This Country of Ours - H. E. Marshall
We have now seen something of the great struggle between French and British for the continent of America. War after war broke out, peace after peace was signed. But each peace was no more than a truce, and even when the noise of cannon ceased there was nearly always war with the Redman, for he took sides and fought for French or British. And as years went past the struggle grew ever more and more bitter. If the French had had their way, the British would have been hemmed in between the Alleghenies and the sea. If the British had had their way the French would have been confined to a little strip of land north of the St. Lawrence. It became plain at length to every one that in all the wide continent there was no room for both. One must go. But which?
The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was not a year old before the last, great struggle began. Both French and British had now cast their eyes on the valley of the Ohio, and the spot where Pittsburgh now stands became known as the Gateway of the West. The British determined to possess that gateway, but the French were just as determined to prevent them ever getting through it. So the French began to build a line of forts from Lake Erie southward to the gate of the west. Now, Virginia claimed all this land, and when two French forts had been built the Governor of Virginia began to be both alarmed and angry. He decided, therefore, to send a messenger to the French to tell them that they were on British ground, and bid them to be gone.
It was not an easy task, and one which had to be done with courtesy and firmness. Therefore Dinwiddie resolved to send a "person of distinction." So as his messenger he chose a young man named George Washington. He was a straightforward, tall young man, well used to a woodland life, but withal a gentleman, the descendant of one of the old Royalist families who had come to Virginia in the time of Cromwell, and just the very man for the Governor's purpose.
It was a long and toilsome journey through pathless forest, over hills, deep snows and frozen rivers, a journey which none but one skilled in forest lore could endure.
But at length after weeks of weary marching Washington arrived at Fort le Bœuf. The Frenchmen greeted him courteously, and entertained him in the most friendly fashion during the three days which the commander took to make up his answer. The answer was not very satisfactory. The commander promised to send Dinwiddie's letter to the Governor of Canada. "But meanwhile," he added, "my men and I will stay where we are. I have been commanded to take possession of the country, and I mean to do it to the best of my ability."
With this answer Washington set out again, and after many adventures and dangers arrived safely once more at Williamsburg.
In the spring the Frenchmen marched south to the Gateway of the West. Here they found a party of British, who had begun to build a fort. The French, who were in far greater numbers, surrounded them and bade them surrender. This the British did, being utterly unable to defend themselves. The French then seized the fort, levelled it to the ground, and began to build one of their own, which they called Fort Duquesne.
Upon this, Dinwiddie resolved to dislodge the French, and he sent a small force and when its leader died he took command. But he was not able to dislodge the French. So after some fighting he was obliged to make terms with the enemy and march home discomfited.
Up to this time the war was purely an American one. France and Britain were at peace, and neither country sent soldiers to help their colonies. It was the settlers, the farmers, fishermen and fur traders of New England and New France who fought each other.
And in this the French had one great advantage over the British. The French were united, the British were not. New France was like one great colony in which every man was ready to answer the call to battle.
The British were divided into thirteen colonies. Each one of the thirteen colonies was jealous of all the others; each was selfishly concerned with its own welfare and quite careless of the welfare of the others. But already the feelings of patriotism had been born. Among the many who cared nothing for union there were a few who did. There were some who were neither Virginians nor New Englanders, neither Georgians nor Carolinians, but Americans. These now felt that if they were not to become the vassals of France they must stand shoulder to shoulder.
A Congress of all the Northern Colonies was now called at Albany to discuss some means of defence. And at this Congress Benjamin Franklin proposed a plan of union. But the colonies would have nothing to say to it. Some took no notice of it at all, others treated it with scorn, or said it put too much power into the hands of the King. As to the King, when he heard of it he rejected it also, for, said he, it gave too much power to the colonies. So for the time being nothing came of it.
Meanwhile the Governors of the various colonies wrote home to England, and, seeing how serious the matter was becoming, the British Government sent out two regiments of soldiers to help the colonies. They were about a thousand men in all, and were under the leadership of Major-General Edward Braddock.
