February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
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
On the evening of Washington’s Birthday last, my wife and I went to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania to hear a talk on “Pennsylvania—A State Neglected in Our Country’s History.”
After the lecture the ladies of the society served coffee and small sandwiches in the basement. There I chanced to see Mr. G., president of the Pittsburgh company I work for. I approached him and said:
“There is a little-recognized fact of history which never ceases to astonish me.
“I refer to the large number of men who were present at the defeat of General Edward Braddock’s army in 1755 and who later became prominent, important, and even famous figures. I think I am safe in asserting that there is nothing else in history to compare with this strange circumstance.”
“Indeed?” said Mr. G.
“This defeat was one of the worst in British history. It laid open the American frontier to attack by the French, Canadians, and Indians, even to within fifty miles of Baltimore. Fewer than a thousand of Braddock’s men survived. But among these survivors were more than a score of men who went on to achieve personal distinction and a place in history.”
“Name two,” said Mr. G.
Unfortunately, the names failed to come.
“Well,” I said boldly, “Colonel George Washington was there. And Anthony Wayne.”
“Young man, if Anthony Wayne fought at the Battle of Braddock, he did so as a child of ten.”
Next morning at the office I happened to run into Mr. G. in the hall.
“You were right,” I told him. “Anthony Wayne wasn’t there. I looked it up.”
“Thanks for telling me,’ Mr. G. said.
“But Daniel Boone was there,” I said. “He was twenty-one years old at the time and was a teamster and blacksmith with the North Carolina contingent. Daniel Boone later became a famous pioneer, a backwoodsman, and Indian fighter.”
“I know,” said Mr. G.
“Horatio Gates was there. Captain Gates was twenty-seven years old, a professional British soldier. He was severely wounded in the battle.
“Later on, Gates became a general in the Continental Army in command of the Northern Department. He defeated Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1778.”
“Seventy-seven,” Mr. G. said.
“There was a conspiracy, of which he was aware, to have Gates replace Washington as commander in chief. Did you know he was named for his godfather, Horace Walpole?”
“If I ever knew it, I’d forgotten it.”
“Thomas Gage was also there,” I said, following Mr. G. down the hall. “Lieutenant Colonel Gage was a thirty-four-year-old professional soldier who had fought the Scots at Culloden. He was in command of theflour hundred men who made up Braddock’s advance, and was wounded. Do you know what happened to Gage in later life?”
“I think I do.”
I felt he would want me to refresh his memory with the information I had obtained the night before, so I continued.
“Gage became commander in chief of the Royal Forces in North America. On the night of April 18, 1775, he started the American Revolution by sending an expedition to Concord and Lexington to destroy military stores collected by the colonists.”
“Very interesting,” Mr. G. said.
A few days later, on the way to lunch, I chanced to meet Mr. G. in the lobby of our building.
“How many this time?” he asked.
“Three more,” I said. “Lieutenant Henry Gladwin was there. He was wounded. Eight years later, as the major in command, he foiled the plot by Chief Pontiac to seize the fort at Detroit. With a small garrison, Gladwin defended Detroit heroically through a six-month siege.
“Gladwin was made deputy adjutant general in 1764 and a major general in 1782. He declined to serve against the colonies in the Revolution.”
“You've been cramming,” said Mr. G.
“Christopher Gist was there. Captain Gist, forty-nine, was Braddock’s chief guide. Hc had been hired earlier by the Ohio Company to survey their western lands. When he traveled with Washington in 1753 to warn the French away from western Pennsylvania, he saved Washington’s Iife once, perhaps twice. He surrendered with Washington’s little army after the nine-hour battle at Fort Necessity in 1754, and he was with General Forbes and Washington in 1758 when Fort Ducquesne finally fell to the British. You probably recall what finally happened to Gist.”
“Well … ,”Mr. G. began, but he obviously needed some help.
“Gist became Indian Agent for the South, but in 1759, returning from a mission to win support of the Cherokee Indians for the British, he died of smallpox.
“James Craik was not only at the battle,” I continued, “but was the man who treated General Braddock’s wound on the field. During the Revolution Dr. Craik headed the Continental Medical Department. He was Washington’s personal physician and close friend for many years, and he was with Washington when he died.”
We had arrived at Mr. G.’s club. As he turned to enter he said, “You might look up Daniel Morgan.”
I continued on to meet some friends for lunch. As I approached the table I thought I heard one of them say to the others, “Here comes Old Braddock’s Defeat,” but I decided I was mistaken. Probably he actually said something like “This cold’s bad for the feet.” So I told them about Gladwin, Gist, and Craik.
