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Chapter 18

COSTS OF CAMPAIGNING--MEASURES FOR PUBLIC SAFETY--WASHINGTON IN COMMAND-- HEAD-QUARTERS AT WINCHESTER--LORD FAIRFAX AND HIS TROOP OF HORSE--INDIAN RAVAGES--PANIC AT WINCHESTER--CAUSE OF THE ALARM--OPERATIONS ELSEWHERE-- SHIRLEY AGAINST NIAGARA--JOHNSON AGAINST CROWN POINT--AFFAIR AT LAKE GEORGE--DEATH OF DIESKAU.


Washington arrived at Mount Vernon on the 26th of July, still in feeble condition from his long illness. His campaigning, thus far, had trenched upon his private fortune, and impaired one of the best of constitutions.

In a letter to his brother Augustine, then a member of Assembly at Williamsburg, he casts up the result of his frontier experience. "I was employed," writes he, "to go a journey in the winter, when I believe few or none would have undertaken it, and what did I get by it?--my expenses borne! I was then appointed, with trifling pay, to conduct a handful of men to the Ohio. What did I get by that? Why, after putting myself to a considerable expense in equipping and providing necessaries for the campaign, I went out, was soundly beaten, and lost all! Came in, and had my commission taken from me; or, in other words, my command reduced, under pretence of an order from home (England). I then went out a volunteer with General Braddock, and lost all my horses, and many other things. But this being a voluntary act, I ought not to have mentioned it; nor should I have done it, were it not to show that I have been on the losing order ever since I entered the service, which is now nearly two years."

What a striking lesson is furnished by this brief summary! How little was he aware of the vast advantages he was acquiring in this school of bitter experience! "In the hand of heaven he stood," to be shaped and trained for its great purpose; and every trial and vicissitude of his early life, but fitted him to cope with one or other of the varied and multifarious duties of his future destiny.

But though, under the saddening influence of debility and defeat, he might count the cost of his campaigning, the martial spirit still burned within him. His connection with the army, it is true, had ceased at the death of Braddock, but his military duties continued as adjutant-general of the northern division of the province, and he immediately issued orders for the county lieutenants to hold the militia in readiness for parade and exercise, foreseeing that, in the present defenceless state of the frontier, there would be need of their services.

Tidings of the rout and retreat of the army had circulated far and near, and spread consternation throughout the country. Immediate incursions both of French and Indians were apprehended; and volunteer companies began to form, for the purpose of marching across the mountains to the scene of danger. It was intimated to Washington that his services would again be wanted on the frontier. He declared instantly that he was ready to serve his country to the extent of his powers; but never on the same terms as heretofore.

On the 4th of August, Governor Dinwiddie convened the Assembly to devise measures for the public safety. The sense of danger had quickened the slow patriotism of the burgesses; they no longer held back supplies; forty thousand pounds were promptly voted, and orders issued for the raising of a regiment of one thousand men.

Washington's friends urged him to present himself at Williamsburg as a candidate for the command; they were confident of his success, notwithstanding that strong interest was making for the governor's favorite, Colonel Innes.

With mingled modesty and pride, Washington declined to be a solicitor. The only terms, he said, on which he would accept a command, were a certainty as to rank and emoluments, a right to appoint his field officers, and the supply of a sufficient military chest; but to solicit the command, and, at the same time, to make stipulations, would be a little incongruous, and carry with it the face of self-sufficiency. "If," added he, "the command should be offered to me, the case will then be altered, as I should be at liberty to make such objections as reason, and my small experience, have pointed out."

While this was in agitation, he received letters from his mother, again imploring him not to risk himself in these frontier wars. His answer was characteristic, blending the filial deference with which he was accustomed from childhood to treat her, with a calm patriotism of the Roman stamp.

"Honored Madam: If it is in my power to avoid going to the Ohio again, I shall; but if the command is pressed upon me by the general voice of the country, and offered upon such terms as cannot be objected against, it would reflect dishonor on me to refuse it; and that, I am sure, must, and ought, to give you greater uneasiness, than my going in an honorable command. Upon no other terms will I accept it. At present I have no proposals made to me, nor have I any advice of such an intention, except from private hands."

