Life of George Washington

Dunbar arrived shortly afterward with the remainder of the army. No one
seems to have shared more largely in the panic of the vulgar than that
officer. From the moment he received tidings of the defeat, his camp became
a scene of confusion. All the ammunition, stores, and artillery were
destroyed, to prevent, it was said, their falling into the hands of the
enemy; but, as it was afterwards alleged, to relieve the terror-stricken
commander from all incumbrances, and furnish him with more horses in his
flight toward the settlements. [Footnote: Franklin’s Autobiography.]

At Cumberland his forces amounted to fifteen hundred effective men; enough
for a brave stand to protect the frontier, and recover some of the lost
honor; but he merely paused to leave the sick and wounded under care of two
Virginia and Maryland companies, and some of the train, and then continued
his hasty march, or rather flight, through the country, not thinking
himself safe, as was sneeringly intimated, until he arrived in
Philadelphia, where the inhabitants could protect him.

The true reason why the enemy did not pursue the retreating army was not
known until some time afterwards, and added to the disgrace of the defeat.
They were not the main force of the French, but a mere detachment of 72
regulars, 146 Canadians, and 637 Indians, 855 in all, led by Captain de
Beaujeu. De Contrecoeur, the commander of Fort Duquesne, had received
information, through his scouts, that the English, three thousand strong,
were within six leagues of his fort. Despairing of making an effectual
defence against such a superior force, he was balancing in his mind whether
to abandon his fort without awaiting their arrival, or to capitulate on
honorable terms. In this dilemma Beaujeu prevailed on him to let him sally
forth with a detachment to form an ambush, and give check to the enemy. De
Beaujeu was to have taken post at the river, and disputed the passage at
the ford. For that purpose he was hurrying forward when discovered by the
pioneers of Gage’s advance party. He was a gallant officer, and fell at the
beginning of the fight. The whole number of killed and wounded of French
and Indians, did not exceed seventy.

Such was the scanty force which the imagination of the panic-stricken army
had magnified into a great host, and from which they had fled in breathless
terror, abandoning the whole frontier. No one could be more surprised than
the French commander himself, when the ambuscading party returned in
triumph with a long train of packhorses laden with booty, the savages
uncouthly clad in the garments of the slain, grenadier caps, officers’
gold-laced coats, and glittering epaulettes; flourishing swords and sabres,
or firing off muskets, and uttering fiendlike yells of victory. But when De
Contrecoeur was informed of the utter rout and destruction of the much
dreaded British army, his joy was complete. He ordered the guns of the fort
to be fired in triumph, and sent out troops in pursuit of the fugitives.

The affair of Braddock remains a memorable event in American history, and
has been characterized as “the most extraordinary victory ever obtained,
and the farthest flight ever made.” It struck a fatal blow to the deference
for British prowess, which once amounted almost to bigotry, throughout the
provinces. “This whole transaction,” observes Franklin, in his
autobiography, “gave us the first suspicion, that our exalted ideas of the
prowess of British regular troops had not been well founded.”



Washington arrived at Mount Vernon on the 26th of July, still in feeble
condition from his long illness. His campaigning, thus far, had trenched
upon his private fortune, and impaired one of the best of constitutions.

In a letter to his brother Augustine, then a member of Assembly at
Williamsburg, he casts up the result of his frontier experience. “I was
employed,” writes he, “to go a journey in the winter, when I believe few or
none would have undertaken it, and what did I get by it?–my expenses
borne! I was then appointed, with trifling pay, to conduct a handful of men
to the Ohio. What did I get by that? Why, after putting myself to a
considerable expense in equipping and providing necessaries for the
campaign, I went out, was soundly beaten, and lost all! Came in, and had my
commission taken from me; or, in other words, my command reduced, under
pretence of an order from home (England). I then went out a volunteer with
General Braddock, and lost all my horses, and many other things. But this
being a voluntary act, I ought not to have mentioned it; nor should I have
done it, were it not to show that I have been on the losing order ever
since I entered the service, which is now nearly two years.”

What a striking lesson is furnished by this brief summary! How little was
he aware of the vast advantages he was acquiring in this school of bitter
experience! “In the hand of heaven he stood,” to be shaped and trained for
its great purpose; and every trial and vicissitude of his early life, but
fitted him to cope with one or other of the varied and multifarious duties
of his future destiny.

