Fort Du Quesne – Historic Landmarks

It  was situated on the east side of the Monongahela, on the tongue of land formed by the junction of that stream with the Alleghany. Though full of faults in its original construction, and small, it was built with immense labour, and it had ” a great deal of very strong works collected into very little room.” By the doubtful evidences which we possess, its shape would seem to have been a parallelogram, its four sides facing very nearly to the points of the compass, but a bastion at each corner gave it a polygonal appearance. Its longest sides were fifty yards; its shorter, forty.

These were made of very large squared logs, to the height of twelve feet, and compactly filled in with earth to the depth of eight; thus leaving about four feet of ram-parts to shelter the plateau. The sides of the fort nearest the rivers being comparatively protected by nature, were not furnished with bastions; but a strong stockade, twelve feet high, and made of logs a foot in diameter driven pile-wise into the ground, extended from bastion to bastion and completely enclosed the area. This stockade was ingeniously wattled cross-wise with poles, after the fashion of basket-work, and loopholes, slanting downwards, were cut through to enable the men to fire. At the distance of some four rods from these walls, as they may be called, a shallow ditch was dug completely environing them and protected by a second stockade, seven feet high, built in a manner similar to the first, and solidly embanked with earth.

Two gates’ opened into the fort; the western from the waterside, and the eastern, about ten feet wide, from the land. Immediately between the eastern postions was sunken a deep well, whose diameter was the width of the gate-way, and over which a drawbridge was placed that at night, or in time of danger, was drawn up with chain and levers; and these actually formed the gate. Both portals were strongly framed of squared logs; but the eastern gate opened on hinges, and had a wicket cut in it for ordinary use. Within the fort, and hard by the eastern gate, were placed the magazine and kitchen ; the former, twenty feet wide by forty long, and but five feet high, was built of heavy hewed timber, deeply sunk into the ground to almost its full altitude, and its roof plastered with a coating of potter’s clay nearly four feet in thickness. By this means, it was comparatively secure from any missile save bombs or hot-shot thrown from the brow of the adjacent hills. It is to these precautions that we are indebted at this day for the solitary vestige of Old Fort Du Quesne that remains to us. Some workmen, in the summer of 1854 just about a century after Stobo wrote—being employed in making excavations for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, brought to light this building, which alone, of all its comrades, had, from its peculiar formation, escaped as well the destroying hand of Time as the torch of its baffled creator, when, in 1758, he forever abandoned his beloved fortress and fled before the approach of Forbes. Leaves, dirt, and rubbish must soon have accumulated above its neglected roof. The storms of winter came, and the freshets of the spring; and ere long not a human being had reason to believe that beneath his feet stood, intact almost as on the day it was built, the Old French Magazine.

Beside this, however, there were other buildings within the walls; heavy and substantial log-houses, such as the wants of the garrison might require. Two were store-houses or magazines; two others were barracks; a seventh was the commandant’s residence; and lesser erections served for a guard-house and a prison. The backs of these were at but a yard’s distance from the walls, which they aided greatly to strengthen; all the intervening space being filled in with earth. Their roofs, covered with boards sawed by hand upon the spot, were level at the eaves with the ram-parts; nor were there any pickets or sharpened palisades crowning the walls. Had Braddock reached this place, it was St. Clair’s proposition to erect a battery on the brow of the opposite hill, which perfectly commanded the fort, and thence, with hot-shot, to set these buildings on fire, and so subdue the post. All their artillery consisted of eight cannon; one-half of them three- and the remainer four-pounders; five of which were mounted on the northwestern bastion defending the powder-magazine. When Stobo wrote, M. de Contrecoeur and a guard of five officers and forty men were all who lodged in the fort; bark cabins were erected around it for the rest of the garrison. Every preparation was made for their permanent comfort; and already kitchen-gardens upon the Alleghany and mills upon the Monongahela, and a vast cornfield, extending for a quarter of a mile up either stream, furnished promise of future subsistence. The woods all around had been cut down, and hardly a stump remained within musket-shot to shelter the approach of a foe.

