot
down by an invisible foe.”

The colors were advanced in different places to separate the men of the two
regiments. The general ordered the officers to form the men, tell them off
into small divisions, and advance with them; but the soldiers could not be
prevailed upon either by threats or entreaties. The Virginia troops,
accustomed to the Indian mode of fighting, scattered themselves, and took
post behind trees, where they could pick off the lurking foe. In this way
they, in some degree, protected the regulars. Washington advised General
Braddock to adopt the same plan with the regulars; but he persisted in
forming them into platoons; consequently they were cut down from behind
logs and trees as fast as they could advance. Several attempted to take to
the trees, without orders, but the general stormed at them, called them
cowards, and even struck them with the flat of his sword. Several of the
Virginians, who had taken post and were doing good service in this manner,
were slain by the fire of the regulars, directed wherever a smoke appeared
among the trees.

The officers behaved with consummate bravery; and Washington beheld with
admiration those who, in camp or on the march, had appeared to him to have
an almost effeminate regard for personal ease and convenience, now exposing
themselves to imminent death, with a courage that kindled with the
thickening horrors. In the vain hope of inspiriting the men to drive off
the enemy from the flanks and regain the cannon, they would dash forward
singly or in groups. They were invariably shot down; for the Indians aimed
from their coverts at every one on horseback, or who appeared to have
command.

Some were killed by random shot of their own men, who, crowded in masses,
fired with affrighted rapidity, but without aim. Soldiers in the front
ranks were killed by those in the rear. Between friend and foe, the
slaughter of the officers was terrible. All this while the woods resounded
with the unearthly yellings of the savages, and now and then one of them,
hideously painted, and ruffling with feathered crest, would rush forth to
scalp an officer who had fallen, or seize a horse galloping wildly without
a rider.

Throughout this disastrous day, Washington distinguished himself by his
courage and presence of mind. His brother aids, Orme and Morris, were
wounded and disabled early in the action, and the whole duty of carrying
the orders of the general devolved on him. His danger was imminent and
incessant. He was in every part of the field, a conspicuous mark for the
murderous rifle. Two horses were shot under him. Four bullets passed
through his coat. His escape without a wound was almost miraculous. Dr.
Craik, who was on the field attending to the wounded, watched him with
anxiety as he rode about in the most exposed manner, and used to say that
he expected every moment to see him fall. At one time he was sent to the
main body to bring the artillery into action. All there was likewise in
confusion; for the Indians had extended themselves along the ravine so as
to flank the reserve and carry slaughter into the ranks. Sir Peter Halket
had been shot down at the head of his regiment. The men who should have
served the guns were paralyzed. Had they raked the ravines with grapeshot
the day might have been saved. In his ardor Washington sprang from his
horse; wheeled and pointed a brass field-piece with his own hand, and
directed an effective discharge into the woods; but neither his efforts nor
example were of avail. The men could not be kept to the guns.

Braddock still remained in the centre of the field, in the desperate hope
of retrieving the fortunes of the day. The Virginia rangers, who had been
most efficient in covering his position, were nearly all killed or wounded.
His secretary, Shirley, had fallen by his side. Many of his officers had
been slain within his sight, and many of his guard of Virginia light horse.
Five horses had been killed under him; still he kept his ground, vainly
endeavoring to check the flight of his men, or at least to effect their
retreat in good order. At length a bullet passed through his right arm, and
lodged itself in his lungs. He fell from his horse, but was caught by
Captain Stewart of the Virginia guards, who, with the assistance of another
American, and a servant, placed him in a tumbril. It was with much
difficulty they got him out of the field–in his despair he desired to be
left there. [Footnote: Journal of the Seamen’s detachment.]

