Washington, Braddock and the Battle of the Mon
Poor George, he comes down through history as a white haired, grimacing founding father with sore gums and a paunch.
It’s hard to imagine the tough, hardened veteran who was fearless in battle again and again.
Ah, but a chance to remember: this week is the 264th anniversary of British General Edward Braddock’s defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela where the young Washington stepped into the breach.
Young Colonel Washington, a militia officer, was volunteering his services to Braddock as they moved across Pennsylvania’s rugged Allegheny Mountains to oust the French from their perch near what would become Pittsburgh.
The battle is often depicted as a surprise attack by the French and their Indian allies — it wasn’t.
The day before, the Indians had approached and asked for a pause in the British march in order to convince the French to withdraw peacefully; Braddock refused and the next day both sides stumbled onto one another.
The redcoats outnumbered the French, having two regular regiments and several companies of militia, but Braddock had split his forces into an advance party and another one carrying baggage in the rear.
Almost immediately, the French commander, Beaujeu, was killed but the French were undeterred as they pinned the British down and began forcing them backwards using snipers while targeting officers, especially.
When the fighting broke out, Washington was in the rear, stricken with dysentery; despite that fact, he rode to the front and tried his best to rally the broken ranks of soldiers and to restore order.
Later, Washington was unsparing in his criticism of the British Regulars, saying they “broke and ran as Sheep pursued by dogs.”
He also said “they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive.”
A controversy exists regarding Braddock’s tactics, whether he was too reliant on forming up his troops into masses versus the skirmishing style of militia.
The experts, including Stephen Brumwell, say the British recognized that “war in the forests of America was a very different business from war in Europe.”
Washington’s contribution was to wade in and realize that disorder meant an inevitable rout and that forming a rearguard would allow the British to disengage with success.
He had two horses shot out from underneath him that day and his uniform was clipped by bullets.
He was 23 years old.
His experience at the Mon had a curious and vital postscript.
As he planned the pivotal surprise attack on Trenton during Christmas of 1776, his generals were dismayed at their prospects until one of them mentioned that Washington had witnessed first hand the abysmal performance of the British at the Mon.
It was a reminder that no one is invincible.
The rest is history.