Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 1: The Favorite Soldier of Virginia: Early Years; the French and Indian War (1732 to 1759) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 1: “The Favorite Soldier of Virginia”: Early Years; the French and Indian War (1732 to 1759) - John Marshall, The Life of George Washington 
The Life of George Washington. Special Edition for Schools, ed. Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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“The Favorite Soldier of Virginia”: Early Years; the French and Indian War (1732 to 1759)
Birth of George Washington.—His mission to the French General of Ohio.—Is appointed Lieutenant of a Colonial regiment.—Surprises Monsieur Jumonville.—Capitulation of fort Necessity.—Appointed Aid-de-camp to General Braddock.—Defeat and death of that General.—Appointed to the command of a Colonial regiment.—Distress of the frontiers.—Expedition against fort Du Quêsne.—Defeat of Major Grant.—Fort Du Quêsne evacuated.—Colonel Washington resigns.—His marriage.
George Washington, the third son of Augustine Washington, was born on the 22d of February, 1732, near the banks of the Potomac, in the county of Westmoreland, in Virginia. His father married Miss Butler, who died in 1728; leaving two sons, Lawrence and Augustine. In 1730, he intermarried with Miss Mary Ball, by whom he had four sons, George, John, Samuel, and Charles; and one daughter, Betty, who intermarried with Colonel Fielding Lewis, of Fredericksburg.
His great-grand-father, John Washington, had emigrated from the north of England, about the year 1657, and settled on the place where Mr. Washington was born.
1743At the age of eleven years, he lost his father. An affectionate mother continued to impress those principles of religion and virtue on his tender mind, which constituted the solid basis of a character that was maintained throughout all the trying vicissitudes of an eventful life. But his education was limited to subjects strictly useful, not even extending to foreign languages.
1749At the age of seventeen, he was appointed a surveyor in the western part of the northern neck of Virginia; and, in that office, acquired such information respecting vacant lands, and formed those opinions concerning their future value, which afterwards contributed greatly to the increase of his fortune.
Those powerful attractions, which the profession of arms presents to young and ardent minds, possessed their full influence over Mr. Washington. Stimulated by the enthusiasm of military genius, to take part in the war in which Great Britain was then engaged, he pressed earnestly to enter into the navy, and, at the age of fourteen, a midshipman’s warrant was obtained for him. The interference of a timid and affectionate mother deferred the commencement, and changed the course, of his military career. Six1752 years afterwards, when the militia were to be trained for actual service, he was appointed one of the Adjutants-General1 of Virginia, with the rank of Major. The duties annexed to this office soon yielded to others of a more interesting character.
France was beginning to develop the vast plan of connecting her extensive dominions in America, by uniting Canada to Louisiana. The troops of that nation had taken possession of a tract of country claimed by Virginia, and had commenced a line of posts, to be extended from the Lakes to the Ohio. The attention of Mr. Dinwiddie,2 Lieutenant-Governor of that province, was1753 attracted to these supposed encroachments, and he deemed it his duty to demand in the name of the King, his master, that they should be suspended.
This mission was toilsome and hazardous. The Envoy would be under the necessity of passing through an extensive and almost unexplored wilderness, inhabited by fierce savages, who were either hostile to the English or of doubtful attachment. While the dangers and fatigues of this service deterred others from undertaking it, they seem to have possessed attractions for Mr. Washington, and he engaged in it with alacrity.