The rout now became complete. Baggage, stores, artillery, every thing was
abandoned. The waggoners took each a horse out of his team, and fled. The
officers were swept off with the men in this headlong flight. It was
rendered more precipitate by the shouts and yells of the savages, numbers
of whom rushed forth from their coverts, and pursued the fugitives to the
river side, killing several as they dashed across in tumultuous confusion.
Fortunately for the latter, the victors gave up the pursuit in their
eagerness to collect the spoil.

The shattered army continued its flight after it had crossed the
Monongahela, a wretched wreck of the brilliant little force that had
recently gleamed along its banks, confident of victory. Out of eighty-six
officers, twenty-six had been killed, and thirty-six wounded. The number of
rank and file killed and wounded was upwards of seven hundred. The Virginia
corps had suffered the most; one company had been almost annihilated,
another, beside those killed and wounded in the ranks, had lost all its
officers, even to the corporal.

About a hundred men were brought to a halt about a quarter of a mile from
the ford of the river. Here was Braddock, with his wounded aides-de-camp
and some of his officers; Dr. Craik dressing his wounds, and Washington
attending him with faithful assiduity. Braddock was still able to give
orders, and had a faint hope of being able to keep possession of the ground
until reinforced. Most of the men were stationed in a very advantageous
spot about two hundred yards from the road; and Lieutenant-Colonel Burton
posted out small parties and sentinels. Before an hour had elapsed most of
the men had stolen off. Being thus deserted, Braddock and his officers
continued their retreat; he would have mounted his horse but was unable,
and had to be carried by soldiers. Orme and Morris were placed on litters
borne by horses. They were subsequently joined by Colonel Gage with eighty
men whom he had rallied.

Washington, in the mean time, notwithstanding his weak state, being found
most efficient in frontier service, was sent to Colonel Dunbar’s camp,
forty miles distant, with orders for him to hurry forward provisions,
hospital stores, and waggons for the wounded, under the escort of two
grenadier companies. It was a hard and a melancholy ride throughout the
night and the following day. The tidings of the defeat preceded him, borne
by the waggoners, who had mounted their horses, on Braddock’s fall, and
fled from the field of battle. They had arrived, haggard, at Dunbar’s camp
at mid-day; the Indian yells still ringing in their ears. “All was lost!”
they cried. “Braddock was killed! They had seen wounded officers borne off
from the field in bloody sheets! The troops were all cut to pieces!” A
panic fell upon the camp. The drums beat to arms. Many of the soldiers,
waggoners and attendants, took to flight; but most of them were forced back
by the sentinels.

Washington arrived at the camp in the evening, and found the agitation
still prevailing. The orders which he brought were executed during the
night, and he was in the saddle early in the morning accompanying the
convoy of supplies. At Gist’s plantation, about thirteen miles off, he met
Gage and his scanty force escorting Braddock and his wounded officers.
Captain Stewart and a sad remnant of the Virginia light horse still
accompanied the general as his guard. The captain had been unremitting in
his attentions to him during the retreat. There was a halt of one day at
Dunbar’s camp for the repose and relief of the wounded. On the 13th they
resumed their melancholy march, and that night reached the Great Meadows.

The proud spirit of Braddock was broken by his defeat. He remained silent
the first evening after the battle, only ejaculating at night, “who would
have thought it!” He was equally silent the following day; yet hope still
seemed to linger in his breast, from another ejaculation: “We shall better
know how to deal with them another time!” [Footnote: Captain Orme, who gave
these particulars to Dr. Franklin, says that Braddock “died a few minutes
after.” This, according to his account, was on the second day; whereas the
general survived upwards of four days. Orme, being conveyed on a litter at
some distance from the general, could only speak of his moods from
hearsay.]

He was grateful for the attentions paid to him by Captain Stewart and
Washington, and more than once, it is said, expressed his admiration of the
gallantry displayed by the Virginians in the action. It is said, moreover,
that in his last moments, he apologized to Washington for the petulance
with which he had rejected his advice, and bequeathed to him his favorite
charger and his faithful servant, Bishop, who had helped to convey him from
the field.

