- Historic Sites
Or, a dogged attempt to assemble a most remarkable company—the famous survivors of the battle lost by a British general on the Monongahela. Everybody who was anybody was there, from George Washington to Daniel Boone. Everybody, that is, but B. Gratz Brown
February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
Dr. Thomas Walker was commissary general to Braddock’s Virginia troops and narrowly escaped losing his life in the battle. During the Revolution, Walker served on Virginia’s Committee of Safety and Executive Council and was Albemarle County’s representative in the House of Delegates. In Virginia his closest neighbor was Peter Jefferson; when Jefferson died in 1757, Walker became guardian of his fourteen-year-old son and for the next seven years watched over the growth and education of the young man who was to become the third President of the United States.
At this point, with only two names to go, I was forced to admit to Mr. G. that I was stalemated. To this he replied in a note.
“You have overlooked an important part of your material. General Braddock was defeated by a force of 72 French, 146 Canadians, and 637 Indians. Of these, only 30 were killed, mostly Indians, and some by falling tree branches cut off by stray English cannon balls.
“Now, consider this. The Ottawa Indians fought in the battle. Who was the great chief of the Ottawas? Pontiac. Pontiac was there.
“Pontiac had a notable diplomatic and military talent, but what was rare among Indians, a genius for organization. In 1763 he directed the largest and most powerful coalition in Indian history, and planned a simultaneous uprising against the twelve key forts on the frontier. All but a few of them fell, and for many months English power west of the mountains was limited to those at Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Ligonier.”
I was disturbed by this and answered as follows:
“I don’t think we can be sure that Pontiac was personally present at the Battle of the Monongahela. Parkman says in Montcalm and Wolfe that the chief ‘possibly’ commanded the Ottawas.”
“Of course Pontiac was there,” Mr. G. wrote back. “You don’t think Ottawa Indians would fight without their leader, do you? And Pontiac was their leader, wasn’t he? I’m willing to agree that we now have nineteen names. Let’s get just one more little name, and we can rejoice and sleep undisturbed again.”
I reviewed the careers of scores of men who could have been there, or should have been there, or who were there and never amounted to much afterwards. One by one, for various good reasons, I regretfully dismissed a half-dozen prime names. At last I said to my wife, “I know when I’m beaten. I am now going to forget the whole thing. I will begin to read the newspapers again. I will look at television. Nineteen names are enough.”
“It really is too bad,” she said, “after you worked so hard. Weren’t there, by any chance, some famous survivors on the other side of the battle? I would think you could find at least one.”
“We’re counting the Indian chief,” I said somewhat impatiently.
That was at dinner, and before dessert was served a possible solution struck me.
“I think I have it,” I said. “The French!”
“Bully for you,” said my wife.
I examined the records of the French officers known to be involved.
Captain Daniel Hyacinthe Marie Lienard de Beaujeu had just taken over command of Fort Duquesne from Captain Claude Pierre Pécaudy, sieur de Contrecoeur. Beaujeu, naked to the waist except for a piece of decorative armor at his neck, bounded over the hill, exchanged fire, deployed his men, and at the third volley was killed by a bullet through his head.
Contrecoeur, who had wanted to abandon Duquesne, remained within the fort during the entire engagement. On November 28, 1755, he was to write his minister of war from Montreal: “The Marquis de Vaudreuil doubtless has informed you, Monseigneur, of the last victory I gained on the gth of last July at Fort Duquesne.... If my services seem of sufficient value to you, Monseigneur, to merit some reward, I dare ask you to bestow the Cross of St. Louis on me, and to further the promotion of my two children…” He did not become a famous man.
I turned to the biography of Dumas, the French officer who was second in command in the battle. I read with mounting interest, and then I wrote to Mr. G.:
“I now have the twentieth and final name of the illustrious persons who survived the Battle of July 9, 1755.
“It is Captain Jean-Daniel Dumas, who took command of the French forces when Captain Beaujeu fell. He brilliantly rallied his panicking Canadians and Indians, put them on the flanks of the enemy, and for some hours poured slaughtering fire into the helpless British ranks.
“Dumas became commandant of Fort Duquesne and, with Indian aid, vigorously harassed the English frontier.