On the very day that this letter was despatched (Aug. 14), he received intelligence of his appointment to the command on the terms specified in his letters to his friends. His commission nominated him commander-in-chief of all the forces raised, or to be raised in the colony. The Assembly also voted three hundred pounds to him, and proportionate sums to the other officers, and to the privates of the Virginia companies, in consideration of their gallant conduct, and their losses in the late battle.

The officers next in command under him were Lieutenant-Colonel Adam Stephens, and Major Andrew Lewis. The former, it will be recollected, had been with him in the unfortunate affair at the Great Meadows; his advance in rank shows that his conduct had been meritorious.

The appointment of Washington to his present station was the more gratifying and honorable from being a popular one, made in deference to public sentiment; to which Governor Dinwiddie was obliged to sacrifice his strong inclination in favor of Colonel Innes. It is thought that the governor never afterwards regarded Washington with a friendly eye. His conduct towards him subsequently was on various occasions cold and ungracious.

[Footnote: Sparks' Writings of Washington, vol. ii., p. 161, note.]

It is worthy of note that the early popularity of Washington was not the result of brilliant achievements nor signal success; on the contrary, it rose among trials and reverses, and may almost be said to have been the fruit of defeats. It remains an honorable testimony of Virginian intelligence, that the sterling, enduring, but undazzling qualities of Washington were thus early discerned and appreciated, though only heralded by misfortunes. The admirable manner in which he had conducted himself under these misfortunes, and the sagacity and practical wisdom he had displayed on all occasions, were universally acknowledged; and it was observed that, had his modest counsels been adopted by the unfortunate Braddock, a totally different result might have attended the late campaign.

An instance of this high appreciation of his merits occurs in a sermon preached on the 17th of August by the Rev. Samuel Davis, wherein he cites him as "that heroic youth, Colonel Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has hitherto preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to his country." The expressions of the worthy clergyman may have been deemed enthusiastic at the time; viewed in connection with subsequent events they appear almost prophetic.

Having held a conference with Governor Dinwiddie at Williamsburg, and received his instructions, Washington repaired, on the 14th of September, to Winchester, where he fixed his headquarters. It was a place as yet of trifling magnitude, but important from its position; being a central point where the main roads met, leading from north to south, and east to west, and commanding the channels of traffic and communication between some of the most important colonies and a great extent of frontier.

Here he was brought into frequent and cordial communication with his old friend Lord Fairfax. The stir of war had revived a spark of that military fire which animated the veteran nobleman in the days of his youth, when an officer in the cavalry regiment of the Blues. He was lord-lieutenant of the county. Greenway Court was his headquarters. He had organized a troop of horse, which occasionally was exercised about the lawn of his domain, and he was now as prompt to mount his steed for a cavalry parade as he ever was for a fox chase. The arrival of Washington frequently brought the old nobleman to Winchester to aid the young commander with his counsels or his sword.

His services were soon put in requisition. Washington, having visited the frontier posts, established recruiting places, and taken other measures of security, had set off for Williamsburg on military business, when an express arrived at Winchester from Colonel Stephens, who commanded at Fort Cumberland, giving the alarm that a body of Indians were ravaging the country, burning the houses, and slaughtering the inhabitants. The express was instantly forwarded after Washington; in the mean time, Lord Fairfax sent out orders for the militia of Fairfax and Prince William counties to arm and hasten to the defence of Winchester, where all was confusion and affright. One fearful account followed another. The whole country beyond it was said to be at the mercy of the savages. They had blockaded the rangers in the little fortresses or outposts provided for the protection of neighborhoods. They were advancing upon Winchester with fire, tomahawk, and scalping-knife. The country people were flocking into the town for safety--the townspeople were moving off to the settlements beyond the Blue Ridge. The beautiful valley of the Shenandoah was likely to become a scene of savage desolation.

