Life of George Washington

Before returning to Winchester, Washington was obliged to hold conferences
with Sir John St. Clair and Colonel Bouquet, at an intermediate rendezvous,
to give them information respecting the frontiers, and arrange about the
marching of his troops. His constant word to them was forward! forward!
For the precious time for action was slipping away, and he feared their
Indian allies, so important to their security while on the march, might,
with their usual fickleness, lose patience, and return home.

On arriving at Winchester, he found his troops restless and discontented
from prolonged inaction. The inhabitants impatient of the burdens imposed
on them, and of the disturbances of an idle camp; while the Indians, as he
apprehended, had deserted outright. It was a great relief, therefore, when
he received orders from the commander-in-chief to repair to Fort
Cumberland. He arrived there on the 2d of July, and proceeded to open a
road between that post and head-quarters, at Raystown, thirty miles
distant, where Colonel Bouquet was stationed.

His troops were scantily supplied with regimental clothing. The weather was
oppressively warm. He now conceived the idea of equipping them in the light
Indian hunting garb, and even of adopting it himself. Two companies were
accordingly equipped in this style, and sent under the command of Major
Lewis to head-quarters. “It is an unbecoming dress, I own, for an officer,”
writes Washington, “but convenience rather than show, I think, should be
consulted. The reduction of bat-horses alone would be sufficient to
recommend it; for nothing is more certain than that less baggage would be

The experiment was successful. “The dress takes very well here,” writes
Colonel Bouquet; “and, thank God, we see nothing but shirts and blankets.
… Their dress should be one pattern for this expedition.” Such was
probably the origin of the American rifle dress, afterwards so much worn in
warfare, and modelled on the Indian costume.

The army was now annoyed by scouting parties of Indians hovering about the
neighborhood. Expresses passing between the posts were fired upon; a
waggoner was shot down. Washington sent out counter-parties of Cherokees.
Colonel Bouquet required that each party should be accompanied by an
officer and a number of white men. Washington complied with the order,
though he considered them an encumbrance rather than an advantage, “Small
parties of Indians,” said he, “will more effectually harass the enemy by
keeping them under continual alarms, than any parties of white men can do.
For small parties of the latter are not equal to the task, not being so
dexterous at skulking as Indians; and large parties will be discovered by
their spies early enough to have a superior force opposed to them.” With
all his efforts, however, he was never able fully to make the officers of
the regular army appreciate the importance of Indian allies in these
campaigns in the wilderness.

On the other hand, he earnestly discountenanced a proposition of Colonel
Bouquet, to make an irruption into the enemy’s country with a strong party
of regulars. Such a detachment, he observed, could not be sent without a
cumbersome train of supplies, which would discover it to the enemy, who
must at that time be collecting his whole force at Fort Duquesne; the
enterprise, therefore, would be likely to terminate in a miscarriage, if
not in the destruction of the party. We shall see that his opinion was

As Washington intended to retire from military life at the close of this
campaign, he had proposed himself to the electors of Frederick County as
their representative in the House of Burgesses. The election was coming on
at Winchester; his friends pressed him to attend it, and Colonel Bouquet
gave him leave of absence; but he declined to absent himself from his post
for the promotion of his political interests. There were three competitors
in the field, yet so high was the public opinion of his merit, that, though
Winchester had been his head-quarters for two or three years past, and he
had occasionally enforced martial law with a rigorous hand, he was elected
by a large majority. The election was carried on somewhat in the English
style. There was much eating and drinking at the expense of the candidate.
Washington appeared on the hustings by proxy, and his representative was
chaired about the town with enthusiastic applause and huzzaing for Colonel

On the 21st of July arrived tidings of the brilliant success of that part
of the scheme of the year’s campaign conducted by General Amherst and
Admiral Boscawen, who had reduced the strong town of Louisburg and gained
possession of the Island of Cape Breton. This intelligence increased
Washington’s impatience at the delays of the expedition with which he was
connected. He wished to rival these successes by a brilliant blow in the
south. Perhaps a desire for personal distinction in the eyes of the lady of
his choice may have been at the bottom of this impatience; for we are told
that he kept up a constant correspondence with her throughout the campaign.

Understanding that the commander-in-chief had some thoughts of throwing a
body of light troops in the advance, he wrote to Colonel Bouquet, earnestly
soliciting his influence to have himself and his Virginia regiment included
in the detachment. “If any argument is needed to obtain this favor,” said
he, “I hope, without vanity, I may be allowed to say, that from long
intimacy with these woods, and frequent scouting in them, my men are at
least as well acquainted with all the passes and difficulties as any troops
that will be employed.”