Oct.–Nov. 1753On receiving his commission, he proceeded to Wills’ creek, then the extreme frontier settlement of the English, where guides were engaged to conduct him over the Alleghany mountains. At the mouth of Turtle creek he was informed that the French general was dead, and that the army had retired into winter quarters. Pursuing his route, he examined the country through which he passed, with a military eye, and selected the confluence of the Monongahela and Alleghany rivers, the place where fort Du Quêsne was afterwards erected by the French, as a position which it would be advisable to seize and fortify immediately.3
After employing a few days in securing the fidelity of the Indians in that neighborhood, he ascended the Alleghany to a French fort where he was received by the commanding officer on the Ohio, to whom he delivered the letter of Mr. Dinwiddie, and from whom he received an answer with which he returned to Williamsburg.Jan. 1754 The exertions made by Mr. Washington on this mission, the perseverance with which he surmounted the difficulties he encountered, and the judgment displayed in his conduct toward the Indians, raised him in the public opinion as well as in that of the Lieutenant-Governor. His journal, drawn up for the inspection of Mr. Davidson, was published, and impressed his countrymen with very favorable sentiments of his understanding and fortitude.4
As the answer from the commandant of the French forces on the Ohio indicated no disposition to withdraw from that country, it was deemed necessary to make some preparations to maintain the rights asserted over it by the British crown; and the Assembly of Virginia authorized the Executive to raise a regiment forMarch–April 1754 that purpose, to consist of three hundred men. The command of this regiment was given to Mr. Fry, and Major Washington was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel. Anxious to be engaged in active service, he obtained permission, about the beginning of April, to advance with two companies to the Great Meadows, in the Alleghany Mountains. Soon after his arrival at that place, he was informed by some friendly Indians that the French, having dispersed a party of workmen employed by the Ohio Company to erect a fort on the south-eastern branch of the Ohio, were engaged in completing a fortification at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers; a detachment from which place was then on its march towards his camp. Though open hostilities had not yet commenced, the country was considered as invaded; and several circumstances were related, confirming the opinion that this party was approaching with hostile views. Confident of this, Lieutenant-Colonel Washington resolved to anticipate them. Proceeding under the guidance of Indians, through a dark and rainy night, to the French encampment, he completelyMay 27, 1754 surrounded it; and, at daybreak, his troops fired and rushed upon the party, which immediately surrendered. One man only escaped capture; and Monsieur Jumonville alone, the commanding officer, was killed.
While the regiment was on its march to join the detachment advanced in front, the command devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel Washington by the death of Colonel Fry. Soon after its arrival, it was reinforced by two independent companies of regulars. After erecting a small stockade at the Great Meadows, Colonel Washington commenced his march towards fort Du Quêsne, with the intention of dislodging the French from that place. He had not proceeded more than thirty miles, when he was informed by some friendly Indians, that the French, “as numerous as the pigeons in the wood,” were advancing rapidly to meet him. Among those who brought this information was a trusty chief, only two days from the post on the Ohio, who had observed the arrival of a considerable reinforcement at that place, and had heard them express the intention of marching immediately to attack the English, with a corps composed of eight hundred French and four hundred Indians.
The ground occupied by Colonel Washington was not adapted to military purposes. A road leading through other defiles in the mountains, would enable the French to pass into his rear, intercept his supplies, and starve him into a surrender, or fight him with a superiority of three to one.
In this hazardous situation, a council of war unanimously advised a retreat to the fort at the Great Meadows, now termed fort Necessity; where the two roads united, and where the face of the country was such as not to permit an enemy to pass him unperceived. At that place he intended to await the arrival of reinforcements.
In pursuance of this advice, Colonel Washington returned to fort Necessity, and began a ditch around the stockade. Before it was completed, the French and Indians, computed at fifteen hundred men, commanded by Monsieur de Villier, appeared before theJuly 3, 1754 fort, and commenced a furious attack upon it. They were received with great intrepidity by the Americans, who fought partly within the stockade, and partly in the surrounding ditch, which was nearly filled with mud and water. Colonel Washington continued the whole day on the outside of the fort, encouraging the soldiers by his countenance and example. The assailants fought under cover of the trees and high grass with which the country abounds. The action continued from ten in the morning until dark, when Monsieur de Villier demanded a parley, and offered terms of capitulation. These were rejected, but, in the course of the night, articles were signed, by which the fort was surrendered on condition that the garrison should be allowed the honors of war—should be permitted to retain their arms and baggage, and be suffered to march unmolested into the inhabited parts of Virginia.
The loss of the Americans in this affair is not ascertained. A return made after arriving at Wills’ creek, states the killed and wounded of the Virginia regiment at fifty-eight. The loss sustained by the two independent companies was not reported. That of the assailants was supposed to be more considerable.
Great credit was given to Colonel Washington by his countrymen, for the courage displayed in this engagement. The legislature evinced its satisfaction with the conduct of the whole party, by passing a vote of thanks to him and the officers under his command; and by giving three hundred pistoles to be distributed among the soldiers engaged in the action.
The regiment returned to Winchester to be recruited;5 soon after which it was joined by a few companies from North Carolina and Maryland. On the arrival of this reinforcement, the Lieutenant-Governor, with the advice of council, unmindful of the condition and number of the troops, ordered them to march immediately over the Alleghany mountains; and to expel the French from fort Du Quêsne, or to build one in its vicinity.
