It is simple to view George Washington as the most famous and successful soldier of the American War of Independence or indeed as the first president of the newly created United States. His military career began, of course, long before these illustrious years of his life. For more than twenty years before the battles that severed North America from Britain, Washington served on campaign and on the battlefield in the service of his fellow colonial settlers and the Crown itself. Then, before and during the French and Indian War, the enemy was the French Army representing its government's bid to lay claim to the New World and its indigenous Indian allies who were ever ready to wage war against those of British origin. Here is an account of Washington's part in the campaigns of his early career culminating in his role in one of the most infamous military disasters of the period under Braddock. To add context to this pivotal action of the French and Indian War, Braddock's own Orderly Books of the period leading up to the battle are appended to this volume.
On the twenty-ninth a council of war was held at Gist’s at which it was determined to concentrate all the forces at this point, where some entrenchments had been already thrown up, with a view of making a stand. This entrenchment was near Gist’s Indian’s hut and a fine spring, and within fifty rods of the geographical centre of Fayette County.<br>
Captains Lewis and Polson were called in, and Captain Mackaye and his company were sent for. They all came, but upon receiving later news of the superior force of the French it was apparent that a stand here was inexpedient and that they should fall back as far as Will’s Creek and await re-enforcements. The private baggage was left behind, and the horses of the officers were laden with ammunition and public stores. The soldiers of the Virginia regiment dragged the nine swivels by hand, the members of the independent company looking on and offering no aid. They reached the Great Meadows on the first day of July. Here the men were so exhausted by their labours and lack of nourishment that they could not draw their swivels nor carry their baggage on their backs any farther. They had been eight days without bread. They had milch cows for beef, but had no salt with which to season it, nor were the supplies which had been left at the stockade adequate to sustain the march. It was thought best, therefore, to here await both the supplies and re-enforcements, having now but two poor teams and a few equally poor pack horses.<br>
Washington immediately set his men to work to strengthen the fortifications, and under the supervision of Captain Stobo a ditch and additional dimensions and strength were given to the fort, which was now given the name of Fort Necessity on account of the extreme need of the troops.<br>
Hearing of the arrival at Alexandria of two independent companies from New York some days before it was supposed that they might by this time have arrived at Wills Creek, and a messenger was dispatched to urge them up. Horses were hired to go to Wills Creek for more ammunition and provisions, Gist endeavouring to have the artillery hauled out by Pennsylvania teams. It was ascertained that the two independent companies from New York and the one from North Carolina would fail to arrive until too late, and they only reached Wills Creek after the surrender of Fort Necessity. No artillery came in time, only ten of the thirty four-pound cannon and carriages which had been sent from England reaching Wills Creek until too late.<br>
Besides the Indians already mentioned as crowding into the fort, many of the settlers with their families sought protection under the English arms. The warriors expected and promised by the Half-King from the Muskingum and Miami countries failed to join Washington.<br>
From the time news reached Fort Duquesne of the defeat of Jumonville the greatest activity prevailed. On the twenty-eighth of June, just one month after that affair, a force of five hundred French and one hundred Indians, afterwards augmented to four hundred, left Fort Duquesne under command of M. Coulon de Villiers, a half-brother to Jumonville, who sought the command as a special favour to enable him, as he termed it, to avenge the “assassination” of his kinsman.<br>
De Villiers passed up the Monongahela on the thirtieth of June, and then moved on to Gist’s settlement, a distance of about sixteen miles, reaching the place early the morning of the second of July. Opening fire upon the rude half-finished fort, and receiving no response, he found the place deserted. He thereupon prepared to return to Fort Duquesne, when a deserter arrived from Fort Necessity, who revealed the whereabouts and wretched condition of Washington’s forces. He concluded to press on in pursuit of the English. He ascended the mountain by the road just opened by Washington, passed within five hundred yards of where his half-brother had fallen a little over a month before, and came within sight of Fort Necessity, after a rainy night, early on the morning of the third of July. He immediately delivered the first fire from the woods, at a distance of four or five hundred yards. The first position taken by the French was in the north-west, but afterwards they took position on the east and south-east, near the fort. Washington formed his men on the south, in the meadow outside the fort, in order to draw the enemy into an open encounter. Failing in this he retired behind the lines. The heavy rains the previous night had made the trenches untenable for Captain Mackaye’s company. The French then took position on an eminence on the north, about sixty yards distant, and the Indians took position behind trees and in tree tops. For nine hours, during a rain storm, the assailants poured an incessant shower of balls upon the little band crowded within the lines of the fort. The English replied with vigour, and toward six o clock in the evening the conflict grew in animation, and continued until eight o clock. Washington’s tranquil presence encouraged his men and deceived the enemy.