In the height of the confusion Washington rode into the town. He had been overtaken by Colonel Stephens' express. His presence inspired some degree of confidence, and he succeeded in stopping most of the fugitives. He would have taken the field at once against the savages, believing their numbers to be few; but not more than twenty-five of the militia could be mustered for the service. The rest refused to stir--they would rather die with their wives and children.

Expresses were sent off to hurry up the militia ordered out by Lord Fairfax. Scouts were ordered out to discover the number of the foe, and convey assurances of succor to the rangers said to be blocked up in the fortresses, though Washington suspected the latter to be "more encompassed by fear than by the enemy." Smiths were set to work to furbish up and repair such firearms as were in the place, and waggons were sent off for musket balls, flints, and provisions.

Instead, however, of animated co-operation, Washington was encountered by difficulties at every step. The waggons in question had to be impressed, and the waggoners compelled by force to assist. "No orders," writes he, "are obeyed, but such as a party of soldiers or my own drawn sword enforces. Without this, not a single horse, for the most earnest occasion, can be had,--to such a pitch has the insolence of these people arrived, by having every point hitherto submitted to them. However, I have given up none, where his majesty's service requires the contrary, and where my proceedings are justified by my instructions; nor will I, unless they execute what they threaten--that is, blow out our brains."

One is tempted to smile at this tirade about the "insolence of the people," and this zeal for "his majesty's service," on the part of Washington; but he was as yet a young man and a young officer; loyal to his sovereign, and with high notions of military authority, which he had acquired in the camp of Braddock.

What he thus terms insolence was the dawning spirit of independence, which he was afterwards the foremost to cherish and promote; and which, in the present instance, had been provoked by the rough treatment from the military, which the waggoners and others of the yeomanry had experienced when employed in Braddock's campaign, and by the neglect to pay them for their services. Much of Washington's difficulties also arose, doubtlessly, from the inefficiency of the military laws, for an amendment of which he had in vain made repeated applications to Governor Dinwiddie.

In the mean time the panic and confusion increased. On Sunday an express hurried into town, breathless with haste and terror. The Indians, he said, were but twelve miles off; they had attacked the house of Isaac Julian; the inhabitants were flying for their lives. Washington immediately ordered the town guards to be strengthened; armed some recruits who had just arrived, and sent out two scouts to reconnoitre the enemy. It was a sleepless night in Winchester. Horror increased with the dawn; before the men could be paraded a second express arrived, ten times more terrified than the former. The Indians were within four miles of the town, killing and destroying all before them. He had heard the constant firing of the savages and the shrieks of their victims.

The terror of Winchester now passed all bounds. Washington put himself at the head of about forty men, militia and recruits, and pushed for the scene of carnage.

The result is almost too ludicrous for record. The whole cause of the alarm proved to be three drunken troopers, carousing, hallooing, uttering the most unheard of imprecations, and ever and anon firing off their pistols. Washington interrupted them in the midst of their revel and blasphemy, and conducted them prisoners to town.

The reported attack on the house of Isaac Julian proved equally an absurd exaggeration. The ferocious party of Indians turned out to be a mulatto and a negro in quest of cattle. They had been seen by a child of Julian, who alarmed his father, who alarmed the neighborhood.

"These circumstances," says Washington, "show what a panic prevails among the people; how much they are all alarmed at the most usual and customary cries; and yet how impossible it is to get them to act in any respect for their common safety."

They certainly present a lively picture of the feverish state of a frontier community, hourly in danger of Indian ravage and butchery; than which no kind of warfare is more fraught with real and imaginary horrors.

The alarm thus originating had spread throughout the country. A captain, who arrived with recruits from Alexandria, reported that he had found the road across the Blue Ridge obstructed by crowds of people flying for their lives, whom he endeavored in vain to stop. They declared that Winchester was in flames!