But though, under the saddening influence of debility and defeat, he might
count the cost of his campaigning, the martial spirit still burned within
him. His connection with the army, it is true, had ceased at the death of
Braddock, but his military duties continued as adjutant-general of the
northern division of the province, and he immediately issued orders for the
county lieutenants to hold the militia in readiness for parade and
exercise, foreseeing that, in the present defenceless state of the
frontier, there would be need of their services.

Tidings of the rout and retreat of the army had circulated far and near,
and spread consternation throughout the country. Immediate incursions both
of French and Indians were apprehended; and volunteer companies began to
form, for the purpose of marching across the mountains to the scene of
danger. It was intimated to Washington that his services would again be
wanted on the frontier. He declared instantly that he was ready to serve
his country to the extent of his powers; but never on the same terms as

On the 4th of August, Governor Dinwiddie convened the Assembly to devise
measures for the public safety. The sense of danger had quickened the slow
patriotism of the burgesses; they no longer held back supplies; forty
thousand pounds were promptly voted, and orders issued for the raising of a
regiment of one thousand men.

Washington’s friends urged him to present himself at Williamsburg as a
candidate for the command; they were confident of his success,
notwithstanding that strong interest was making for the governor’s
favorite, Colonel Innes.

With mingled modesty and pride, Washington declined to be a solicitor. The
only terms, he said, on which he would accept a command, were a certainty
as to rank and emoluments, a right to appoint his field officers, and the
supply of a sufficient military chest; but to solicit the command, and, at
the same time, to make stipulations, would be a little incongruous, and
carry with it the face of self-sufficiency. “If,” added he, “the command
should be offered to me, the case will then be altered, as I should be at
liberty to make such objections as reason, and my small experience, have
pointed out.”

While this was in agitation, he received letters from his mother, again
imploring him not to risk himself in these frontier wars. His answer was
characteristic, blending the filial deference with which he was accustomed
from childhood to treat her, with a calm patriotism of the Roman stamp.

“Honored Madam: If it is in my power to avoid going to the Ohio again, I
shall; but if the command is pressed upon me by the general voice of the
country, and offered upon such terms as cannot be objected against, it
would reflect dishonor on me to refuse it; and that, I am sure, must, and
ought, to give you greater uneasiness, than my going in an honorable
command. Upon no other terms will I accept it. At present I have no
proposals made to me, nor have I any advice of such an intention, except
from private hands.”

On the very day that this letter was despatched (Aug. 14), he received
intelligence of his appointment to the command on the terms specified in
his letters to his friends. His commission nominated him commander-in-chief
of all the forces raised, or to be raised in the colony. The Assembly also
voted three hundred pounds to him, and proportionate sums to the other
officers, and to the privates of the Virginia companies, in consideration
of their gallant conduct, and their losses in the late battle.

The officers next in command under him were Lieutenant-Colonel Adam
Stephens, and Major Andrew Lewis. The former, it will be recollected, had
been with him in the unfortunate affair at the Great Meadows; his advance
in rank shows that his conduct had been meritorious.

The appointment of Washington to his present station was the more
gratifying and honorable from being a popular one, made in deference to
public sentiment; to which Governor Dinwiddie was obliged to sacrifice his
strong inclination in favor of Colonel Innes. It is thought that the
governor never afterwards regarded Washington with a friendly eye. His
conduct towards him subsequently was on various occasions cold and
ungracious. [Footnote: Sparks’ Writings of Washington, vol. ii., p. 161,

It is worthy of note that the early popularity of Washington was not the
result of brilliant achievements nor signal success; on the contrary, it
rose among trials and reverses, and may almost be said to have been the
fruit of defeats. It remains an honorable testimony of Virginian
intelligence, that the sterling, enduring, but undazzling qualities of
Washington were thus early discerned and appreciated, though only heralded
by misfortunes. The admirable manner in which he had conducted himself
under these misfortunes, and the sagacity and practical wisdom he had
displayed on all occasions, were universally acknowledged; and it was
observed that, had his modest counsels been adopted by the unfortunate
Braddock, a totally different result might have attended the late campaign.

