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Chapter 15

WASHINGTON PROCLAIMED AIDE-DE-CAMP--DISAPPOINTMENTS AT FREDERICKTOWN-- BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND BRADDOCK--CONTRACTS--DEPARTURE FOR WILLS' CREEK-- ROUGH ROADS--THE GENERAL IN HIS CHARIOT--CAMP AT FORT CUMBERLAND--HUGH MERCER--DR. CRAIK--MILITARY TACTICS--CAMP RULES--SECRETARY PETERS--INDIANS IN CAMP--INDIAN BEAUTIES--THE PRINCESS BRIGHT LIGHTNING--ERRAND TO WILLIAMSBURG--BRADDOCK'S OPINION OF CONTRACTORS AND INDIANS--ARRIVAL OF CONVEYANCES.


General Braddock set out from Alexandria on the 20th of April. Washington remained behind a few days to arrange his affairs, and then rejoined him at Fredericktown, in Maryland, where, on the 10th of May, he was proclaimed one of the general's aides-de-camp. The troubles of Braddock had already commenced. The Virginian contractors failed to fulfil their engagements; of all the immense means of transportation so confidently promised, but fifteen waggons and a hundred draft-horses had arrived, and there was no prospect of more. There was equal disappointment in provisions, both as to quantity and quality; and he had to send round the country to buy cattle for the subsistence of the troops.

Fortunately, while the general was venting his spleen in anathemas against army contractors, Benjamin Franklin arrived at Fredericktown. That eminent man, then about forty-nine years of age, had been for many years member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and was now postmaster-general for America. The Assembly understood that Braddock was incensed against them, supposing them adverse to the service of the war. They had procured Franklin to wait upon him, not as if sent by them, but as if he came in his capacity of postmaster-general, to arrange for the sure and speedy transmission of despatches between the commander-in-chief and the governors of the provinces.

He was well received, and became a daily guest at the general's table. In his autobiography, he gives us an instance of the blind confidence and fatal prejudices by which Braddock was deluded throughout this expedition. "In conversation with him one day," writes Franklin, "he was giving me some account of his intended progress. 'After taking Fort Duquesne,' said he, 'I am to proceed to Niagara; and, having taken that, to Frontenac, if the season will allow time; and I suppose it will, for Duquesne can hardly detain me above three or four days: and then I can see nothing that can obstruct my march to Niagara.'

"Having before revolved in my mind," continues Franklin, "the long line his army must make in their march by a very narrow road, to be cut for them through the woods and bushes, and also what I had heard of a former defeat of fifteen hundred French, who invaded the Illinois country, I had conceived some doubts and some fears for the event of the campaign; but I ventured only to say, 'To be sure, sir, if you arrive well before Duquesne with these fine troops, so well provided with artillery, the fort, though completely fortified, and assisted with a very strong garrison, can probably make but a short resistance. The only danger I apprehend of obstruction to your march, is from the ambuscades of the Indians, who, by constant practice, are dexterous in laying and executing them; and the slender line, nearly four miles long, which your army must make, may expose it to be attacked by surprise on its flanks, and to be cut like thread into several pieces, which, from their distance, cannot come up in time to support one another.'

"He smiled at my ignorance, and replied: 'These savages may indeed be a formidable enemy to raw American militia, but upon the king's regular and disciplined troops, sir, it is impossible they should make an impression.' I was conscious of an impropriety in my disputing with a military man in matters of his profession, and said no more."

[Footnote: Autobiography of Franklin. Sparks' Edition, p. 190.]

As the whole delay of the army was caused by the want of conveyances, Franklin observed one day to the general that it was a pity the troops had not been landed in Pennsylvania, where almost every farmer had his waggon. "Then, sir," replied Braddock, "you who are a man of interest there can probably procure them for me, and I beg you will." Franklin consented. An instrument in writing was drawn up, empowering him to contract for one hundred and fifty waggons, with four horses to each waggon, and fifteen hundred saddle or packhorses for the service of his majesty's forces, to be at Wills' Creek on or before the 20th of May, and he promptly departed for Lancaster to execute the commission.