At length the band of Indians, whose ravages had produced this consternation throughout the land, and whose numbers did not exceed one hundred and fifty, being satiated with carnage, conflagration, and plunder, retreated, bearing off spoils and captives. Intelligent scouts sent out by Washington, followed their traces, and brought back certain intelligence that they had recrossed the Allegany Mountains and returned to their homes on the Ohio. This report allayed the public panic and restored temporary quiet to the harassed frontier.

Most of the Indians engaged in these ravages were Delawares and Shawnees, who, since Braddock's defeat, had been gained over by the French. A principal instigator was said to be Washington's old acquaintance, Shengis, and a reward was offered for his head.

Scarooyadi, successor to the half-king, remained true to the English, and vindicated his people to the Governor and Council of Pennsylvania from the charge of having had any share in the late massacres. As to the defeat at the Monongahela, "it was owing," he said, "to the pride and ignorance of that great general (Braddock) that came from England. He is now dead; but he was a bad man when he was alive. He looked upon us as dogs, and would never hear any thing that was said to him. We often endeavored to advise him, and tell him of the danger he was in with his soldiers; but he never appeared pleased with us, and that was the reason that a great many of our warriors left him."

[Footnote: Hazard's Register of Penn., v., p. 252, 266.]

Scarooyadi was ready with his warriors to take up the hatchet again with their English brothers against the French. "Let us unite our strength," said he; "you are numerous, and all the English governors along your sea-shore can raise men enough; but don't let those that come from over the great seas be concerned any more. They art unfit to fight in the woods. Let us go ourselves--we that came out of this ground."

No one felt more strongly than Washington the importance, at this trying juncture, of securing the assistance of these forest warriors. "It is in their power," said he, "to be of infinite use to us; and without Indians, we shall never be able to cope with these cruel foes to our country."

[Footnote: Letter to Dinwiddie.]

Washington had now time to inform himself of the fate of the other enterprises included in this year's plan of military operations. We shall briefly dispose of them, for the sake of carrying on the general course of events. The history of Washington is linked with the history of the colonies. The defeat of Braddock paralyzed the expedition against Niagara. Many of General Shirley's troops, which were assembled at Albany, struck with the consternation which it caused throughout the country, deserted. Most of the batteau men, who were to transport stores by various streams, returned home. It was near the end of August before Shirley was in force at Oswego. Time was lost in building boats for the lake. Storms and head winds ensued; then sickness: military incapacity in the general completed the list of impediments. Deferring the completion of the enterprise until the following year, Shirley returned to Albany with the main part of his forces in October, leaving about seven hundred men to garrison the fortifications he had commenced at Oswego.

To General William Johnson, it will be recollected, had been confided the expedition against Crown Point, on Lake Champlain. Preparations were made for it in Albany, whence the troops were to march, and the artillery, ammunition, and stores to be conveyed up the Hudson to the carrying-place between that river and Lake St. Sacrament, as it was termed by the French, but Lake George, as Johnson named it, in honor of his sovereign. At the carrying-place a fort was commenced, subsequently called Fort Edward. Part of the troops remained under General Lyman, to complete and garrison it; the main force proceeded under General Johnson to Lake George, the plan being to descend that lake to its outlet at Ticonderoga, in Lake Champlain. Having to attend the arrival of batteaux forwarded for the purpose from Albany by the carrying-place, Johnson encamped at the south end of the lake. He had with him between five and six thousand troops of New York and New England, and a host of Mohawk warriors, loyally devoted to him.

It so happened that a French force of upwards of three thousand men, under the Baron de Dieskau, an old general of high reputation, had recently arrived at Quebec, destined against Oswego. The baron had proceeded to Montreal, and sent forward thence seven hundred of his troops, when news arrived of the army gathering on Lake George for the attack on Crown Point, perhaps for an inroad into Canada. The public were in consternation; yielding to their importunities, the baron took post at Crown Point for its defence. Beside his regular troops, he had with him eight hundred Canadians, and seven hundred Indians of different tribes. The latter were under the general command of the Chevalier Legardeur de St. Pierre, the veteran officer to whom Washington had delivered the despatches of Governor Dinwiddie on his diplomatic mission to the frontier. The chevalier was a man of great influence among the Indians.