Some of these facts, it is true, rest on tradition, yet we are willing to
believe them, as they impart a gleam of just and generous feeling to his
closing scene. He died on the night of the 13th, at the Great Meadows, the
place of Washington’s discomfiture in the previous year. His obsequies were
performed before break of day. The chaplain having been wounded, Washington
read the funeral service. All was done in sadness, and without parade, so
as not to attract the attention of lurking savages, who might discover, and
outrage his grave. It is doubtful even whether a volley was fired over it,
that last military honor which he had recently paid to the remains of an
Indian warrior. The place of his sepulture, however, is still known, and
pointed out.

Reproach spared him not, even when in his grave. The failure of the
expedition was attributed both in England and America to his obstinacy, his
technical pedantry, and his military conceit. He had been continually
warned to be on his guard against ambush and surprise, but without avail.
Had he taken the advice urged on him by Washington and others to employ
scouting parties of Indians and rangers, he would never have been so
signally surprised and defeated.

Still his dauntless conduct on the field of battle shows him to have been a
man of fearless spirit; and he was universally allowed to be an
accomplished disciplinarian. His melancholy end, too, disarms censure of
its asperity. Whatever may have been his faults and errors, he, in a
manner, expiated them by the hardest lot that can befall a brave soldier,
ambitious of renown–an unhonored grave in a strange land; a memory clouded
by misfortune, and a name for ever coupled with defeat.

NOTE.

In narrating the expedition of Braddock, we have frequently cited the
Journals of Captain Orme and of the “Seamen’s Detachment;” they were
procured in England by the Hon. Joseph R. Ingersoll, while Minister at the
Court of St. James, and recently published by the Historical Society of
Pennsylvania: ably edited, and illustrated with an admirable Introductory
Memoir by Winthrop Sargent, Esq., member of that Society.

CHAPTER XVII.

ARRIVAL AT FORT CUMBERLAND–LETTERS OF WASHINGTON TO HIS FAMILY–PANIC OF
DUNBAR–FORTUNES OF DR. HUGH MERCER–TRIUMPH OF THE FRENCH.

The obsequies of the unfortunate Braddock being finished, the escort
continued its retreat with the sick and wounded. Washington, assisted by
Dr. Craik, watched with assiduity over his comrades, Orme and Morris. As
the horses which bore their litters were nearly knocked up, he despatched
messengers to the commander of Fort Cumberland requesting that others might
be sent on, and that comfortable quarters might be prepared for the
reception of those officers.

On the 17th, the sad cavalcade reached the fort, and were relieved from the
incessant apprehension of pursuit. Here, too, flying reports had preceded
them, brought by fugitives from the battle; who, with the disposition usual
in such cases to exaggerate, had represented the whole army as massacred.
Fearing these reports might reach home, and affect his family, Washington
wrote to his mother, and his brother, John Augustine, apprising them of his
safety. “The Virginia troops,” says he, in a letter to his mother, “showed
a good deal of bravery, and were nearly all killed. … The dastardly
behavior of those they called regulars exposed all others, that were
ordered to do their duty, to almost certain death; and, at last, in despite
of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they ran, as sheep
pursued by dogs, and it was impossible to rally them.”

To his brother, he writes: “As I have heard, since my arrival at this
place, a circumstantial account of my death and dying speech, I take this
early opportunity of contradicting the first, and of assuring you that I
have not composed the latter. But, by the all-powerful dispensations of
Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability, or
expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot
under me, yet escaped unhurt, though death was levelling my companions on
every side of me!

“We have been most scandalously beaten by a trifling body of men, but
fatigue and want of time prevent me from giving you any of the details,
until I have the happiness of seeing you at Mount Vernon, which I now most
earnestly wish for, since we are driven in thus far. A feeble state of
health obliges me to halt here for two or three days to recover a little
strength, that I may thereby be enabled to proceed homeward with more
ease.”

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.