After his departure, Braddock, attended by his staff, and his guard of light horse, set off for Wills' Creek by the way of Winchester, the road along the north side of the Potomac not being yet made. "This gave him," writes Washington, "a good opportunity to see the absurdity of the route, and of damning it very heartily."

[Footnote: Draft of a letter, among Washington's papers, addressed to Major John Carlyle.]

Three of Washington's horses were knocked up before they reached Winchester, and he had to purchase others. This was a severe drain of his campaigning purse; fortunately he was in the neighborhood of Greenway Court, and was enabled to replenish it by a loan from his old friend Lord Fairfax.

The discomforts of the rough road were increased with the general, by his travelling with some degree of state in a chariot which he had purchased of Governor Sharpe. In this he dashed by Dunbar's division of the troops, which he overtook near Wills' Creek; his body guard of light horse galloping on each side of his chariot, and his staff accompanying him; the drums beating the Grenadier's march as he passed. In this style, too, he arrived at Fort Cumberland, amid a thundering salute of seventeen guns.

[Footnote: Journal of the Seamen's detachment.]

By this time the general discovered that he was not in a region fitted for such display, and his travelling chariot was abandoned at Fort Cumberland; otherwise it would soon have become a wreck among the mountains beyond.

By the 19th of May, the forces were assembled at Fort Cumberland. The two royal regiments, originally one thousand strong, now increased to fourteen hundred, by men chosen from the Maryland and Virginia levies. Two provincial companies of carpenters, or pioneers, thirty men each, with subalterns and captains. A company of guides, composed of a captain, two aids, and ten men. The troop of Virginia light horse, commanded by Captain Stewart; the detachment of thirty sailors with their officers, and the remnants of two independent companies from New York, one of which was commanded by Captain Horatio Gates, of whom, we shall have to speak much hereafter, in the course of this biography.

Another person in camp, of subsequent notoriety, and who became a warm friend of Washington, was Dr. Hugh Mercer, a Scotchman, about thirty-three years of age. About ten years previously he had served as assistant surgeon in the forces of Charles Edward, and followed his standard to the disastrous field of Culloden. After the defeat of the "chevalier," Mercer had escaped by the way of Inverness to America, and taken up his residence in Virginia. He was now with the Virginia troops, rallying under the standard of the House of Hanover, in an expedition led by a general who had aided to drive the chevalier from Scotland.

[Footnote: Braddock had been an officer under the Duke of Cumberland, in his campaign against Charles Edward.]

Another young Scotchman in the camp was Dr. James Craik, who had become strongly attached to Washington, being about the same age, and having been with him in the affair of the Great Meadows, serving as surgeon in the Virginia regiment, to which he still belonged.

At Fort Cumberland, Washington had an opportunity of seeing a force encamped according to the plan approved of by the council of war; and military tactics, enforced with all the precision of a martinet.

The roll of each company was called over morning, noon, and night. There was strict examination of arms and accoutrements; the commanding officer of each company being answerable for their being kept in good order.

The general was very particular in regard to the appearance and drill of the Virginia recruits and companies, whom he had put under the rigorous discipline of Ensign Allen. "They performed their evolutions and firings, as well as could be expected," writes Captain Orme, "but their languid, spiritless, and unsoldier-like appearance, considered with the lowness and ignorance of most of their officers, gave little hopes of their future good behavior."

[Footnote: Orme's Journal.]

He doubtless echoed the opinion of the general; how completely were both to be undeceived as to their estimate of these troops!

The general held a levee in his tent every morning, from ten to eleven. He was strict as to the morals of the camp. Drunkenness was severely punished. A soldier convicted of theft was sentenced to receive one thousand lashes, and to be drummed out of his regiment. Part of the first part of the sentence was remitted. Divine service was performed every Sunday, at the head of the colors of each regiment, by the chaplain. There was the funeral of a captain who died at this encampment. A captain's guard marched before the corpse, the captain of it in the rear, the firelocks reversed, the drums beating the dead march. When near the grave, the guard formed two lines, facing each other; rested on their arms, muzzles downwards, and leaned their faces on the butts. The corpse was carried between them, the sword and sash on the coffin, and the officers following two and two. After the chaplain of the regiment had read the service, the guard fired three volleys over the grave, and returned.