Back at the office I looked up Daniel Morgan and found that Daniel Morgan had indeed been there.
Morgan, I discovered, had enlisted with his own team of horses and a wagon—an “independent wagoner,” nineteen years old, six feet tall, and with a fiery Welsh temper.
In the course of the Revolution, Washington formed a regiment of five hundred of the best marksmen in the country and placed Morgan in command. In Benedict Arnold’s unsuccessful assault on Quebec at the end of 1775, Morgan and his riflemen penetrated well into the city but were cut off and forced to surrender. He was freed in time to play a key part in the Battle of Saratoga. Brigadier General Morgan was in command at the decisive Battle of Cowpens, for which Congress voted him the thanks of the nation and a gold medal.
Famous survivors of Braddock’s Defeat had now become for me a consuming passion, and I had trouble concentrating on anything else. My wife questioned me closely about my work at the office and then said cryptically, “Just see that you don’t win the battle and lose the war.”
On her advice I decided not to bother Mr. G. again with the subject.
Five days went by. Then, following a conference, Mr. G. drew me aside and asked, “Don’t we have some more names?”
“Two more,” I said happily.
“How many does that give us?”
“Ten, counting Colonel Washington.”
I told him about Captain Roger Morris, one of Braddock’s aides-de-camp, who was wounded and carried back to Virginia on a litter. Morris survived to marry, three years later, none other than the celebrated Mary Eliza (“Polly”) Philipse of New York—the great heiress whom Washington had also courted. Captain Morris and his in-laws picked the wrong side in the Revolution, and their lands were confiscated.
I then told him about Adam Williamson, an engineer, who was wounded under Braddock, and again when Wolfe took Quebec. Williamson became governor of the islands of Jamaica and Santo Domingo.
“How many names do you think we’ll find?” Mr. G. asked.
“I don’t know. If I went about this thing seriously I think we could find as many as twenty prominent men who were there July 9. I’m going to shoot for exactly twenty and then stop.”
“Well,” said Mr. G., “let me know how it turns out.”
I spent most of that weekend in the Carnegie Library. Monday morning I dictated the following memorandum to Mr. G.
“I beg to report that I have established indubitably that the following men were present on July 9, 1755, and achieved distinction in later life:
“George Croghan, thirty-seven, captain in charge of Braddock’s friendly Indian scouts, was greatest of the Indian traders. In 1756 Sir William Johnson appointed Croghan Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. During the sixteen years he held this post, he was the most important and powerful man on the frontier.
“Croghan was with Forbes at the taking of Fort Duquesne, helped Bouquet occupy Detroit in 1760, and conducted the final peace negotiations with Chief Pontiac. Owner at one time of several million acres of frontier land, he died poor. His journals are of prime historical value.
“Patrick Mackellar, second engineer of the expedition, was with Gage in the advance column and was wounded.
“Major Mackellar was captured by the French in a later engagement and imprisoned in Montreal and Quebec, where he drew engineering maps of the fortifications. He was exchanged in 1757 and sent to England, but he returned to North America, his maps in his pocket, in time to participate in the sieges of Louisbourg and Quebec. He was standing beside Wolfe when that general was killed.
“In 1762, Mackellar became chief engineer of the Island of Minorca, and later he became England’s Director of Engineers.
“Ralph Burton was second in command of the 48th regiment and performed gallantly in the battle until disabled by a wound. Lieutenant Colonel Burton commanded the same regiment at the taking of Quebec four years later. General Wolfe’s dying words were: ‘Go, one of you, my lads, with all speed to Colonel Burton and tell him to march Webb’s regiment down to the St. Charles River, and cut off the retreat of the fugitives to the bridge. Now, God be praised, I die happy.’
“Burton rose to major general in 1762. About this time, he fell madly in love with the tawny daughter of an Indian chief; some say that he married her.
“John Neville was a twenty-four-year-old private from Virginia. In 1775, as a colonel of militia, Neville commanded Fort Pitt for two years. He was later attached to Washington’s army for the duration of the war; in 1783 he was made a brigadier general.
“A Federalist and a wealthy man, Neville served as a member of the Pennsylvania Council which ratified the Federal Constitution and of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.
“Now we have fourteen names and six to go.”
To this communication Mr. G. replied almost at once.
“I am surprised that you have overlooked two of the most important and interesting figures of all those present.
“Captain Adam Stephen was a hot-headed Scot, twenty-five years old, a bachelor, who had served with Washington at Fort Necessity—that ‘charming little spot for an encounter’ which started the Seven Years’ War, involved England, Prussia, Germany, Austria, and Sweden, devastated Germany, swept across India, and cost a million lives. Stephen was wounded at the Battle of the Monongahela, and later gave the widely quoted description of the British regulars standing ‘in a mere huddle” under fire.