Although the Canadian militia returning to their homes left but a small garrison of regulars to hold the fort towards the end of the summer of 1754, yet, if any reliance may be placed upon the reports which reached the English provinces, there was still a plenty of aid within call no less than 2200 fresh troops being sent thitherward from Quebec during that season; and on the 25th of September 300 Caghnawagas, or French Indians, and a convoy of provisions from Quebec arrived. Five days before, when Lieutenant Lyon with a flag of truce from Virginia and a fruitless proposition to exchange La Force (the officer captured at Tumonville’s defeat) for Captain Stobo, visited Du Quesne, he found but one hundred men in the fort. But despite their scanty numbers, they were pursuing a most dangerous policy towards English interests by assiduously tempting the Indians of the Six Nations in the vicinity to forswear their ancient alliances; and sending their Caghnawagas among the Shawanoes and other western tribes to bring them into the interests of Canada. A number of savages had frequented the post ever since the capture of Fort Necessity, and among these numerous and valuable presents were distributed. Through the medium of the Delaware, or perhaps more directly from Quebec and France, through the intercession of the spy Hennessey, they were in November advised of the expected reinforcements from England; and not comprehending a six months’ delay in the enterprise, the French had hastened at once to rein-force Fort Du Quesne with eight additional cannon, and a plenty of stores. The garrison was also increased to 1100 men ; and nearly 400 Indians, Adirondacks, Caghnawagas, and Ottawas, were sent thither from the confines of New France.

Having settled upon his course, on the 8th of July, Braddock, following the Valley of Long Run, marched southwestwardly eight miles towards the Monongahela, and pitched his camp for the night upon an inviting declivity between that stream and another rivulet called Crooked Run, some two miles from the river. He was now within two easy marches of the Ohio, to gain which he looked for no other opposition than what he might encounter in the morrow’s fordings; and so far as we can discover, there were in his ranks but two individuals at all diffident of success.

What precautionary steps his education and capacity could suggest were here taken by Braddock. Before three o’clock on the morning of the 9th, Gage was sent forth with a chosen band to secure both crossings of the river, and to hold the further shore of the second ford till the rest of the army should come up. At four, St. Clair, with a working-party, followed to make the roads. At six A. M. the General set out, and advantageously posted about 400 men upon the adjacent heights, and made, with all the waggons and baggage, the first crossing of the Monongahela. Marching thence in order of battle towards the second ford, he received intelligence that Gage had occupied the shore according to orders, and that the route was clear. The only enemy he had seen was a score of savages, who fled without awaiting his approach. By eleven o’clock, the army reached the second ford ; but it was not until after one that the declivities of the banks were made ready for the artillery and waggons, when the whole array, by a little before two o’clock, was safely passed over. Not doubting that from some point on the stream the enemy’s scouts were observing his operations, Braddock was re-solved to strongly impress them with the numbers and condition of his forces; and accordingly the troops were ordered to appear as for a dress-parade. In after life, Washington was accustomed to observe that he had never seen elsewhere so beautiful a sight as was exhibited during this passage of the Monongahela. Every man was attired in his best uniform; the burnished arms shone bright as silver in the glistening rays of the noonday sun, as, with colours waving proudly above their heads, and amid inspiring bursts of martial music, the steady files, with disciplined precision, and glittering in scarlet and gold, advanced to their position. While the rear was yet on the other side, and the van was falling into its ordained course, the bulk of the army was drawn up in battle array on the western shore, hard by the spot where one Frazier, a German blacksmith in the interest of the English, had lately had his home. Two or three hundred yards above the spot where it now stood was the mouth of Turtle Creek (the Tulpewi Sipu of the Lenape), which, flowing in a southwestwardly course to the Monongahela that here has a northwestwardly direction, embraces, in an obtuse angle of about 125°, the very spot where the brunt of the battle was to be borne. The scene is familiar to tourists, being, as the crow flies, but eight miles from Pittsburg, and scarce twelve by the course of the river. For three-quarters of a mile below the entrance of the creek, the Monongahela was unusually shallow, forming a gentle rapid or ripple, and easily fordable at almost any point. Its common level is from three to four hundred feet below that of the surrounding country; and along its upper banks, at the second crossing, stretches a fertile bottom of a rich, pebbled mould, about a fourth of a mile in width, and twenty feet above low-water mark. At this time it was covered by a fair, open walnut-wood, uncumbered with bush or undergrowth.