[Footnote: Orme's Journal. Journal of the Seamen's detachment.]

Braddock's camp, in a word, was a complete study for Washington, during the halt at Fort Cumberland, where he had an opportunity of seeing military routine in its strictest forms. He had a specimen, too, of convivial life in the camp, which the general endeavored to maintain, even in the wilderness, keeping a hospitable table; for he is said to have been somewhat of a bon vivant, and to have had with him "two good cooks, who could make an excellent ragout out of a pair of boots, had they but materials to toss them up with."

[Footnote: Preface to Winthrop Sargent's Introductory Memoir.]

There was great detention at the fort, caused by the want of forage and supplies, the road not having been finished from Philadelphia. Mr. Richard Peters, the secretary of Governor Morris, was in camp, to attend to the matter. He had to bear the brunt of Braddock's complaints. The general declared he would not stir from Wills' Creek until he had the governor's assurance that the road would be opened in time. Mr. Peters requested guards to protect the men while at work, from attacks by the Indians. Braddock swore he would not furnish guards for the woodcutters,--"let Pennsylvania do it!" He scoffed at the talk about danger from Indians. Peters endeavored to make him sensible of the peril which threatened him in this respect. Should an army of them, led by French officers, beset him in his march, he would not be able, with all his strength and military skill, to reach Fort Duquesne without a body of rangers, as well on foot as horseback. The general, however, "despised his observations."

[Footnote: Colonial Records, vi. 396.]

Still, guards had ultimately to be provided, or the work on the road would have been abandoned.

Braddock, in fact, was completely chagrined and disappointed about the Indians. The Cherokees and Catawbas, whom Dinwiddie had given him reason to expect in such numbers, never arrived.

George Croghan reached the camp with but about fifty warriors, whom he had brought from Aughquick. At the general's request he sent a messenger to invite the Delawares and Shawnees from the Ohio, who returned with two chiefs of the former tribe. Among the sachems thus assembled were some of Washington's former allies; Scarooyadi, alias, Monacatoocha, successor to the half-king; White Thunder, the keeper of the speech-belts, and Silver Heels, so called, probably, from being swift of foot.

Notwithstanding his secret contempt for the Indians, Braddock, agreeably to his instructions, treated them with great ceremony. A grand council was held in his tent, where all his officers attended. The chiefs, and all the warriors, came painted and decorated for war. They were received with military honors, the guards resting on their fire-arms. The general made them a speech through his interpreter, expressing the grief of their father, the great king of England, at the death of the half-king, and made them presents to console them. They in return promised their aid as guides and scouts, and declared eternal enmity to the French, following the declaration with the war song, "making a terrible noise."

The general, to regale and astonish them, ordered all the artillery to be fired, "the drums and fifes playing and beating the point of war;" the fête ended by their feasting, in their own camp, on a bullock which the general had given them, following up their repast by dancing the war dance round a fire, to the sound of their uncouth drums and rattles, "making night hideous," by howls and yellings.

"I have engaged between forty and fifty Indians from the frontiers of your province to go over the mountains with me," writes Braddock to Governor Morris, "and shall take Croghan and Montour into service." Croghan was, in effect, put in command of the Indians, and a warrant given to him of captain.

For a time all went well. The Indians had their separate camp, where they passed half the night singing, dancing, and howling. The British were amused by their strange ceremonies, their savage antics, and savage decorations. The Indians, on the other hand, loitered by day about the English camp, fiercely painted and arrayed, gazing with silent admiration at the parade of the troops, their marchings and evolutions; and delighted with the horse-races, with which the young officers recreated themselves.

Unluckily the warriors had brought their families with them to Wills' Creek, and the women were even fonder than the men of loitering about the British camp. They were not destitute of attractions; for the young squaws resemble the gypsies, having seductive forms, small hands and feet, and soft voices. Among those who visited the camp was one who no doubt passed for an Indian princess. She was the daughter of the sachem, White Thunder, and bore the dazzling name of Bright Lightning.

[Footnote: Seamen's Journal.]

The charms of these wild-wood beauties were soon acknowledged. "The squaws," writes Secretary Peters, "bring in money plenty; the officers are scandalously fond of them."