Aug. 1754The little army in Virginia, now under the command of Colonel Innes of North Carolina, did not exceed half the number of the enemy, and was neither provided with the means of moving, nor with supplies for a winter campaign. With as little consideration, directions had been given for the immediate completion of the regiment, without furnishing a shilling for the recruiting service—Colonel Washington remonstrated against these orders, but prepared to execute them. The assembly however, having risen without making any provision for the farther prosecution of the war, this wild expedition was abandoned, and the Virginia regiment was reduced to independent companies.
In the course of the winter, orders were received “for settling the rank of his majesty’s forces then serving with the provincials in North America.” These orders directed “that all officers commissioned by the king, or by his general in North America, should take rank6 of all officers commissioned by the governors of the respective provinces: and further, that the general and field officers of the provincial troops should have no rank when serving with the general and field officers commissioned by the crown; but that all captains, and other inferior officers of the royal troops, should take rank over provincial officers of the same grade, having senior commissions.”
Oct. 1754Still professing his attachment to a military life, Colonel Washington could not submit to hold the station assigned to him, and retired indignantly from a service in which he was degraded by loss of rank.
His eldest brother had lately died and left him Mount Vernon,—a considerable estate on the Potomac.7 To this delightful spot he withdrew, resolving to devote his future life to private pursuits. This resolution was not long maintained.
General Braddock,8 being informed of his merit, and his knowledge of the country which was to become the theatre of action, gratified his desire to make one campaign under an officer supposed to possess some knowledge of war, by inviting him to enter his family as a volunteer aid-de-camp.9
Having accepted this invitation, he joined the commander-in-chief on his march from Alexandria to Wills’ creek. The army1755 was detained at that place until the 12th of June, by the difficulty of procuring wagons, horses, and provisions. Colonel Washington, impatient under these delays, suggested the propriety of using pack-horses instead of wagons: though the commander-in-chief at first rejected this advice, its propriety, soon after the commencement of the march, became too obvious to be longer neglected.
On the third day after the army had moved from Wills’ creek, Colonel Washington was seized with a violent fever which disabled him from riding on horseback, and was conveyed in a covered wagon. Being still privately consulted by the commander-in-chief, he urged that officer strenuously to leave his heavy artillery and baggage with the rear division, and with a chosen body of troops, and some pieces of light artillery, to press forward to fort Du Quêsne. In support of this advice, he stated that the French were then weak on the Ohio, but daily expected reinforcements. These could not arrive during the drought existing at that time, because the river Le Boeuf, on which their supplies must be brought to Virginia, was too low for the purpose. A rapid movement might enable him to carry the place before the arrival of the expected aid. But should the army remain united, the delays attending its march were such, that rain sufficient to raise the waters might be expected, and the whole force of the French might be collected for their reception;—a circumstance which would render the success of the expedition doubtful.
This advice according with the temper of the commander-in-chief, it was determined in a council of war that twelve hundred select men, to be commanded by the General in person, should advance with the utmost expedition against fort Du Quêsne. Colonel Dunbar was to remain with the residue of the regular troops and all the heavy baggage.
Colonel Washington was obliged to stop at the Great Crossings of the Yohogany—the physician having declared that his life would be endangered by continuing with the army. He obeyed the positive orders of the General to remain at this place; having first received a promise that means should be used to bring him up with the army before it reached fort Du Quêsne.
July 8, 1755The day before the action of the Monongahela, he joined the General in a covered wagon; and, though weak, entered on the duties of his station.
In a short time after the action had commenced, Colonel Washington was the only aid remaining alive and unwounded. The whole duty of carrying the orders of the commander-in-chief, in an engagement with marksmen who selected officers, especially those on horseback, devolved on him. Two horses were killed under him, and four balls passed through his coat. To the astonishment of all he escaped unhurt, while every other officer on horseback was killed or wounded. “I expected every moment,” says an eye-witness, “to see him fall. His duty and situation exposed him to every danger. Nothing but the superintending care of Providence could have saved him from the fate of all around him.”10
At length, after an action of nearly three hours, General Braddock, under whom three horses had been killed, received a mortal wound, and his troops fled in great disorder. Every effort to rally them was ineffectual until they had crossed the Monongahela. The General was brought off in a tumbril,11 by Colonel Washington, Captain Stewart of the guards, and his servant. The defeated detachment retreated to the rear division of the army, where General Braddock expired. The military stores not necessary for immediate use were destroyed, and Colonel Dunbar marched the remaining European troops to Philadelphia.
