Mom and Pop's Bookstore, on Robinson Street in Wakefield was a treasure trove. Three battered leather-bound volumes of the five-volume biography, The Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the American Forces, During the War Which Established the Independence of his Country, and First President of the United States turned up there, for me, some years ago. "Mom" being Mom, gave them to me.
John Marshall wrote the biography, published in Philadelphia by C. P. Wayne in 1804. Washington died in 1799. Marshall's work was "compiled under the inspection of the Honourable Bushrod Washington, from original papers requested to him by his deceased relative, and now in possession of the author". We know Marshall as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, following his service as one of Washington's officers, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and John Adams's Secretary of State.
Marshall accounts for the defeat of Lord Braddock by the French and their Canadian Indians in July of 1755. Two regiments of Irish troops, about two thousand men, were shipped from England to secure the western borders of English settlements against the French, ancient enemies of Albion. They, with their native allies, were bearing down from Canada to what is now Pittsburgh, the juncture of the Monongahela, Ohio and Allegheny Rivers. "Braddock's Defeat", called then "the Dismal Tragedy" is unknown to many (1776 yes, but any American date earlier than that seems not to have been taught these last thirty years). Braddock's Defeat was Washington's first triumph.
Marshall captures the tragedy succinctly. Having led hundreds of men, horses and hauled their cannons across from Virginia, through Maryland's mountains and the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania , Lord Braddock, a veteran if forty years service for the King found himself, Marshall reports, "within about seven miles of fort du Quesne". Young Washington had "advised Braddock to "scour the woods and discover any ambuscade which might be formed for him". Braddock brushed off advice from the young Colonel and pushed on, in the July heat and the silence of the wilderness. The sun slanted on a narrow mountain river curving into the distance. The forest bore in. A command went out to halt the van, to pause and gather their forces. Silence. "We began our March again, Beating the grannadiers March all the way. Never Seasin. There was Never an Army in the World in more spirits than we were," wrote Robert Chomley's batman, full of British pride.
Marshall takes up the story. "Immediately after crossing the Monongahela the second time, in an open wood thick set with high grass, as he was pressing forward entirely unapprehensive of danger, his front was suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by an invisible enemy." Colonel Washington, of three mounted aides to Braddock the only one to survive had warned him: the ambush by the French and their Indians was upon theml. Braddock, "the bashaw" as Washington called him in a letter to his brother, marched right into it that fateful July afternoon. Marshall, in a style befitting 1804 reported, "The general who possessed personal courage in a very eminent degree, but who was without experience in that species of war in which he was engaged . . . was, in the present crisis, extremely unfortunate in his choice of measures'.
War in America the British would learn again in April of '75 at Lexington and Concord, was not waged in set pieces according to rules learned at Sandringham for campaigns on European fields.
"In his fruitless efforts to restore order, every officer on horseback, except mr. Wash-ington, was killed or wounded; and at length the general himself, after losing three horses, received a mortal wound, and his regulars fled in the utmost terror and confusion. . . . The provincials exhibited an unexpected degree of courage and were among the last to leave the field". Washington wrote both his mother and his half-brother Augustine back in Virginia, "I luckily escap'ed with't a wound, tho' I had four Bullets through my Coat, and two Horses shot under me".
"The defeat was total, and the carnage unusually great. The artillery, military stores, baggage, and even the private cabinet of the commander in chief . . . fell into the hands of the enemy . . . the general was brought off the ground in a tumbril . . . to an appro-aching camp, where Braddock expired of his wounds".
The following winter, known to all as the "Hero of the Monongahela", Colonel George Washington, Virginia Militia, crossed Rhode Island through the Narragansett Country on the Boston Post Road, to Newport. He had been dispatched by Governor Didwiddy of Virginia, to travel with Captains Stuart and Mercer and the party's two servants to Boston.
There, Washington pled the case for rank for the American officers within the British command. "The provincials", after all, "were among the last to leave the field" in the battle of the past July, continues Marshall. The men of Virginia and North Carolina were particularly remarked upon for their bravery.
Shirley's own son, like Washington was an aide to Braddock. He had been killed. Imagine Governor-General Shirley, evaluating young Washington as he pled the case of the colonial militias before him. He had defended British holdings against the French in Nova Scotia, he knew that the English could not hold their American colonies with-out giving them, the men of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina rank amongst His Majesty's regiments.
Shirley heard the Colonel, deliberated and decided. "It is my wish that General Washington shall command". These words in a dispatch to Governor Dinwiddy at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg preceded the Colonel's men on their return, down the coast, returning to New London, New York and Philadelphia.
We have only the Colonel's private expense account of the three-week's journey. A letter, not published until 1978 from Joseph Chew, New London's postmaster and a comment in the local diary of Joshua Hempstead describe the five mens' passage through that port. Hempstead's dairy runs from 1711 to 1758; it was published in 1901 by the New London County Historical Society. Mond 8 fair and windy . . . Colln Washington is Returned from Boston all bound to virgenia, Powers' sloop He hath been to advise or be Directed by Governor Shirley who is chef General of the American forces . . .".
"It is my wish that Colonel Washington shall command", wrote Shirley. Our young Colonel, who had on his safe return from the battle in Pennsylvania, "heard . . . a cir-cumstantial acct. of my death and dying speech", had assured his brother that "I now exist and appear in the land of the living".
Our Colonel was on his way, his sense of humor and his devotion to Virginia intact. His future was bright as he boarded Powers's sloop with Captains Stuart and Mercer, and John Albro and Charles Bishop, "all bound for virgenia" and for the new America.