As so as the French heard this they, too, sent soldiers to Canada. It was just like a game of "Catch who catch can." For as soon as the British knew that French troops were sailing to America they sent a squadron to stop them. But the French had got a start, and most of them got away. The British ships, however, overtook some which had lagged behind the others.
As soon as they were within hailing distance a red flag was suddenly run up to the masthead of the British flagship.
"Is this peace or war?" shouted the French captain.
"I don't know," answered the British, "But you had better prepare for war." He, however, gave the Frenchman little time to prepare, for the words were hardly out of his mouth before the thunder of cannon was heard.
The Frenchmen fought pluckily. But they were far outnumbered, and were soon forced to surrender.
Thus both on land and sea fighting had begun. Yet war had not been declared and King George and King Louis were still calling each other "dear cousin" or "dear brother," and making believe that there was no thought of war.
But the little success on sea was followed up by a bitter disaster on land.
General Braddock now commanded the whole army both home and colonial. He was a brave and honest man, but obstinate, fiery-tempered and narrow. He had a tremendous idea of what his own soldiers could do, and he was very scornful of the colonials. He was still more scornful of the Indians. "These savages," he said to Franklin, "may indeed be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia. But upon the King's regular and disciplined troops, sir, it is impossible that they should make any impression."
The haughty savages were quick to see that he looked down upon them. "He looks upon us as dogs," they said, and drawing their ragged blankets about them they stalked off deeply offended. With the same narrow pride Braddock turned away another useful ally.
This was Captain Jack, the Black Hunter. He was a white man, but he roamed the woods dressed like an Indian, followed be a band of men as reckless and lawless as himself. The Black Hunter, however, although he dressed like an Indian, was the white man's friend, the Redman's deadly foe.
He had been at one time, it was said, a peaceful settler living happily with his wife and children. But one day he returned from hunting to find his cottage in ashes, and his wife and children dead among the ruins. In his grief and rage he vowed eternal vengeance on the Indians who had done the evil deed, robbing him for ever of home and happiness. Henceforth he roamed the woods a terror to the Redmen. For his aim was unerring, he could steal through the forest as silently and swiftly as they, and was as learned in all the woodland lore. His very name indeed struck terror to the hearts of all his foes.
Black Hunter now with his wild band of followers offered his help to Braddock. They were well armed, they cared neither for heat nor cold. they required no tents nor shelter for the night; not did they ask for any pay.
General Braddock looked at the gaunt weather-beaten man of the woods, clad in hunting shirt and moccasins, painted and bedecked with feathers like an Indian. Truly a strange ally, he thought.
"I have experienced troops," he said, "on whom I can depend."
And finding that he could get no other answer Black Hunter and his men drew off, and disappeared into the woods whence they had come.
On the other hand Braddock had much to put up with. The whole success of the expedition depended on swiftness. The British must strike a blow before the French had time to arm. But when Braddock landed nothing was ready; there were no stores, no horses, no waggons. And it seemed impossible to gather them. Nobody seemed to care greatly whether the expedition set out or not. So, goaded to fury Braddock stamped and swore, and declared that nearly every one he had to do with was stupid or dishonest.
But at length the preparations were complete, and in June the expedition set out.
From the first things went wrong. Had Braddock gone through Pennsylvania he would have found a great part of his road cleared for him. But he went through Virginia, and had to hew his way through pathless forest.
In front of the army went three hundred axemen to cut down trees and clear a passage. Behind them the long baggage train jolted slowly onwards, now floundering axle deep through mud, now rocking perilously over stumps or stones. On either side threading in and out among the trees marched the soldiers. So day after day the many-coloured cavalcade wound along, bugle call and sound of drum awakening the forest silences.
The march was toilsome, and many of the men, unused to the hardships of the wilderness, fell ill, and the slow progress became slower still. At length Braddock decided to divide his force, and leaving the sick men and the heaviest baggage behind, press on more rapidly with the others. It was George Washington who went with him as an aide-de-camp who advised this.