Colonel Washington, who was much dissatisfied with the conduct of the regular soldiers in this action, bestowed great praise on the provincials. “The Virginia companies,” he said in a letter to the Lieutenant-Governor, “fought like men and died like soldiers. Captain Peronny and all his officers, down to a corporal, were killed. Captain Poulson had almost as hard a fate, for only one of his escaped.”
Colonel Washington had long been the favorite soldier of Virginia, and his reputation grew with every occasion for exertion. His conduct in this battle had been universally extolled, and the common opinion of his countrymen was, that, had his advice been pursued, the disaster had been avoided.
The Assembly, which was in session when intelligence of this defeat and of the abandonment of the province by Colonel Dunbar was received, immediately determined to raise a regiment for theAug. 14, 1755 defence of the colony, the command of which was given to Colonel Washington, who was also designated in his commission as the commander-in-chief of all the forces raised and to be raised in Virginia. The uncommon privilege of naming his field officers was added to this honorable manifestation of public confidence.
After making the necessary arrangements for the recruiting service, and visiting the posts on the frontier, he set out for the seat of government; but was overtaken by an express carrying the intelligence that a large number of French and Indians, divided into several parties, had broken up the frontier settlements; were murdering and capturing men, women, and children; burning their houses, and destroying their crops. The troops stationed among them for their protection were unequal to that duty, and instead of affording aid to the inhabitants, were blocked up in their forts.
Colonel Washington hastened back to Winchester, but his efforts to raise the militia12 were unavailing. Instead of assembling in arms and obtaining safety by meeting their invaders, the inhabitants fled into the lower country, and increased the general terror. He endeavored to collect and arm the men who had abandoned their houses, and to remove their wives and children from this scene of desolation and carnage. Pressing orders were despatched to the newly appointed officers to forward their recruits, and to the county lieutenants east of the Blue Ridge to hasten their militia to Winchester. Before these orders could be executed, the invading enemy had recrossed the Alleghany Mountains.
1756Early in the following spring another irruption, spreading death and desolation around, was made into the inhabited country. The number of troops on the regular establishment was unequal to the protection of the frontier, and effective service from the militia was found to be unattainable. The people either abandoned the country, or attempted to secure themselves in small stockade forts, where they were in great distress for provisions, arms, and ammunition, were often surrounded, and sometimes cut off. The letters of Colonel Washington at the time show the deep impression made on his mind by this afflicting and irremediable state of things.
The incompetency of the military force to the defence of the country having become obvious, the assembly determined to augment the regiment to fifteen hundred men. Colonel Washington urged the necessity of increasing it still further, and demonstrated the total incompetency of the number proposed to the protection of the extensive frontier of Virginia. His representations did not succeed, and the distress of the country increased. As had been foreseen, Winchester became almost the only settlement west of the Blue Ridge on the northern frontier; and fears were entertained that the enemy would pass even that barrier, and ravage the country below it. Express after express was sent to hasten the militia, but sent in vain. At length, about the last of April, the French and their savage allies, laden with plunder, prisoners, and scalps, returned to fort Du Quêsne.
Some short time after their retreat, the militia appeared, and were employed in searching the country for small lingering parties of Indians, and in making dispositions to repel another invasion. A fort was commenced at Winchester, which, in honor of the General then commanding the British forces in America, was called fort Loudoun; and the perpetual remonstrances13 of Colonel Washington at length effected some improvement in the military code.
Successive incursions continued to be made by the French and Indians, who kept up a perpetual alarm, and murdered the defenceless wherever found. In Pennsylvania, the inhabitants were driven as far as Carlisle; and, in Maryland, Fredericktown, on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, became a frontier. With less than one thousand men, aided occasionally by militia, Colonel Washington was required to defend a frontier nearly four hundred miles in extent, and to complete a chain of forts.
This campaign furnishes no event which can interest the reader; yet the duties of the officer, though minute, were arduous; and the suffering of the people beyond measure afflicting. It adds to the many instances history records of the miseries always to be expected by those who defer preparing the means of defence, until the moment when they ought to be used, and then rely on a force neither adequate to the danger, nor of equal continuance with it.
