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Exploring History: Gen. Braddock's story recalled

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:06 p.m.

During early July, Connellsville residents annually recall that in 1755, Gen. Edward Braddock and his British army passed through the area amid the ill-fated campaign to capture Fort Duquesne, the French bastion at the Ohio River's headwaters.

They also are aware that Col. George Washington, then a Virginia militia officer, rode along. Most historians, though, have not accorded much attention personally to Gen. Braddock.

Edward Braddock was born on Oct. 12, 1695, in Lewes, England, the scion of a leading gentry family in the shire of Sussex.

His father, Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock, Sr., once had commanded the Coldstream Guard, an elite British Army regiment. In fact, Braddock family men had been serving within the military since the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Accordingly, he entered his father's old regiment as an ensign in 1710.

While serving within the Coldstream Guard he rose steadily through the officer ranks. By 1716, he had become a lieutenant of the regimental grenadiers.

Within three decades he had reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

Amid the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48) he commanded the Coldstream's second battalion within the various campaigns upon the European continent.

He fought credibly at the two key battles of Dettinger and Fontenoy. In the late summer of 1745, though, he was dispatched with his command to northern England for the purpose of aiding in the suppression of the “Jacobite Rising of '45.”

The rebel army was led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (the “Bonnie Prince”), who was seeking to regain his ancestral throne.

After the insurrection was quashed decisively, Braddock was instrumental in apprehending many of the English and Scots rebels.

Among the surviving Jacobites (Stuart Dynasty loyalists), he was despised due to his stern measures, especially along the Scottish border.

At the close of the War of Austrian Succession in 1748, Braddock was recognized as a competent practitioner in the European mode of warfare. But he also was regarded as a tough martinet, capable of rough dealings with civilians residing within a war zone.

Nonetheless, Braddock was appointed colonel of the 14th Royal Regiment in 1752. He joined his command at Gibraltar and remained on that duty for two years.

By all accounts, Braddock enjoyed the loyal support of his regiment throughout this interlude. Promoted to a major generalship in 1754, Braddock was appointed by George II to be commander-in-chief of British military land forces in North America.

With two regiments of veteran infantry, in February 1755, Braddock disembarked at Hampton Roads, Va.

Upon landing, Braddock immediately held a conference with representatives of several colonial governments. But the meeting proved to be quite rancorous.

The general made no effort to conceal his low expectations regarding the military proficiency of provincial troops. Furthermore, various American leaders realized that he possessed scant knowledge about frontier warfare.

Braddock was greatly impressed, however, with the martial potential of George Washington. Apparently, he secured the young Virginian's abiding loyalty by promising him a regular army commission when the campaign concluded.

By May 20, Braddock had commenced his northern march with a force of 2,000 men, composed of British army regulars, as well as militia units from four colonies.

Those provincial forces represented Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina. A detachment of sailors went along to attend several pieces of heavy artillery that Braddock intended to utilize when besieging Fort Duquesne.

While proceeding toward their destination, Braddock also was constructing a viable military road. As may be expected, this route came to be known popularly as Braddock's Road.

The army marched from Virginia through the Cumberland Valley to Wills Creek. At that locale a base camp was established, which became known as Fort Cumberland in Maryland.

On June 10, Braddock had begun his march through the Allegheny Mountains. The army he led contained approximately 1,400 men, while the remainder stayed behind under Col. Thomas Dunbar's command at Fort Cumberland.

Not surprisingly, the road construction efforts through such rugged terrain considerably slowed their progress.

Both Washington and George Corghan, the noted fur trader, repeatedly warned the general that Indian spies certainly were keeping the French commanders at Fort Duquesne well-informed regarding their activities.

Unfortunately, though, by the time the British had reached the lower Youghiogheny River Valley, a series of violent “misunderstandings” had caused most of their Native American scouts to depart in anger.

Consequently, Braddock was forced to rely upon pickets and flank patrols when gaining any useful intelligence on enemy activities. But British troops managed to repulse several minor attacks with relative ease.

By July 8, Braddock's army had reached the Monongahela River. They eventually began marching down the Monongahela's eastern bank, bound for Fort Duquesne.

About eight miles from the fort, a French-Indian force of 900 men suddenly launched an ambush within a heavily wounded ravine, nearby the mouth of Turtle Creek.

Firing from both sides the attackers virtually wiped out Braddock's advance guard. The terrified survivors retreated directly into the path of the vanguard led by Lt. Col. Thomas Gage.

About 10 minutes later, Gen. Braddock reached the battlefield with the main column. In essence, his troops remained in formation while under intense enemy fire from both sides.

Amid the chaos, the regular troops ignored Braddock's frantic orders to disperse. Moreover, they failed to emulate the provincial troops' example of seeking cover behind such natural objects as rocks and trees.

They remained in an open field under heavy gunfire for nearly three hours. All told, 63 officers, as well as half of the army either were killed or wounded. The scene of this carnage later became known as “Braddock's Field.”

During the battle, Braddock personally had four horses shot down from beneath him. Furthermore, he sustained wounds to both his left arm and neck. The latter injury proved to be mortal because the bullet penetrated his lungs.

With George Washington's Virginia troops providing rearguard cover, the remnants of the defeated army began a headlong retreat southward. The dying general was carried upon a litter, bound for Great Meadows.

General Braddock spent his final hours near Christopher Gist's farm on July 11 at a locale known as Camp Orchard. Several onlookers recalled hearing him mutter, “We shall better know how to deal with them another time.”

His remains were interred within an unmarked grave several hundred miles away. To forestall any enemy attempts to mutilate the corpse, a wagon was run repeatedly over that ground. And Gen. Braddock has remained within this burial site until the present day.

Exploring History appears in The Independent-Observer periodically. The author holds a doctorate in history from the University of South Carolina.

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