He soon learnt to his surprise, however, that the road to which his men
were accustomed, and which had been worked by Braddock’s troops in his
campaign, was not to be taken in the present expedition, but a new one
opened through the heart of Pennsylvania, from Raystown to Fort Duquesne,
on the track generally taken by the northern traders. He instantly
commenced long and repeated remonstrances on the subject; representing that
Braddock’s road, from recent examination, only needed partial repairs, and
showing by clear calculation that an army could reach Fort Duquesne by that
route in thirty-four days, so that the whole campaign might be effected by
the middle of October; whereas the extreme labor of opening a new road
across mountains, swamps, and through a densely wooded country, would
detain them so late, that the season would be over before they could reach
the scene of action. His representations were of no avail. The officers of
the regular service had received a fearful idea of Braddock’s road from his
own despatches, wherein he had described it as lying “across mountains and
rocks of an excessive height, vastly steep, and divided by torrents and
rivers,” whereas the Pennsylvania traders, who were anxious for the opening
of the new road through their province, described the country through which
it would pass as less difficult, and its streams less subject to
inundation; above all, it was a direct line, and fifty miles nearer. This
route, therefore, to the great regret of Washington and the indignation of
the Virginia Assembly, was definitively adopted, and sixteen hundred men
were immediately thrown in the advance from Raystown to work upon it.

The first of September found Washington still encamped at Fort Cumberland,
his troops sickly and dispirited, and the brilliant expedition which he had
anticipated, dwindling down into a tedious operation of road-making. In the
mean time, his scouts brought him word that the whole force at Fort
Duquesne on the 13th of August, Indians included, did not exceed eight
hundred men: had an early campaign been pressed forward, as he recommended,
the place by this time would have been captured. At length, in the month of
September, he received orders from General Forbes to join him with his
troops at Raystown, where he had just arrived, having been detained by
severe illness. He was received by the general with the highest marks of
respect. On all occasions, both in private and at councils of war, that
commander treated his opinions with the greatest deference. He, moreover,
adopted a plan drawn out by Washington for the march of the army; and an
order of battle which still exists, furnishing a proof of his skill in
frontier warfare.

It was now the middle of September; yet the great body of men engaged in
opening the new military road, after incredible toil, had not advanced
above forty-five miles, to a place called Loyal Hannan, a little beyond
Laurel Hill. Colonel Bouquet, who commanded the division of nearly two
thousand men sent forward to open this road, had halted at Loyal Hannan to
establish a military post and deposit.

He was upwards of fifty miles from Fort Duquesne, and was tempted to adopt
the measure, so strongly discountenanced by Washington, of sending a party
on a foray into the enemy’s country. He accordingly detached Major Grant
with eight hundred picked men, some of them Highlanders, others, in Indian
garb, the part of Washington’s Virginian regiment sent forward by him from
Cumberland under command of Major Lewis.

The instructions given to Major Grant were merely to reconnoitre the
country in the neighborhood of Fort Duquesne, and ascertain the strength
and position of the enemy. He conducted the enterprise with the
foolhardiness of a man eager for personal notoriety. His whole object seems
to have been by open bravado to provoke an action. The enemy were apprised,
through their scouts, of his approach, but suffered him to advance
unmolested. Arriving at night in the neighborhood of the fort, he posted
his men on a hill, and sent out a party of observation, who set fire to a
log house near the walls and returned to the encampment. As if this were
not sufficient to put the enemy on the alert, he ordered the reveille to be
beaten in the morning in several places; then, posting Major Lewis with his
provincial troops at a distance in the rear to protect the baggage, he
marshalled his regulars in battle array, and sent an engineer, with a
covering party, to take a plan of the works in full view of the garrison.

Not a gun was fired by the fort; the silence which was maintained was
mistaken for fear, and increased the arrogance and blind security of the
British commander. At length, when he was thrown off his guard, there was a
sudden sally of the garrison, and an attack on the flanks by Indians hid in
ambush. A scene now occurred similar to that at the defeat of Braddock.
The British officers marshalled their men according to European tactics,
and the Highlanders for some time stood their ground bravely; but the
destructive fire and horrid yells of the Indians soon produced panic and
confusion. Major Lewis, at the first noise of the attack, left Captain
Bullitt, with fifty Virginians, to guard the baggage, and hastened with the
main part of his men to the scene of action. The contest was kept up for
some time, but the confusion was irretrievable. The Indians sallied from
their concealment, and attacked with the tomahawk and scalping-knife. Lewis
fought hand to hand with an Indian brave, whom, he laid dead at his feet,
but was surrounded by others, and only saved his life by surrendering
himself to a French officer. Major Grant surrendered himself in like
manner. The whole detachment was put to the rout with dreadful carnage.