On the evening of the 8th of July, the ground had been carefully reconnoitred and the proper place for the action selected. The intention was to dispute as long as possible the passage of the second ford, and then to fall back upon the ravines. But long ere they reached the scene, the swell of military music and the crash of falling trees, apprised them that the foe had already crossed the river, and that his pioneers were advanced into the woodlands. Quickening their pace into a run, they managed to reach the broken ground just as the van of the English came in sight.

The French (some of whom, according to Garneau, were mounted), held the centre of the semi-circular disposition so instantly assumed; and a tremendous fire was at once opened on the English.

The officers sought to collect their men together and lead them on in platoons. Nothing could avail. On every hand the officers, distinguished by their horses and their uniforms, were the constant mark of hostile rifles; and it was soon as impossible to find men to give orders as it was to have them obeyed. In a narrow road, twelve feet wide, shut upon either side and overpent by the primeval forest, were crowded together the panic-stricken wretches, hastily loading and reloading, and blindly discharging their guns in the air, as though they suspected their mysterious murderers were sheltered in the boughs above their heads; while all around, removed from sight, but making day hideous with their war-whoops and savage cries, lay ‘ensconced a host insatiate for blood. Foaming with rage and indignation, Braddock flew from rank to rank, with his own hands endeavouring to force his men into position. Four horses were shot under him, but mounting a fifth, he still strained every nerve to retrieve the ebbing fortunes of the day.

At last, when every aide but Washington was struck down; when the lives of the vast majority of the officers had been sacrificed with a reckless intrepidity, a sublime self-devotion that surpasses the power of language to ex-press; when scarce a third part of the whole army remained unscathed, and these incapable of aught save remaining to die or till the word to retire was given; at last Braddock abandoned all hope of victory; and, with a mien undaunted as in his proudest hour, ordered the drums to sound a re-treat. The instant their faces were turned, the poor regulars lost every trace of the sustaining power of custom; and the retreat became a headlong flight. ” Despite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they ran,” says Washington, ” as sheep pursued by dogs, and it was impossible to rally them.”

Beneath a large tree standing between the heads of the northernmost ravines, and while in the act of giving an order, Braddock received a mortal wound; the ball passing through his right arm into the lungs. Falling from his horse, he lay helpless on the ground, surrounded by the dead, abandoned by the living.

So terminated the bloody battle of the Monongahela; a scene of carnage which has been truly described as unexampled in the annals of modern warfare. Of the 146o souls, officers and privates, who went into the combat, 456 were slain outright, and 421 were wounded; making a total of 877 men. Of 89 commissioned officers, 63 were killed or wounded; not a solitary field-officer escaping unhurt.

Whether we regard the cause, the conduct, or the con-sequences of this battle, the reflections it gives rise to are alike valuable and impressive. It brought together practically for the first time in our history the disciplined regular of Europe and the riflemen of America; and it taught the lesson to the latter that in his own forests he was the superior man. It was the beginning of a contest in whose revolving years the colonies became a school of arms, and a martial spirit of the people was fostered and trained till they had attained that confidence which naught but custom can afford. Had Braddock been successful, the great province of Pennsylvania, and probably those of New Jersey, Maryland, and New York, freed from danger, would have continued in their original ignorance and aversion of military science. His failure left their frontiers open to the enemy, and the spirit of self-preservation soon compelled them to welcome the weapons from which they had once recoiled with loathing. It was there and then that Morgan and Mercer, Gates and Washington, first stood side by side in marshalled array; and in that day’s dark torrent of blood was tempered the steel which was to sever the colonies from the parent-stem.