Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

. (page 6 of 126)
Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 6 of 126)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

their orders, to give Jumonville and his
force this double character. The written
instructions, found on the body of the
young French leader, directed him to use
every secret means he could to obtain
information of the proceedings of the
English, and send it back to his chief in
command as soon as obtained. It is true
he was also ordered to summon the Eng
lish to retire from what was claimed to
be French territory, but only after he had
exhausted his resources as a spy was he
expected to begin upon his more digni
fied duty of an embassador. Jumonville
was caught in the act of his preliminary
and less honorable functions, and was
dealt with by Washington accordingly.


Washington wins his Spurs. "A Brave Braggart." The Death of Jumonville declared by the French an Assassination.
Plans for Revenge. Fort Du Quesne. Expedition against Washington. He fortifies himself at Great Meadows.
Nothing daunted, but prudent withal. Tanacharisson s Blood up. Promises to come to the Rescue. Fort Necessity.
Sufferings and Trials. Famine approaching. Arrival of Indians. Relief. Promotions. Van Braam a Captain.
Captain Mackay and his Independent South-Carolinian Volunteers. The French approach. Return of Washing
ton. Stops at Great Meadows. Fortifications. The Idle Carolinians. Washington puts his own Hands to the Work.
Fort Necessity described. Desertion of the Half-Chief and his Indians. Tanacharisson s Excuse. The Approach
of the Enemy. Attack begun. A Parley proposed. Washington consents to treat. Van Braam appointed Negoti
ator. His Knowledge of French and English. Capitulation. Washington made to call Himself an Assassin. Van
Braam a Blunderer or a Rogue. How Washington was deceived. He marches out with Colors flying. The French
Slanders. Washington s Arrival at Williamsburg. Vote of Thanks. Tanacarisson s Opinion of Washington.
Fort Necessity destroyed by the French. Honors paid to the Memory of Jumonville. De Villiers s Return to Mon
sieur de Contrecunir. A Reverse in the State of Affairs at Fort Du Quesne. A Reinforcement from Canada. Cham
pagne and Costly Velvets. The Court at Versailles exultant over French Successes in the Wilderness. Jumonville
called a Hero, Washington an American Fanner and Assassin. A Fanfaron. Louis XV. resolves upon pushing his
American Conquests. England feebly remonstrates. The Duke of Cumberland indignant. An accomplished Sec
retary of State. The Young Gates. General Braddock.

THE Virginian colonel had now first
"won his spurs," and no ancient knight
better deserved to wear them.


as Washington was, being only twenty-
two years of age, he had borne the brunt
of the battle with the steadiness of a vet-



[PART i.

eran, although lie liad exposed himself
perhaps with the too reckless spirit of a
youthful adventurer. In writing to a
brother, he gives vent to the heat of his
young blood in the following burst of
enthusiasm : " I fortunately escaped with
out any wound ; for the right wing, where
I stood, was exposed to and received all
the enemy s fire ; and it was the part
where the man was killed and the rest
wounded. / heard the bullets whistle, and.,
believe me, there is something charming in the
sound"* Horace Walpole termed this the
rhodomontade of "a brave braggart;"
and George II. is said to have remarked,
when he heard of it, " He would not say
so if he had been used to hear many
[bullets]." Washington, at a later peri
od of life, when time had subdued the
reckless daring of youth into the prudent
courage of age, replied, when asked if he
had ever made the remarks about the
whistling of bullets, " If I said so, it was
when I was young."

A French Canadian, having escaped
the fate of most of his companions, suc
ceeded in reaching the headquarters of
Contrecoeur, and gave in his account of
the death of Jumonville, and the fatal
result of his expedition. De Villiers, the
brother-in-law of Jumonville, was greatly
excited by these tidings of wo, and, swear
ing revenge, declared at once in favor of
the most violent and vindictive measures.
He was, however, overborne by the more
judicious of his fellow-officers ; and it was
finally agreed in the council that six hun-

* This letter is endorsed by Washington Irving, in his
"Life of Washington," as genuine, although the expression
italicized lias been hitherto suspected to have been a mere
bit of idle scandal propagated by the gossip Walpole.

dred men should be despatched immedi
ately, under Monsieur de Villiers as chief
in command, to meet the Virginians.