[Footnote: Letter of Peters to Governor Morris.]

The jealousy of the warriors was aroused some of them became furious. To prevent discord, the squaws were forbidden to come into the British, camp. This did not prevent their being sought elsewhere. It was ultimately found necessary, for the sake of quiet, to send Bright Lightning, with all the other women and children, back to Aughquick. White Thunder, and several of the warriors, accompanied them for their protection.

As to, the three Delaware chiefs, they returned to the Ohio, promising the general they would collect their warriors together, and meet him on his march. They never kept their word. "These people are villains, and always side with the strongest," says a shrewd journalist of the expedition.

During the halt of the troops at Wills' Creek, Washington had been sent to Williamsburg to bring on four thousand pounds for the military chest. He returned, after a fortnight's absence, escorted from Winchester by eight men, "which eight men," writes he, "were two days assembling, but I believe would not have been more than as many seconds dispersing if I had been attacked."

He found the general out of all patience and temper at the delays and disappointments in regard to horses, waggons, and forage, making no allowances for the difficulties incident to a new country, and to the novel and great demands upon its scanty and scattered resources. He accused the army contractors of want of faith, honor, and honesty; and in his moments of passion, which were many, extended the stigma to the whole country. This stung the patriotic sensibility of Washington, and overcame his usual self-command, and the proud and passionate commander was occasionally surprised by a well-merited rebuke from his aide-de-camp. "We have frequent disputes on this head," writes Washington, "which are maintained with warmth on both sides, especially on his, as he is incapable of arguing without it, or of giving up any point he asserts, be it ever so incompatible with reason or common sense."

The same pertinacity was maintained with respect to the Indians. George Croghan informed Washington that the sachems considered themselves treated with slight, in never being consulted in war matters. That he himself had repeatedly offered the services of the warriors under his command as scouts and outguards, but his offers had been rejected. Washington ventured to interfere, and to urge their importance for such purposes, especially now when they were approaching the stronghold of the enemy. As usual, the general remained bigoted in his belief of the all-sufficiency of well-disciplined troops.

Either from disgust thus caused, or from being actually dismissed, the warriors began to disappear from the camp. It is said that Colonel Innes, who was to remain in command at Fort Cumberland, advised the dismissal of all but a few to serve as guides; certain it is, before Braddock recommenced his march, none remained to accompany him but Scarooyadi, and eight of his warriors.

[Footnote: Braddock's own secretary, William Shirley, was disaffected to him. Writing about him to Governor Morris, he satirically observes: "We have a general most judiciously chosen for being disqualified for the service he is employed in, in almost every respect." And of the secondary officers: "As to them, I don't think we have much to boast. Some are insolent and ignorant; others capable, but rather aiming at showing their own abilities than making a proper use of them."--Colonial Records, vi., 405.]

Seeing the general's impatience at the non-arrival of conveyances, Washington again represented to him the difficulties he would encounter in attempting to traverse the mountains with such a train of wheel-carriages, assuring him it would be the most arduous part of the campaign; and recommended, from his own experience, the substitution, as much as possible, of packhorses. Braddock, however, had not been sufficiently harassed by frontier campaigning to depart from his European modes, or to be swayed in his military operations by so green a counsellor.

At length the general was relieved from present perplexities by the arrival of the horses and waggons which Franklin had undertaken to procure. That eminent man, with his characteristic promptness and unwearied exertions, and by his great personal popularity, had obtained them from the reluctant Pennsylvania farmers, being obliged to pledge his own responsibility for their being fully remunerated. He performed this laborious task out of pure zeal for the public service, neither expecting nor receiving emolument; and, in fact, experiencing subsequently great delay and embarrassment before he was relieved from the pecuniary responsibilities thus patriotically incurred.

The arrival of the conveyances put Braddock in good humor with Pennsylvania. In a letter to Governor Morris, he alludes to the threat of Sir John St. Clair to go through that province with a drawn sword in his hand. "He is ashamed of his having talked to you in the manner he did." Still the general made Franklin's contract for waggons the sole instance in which he had not experienced deceit and villany. "I hope, however, in spite of all this," adds he, "that we shall pass a merry Christmas together."


Washington Irving