As soon as the main body of the enemy had withdrawn fromOct. 1756 the settlements, a tour was made by Colonel Washington to the south-western frontier. There, as in the North, repeated incursions had been made; and there too, the principal defence of the country was entrusted to our ill-regulated militia.
After returning to Winchester, he gave the Lieutenant-Governor, in curious14 detail, a statement of the situation in which heMarch 1757 found the country, urging, but urging in vain, arguments which will always be suggested by experience, against relying chiefly on militia for defence.
Sensible of the impracticability of defending such an extensive frontier, Colonel Washington continued to press the policy of enabling him to act on the offensive. The people of Virginia, he thought, could be protected only by entering the country of the enemy; giving him employment at home, and removing the source of all their calamities by taking possession of fort Du Quêsne.
His inability to act offensively was not the only distressing and vexatious circumstance to which he was exposed. The Lieutenant-Governor, who seems to have been unequal to the difficulties of his station, frequently deranged his system by orders which could not be executed, and sometimes could not be well understood. He seems, too, to have occasionally manifested unreasonable dissatisfaction with the conduct of the commander-in-chief.
July 1756In the midst of these embarrassments, Lord Loudoun,15 in whose person the offices of Governor and commander-in-chief were united, arrived in Virginia. A comprehensive statement of the situation of the Colony in a military point of view, and of the regiment in particular, was drawn up and submitted to him by Colonel Washington. In this, he enumerated the errors which had prevented the completion of his regiment, showed the insufficiency of militia for military purposes, and demonstrated the advantages of an offensive system.
Feb.–April 1757This statement was probably presented by Colonel Washington in person, in the winter when permitted to visit Lord Loudoun in Philadelphia, when that nobleman met the Governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, and the Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia, in order to consult with them on the measures to be taken in their respective provinces, for the ensuing campaign. He was, however, disappointed in his favorite hope of being able to act offensively against the French on the Ohio. Lord Loudoun had determined to make a grand effort against Canada, and to leave only twelve hundred men in the middle and southern colonies; yet his anxious wishes continued to be directed towards fort Du Quêsne. In a letter written in May to Colonel Stanwix, who commanded in the middle colonies, he observed, “You will excuse me, sir, for saying that I think there never was, and perhaps never again will be, so favorable an opportunity as the present for reducing fort Du Quêsne. Several prisoners have made their escape from the Ohio this spring, and agree in their accounts that there are but three hundred men left in the garrison. Surely then, this is too precious an opportunity to be lost.”
But Mr. Pitt16 did not yet direct the councils of Britain, and a spirit of enterprise and heroism did not yet animate her generals. The campaignJuly 1757 to the North was inglorious; and nothing was even attempted towards the West which might relieve the middle colonies.
Large bodies of savages in the service of France once more spread desolation and murder over the whole country west of the Blue Ridge. The regular troops were inadequate to the defence of the inhabitants, and the incompetence of the defensive system to their security became every day more apparent. He continued to urge on the Lieutenant-Governor, and on the Assembly, in his letters to the Speaker, the necessity of vigorous exertions. Without them he predicted that there would not be found an individual west of the Blue Ridge the ensuing autumn, except the troops in garrison, and a few in Winchester under the protection of the fort.
It was impossible that Colonel Washington, zealous in the service of his country, and ambitious of military fame, could observe the errors committed in the conduct of the war without censuring them. These errors were extended to Indian affairs. The Cherokees1757 and Catawbas had hitherto remained faithful to the English, and it was very desirable to engage the warriors of those tribes heartily in their service; but so badly was the intercourse with them conducted, that, though considerable expense was incurred, not much aid was obtained, and great disgust was excited among them. The freedom with which his censures were uttered gave offence to the Lieutenant-Governor, who considered them as manifesting a want of respect for himself. Sometimes he coarsely termed them impertinent; at others, charged him with looseness in his information, and inattention to his duty. On one of these occasions, Colonel Washington thus concluded a letterAug. 27 of detail:17 “I must beg leave before I conclude, to observe in justification of my own conduct, that it is with pleasure I receive reproof when reproof is due, because no person can be readier to accuse me than I am to acknowledge an error when I have committed it, nor more desirous of atoning for a crime when I am sensible of being guilty of one. But on the other hand, it is with concern I remark that my best endeavors lose their reward; and that my conduct, although I have uniformly studied to make it as unexceptionable as I could, does not appear to you in a favorable point of light; otherwise your honor would not have accused me of loose behavior, and remissness of duty, in matters where I think I have rather exceeded than fell short of it. This I think is evidently the case in speaking of Indian affairs at all, after being instructed in express terms not to have any concern with or management of Indian affairs.”