Contrecoeur had, ever since he had
ejected Ward and his thirty men from the
fork of the Ohio, been busy in strength
ening that important point. The works
had been placed under the supervision
of Mercier, an artillery-officer of merit,
and he had succeeded in completing a
very substantial fort, which Contrecoeur
had called, in honor of the governor of
Canada, Fort Du Quesne. Mercier s work
being over, he was in readiness to join
De Villiers, to whom he was appointed
second in command ; and the French
force sallied forth, without more ado, in
search of Washington.

Washington, in the meantime, had re
turned to his camp at the Great Mead
ows, and, having sent off his prisoners
and despatches to the governor of Vir
ginia, prepared to strengthen his position
with the expectation of an early attack
by the French. He had heard of the
completion of the new fort of Du Quesne,
and of the large number of troops gath
ering there. He knew that Contrecoeur
would not be long in striking a blow, in
return for the death of Jumonville and
the defeat of his party. He was there
fore in daily expectation of an attack
and an attack in which he would be at
the disadvantage of an inferior force.
lie, however, was nothing daunted. " I
shall expect every hour to be attacked,"
he writes, " and by unequal numbers,
which I must withstand, if there are five
to one." Young and daring as he was,
Washington was not wanting, even at




that early age of self-confidence, in the
prudence and foresight which marked
his subsequent life. " Your honor," he
declares in his despatch to the governor
of Virginia, u may depend I will not be
surprised, let them come at what hour
they will." His deeds confirmed his
words, and he set about diligently ma
king every preparation for the coming
attack. He finished his entrenchments
at Great Meadows, and began to erect a
palisade. He sent a messenger with all
despatch to Colonel Fry, who was ill at
Will s creek, with a request that he would
send at once as many of his men as he
could spare. The half-king Tanacharis-
son did not require much urging, as his
savage blood, having become heated in
the late fight with the French, was now
boiling fiercely for another struggle. The
chief accordingly, having sent the scalps
token from the French dead, and the sig
nificant hatchet, to his Indian allies, the
Mingoes and Shawnees, strove to engage
them to take up arms for his brothers
the English. He himself went away to
join his own people, promising soon to
return with forty or more of his own war

Having completed his fortification at
the Great Meadows, Washington gave it
the name of Fort Necessity, as well he
might, from the compulsory trials to
which he had been subjected in the
course of its construction. Here he was
forced to make a stand to await the ap
proach of an enemy that far outnum
bered his own small force. Here he
heard of the death of Fry at Will s creek;
and here his men, worn out with daily

toil, were deprived of their daily bread.
The small camp almost suffered from fam
ine in consequence of the neglect of the
trader Croghan, who had contracted to
supply the troops with flour. For nearly
a week they were deprived of this essen
tial staff of life. The scarcity, moreover,
which was so great as to bring Washing
ton s men to the verge of starvation, was
further increased by the arrival at the
camp of the half-king, his forty warriors,
and all their families. Supplies, however,
fortunately soon reached the almost fam
ished garrison.

Washington succeeded to the chief
command by the death of Fry, upon the
arrival of whose detachment from Will s
creek the force at Fort Necessity was in
creased to three hundred. A further ad
dition was expected from South Carolina,
which had enrolled an independent com
pany of one hundred men, under the com
mand of a Captain Mackay, whose arri
val was daily looked for.

Some changes in rank occurred among
the other officers in consequence of Wash
ington s advancement. Captain Adam
Stephen was promoted to a majority, and
Jacob Van Braam, Washington s old com
panion and interpreter, was made a cap

Fort Necessity having been put in a
tolerable condition, Washington (leaving
the hundred men of South Carolina and
their captain, Mackay, who had lately ar
rived, as a garrison to defend it) took up
again his old route for Redstone creek.
Washington had so much trouble with
Mackay s troop, as they considered them
selves in the light of volunteers, and thus



relieved from the obligation of ordinary
military duty, that he determined to pro
ceed without them in the toilsome labors
of completing the military road. The
Virginians had not been many days gone,
when intelligence was received of the ap
proach of the force which we have seen
was sent out from Fort Du Quesne. Wash
ington sent immediately for Captain Mac-
kay, and on his arrival a council-of-war
was held, at which it was resolved that it
was necessary to take up some more se
cure position than that where they were
then encamped, although they had pro
tected themselves by hurriedly throwing
up entrenchments.