So the sick and all baggage that could be done without were left behind with Colonel Dunbar. But even after this the progress was very slow.
Meanwhile news of the coming of the British army had been carried to the French at Fort Duquesne. And when they heard how great the force was, they were much alarmed. But a gallant Frenchman named Beaujeu offered to go out and meet the British, lie in wait for them and take them unawares. But to do this he had need of Indian help. So council fires were lit and Beaujeu flung down the war hatchet. But the Indians refused it, for they were afraid of the great British force.
"Do you want to die, our father?" they asked, "and sacrifice us also?"
"I am determined to go," said Beaujeu. "What! Will you let your father go alone? I know we shall win."
Seeing him so confident the Indians forgot their fears, and the war dance was danced. Then, smeared with paint and led by Beaujeu himself dressed like a savage, they marched to meet the British.
There were about six hundred Indians and half as many Frenchmen. Stealthily they crept through the forest, flitting like shadows from tree to tree, closing ever nearer and nearer upon the British.
They, meanwhile, had reached the river Monongahela. They crossed it gaily, for they knew now that Fort Duquesne was near; their toilsome march was at an end, and victory was sure.
It was a glorious summer morning; the bands played, the men laughed and shouted joyously. The long line swept onward, a glittering pageant of scarlet and blue, of shining steel and fluttering banners.
Then suddenly out of the forest darted a man dressed like an Indian. When he saw the advancing column he stopped. Then turning, he waved to some one behind him. It was Beaujeu, and at his signal the air was rent with the terrible Indian war cry, and a hail of bullets swept the British ranks.
Shouting "God save the King" the British returned to fire. But it availed little, for they could not see the enemy. From the shelter of the forest, hidden behind trees, the French and Indians fired upon the British. They were an easy mark, for they stood solidly, shoulder to shoulder, their scarlet coats showing clearly against the green background. Still the British stood their ground firing volley after volley. It was quite useless, for they could see no enemy. The puffs of smoke were their only guides. To aim at the points where the smoke came from was all they could do. But for the most part their bullets crashed through the branches, or were buried in tree trunks, while the pitiless rain of lead mowed down the redcoats.
The American soldiers fared better. For as soon as they were attacked they scattered, and from behind the shelter of trees fought the Indians in their own fashion. Some of the British tried to do the same. But Braddock had no knowledge of savage warfare. To fight in such a manner seemed to him shocking. It was unsoldierly; it was cowardly. So he swore savagely at his men, calling them cowards, and beat them back into line with the flat of his sword. And thus huddled together they stood a brilliant, living target for the bullets of the savages.
Braddock himself fought with fury. He dashed here and there, swearing, commanding, threatening. Four horses were shot under him, and at last he himself fell wounded to death.
Washington too fought with fearless bravery, trying to carry out Braddock's frenzied orders. And although he escaped unhurt his clothes were riddled with holes, and twice his horse was shot under him.
For nearly three hours the terrible carnage lasted. Then flesh and blood could stand no more, and the men broke rank and fled. All night they fled in utter rout, bearing with them their wounded leader.
At length they reached Dunbar's camp. But even then they did not pause. For the news of the disaster had thrown the whole camp into confusion. Frantic orders were given, and obeyed with frenzied haste. Waggon loads of stores were burned, barrels of gunpowder were staved in, and the contents poured into the river; shells and bullets were buried. Then, the work of destruction complete, the whole army moved on again in utter rout.
And now Braddock's dark, last hour had come. Brooding and silent he lay in his litter. This awful defeat was something he could not grasp. "Who would have thought it?" he murmured. "Who would have thought it?" But his stubborn spirit was yet unbroken. "We will know better how to do it another time," he sighed. A few minutes later he died.
His men buried him in the middle of the road, Washington reading over him the prayers for the dead. Then lest the Indians should find and desecrate his last resting-place the whole army passed over his grave.