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The Battle of Monongahela was fought on July 9, 1755, during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and represented a failed attempt by the British to capture the French post at Fort Duquesne. Leading a slow advance north from Virginia, General Edward Braddock encountered a mixed French and Native American force near his objective. In the resulting engagement, his men struggled with the forest landscape and he fell mortally wounded. After Braddock was hit, the British ranks collapsed and the looming defeat turned into a rout. Fort Duquesne would remain in French hands for four more years.
Assembling an Army
In the wake of Lieutenant Colonel George Washington's defeat at Fort Necessity in 1754, the British decided to mount a larger expedition against Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh, PA) the following year. Led by Braddock, the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, the operation was to be one of many against French forts on the frontier. Though the most direct route to Fort Duquesne was through Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia successfully lobbied to have the expedition depart from his colony.
Though Virginia lacked the resources to support the campaign, Dinwiddie desired the military road that would be built by Braddock to pass through his colony as it would benefit his business interests. Arriving at Alexandria, VA in early 1755, Braddock began assembling his army which was centered on the under-strength 44th and 48th Regiments of Foot. Selecting Fort Cumberland, MD as his departure point, Braddock's expedition was beset with administrative issues from the outset. Hampered by a lack of wagons and horses, Braddock required the timely intervention of Benjamin Franklin to supply sufficient numbers of both.
After some delay, Braddock's army, numbering around 2,400 regulars and militia, departed Fort Cumberland on May 29. Among those in the column was Washington who had been appointed as an aide-de-camp to Braddock. Following the trail blazed by Washington the year before, the army moved slowly as it needed to widen the road to accommodate the wagons and artillery. After moving around twenty miles and clearing the eastern branch of the Youghiogheny River, Braddock, on Washington's advice, split the army in two. While Colonel Thomas Dunbar advanced with the wagons, Braddock rushed ahead with around 1,300 men.
The First of the Problems
Though his "flying column" was not encumbered with the wagon train, it still moved slowly. As a result, it became plagued by supply and disease problems as it crawled along. As his men moved north, they met light resistance from Native Americans allied with the French. Braddock's defensive arrangements were sound and few men were lost in these engagements. Nearing Fort Duquesne, Braddock's column was required to cross the Monongahela River, march two miles along the east bank, and then re-ford at Frazier's Cabin. Braddock expected both crossing to be contested, and was surprised when no enemy troops appeared.
Fording the river at Frazier's Cabin on July 9, Braddock re-formed the army for the final seven-mile push to the fort. Alerted to the British approach, the French planned to ambush Braddock's column as they knew the fort could not withstand the British artillery. Leading a force of around 900 men, most of which were Native American warriors, Captain Liénard de Beaujeu was delayed in departing. As a result, they encountered the British advance guard, led by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage, before they could set the ambush.
Armies & Commanders
- Major General Edward Braddock
- 1,300 men
French & Indians
- Captain Liénard de Beaujeu
- Captain Jean-Daniel Dumas
- 891 men
The Battle of Monongahela
Opening fire on the approaching French and Native Americans, Gage's men killed de Beaujeu in their opening volleys. Attempting to make a stand with his three companies, Gage was soon outflanked as Captain Jean-Daniel Dumas rallied de Beaujeu's men and pushed them through the trees. Under heavy pressure and taking casualties, Gage ordered his men to fall back on Braddock's men. Retreating down the trail, they collided with the advancing column and confusion began to reign. Unused to forest fighting, the British attempted to form their lines while the French and Native Americans fired on them from behind cover (Map).
As smoke filled the woods, British regulars accidentally fired on friendly militia believing them to be the enemy. Flying around the battlefield, Braddock was able to stiffen his lines as makeshift units began to offer resistance. Believing that his men's superior discipline would carry the day, Braddock continued the fight. After about three hours, Braddock was hit in the chest by bullet. Falling from his horse, he was carried to the rear. With their commander down, British resistance collapsed and they began falling back towards the river.
Defeat Becomes a Rout
As the British retreated, the Native Americans surged forward. Wielding tomahawks and knives, they caused a panic in the British ranks which turned the retreat into a rout. Gathering what men he could, Washington formed a rear guard which allowed many of the survivors to escape. Re-crossing the river, the beaten British were not pursued as the Native Americans set about looting and scalping the fallen.
The Battle of the Monongahela cost the British 456 killed and 422 wounded. French and Native American casualties are not known with precision but are speculated to have been around 30 killed and wounded. The survivors of the battle retreated back down the road until reuniting with Dunbar's advancing column. On July 13, as the British camped near Great Meadows, not far from the site of Fort Necessity, Braddock succumbed to his wound.
Braddock was buried the next day in the middle of the road. The army then marched over the grave to eliminate any trace of it in order to prevent the general's body being recovered by the enemy. Not believing that he could continue the expedition, Dunbar elected to withdraw towards Philadelphia. Fort Duquesne would finally be taken by British forces in 1758, when an expedition led by General John Forbes reached the area. In addition to Washington, the Battle of the Monongahela featured several prominent officers who would later serve in the American Revolution (1775-1783) including Horatio Gates, Charles Lee, and Daniel Morgan.