The whole force now began to retire ;
and, after a toilsome retreat, for want of
a sufficiency of pack-horses and wagons,

finally reached Fort Necessity.

The Virginians complained loud
ly during the whole route of the Carolin
ians, who left all the work of clearing the
road, carrying the baggage, and dragging
the artillery, to them, while those inde
pendent military gentlemen considered
it inconsistent with their dignity to do
anything else but march in battle array.
When Washington reached the fort, he
found that his own men, either worn
down with fatigue, or influenced by the
bad example of the Carolinians, would
not move a step farther, and was fain to
rest at the Great Meadows, and there
await the coming of the French.

There was no time to spare, and Wash
ington set his men at work at once upon
the fort, which he strove to strengthen
by a breastwork of timber. The Caro
linians still looked idly on, while the Vir-

July 1,

ginians,with Washington himself putting
his own hands to the work, laboriously
cut down the trees, and rolled up their
great trunks to protect the small en

Fort Necessity was a rude stockade,
about a hundred feet square, and sur
rounded by trenches. It stood in the
middle of the Great Meadows, on a level
spot hemmed in by hills mostly covered
with wood. A small stream ran near the
place, and continued its course along the
base of the high ground and through the
valley which opened into the Great Mea

Washington, while thus manfully pre
paring to defend himself with his hand
ful of men against the larger force which
was coming to attack him, was further
weakened by the desertion of the half-
chief and his Indians. Tanacharisson pre
tended to be disaffected in consequence
of not having been sufficiently listened
to by Washington in the formation of
his plans. It was, however, suspected
that the Indians wished only to secure
the safety of their families ; and, as they
were aware of the overpowering num
bers of the French, they feared the fatal
result of an encounter at such odds. As
some few of the Indians who had no
wives still remained, it was supposed
that the motive just given was the real
cause of the desertion of those who went

The first sign of the approach of the
enemy was the arrival, early in the mom
ma; of a wounded sentinel, who

, , , Jiy s,

came staggering in from the outr

posts. Washington immediately drew up




his men on the plain to meet the antici
pated attack, which was now made cer
tain by the arrival of the scouts with in
formation that a large body of French
and Indians was within a few miles, and
rapidly approaching. Toward noon the
enemy had taken possession of a neigh
boring hill, and commenced a fire from
under cover of the trees. Their shots at
first fell short, and were not returned by
the provincials. The fire, however, of the
French soon began to tell more effectual
ly, and Washington wa.- forced to order
his men within the fortifications; and
here they kept up a straggling fire with
the enemy, seldom securing a good aim
at them, as they were hid among the
trees. This kind of skirmishing lasted the
whole day, the English having already
lost thirty while the French had only
three killed, when, night coming on, De
Villiers proposed a parley.

After some hesitation on the part of
Washington, who suspected a ruse, he
consented to send an officer to treat with
the French commander. Van Braam, who
had some pretensions to the knowledge
of the language, was selected. He made
several journeys backward and forward,
between the fort and the enemy s camp,
before he brought terms of capitulation
to which Washington was willing to as

These were sent by the French com
mander, written out in clue form ; and,
upon being delivered to Washington by
Van Braam, that officer was called upon
to translate them. This he undertook
to do, and how far he was equal to the
undertaking will be found by the result.

Washington and his officers, neither of
whom understood a word of French, be
lieved that they had got a fair idea of
the terms of capitulation proposed, al
though Van Braam was evidently not
quite at his ease either in French or Eng
lish. There was no objection made to
any of the stipulations as translated, with
the exception of that which proposed
that Washington should give up all his
artillery and ammunition to the enemy.
This he would not concede, and De Vil
liers accordingly altered it.