“Stephen was disinclined to obey orders and inclined to drink, gossip, and engage in factional quarrels. During the Revolution he rose to the rank of major general in the American Army. He fought at Trenton, Princeton, and Brandywine, winning Washington’s commendation. At the Battle of Germantown he was intoxicated and was dismissed from the service.
“William Crawford was twenty-three when he served under Braddock. He was Washington’s land agent and was with him on his 1770 trip to inspect his holdings in the Ohio Valley. He served as a colonel in the Revolution and took part in six major engagements.
“Colonel Crawford retired from the army but returned in 1782 to lead an expedition of 480 horsemen against the Sandusky, Ohio, rendezvous of the Indian allies of the British. His force panicked, and Colonel Crawford was captured. The Indians tied him to a pole by a long rope and tortured him for four hours before he died. He pleaded with the renegade Simon Girty to shoot him, but Girty refused.
“You now have sixteen names and four to go.”
I turned up no additional names that week. When I suggested to my wife that she would enjoy spending a day or two researching in the Pennsylvania Room of the Library, she declined politely.
It was in this same conversation at the dinner table that a revealing incident happened. “Are you aware,” I said, “that Presley Neville, the son of General John Neville, married Nancy Morgan, the daughter of General Daniel Morgan, his old comrade in arms?”
My wife replied, “That’s nice, dear. We must invite them over some evening.”
On the weekend, however, I was able to do my own research, and I turned up the seventeenth and eighteenth names.
Charles Lee was present at the battle as a twenty-four-year-old English officer. In few other battles in history were so many officers killed or wounded in proportion to the number engaged—sixty-two out of ninety-six—but Lee, like Washington, escaped unhurt.
Lee’s career has been called “perhaps the strangest in the annals of the Revolution.” His military experience won him a commission as the second of major generals; but he felt strongly that he deserved Washington’s post as commander in chief. He repeatedly disregarded Washington’s orders in several engagements, apparently in the hope of discrediting him. As a prisoner of war he traitorously helped British General William Howe draw up plans for taking Philadelphia—treachery which was not discovered until Howe’s papers were published many years later. Exchanged, Lee continued in the American service until, because of disrespectful letters he wrote to General Washington and to Congress, he was court-martialed, suspended, and finally discharged.
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.
“In 1759, the French king made Dumas a major general and inspector of all forces in Canada. After the fall of Montreal, Dumas returned to France, where he was promoted again. He became governor of Mauritius, the beautiful and strategically important island in the Indian Ocean, then owned by the French.”
For the record, I put down the names of the twenty men who, by some remarkable conjunction of stars, met on the battlefield on the north bank of the Monongahela, survived, and went on to achieve personal distinction and a place in history. And I added:
“Of these twenty men, four had been at the Battle of Fort Necessity … eight were wounded at the Battle of the Monongahela … six were with General Forbes at the taking of Fort Duquesne … four fought at Quebec … six were intimately involved in Pontiac’s Conspiracy … eight became general officers in the American Revolution … one became commander in chief of British forces … two were considered for the post of commander in chief of the Revolutionary forces … four made major historical contributions through their writings … one entered the U.S. Congress … and one became President of the United States.”
About a week after this great moral victory I chanced to meet Mr. G. on his way to lunch. We walked down the street together.
“Life must be very dull for you,” he said.
“For several days it was,” I said, “but now I am deeply preoccupied with a strange and little-recognized circumstance of history which astonishes me every time I think of it.”
“I refer to the truly amazing number of prominent Americans, past and present, whose direct ancestors were survivors of the Battle of the Monongahela.”
“Like for instance?”
“Well,” I said, “like this. The builder of Blair House in Washington and the Postmaster General in Lincoln’s Cabinet were both direct descendants of Christopher Gist. So was a man named States R. (for Rights) Gist, who played a prominent part in the secession movement and, as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, was killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. And when a monument to General Braddock was put up and dedicated in 1913, one of the special honored guests at the ceremony was a gentleman named Monongahela de Beaujeu. I’d like to look into him!”
“Monongahela de Beaujeu,” said Mr. G. in an awed voice.
“And, of course, there was B. Gratz Brown.”
“B. Gratz who?”
“You mean you’ve never heard of B. Gratz Brown?” I said, concealing my triumph. “B. Gratz Brown, direct descendant of Christopher Gist, was only the Democratic vice presidential candidate on the Horace Greeley ticket, that’s all B. Gratz Brown was.”