An instance of this high appreciation of his merits occurs in a sermon
preached on the 17th of August by the Rev. Samuel Davis, wherein he cites
him as “that heroic youth, Colonel Washington, _whom I cannot but hope
Providence has hitherto preserved in so signal a manner for some important
service to his country._” The expressions of the worthy clergyman may
have been deemed enthusiastic at the time; viewed in connection with
subsequent events they appear almost prophetic.

Having held a conference with Governor Dinwiddie at Williamsburg, and
received his instructions, Washington repaired, on the 14th of September,
to Winchester, where he fixed his headquarters. It was a place as yet of
trifling magnitude, but important from its position; being a central point
where the main roads met, leading from north to south, and east to west,
and commanding the channels of traffic and communication between some of
the most important colonies and a great extent of frontier.

Here he was brought into frequent and cordial communication with his old
friend Lord Fairfax. The stir of war had revived a spark of that military
fire which animated the veteran nobleman in the days of his youth, when an
officer in the cavalry regiment of the Blues. He was lord-lieutenant of the
county. Greenway Court was his headquarters. He had organized a troop of
horse, which occasionally was exercised about the lawn of his domain, and
he was now as prompt to mount his steed for a cavalry parade as he ever was
for a fox chase. The arrival of Washington frequently brought the old
nobleman to Winchester to aid the young commander with his counsels or his

His services were soon put in requisition. Washington, having visited the
frontier posts, established recruiting places, and taken other measures of
security, had set off for Williamsburg on military business, when an
express arrived at Winchester from Colonel Stephens, who commanded at Fort
Cumberland, giving the alarm that a body of Indians were ravaging the
country, burning the houses, and slaughtering the inhabitants. The express
was instantly forwarded after Washington; in the mean time, Lord Fairfax
sent out orders for the militia of Fairfax and Prince William counties to
arm and hasten to the defence of Winchester, where all was confusion and
affright. One fearful account followed another. The whole country beyond it
was said to be at the mercy of the savages. They had blockaded the rangers
in the little fortresses or outposts provided for the protection of
neighborhoods. They were advancing upon Winchester with fire, tomahawk, and
scalping-knife. The country people were flocking into the town for
safety–the townspeople were moving off to the settlements beyond the Blue
Ridge. The beautiful valley of the Shenandoah was likely to become a scene
of savage desolation.

In the height of the confusion Washington rode into the town. He had been
overtaken by Colonel Stephens’ express. His presence inspired some degree
of confidence, and he succeeded in stopping most of the fugitives. He would
have taken the field at once against the savages, believing their numbers
to be few; but not more than twenty-five of the militia could be mustered
for the service. The rest refused to stir–they would rather die with their
wives and children.

Expresses were sent off to hurry up the militia ordered out by Lord
Fairfax. Scouts were ordered out to discover the number of the foe, and
convey assurances of succor to the rangers said to be blocked up in the
fortresses, though Washington suspected the latter to be “more encompassed
by fear than by the enemy.” Smiths were set to work to furbish up and
repair such firearms as were in the place, and waggons were sent off for
musket balls, flints, and provisions.

Instead, however, of animated co-operation, Washington was encountered by
difficulties at every step. The waggons in question had to be impressed,
and the waggoners compelled by force to assist. “No orders,” writes he,
“are obeyed, but such as a party of soldiers or my own drawn sword
enforces. Without this, not a single horse, for the most earnest occasion,
can be had,–to such a pitch has the insolence of these people arrived, by
having every point hitherto submitted to them. However, I have given up
none, where his majesty’s service requires the contrary, and where my
proceedings are justified by my instructions; nor will I, unless they
execute what they threaten–that is, blow out our brains.”

One is tempted to smile at this tirade about the “insolence of the people,”
and this zeal for “his majesty’s service,” on the part of Washington; but
he was as yet a young man and a young officer; loyal to his sovereign, and
with high notions of military authority, which he had acquired in the camp
of Braddock.

What he thus terms insolence was the dawning spirit of independence, which
he was afterwards the foremost to cherish and promote; and which, in the
present instance, had been provoked by the rough treatment from the
military, which the waggoners and others of the yeomanry had experienced
when employed in Braddock’s campaign, and by the neglect to pay them for
their services. Much of Washington’s difficulties also arose, doubtlessly,
from the inefficiency of the military laws, for an amendment of which he
had in vain made repeated applications to Governor Dinwiddie.

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