Saturday, July 19, 2014

GW | Gen. Braddock, Mentor (Updated April 22, 2018)

The road to Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) had to be hacked out
through a frequently thick and treacherous forest.
George Washington was loyally by his side when his mentor died, unpopular Scottish General Edward Braddock.

William Pitt the Elder (the first Earl of Chatham) is often given the main credit for clearing the French out of the colonies. Fair enough, because he championed troops' being sent over for this purpose.

Pitt understood that George III was foolishly obsessed with a sideshow in Europe while much greater opportunities for future gain awaited in the British colonies.

But Pitt himself never set foot in the colonies. The dirty work was done by teamwork between leaders that emerged in the colonies, and the troops and officers that were sent over by King George III

General Braddock

One of the high-level officers sent over from England was General Braddock. Born in 1695 in Perthshire (north of Edinburgh), Scotland, Edward Braddock was the son of a general. At 15, he joined up in Coldstream (south of Edinburgh), Scotland with the military unit that was the antecedent of the Coldstream Guards. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and in 1774 served under the Prince of Orange in Holland. After seven years' service and friendship to King George III, he became a major general.

In February of 1755, he arrived in Virginia to join forces with the English generals there bent on taking Fort Duquesne back from the French. General Braddock hacked through the woods to bring his army from Cumberland, Maryland, to what is now called Pittsburgh but was then Fort Duquesne, in the hands of the French and some allied Indians.

The story is told that Col. George Washington advised Gen. Edward Braddock to disperse his superior army and fight behind trees as the Indians did. It is an odd story, because Braddock was a Scotsman and if anyone knew how to engage the enemy in what the Scots called "a secret war" (guerrilla warfare), they did. Kings Edward I and Edward II had a similar problem with the Scottish rebels. They refused to come out and fight, but attacked in unexpected ways at unexpected times. The British troops on their way to Fort Duquesne were walking into an ambush.

But Braddock was reportedly firm believer in the British army mode of fighting, disciplined and in the open.

When Braddock's troops crossed the Monongahela River, they faced troops that didn't stand in formation waiting for them, but hid behind trees, the standard Scottish "secret war" response to invasion. Braddock's ranks, hostile to their arrogant British commander, broke in confusion. Two hours later, Braddock had lost two-thirds of his 2,000 troops at the hands of a much smaller force. One-third of Braddock's men were dead, one-third were wounded and the rest were demoralized and hostile to Braddock. His only remaining aide was Col. George Washington, who carried Braddock back to camp after the general had been fatally wounded. Braddock had a reputation of being bad-tempered; he was resentful of the poor training and equipment of the American troops.

Benjamin Franklin says of Braddock:
This general was, I think, a brave man, and might probably have made a figure as a good officer in some European war. But he had too much self-confidence, too high an opinion of the validity of regular troops, and too mean a one of both Americans and Indians.
He records an exchange between him and Braddock:
I ventured only to say, "...The only danger I apprehend of obstruction to your march is from ambuscades of Indians, who, by constant practice, are dexterous in laying and executing them. ... "  He smiled at my ignorance, and replied, "These savages may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia, but upon the King's regular and disciplined troops, sir, it is impossible they should make any impression." Source: Kennedy, Bailey, & Bailey, The American Spirit: United States History As Seen by Contemporaries, Vol. 1, Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010, p. 110.
Braddock rode four different horses that were shot out from under him. Finally, on his fifth horse, he sustained a bullet that went through his chest and hit one of his lungs. He died four days later, on July 13, 1755.

Comment (updated April 22, 2018)

The long Wikipedia entry on Braddock notes, in defense of the general, that Braddock was not ambushed and in fact took careful steps to make sure that he was not. It also notes that Braddock was promised more resources than he was delivered by the colonial governments. The Wikipedia entry does not emphasize Braddock's unpopularity but does note the respect that Washington had for his former commanding officer for the rest of his life, and the pride he took in the sash that Braddock handed on to his rescuing colonel on his deathbed.

Washington continued to wear the piece of clothing decades later, after the American Revolutionary War was won. It is in in several paintings of him.

Washington's veneration of his unpopular commanding officer says something important, I think, about the character of our first President.


Hacked His Way Through the Forest: Russell Shorto, "Into a New Land", The New York Times, Travel Section, July 19, 2014, p. 1.

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