Veterans of the Braddock Expedition
In May of 1755 British Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock (1695-1755) set out from Alexandria, Virginia, in command of an expedition into the “Ohio Country” around what is now Pittsburgh. His army consisted of roughly 1,500 British regulars, mostly from the 44th and 48th Regiments and two separate companies, a handful of cannon manned by Royal Artillery and Royal Navy personnel, and some 800-850 colonial troops and militiamen from Maryland, the Carolinas and Virginia. Virginia’s 23-year old Col. George Washington, served as a volunteer aide-de-camp.
What happened afterwards is well known. Disregarding advice from Washington, as well as many other officers -- both British and colonial -- who had served in the wilderness, on July 9th, Braddock’s main body, about 1,450 strong, blundered into a force of some 650 Indians and about 250 French colonial troops and militiamen, just north of the Monongahela River, about ten miles east of what is now downtown Pittsburgh. Although lacking any status in the chain of command, Washington took over the disintegrating column and managed to bring its remnants safely away, including the mortally wounded Braddock. By the time Braddock died on the 13th, 63 of 80 officers and 914 of 1,373 enlisted men in the main body were dead or wounded.
“Braddock’s Defeat,” as it has come to be known to centuries of Americans, is largely remembered for Washington’s role in covering the retreat, and as an illustration of supposed British ineptitude in wilderness fighting (though the fault was Braddock’s, as the British had considerable experience in frontier fighting). But if Washington was the most notable, he was by no means the only man present that day who attained some prominence in history:
- Daniel Boone (1734-1820), a wagoner with the column, was, of course, later famous as a frontier scout and explorer, and founder of Kentucky.
- Ralph Burton (-1768), a regular British officer, second-in-command of the 48th Foot, later served in Canada, Cuba, and Canada again, rising to major general.
- James Craik (1730-1814), a former British Army surgeon and veteran of Washington’s 1754 expedition to Fort Duquesne, was serving as a doctor with the Virginians and tended Braddock’s wounds. Later became the senior surgeon with Washington’s Army during the Revolutionary War and in 1798 was Physician General to the United States Army.
- Thomas Dunbar (d. 1767), commander of the 48th Foot and second-in-command to Braddock, led the rear echelon, which included most of the column’s transport, baggage, supplies, and artillery. Although he helped cover the retreat of the main body, he was unjustly criticized for not coming to its support more promptly and for destroying £100,000 worth of equipment and supplies to prevent their capture by the enemy. Despite this, in 1756 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Gibraltar and rose to lieutenant general in 1760.
- James Ewing (1736-1806), a Pennsylvania volunteer, later rose to brigadier general in the colonial militia and commanded a brigade during the Trenton-Princeton Campaign.
- Thomas Gage (c. 1720-1787), lieutenant colonel and second-in-command of the 44th Foot, was wounded in the battle. He later helped formulate British light infantry tactics, saw extensive service in the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion, became military governor of Massachusetts, helped spark the American Revolution, and was the senior British commander in the colonies until early 1776.
- Horatio Gates (1727-1806) was wounded while serving as captain and commander of the “Independent Company of New York”, a regular British Army unit. After the French and Indian War he settled in the colonies, became a major general in the American Continental Army, and commanded the army at the battles of Saratoga.
- Nathaniel Gist (1733-1812), son of Capt. Christopher Gist (1706-1759) by a Cherokee woman, served as a lieutenant in his father’s company of the Virginia Regiment. Both survived the Monongahela, Nathaniel rising to colonel during the American Revolution and (according to some) fathering the famous Sequoyah.
- Charles Lee (1732-1782), a captain in the 44th Foot, saw extensive service in the French and Indian War, fought as a mercenary in Poland and in the Russo-Turkish War, settled in the colonies, and became a major general in the Continental Army.
- William Maxwell (1733-1796) served as a militiaman and afterwards rose to brigadier general in the Continental Army.
- Hugh Mercer (1726-1777) was formerly a physician with the Jacobites in 1745-1746, serving at Culloden. Settling in America as a physician and farmer, he was a captain of militia in Braddock’s column, fighting in the battle and then helping to tend the wounded. He served through the war, then returned to private practice. Rising to major general in the Continental Army, he was mortally wounded at Princeton (to be tended by the aforementioned James Craik). His grandson was Confederate Maj. Gen. Hugh Mercer, and great-great-grandson the lyricist Johnny Mercer (“Moon River”).
- Daniel Morgan (1736-1802), a wagoner with the column, had run afoul of British military discipline and received 499 lashes. He was in the rear echelon during the battle and took part in the retreat. He later raised a rifle corps for service on the frontier and did the same during the Revolutionary War. Eventually rising to brigadier general, he was the victor at the Cowpens (January 17, 1781).
- John Neville (1731-1803) served in The Virginia Regiment, rising to colonel before the end of the Seven Years’ War, and became a brevet brigadier general in the Continental Army.
- Charles Scott (1739-1813), corporal of Virginia militia, later served in Washington’s 1st Virginia Regiment. During the Revolutionary War he became a brigadier general, serving during the Trenton-Princeton Campaign, and was later Washington's chief of intelligence until captured. Settling in Kentucky, he participated in all three major battles of the Northwest Indian War (1790-1794), two of which were even more disastrous than the Monongahela. Still later he served as Governor of Kentucky (1808-1812).
- Adam Stephen (c. 1718-1791), second-in-command of Washington’s Virginia Regiment, served through the war, helped put down Pontiac’s Rebellion, and rose to major general in the Continental Army; though he was later cashiered.
There are probably more veterans of Braddock’s defeat who attained some measure of fame in later life, but considering just those we have mentioned, there were certainly some distinguished alumni for such a small force.
How to Break Up an Admiral
John Cronyn Tovey (1885-1971), known as “Jack” to many, had a long and honorable career in the Royal Navy, joining as a cadet in 1900 and rising to Admiral of the Fleet before retiring in 1946, after many adventures and sea fights, among the them the pursuit and sinking of the Bismarck in May of 1941. Although a rather stern-looking sea dog, like many other British naval officers Tovey had a tremendous sense of humor, as illustrated by an incident that occurred in 1938.
After having been on the waiting list for several years, Tovey had just been promoted to rear admiral, and by chance encountered a very green recruit of the Royal Navy Reserve, who failed to salute,
Annoyed by this sign of disrespect, Tovey addressed the man, “You! Why didn’t you salute me?”
“I’m awfully sorry sir, I didn’t see you.”
“Do you know what these rings on my sleeve mean?” snapped the admiral
“Yes sir! They mean that you are the lowest form of admiral” came the swift reply.
At that, Tovey, “collapsed laughing” according to one observer, and, after he had recovered his equanimity, sent the sailor on his way with a gentle reminder to pay more attention to people’s rank in the future.