Not long after this he received a letter informing him of some coarse calumny, reflecting on his veracity and honor, which had been reported to the Lieutenant-Governor. He inclosed a copy of this letter to Mr. Dinwiddie, and thus addressed him: “I should take it infinitely kind if your honor would please to inform me whether a report of this kind was ever made to you; and, in that case, who was the author of it.
“It is evident from a variety of circumstances, and especially from the change in your honor’s conduct towards me, that some person as well inclined to detract, but better skilled in the art of detraction than the author of the above stupid scandal, has made free with my character!
“If it be possible that * * * *, for my belief is staggered, not being conscious of having given the least cause to any one, much less to that gentleman, to reflect so grossly; I say if it be possible that * * * * could descend so low as to be the propagator of this story, he must either be vastly ignorant of the state of affairs in this country at that time, or else he must suppose that the whole body of the inhabitants had combined with me in executing the deceitful fraud.
“It is uncertain in what light my services may have appeared to your honour; but this I know, and it is the highest consolation I am capable of feeling, that no man that ever was employed in a public capacity, has endeavored to discharge the trust in him with greater honesty, and more zeal for the country’s interest than I have done.”
In a letter some short time after this to the Lieutenant-Governor, he said, “I do not know that I ever gave your honor cause to suspect me of ingratitude; a crime I detest, and would most carefully avoid. If an open disinterested behavior carries offence, I may have offended, for I have all along laid it down as a maxim to represent facts freely and impartially, but not more so to others than to you, sir. If instances of my ungrateful behavior had been particularized, I would have answered them. But I have been long convinced that my actions and their motives have been maliciously aggravated.”
Mr. Dinwiddie soon afterwards took leave of Virginia, and the government devolved on Mr. Blair, the president of the council. Between him and the commander of the colonial troops the utmost cordiality existed.
After the close of the campaign of 1757, Loudoun returned to England, and General Abercrombie succeeded to the command of the army. The department of the middle and southern provinces was committed to General Forbes, who, to the inexpressible gratification of Colonel Washington, determined to undertake an expedition against fort Du Quêsne.
1758He urged an early campaign, but he urged it ineffectually; and before the troops were assembled, a large body of French and Indians broke into the country, and renewed the horrors of the tomahawk and scalping-knife. The attempts made to intercept these savages were unsuccessful; and they recrossed the Alleghany with their plunder, prisoners, and scalps.
Among other motives for an early campaign, Colonel Washington had urged the impracticability of retaining the Indians. His fears were well founded. Before a junction of the troops had been made, these savages became impatient, and finding that the expedition would yet be delayed a considerable time, they left the army, promising to rejoin it at the proper season.
In pursuance of orders, the Virginia troops moved in detachments from Winchester to fort Cumberland, where they assembled early in July; after which they were employed in opening a road to Raystown, where Colonel Bouquet was stationed.
Colonel Washington had expected that the army would march by Braddock’s road; but, late in July, he had the mortification to receive a letter from Colonel Bouquet, asking an interview, in order to consult on opening a new road from Raystown, and requesting his opinion on that route. “I shall,” says he, in answer to this letter, “most cheerfully work on any road, pursue any route, or enter upon any service, that the General or yourself may think me usefully employed in or qualified for; and shall never have a will of my own when a duty is required of me. But since you desire me to speak my sentiments freely, permit me to observe that, after having conversed with all the guides, and having been informed by others acquainted with the country, I am convinced that a road to be compared with General Braddock’s, or indeed that will be fit for transportation even by pack-horses, can not be made.”
A few days after writing this letter he had an interview with Colonel Bouquet, whom he found decided in favour of opening the new road. After their separation, Colonel Washington addressed to him a letter to be laid before General Forbes, in which he stated his reasons against this measure. He concluded his arguments against it (arguments which appear to be conclusive) by declaring his fears that, should the attempt be made, nothing more could be done than to fortify some post west of the Alleghany, and prepare for another campaign. This he prayed heaven to avert.
