“Inside the ruined fort the English troops came upon a row of stakes on which were fastened the heads of Highland troops who had been taken in the earlier engagement, each with a Scottish kilt tied beneath it.”- Robert Utley and Wilcomb Washburn, Indian Wars (1)
“Braddock’s Expedition,” named for the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in North America, in the early parts of the French and Indian War was launched to secure the French fort, Duquesne, being a vital hub of trade and navigation, later called the Battle of the Monongahela. “That it should be named [Fort Duquesne] for the recent governor general of New France was further proof that the French intended it to be a powerful and permanent fixture,” writes Walter R. Borneman in The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America. (2) The movement of British forces into French territory was designed to inhibit the French from encroaching unto British colonial land and secure the border lands. The battle occurred to the surprise of both the French-Indian and British forces… an ambush, a violent lopsided encounter. Utley and Washburn, “No matter which side the Indians chose, their true interests lay in a continued stalemate between the English and the French.” (3) The Native Americans played a pivotal role in the Battle on the Monongahela but as pawns in a larger conflict that extended over the Atlantic Ocean.
“[Edward] Braddock… confessed, ‘I cannot say as yet they [colonials] have shown the regard… that might have been expected,” opines Borneman, giving an insightful look at the Commander-in-Chief of British forces. (3) For the French, majority of the battle would fall into the hands of the second in command of Fort Duquesne Lieutenant Jean-Daniel Dumas, after Captain Lienard de Beaujeu. “…While his [Dumas] Indian allies advanced largely on their own accord to form a U around both sides of the British column,” informs Borneman. (4) The Ottawas and Potawatomis took the initiative to flank the disorganized British force. Individual initiative of the Indians, trumped the leadership on the battlefield.
As can be seen, Native American mercenaries played a major part in the battle for the French contingent and were the bulk of the French force. Borneman informs, “…The French commandant at Fort Duquesne… was not hampered by a lack of Indian support… they [Potawatomi and Ottawa] did so more to curry favor with the French in those western lands than through any great notion of restoring Indian sovereignty east of the Ohio.” (6) In stark contrast, the British could not secure the help of Indian forces like that of the French. Utley and Washburn write, “[George] Washington… wrote in disgust, ‘The Indians are mercenary; every service of theirs must be purchased; and they are easily offended, being thoroughly sensible of their own importance. “(7) The force brought from Europe with Braddock contained regular British troops prepared for a European style fight but not that of the frontier colonial style which the Indians where well versed in. The tremendous advantage lied with the French, even though outnumbered, due to the Ottawas and Potawatomi force that understood forest, guerrilla fighting.
The use of muskets and artillery were the primary weapons of this battle. But it was the inherent use of terrain that won out the battle that day not superior weapons. Utley and Washburn write, “Posting themselves [Indians] behind trees, they raked the milling, panicked British with a murderous fire.” (8) The use of terrain provided for superior defense and offense against a linear enemy. Using aimed fire, instead of mass volleys, the Indians decimated the British forces. Weaponry played an insignificant role. The asymmetrical use of terrain gave the victory to the French… whereas the British fought with a European mentality.
“In historical shorthand, the battle that followed is frequently called an ambush… actually… both sides were surprised,” states Borneman. (9) Braddock had split his force into two entities, when the spearhead was surprised by the French-Indian force it began to fall back as Braddock ordered the second force forward. Havoc ensued. The Indian force enveloped the jumbled British force, picking off ranking officers and moving through the thick foliage shooting into the flanks. “Braddock and his aides-de-camp, Washington and Orme, were in the thick of things, rallying the troops and directing courageous if somewhat ineffective volley fire into the woods on three sides,” describes Borneman. (10) When Braddock was struck by a musket ball, discipline broke amongst the regulars. The European tactics of the British and lack of Indian allies destroyed any semblance of a successful siege of Duquesne.
The outcome of the Battle of the Monongahela was a complete route of the British forces after Gen. Braddock fell in battle. Regular British troops broke in battle, against a numerically less significant force, comprised of a large Indian force (637 Indians, 146 Canadian militia, 72 French regulars against 1,500 British regulars and militia forces). The French and Indians beat the British, and sent them fleeing. Through this victory the protection of Fort Duquesne was secured and that of the Ohio River. The route of a regular British force by “inferior” Indian and French forces would have a demoralizing effect on colonial and Indian thought. (11)
“… Captured by the French that day was the general’s trunk, complete with the war plans of the other three roads of attack… the other campaign plans sparked both military maneuvering and political indignation... When these documents reached Paris, they were a diplomatic bombshell [authors emphasis],” writes Borneman. (12) Through this one action, full out war with France would ensue in Europe. The diplomatic upheaval this event had would pave the way for larger conflicts across the world; Indian tactics had a hand in it. The inability to secure Indian allies would continue for the British throughout the French and Indian war. Washington would write, “…the French grow more and more formidable by their alliances, while our Friendly Indians are deserting Our Interest.” (13) Indian tactics would be the catalyst for the victory against the regular British force and ignite full blown war throughout Europe.
“The debacle threw Virginia into a panic and left the frontier of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania open to French and Indians raid,” opines Utley and Washburn. (14) If the French were prepared to press the victory that occurred at Duquesne, the makeup of the United States may have been totally different. But the British were able to stymie the French victory. It provided the catalyst for the British government to take the colonial war serious and put the French on the offensive in Europe. “Upwards of 500 men from Braddock’s command had died… five years later, their bleached bones would still be visible to a passerby, ‘so thick that one lies on top of another for about a half mile in length, and about one hundred yards in breadth,’” writes Borneman. (15)
1. Robert M. Utley and Wilcomb E. Washburn, Indian Wars (New York: Mariner, 2002), 87.
2. Walter R. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America (New York: Harpers Collins, 2006), 47.
3. Utley and Wilcomb, Indian Wars, 87.
4. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, 47.
5. Ibid., 53.
6. Ibid., 53.
7. Utley and Wilcomb, Indian Wars, 84-85.
8. Ibid., 81.
9. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, 53.
10. Ibid., 54.
11. Ibid., 53-59.
12. Ibid., 56.
13. Utley and Wilcomb, Indian Wars, 83.
14. Ibid., 81.
15. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, 55.
Borneman, Walter R. The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.
Doughty, Robert A. and Ira D. Gruber. Warfare in the Western World: Military Operations from 1600 to 1871. Lexington: D.C. Heath Company, 1996.
Milliet, Allen R. and Peter Maslowski. For Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. New York: Free Press, 1994.
Starkey, Armstrong. European and Native American Warfare, 1675-1815. London: UCL Press, 1998.
Utley, Robert M, and Wilcomb E. Washburn. Indian Wars. New York: Mariner Books, 2002.