In the mean time Johnson remained encamped at the south end of Lake George, awaiting the arrival of his batteaux. The camp was protected in the rear by the lake, in front by a bulwark of felled trees; and was flanked by thickly wooded swamps.

On the 7th of September, the Indian scouts brought word that they had discovered three large roads made through the forests toward Fort Edward. An attack on that post was apprehended. Adams, a hardy waggoner, rode express with orders to the commander to draw all the troops within the works. About midnight came other scouts. They had seen the French within four miles of the carrying-place. They had heard the report of a musket, and the voice of a man crying for mercy, supposed to be the unfortunate Adams. In the morning Colonel Williams was detached with one thousand men, and two hundred Indians, to intercept the enemy in their retreat.

Within two hours after their departure a heavy fire of musketry, in the midst of the forest, about three or four miles off, told of a warm encounter. The drums beat to arms; all were at their posts. The firing grew sharper and sharper, and nearer and nearer. The detachment under Williams was evidently retreating. Colonel Cole was sent with three hundred men to cover their retreat. The breastwork of trees was manned. Some heavy cannon were dragged up to strengthen the front. A number of men were stationed with a field-piece on an eminence on the left flank.

In a short time fugitives made their appearance; first singly, then in masses, flying in confusion, with a rattling fire behind them, and the horrible Indian war-whoop. Consternation seized upon the camp, especially when the French emerged from the forest in battle array, led by the Baron Dieskau, the gallant commander of Crown Point. Had all his troops been as daring as himself, the camp might have been carried by assault; but the Canadians and Indians held back, posted themselves behind trees, and took to bush-fighting.

The baron was left with his regulars (two hundred grenadiers) in front of the camp. He kept up a fire by platoons, but at too great a distance to do much mischief; the Canadians and Indians fired from their coverts. The artillery played on them in return. The camp, having recovered from its panic, opened a fire of musketry. The engagement became general. The French grenadiers stood their ground bravely for a long time, but were dreadfully cut up by the artillery and small arms. The action slackened on the part of the French, until, after a long contest, they gave way. Johnson's men and the Indians then leaped over the breastwork, and a chance medley fight ensued, that ended in the slaughter, rout, or capture of the enemy.

The Baron de Dieskau had been disabled by a wound in the leg. One of his men, who endeavored to assist him, was shot down by his side. The baron, left alone in the retreat, was found by the pursuers leaning against the stump of a tree. As they approached, he felt for his watch to insure kind treatment by delivering it up. A soldier, thinking he was drawing forth a pistol to defend himself, shot him through the hips. He was conveyed a prisoner to the camp, but ultimately died of his wounds.

The baron had really set off from Crown Point to surprise Fort Edward, and, if successful, to push on to Albany and Schenectady; lay them in ashes, and cut off all communication with Oswego. The Canadians and Indians, however, refused to attack the fort, fearful of its cannon; he had changed his plan, therefore, and determined to surprise the camp. In the encounter with the detachment under Williams, the brave Chevalier Legardeur de St. Pierre lost his life. On the part of the Americans, Hendrick, a famous old Mohawk sachem, grand ally of General Johnson, was slain.

Johnson himself received a slight wound early in the action, and retired to his tent. He did not follow up the victory as he should have done, alleging that it was first necessary to build a strong fort at his encampment, by way of keeping up a communication with Albany, and by the time this was completed, it would be too late to advance against Crown Point. He accordingly erected a stockaded fort, which received the name of William Henry; and having garrisoned it, returned to Albany. His services, although they gained him no laurel-wreath, were rewarded by government with five thousand pounds, and a baronetcy; and he was made Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

[Footnote: Johnson's Letter to the Colonial Governors, Sept. 9th, 1753. London Mag., 1755., p. 544. Holmes' Am. Annals, vol. ii., p. 63. 4th edit., 1829.]


Washington Irving