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French and Indian guerilla ambush spelled doom for Braddock's Army

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 7:59 a.m.
File photo
Martin Lafisca (front), of Connellsville, bears the 1st Virginia regimental flag while crossing the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville during the Braddock's Crossing observance in 2012.

Editor's note: This weekend, the Connellsville Area Historical Society will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its presentation of Braddock's Crossing. The event highlights Gen. Edward Braddock's crossing of the Youghiogheny River. In recognition of this celebration, today we take a historical look at Braddock's crossing of the Yough.

When British Gen. Edward Braddock and his army of Redcoats and colonials crossed the Youghiogheny River and camped in Connellsville 258 years ago, they had high hopes. Braddock was confident his soldiers possessed the military skills needed to oust the French from Fort Duquesne.

The French and the English both wanted the fort, which was built at the confluence of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers (the site of Pittsburgh's Point State Park). George Washington, as a volunteer scout in the early 1750s, had seen the fort up close and extolled its value. Because of Fort Duquesne's riverside location, whoever held it would have a great advantage, both economically and militarily.

Washington served as an aide to Braddock during the Fort Duquesne campaign. The young Virginian already had combat experience. His successful ambush at Fayette County's Jumonville Glen in May 1754 — and his subsequent defeat at Fort Necessity by the French and their Native American allies that July — had taught Washington a valuable lesson: “Indian-style” guerilla warfare worked.

Braddock wasn't impressed. He had been trained to fight the European way: armies firing directly at each other across an open battlefield.

The Native Americans fought surreptitiously behind trees and rocks — and they taught their allies, whether those allies were French fur trappers or English colonists. Washington had learned this the hard way when his army was humiliated at Fort Necessity.

Washington advised Braddock to fight Indian-style when Braddock outlined the intent to capture Fort Duquesne in 1755. The opinionated English general (whose nickname was “The Bulldog”) contemptuously regarded guerilla warfare as cowardly.

Braddock led his 1755 expedition north from Virginia toward the Ohio River Valley, his soldiers hacking a path through the wilderness as they went. They reached the Youghiogheny River in late June, staying two nights in the fledgling Connellsville area (then known as Stewart's Crossing). Continuing north, they crossed Jacob's Creek near Mt. Pleasant and forded the Monongahela River on July 9 about 10 miles east of Pittsburgh, near today's city of Braddock.

French, Indians get revenge

The French and their Indian allies knew that Braddock's army was on its way to Fort Duquesne. They lay in wait and attacked with a vengeance.

The surprise scattered Braddock's men like rats deserting a sinking ship. One account described the “horrible war whoops” of the Indians. During the ensuing fight — which is called the Battle of the Wilderness or the Battle of the Monongahela — Braddock had four horses shot out from under him.

More than 500 British and colonials perished, compared to a scant 100 French and Indians. Braddock was mortally wounded. His defeated troops slunk southward toward Virginia. They stopped at Great Meadows (near Fort Necessity) to bury Braddock, who died July 13, 1755, four days after the battle.

The soldiers laid the general to rest along the path they had made to Fort Duquesne, covering the grave thoroughly and riding over it so it wouldn't be discovered and desecrated by the French or Indians.

Braddock's remains were removed and reburied in the early 1800s; his grave marker is located along U.S. Route 40 — the National Road — near Farmington. If one local legend is true, Braddock's remains were located by the man who killed him — and it wasn't a Frenchman or an Indian but a Fayette County man named Tom Faucet.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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