Captain Bullitt rallied several of the fugitives, and prepared to make a
forlorn stand, as the only chance where the enemy was overwhelming and
merciless. Despatching the most valuable baggage with the strongest horses,
he made a barricade with the baggage waggons, behind which he posted his
men, giving them orders how they were to act. All this was the thought and
the work almost of a moment, for the savages, having finished the havoc and
plunder of the field of battle, were hastening in pursuit of the fugitives.
Bullitt suffered them to come near, when, on a concerted signal, a
destructive fire was opened from behind the baggage waggons. They were
checked for a time; but were again pressing forward in greater numbers,
when Bullitt and his men held out the signal of capitulation, and advanced
as if to surrender. When within eight yards of the enemy, they suddenly
levelled their arms, poured a most effective volley, and then charged with
the bayonet. The Indians fled in dismay, and Bullitt took advantage of this
check to retreat with all speed, collecting the wounded and the scattered
fugitives as he advanced. The routed detachment came back in fragments to
Colonel Bouquet’s camp at Loyal Hannan, with the loss of twenty-one
officers and two hundred and seventy-three privates killed and taken. The
Highlanders and the Virginians were those that fought the best and suffered
the most in this bloody battle. Washington’s regiment lost six officers and
sixty-two privates.

If Washington could have taken any pride in seeing his presages of
misfortune verified, he might have been gratified by the result of this
rash “irruption into the enemy’s country,” which was exactly what he had
predicted. In his letters to Governor Fauquier, however, he bears lightly
on the error of Col Bouquet. “From all accounts I can collect,” says he,
“it appears very clear that this was a very ill-concerted, or a very
ill-executed plan, perhaps both; but it seems to be generally acknowledged
that Major Grant exceeded his orders, and that no disposition was made for

Washington, who was at Raystown when the disastrous news arrived, was
publicly complimented by General Forbes, on the gallant conduct of his
Virginian troops, and Bullitt’s behavior was “a matter of great
admiration.” The latter was soon after rewarded with a major’s commission.

As a further mark of the high opinion now entertained of provincial troops
for frontier service, Washington was given the command of a division,
partly composed of his own men, to keep in the advance of the main body,
clear the roads, throw out scouting parties, and repel Indian attacks.

It was the 5th of November before the whole army assembled at Loyal Hannan.
Winter was now at hand, and upwards of fifty miles of wilderness were yet
to be traversed, by a road not yet formed, before they could reach Fort
Duquesne. Again, Washington’s predictions seemed likely to be verified, and
the expedition to be defeated by delay; for in a council of war it was
determined to be impracticable to advance further with the army that
season. Three prisoners, however, who were brought in, gave such an account
of the weak state of the garrison at Fort Duquesne, its want of provisions,
and the defection of the Indians, that it was determined to push forward.
The march was accordingly resumed, but without tents or baggage, and with
only a light train of artillery.

Washington still kept the advance. After leaving Loyal Hannan, the road
presented traces of the late defeat of Grant; being strewed with human
bones, the sad relics of fugitives cut down by the Indians, or of wounded
soldiers who had died on the retreat; they lay mouldering in various stages
of decay, mingled with the bones of horses and of oxen. As they approached
Fort Duquesne these mementoes of former disasters became more frequent; and
the bones of those massacred in the defeat of Braddock, still lay scattered
about the battle field, whitening in the sun.

At length the army arrived in sight of Fort Duquesne, advancing with great
precaution, and expecting a vigorous defence; but that formidable fortress,
the terror and scourge of the frontier, and the object of such warlike
enterprise, fell without a blow. The recent successes of the English forces
in Canada, particularly the capture and destruction of Fort Frontenac, had
left the garrison without hope of reinforcements and supplies. The whole
force, at the time, did not exceed five hundred men, and the provisions
were nearly exhausted. The commander, therefore, waited only until the
English army was within one day’s march, when he embarked his troops at
night in batteaux, blew up his magazines, set fire to the fort, and
retreated down the Ohio, by the light of the flames. On the 25th of
November, Washington, with the advanced guard, marched in, and planted the
British flag on the yet smoking ruins.

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