The besieged were in a condition not
very favorable certainly for insisting up
on the most liberal terms. Their cattle
had fallen into the hands of the enemy,
and Washington had only two bags of
flour and a little bacon left to feed his
whole three hundred men upon; while
all were so worn out with the hard and
hurried labor upon the works during the
three days and nights previous, that it
required all the undaunted spirit of their
young commander to cheer on their flag
ging energies. The weather, too, Avas
unfavorable. The rain poured in such
torrents, that it overflowed the trenches,
and, wetting the firelocks of the men,
prevented them often from returning the
fire of their assailants.

Washington, however, was, even un
der such circumstances of discourage
ment, not disposed to make any but the
most honorable terms of capitulation witli
the enemy. He accordingly insisted that
he should be allowed to depart with all
the honors of war, with drums beating
and colors flying. That Washington,
therefore, could have been aware, when



[PART i.

lie signed the capitulation, that it con
tained the expression, " the assassination of
Jumonville," is preposterous. The death
of that young Frenchman, however, was
thus described, and Washington had sign
ed the paper upon which the base word
was written ! Of course, no one now be
lieves that Washington ever knowingly
was made to condemn his own honorable
action, which resulted in the death of Ju
monville, as the deed of an assassin. The
French at the time, however, made a great
deal of this admission, which appears to
have been particularly sweet to De Vil-
liers s desire to revenge his young rela
tive. In his report of the affair at Fort
Necessity, he says : " We made the Eng
lish consent to sign that they had assas
sinated my brother in his camp."

It has been suspected that the cunning
French commander had bribed Van Braam
to misconstrue purposely the word assas-
sinat, in order that the French might in
dulge a stolen pleasure of revenge. It
is, however, more probable that the stu
pid Van Braam, who knew very little
English and much less French, made an
unintentional blunder in the translation.
Still, the French ^vord assassinat corre
sponds so nearly with our own " assas
sination," that we could hardly conceive
how Washington himself, even with his
ignorance of the French language, should
have been misled, were it not from this
fact. The paper with the written stipu
lations was brought in at nicrht, and read


in the trenches, by means of a candle
held close to the face of the blundering
Van Braam, who was undertaking to read
and explain its purport in broken Eng-

July 4,

lish. The rain w^as pouring in torrents at
the same moment, and Washington and
his officers were gathered in a confused
group about the reader, while there was
the greatest difficulty to see with suffi
cient distinctness to make out the wri
ting, or even to keep the candle burning.
Washington probably, in the confusion
and uncertain light, never saw the origi
nal word, and intrusted implicitly to his

Early next day, Washington,
having destroyed his artillery,
and hid away his military stores, as had
been agreed upon, led out his men, with
all the honors of war. Van Braam, who
could be Avell spared, and a Captain Stobo,
who was a man of different arid more gen
uine metal, were left with the French
commander as hostages for the fulfilment
of the terms of the capitulation. De Vil-
liers, in his report, utters a contemptuous
lie, declaring that " the English, struck
ivith panic, took to flight, and left their
flag and one of their colors." They did
leave their regimental flag, because it Avas
too burdensome to carry, but their colors
they bore away flying, as they were enti
tled to by the concession made by this
same De Villiers who forged the lie.

The French had been better occupied
in keeping their own word than in de
vising false accusations against others.
They had pledged themselves that Wash
ington and his men should be allowed to
march out without molestation ; and yet
they had hardly got out of the fort, when
the Indians from De Villiers s camp be
gan plundering the baggage, and it was
found necessary, in consequence, to tie-




*troy the greater part of it, in order to
get rid of these ravenous savages. In a
few days, after a toilsome journey, Wash
ington succeeded in leading his jaded and
disheartened force to Will s creek, where,
with abundant provisions, and in a snug
encampment, they were left to recruit
their strength and health, until they
might be in proper condition to march
homeward. Washington himself pushed
on directly for Williamsburg, to give in
his report of the unfortunate but honor
able results of the expedition. His own
province justly estimated Washington s
services, and he received a vote of thanks
from the Virginia house of burgesses for
his courage and the prudence of his con

The old chief Tanacharisson, however,
who had deserted his " white brother" in
his emergency, took, as it seems, a very
different view of Washington s manage
ment. " The colonel," he said, " w r as . a
good-natured man, but had no experi
ence ; he took upon him to command the
Indians as his slaves, and would have
them every day upon the scout, and to
attack the enemy by themselves, but
would by no means take advice from the
Indians. He lay in one place from one
full moon to the other, without making
any fortifications, except that little thing
in the Meadow ; whereas, had he taken
advice, and built such fortifications as he
(Tanacharisson) advised him, he might
easily have beat off the French. But the
French, in the engagement, acted like
cowards, and the English like fools."