In a letter to Major Halket, aid-de-camp to General Forbes, he thus expressed his forebodings of the mischiefs to be apprehended from the adoption of the new route. “I am just returned from a conference held with Colonel Bouquet. I find him fixed—I think I may say unalterably fixed—to lead you a new way to the Ohio through a road, every inch of which is to be cut at this advanced season, when we have scarcely time left to tread the beaten track, universally confessed to be the best passage through the mountains.
“If Colonel Bouquet succeeds in this point with the General, all is lost! all is lost indeed! our enterprise is ruined; and we shall be stopped at the Laurel Hill this winter; but not to gather laurels, except of the kind which cover the mountains. The southern Indians will turn against us, and these colonies will be desolated by such an accession to the enemy’s strength. These must be the consequences of a miscarriage; and a miscarriage the almost necessary consequence of an attempt to march the army by this route.”
Colonel Washington’s remonstrances and arguments were unavailing; and the new route was adopted. His extreme chagrin at this measure, and at the delays resulting from it, was expressed in anxious letters to Mr. Fauquier, then governor of Virginia, and to the Speaker of the House of Burgesses.
Sept. 21He was soon afterwards ordered to Raystown. Major Grant had been previously detached from the advanced post at Loyal Hanna, with a select corps of eight hundred men, to reconnoitre the country about fort Du Quêsne. The morning after his arrival in the vicinity of the fort, he detached Major Lewis of Colonel Washington’s regiment, with a baggage-guard, two miles in his rear; and sent an engineer with a covering party, in full view of the fort, to take a plan of the works. An action soon commenced, on which Major Lewis, leaving Captain Bullett with about fifty Virginians to guard the baggage, advanced with the utmost celerity to support Major Grant. The English were defeated with considerable loss; and both Major Grant and Major Lewis were taken prisoners. In this action the Virginians manifested the spirit with which they had been trained. Of eight officers, five were killed, a sixth wounded, and seventh taken prisoner. Captain Bullett, who defended the baggage with great resolution, and contributed to save the remnant of the detachment, was the only officer who escaped unhurt. Of one hundred and sixty-two men, sixty-two were killed on the spot, and forty-two wounded.
Oct. 11It was at length determined that the army should move from Raystown, and the colonels of regiments were required to submit severally to the consideration of the General, a plan for his march. That proposed by Colonel Washington has been preserved, and appears to have been judiciously formed.
They reached the camp at Loyal Hanna, through a road indescribably bad, about the fifth of November. At this place, as had been predicted, a council of war determined that it was unadvisable to proceed farther this campaign. It would have been almost impossible to winter an army in that position. They must have retreated from the cold inhospitable wilderness into which they had penetrated, or have suffered immensely, perhaps have perished. Fortunately, some prisoners were taken who informed them of the extreme distress of the fort. Receiving no support from Canada, the garrison was weak, in great want of provisions, and deserted by the Indians. This encouraging intelligence changed the resolution which had been taken, and determined the General to prosecute the expedition.
Colonel Washington was advanced in front, and, with immense labor, opened a way for the main body of the army. The troops moved forward with slow and painful steps until they reached fort Du Quêsne, of which they took possession on the 25th of November; the garrison having on the preceding night, after evacuating and setting it on fire, proceeded down the Ohio in boats.
To other causes than the vigor of the officer who conducted the enterprise, is the capture of this important place to be ascribed. The naval armaments of Great Britain had intercepted the reinforcements designed by France for her colonies; and the pressure on Canada had disabled the Governor of that province from detaching troops to fort Du Quêsne. Without the aid of these causes, the extraordinary and unaccountable delays of the campaign must have defeated its object.
The works were repaired, and the new fort received the name of the great minister who, with unparalleled vigor and talents, then governed the British nation.18
After furnishing two hundred men from his regiment as a garrison for fort Pitt, Colonel Washington marched back to Winchester, whence he proceeded to Williamsburg to take his seat in the General Assembly, of which he had been elected a member by the county of Frederick, while at fort Cumberland.
A cessation of Indian hostility being the consequence of the removal of the French from the Ohio, Virginia was relieved from immediate danger; and the object for which alone he had continued in service, after finding that he could not be placed on the permanent establishment, was accomplished. His health was much impaired, and his private affairs required his attention. Impelled by these and other motives of a private nature, he determined to withdraw from a service which he might now quit without dishonor;Dec. 1758 and, about the close of the year, resigned his commission as colonel of the first Virginia regiment, and commander-in-chief of all the troops raised in the colony.