De Villiers, having taken possession
of Fort Necessity on its surrender, set i

about destroying its rude and incomplete
works, and then started on his return
to Fort Du Quesne. As there was little
to be done in demolishing the simple
defences of the English provincials, the
French were enabled to get through their
labors in a single morning, and marched
out on the very same day that Washing
ton departed. Their force was now di
vided into two parties, and both went to
work destroying all the English trading-
posts and stockades met with in the
course of their different routes. De Vil
liers led his detachment to the scene of
Jumonville s defeat and death, and, with
pious affection, seeking out from among
the mangled corpses of the slain (who, in
accordance with Indian warfare, lay scat
tered about with their skulls bared by
the tomahawk) his brother s body, buried
it w r ith the honors of a soldier s grave.
This pious duty performed, De Villiers
hastened on to Fort Du Quesne, where
he arrived on the 7th day of July.

Monsieur de Contrecccur and his gar
rison on the Monongahela were not found
by De Villiers in such a flourishing con
dition as when he had left them on his
expedition down the Ohio. Supplies,
which had been sent out for the provis-.
ion of the fort, had been delayed on the
route. Those who had charge of them
had wandered from their way, and, not
succeeding in finding horses and wagons
to carry their burden, were obliged to
bear it themselves. With the fatigue,
the delay, and the scarcity of provisions,
the men sickened ; and no less than four
hundred of the party died from the effects
of hunger, exhaustion, and the scurvy.





Those who escaped finally broke open
(.he packages with which they were
charged, and helped themselves freely to
their contents. They thus got an abun
dant supply of the generous wines of
Champagne and Bordeaux., and in their
wild orgies dressed themselves, in the
midst of the wilderness, in the costly vel
vet uniforms sent to grace the dignity of
Monsieur de Contrecoeur and his fellow-
officers. When they arrived at the fort,
they had hardly anything to offer but
themselves, tricked off in the gaudy suits
of their superiors. Fresh instalments,
however, from Canada, soon put Fort
Du Quesne on a more satisfactory foot
ing, and its commander was enabled to
carry out his plans, for the possession of
the Ohio, in a manner to gratify the un
bounded appetite of his sovereign for do

The court at Versailles were in raptures
with French success in America; and,
while they slandered the young Wash
ington., they elevated the unfortunate
Jumonville to the rank of a hero. His
death was mourned in story, as that of
the brave and the good ; while Washing
ton, ce plantcur Americain that American
farmer who in a few years afterward was
to be hailed as the regenerator of the
human race by the people of France
was held up to scorn, by the minions of
a lewd king and his shameless mistress,
as an assassin !

In England, there was hardly any more
disposition to do Washington justice ;
and we are not surprised to find Wai pole
recording, in one of his gossiping letters,
that " the French have tied up the hands

of an excellent fanfaron., a Major Wash
ington, whom they took and engaged not
to serve for a year." Throughout Eng
land, however, the ill success of the Vir
ginian expedition, whatever may have
been thought of its young and heroic
leader, was received with undisguised
vexation. The government remonstra
ted, through their embassador at the
court of Versailles, the dissolute Albc-
marle, against the aggressions of the
French in America. These remonstran
ces, however, produced no effect, Louis
XV. continued to send reinforcements to
Canada, and made no secret of his deter
mination to follow up his successes at
Fort Necessity with further attempts up
on the territory west of the Alleghanie^.
Great Britain, with unusual equanimity
of temper, contented itself with opposing
these overt acts of hostility by sending a
little advice to its colonies. These were
urged to unite for their common protec
tion, and defend themselves against the
w r hole pow r er of France. The languid
hands of Pelham, and the weak grasp of
the incapable duke of Newcastle, then
held the reins of power, and the active

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 6 of 126)