The officers whom he had commanded were strongly attached to him, and manifested their regret at parting with him, by an affectionate address, expressing the high opinion they entertained both of his military and private character.
This opinion was not confined to the officers of his regiment. It was common to Virginia; and had been adopted by the British officers with whom he served. The duties he performed, though not splendid, were arduous; and were executed with zeal and with judgment. The exact discipline he established in his regiment, when the temper of Virginia was hostile to discipline, does credit to his military character; and the gallantry the troops displayed when they were called into action, manifests the spirit infused into them by their commander.
The difficulties of his situation while unable to cover the frontier from the French and Indians, who were spreading death and desolation in every quarter, were incalculably great; and no better evidence of his exertions under these distressing circumstances can be given, than the undiminished confidence still placed in him by those he was unable to protect.
The efforts to which he incessantly stimulated his country for the purpose of obtaining possession of the Ohio; the wise system for the conduct of the war which he continually recommended; the vigorous and active measures always urged upon those by whom he was commanded; manifest an ardent and enterprising mind, tempered by judgment, and quickly improved by experience.
Jan. 1759Not long after his resignation he was married to Mrs. Custis, a young lady to whom he had been for some time attached; and who, to a large fortune, and fine person, added those amiable accomplishments which ensure domestic happiness, and fill with silent but unceasing felicity the quiet scenes of private life.
[1. ]Assistant to a general officer, with administrative duties such as correspondence, records, pay, publishing orders, and punishment of enlisted men; Washington was appointed District Adjutant General of the Virginia Militia.
[2. ]Robert Dinwiddie (1693–1770), British colonial administrator, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 1751.
[3. ]These rivers join at present-day Pittsburgh, in southwestern Pennsylvania, to form the Ohio River; the site was also called the Forks of the Ohio. Fort Duquesne later becomes Fort Pitt under the British.
[4. ]Marshall inserted the entire journal in his full Life of Washington in a note; see The Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the American Armed Forces, 2 volumes (New York: Walton Book Company, 1930; reprint of 1848 ed.), vol. 1, Note No. I (pp. 1–10 of Notes), and The Diaries of George Washington, ed. Donald Jackson, 6 volumes (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976–79), vol. 1, 130–60.
[5. ]Recruit normally means to raise or enlist new soldiers, but Marshall generally intends its wider sense as well, to resupply not only the men but the materiel of an army.
[6. ]While “take rank” can mean to assume the same rank as another (i.e., “take rank with”), this British order implies that royal officers were to leap or jump over (“take”) the rank of the colonial/provincial officers; that is, the order decrees the subordination of colonial officers to royal officers regardless of previous rank or service.
[7. ]Lawrence, his eldest stepbrother, died in July 1752, and the estate at Mount Vernon came to George Washington in December 1752 upon the death of Lawrence’s last remaining child.
[8. ]Edward Braddock (1695–1755), British general, commander of all British forces in North America in the campaign against the French on the Ohio River.
[9. ]Confidential administrative assistant on a general officer’s personal staff (thus entering the general’s “family” or household).
[10. ]According to the full Life of Washington (see note 4 above) this eyewitness was Dr. James Craik (1730–1814), of Scotland and Virginia, who served with Braddock’s expedition and later served as chief physician and surgeon of the Continental army in the Revolutionary War. Dr. Craik, Washington’s friend and personal physician, attended him in his final illness (see chapter 33, note 13).
[11. ]A cart.
[12. ]Part-time soldiers comprising able-bodied civilians who had received some military training, as distinguished from regulars (permanent or professional soldiers).
[13. ]Forceful presentations of one’s objections.
[14. ]Exact, but also connoting rigorous, severe.
[15. ]John Campbell, fourth Earl of Loudoun (1705–1782), British Major-General; from January 1756 to December 1757, commander in chief of all British forces in North America and governor-general of Virginia.
[16. ]William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham (1708–1778), English statesman; Prime Minister (1757–61 and 1766–68) under King George III.
[17. ]A report of particular matters from a subordinate to a superior officer.
[18. ]Fort Pitt, for then Prime Minister William Pitt.