Skip over navigation

The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

The Failure of General Braddock

Early Battles and Fort Necessity

Undeclared War

Summary

Soon after the capitulation of Fort Necessity, the British crown and Parliament learned that 78 French troops had been deployed to attack the British fort Oswego in Canada. Parliament responded by allocating more money to the colonies for the purpose of funding an expanded militia. They also sent British regiments to the colonies. In February 1755, the first British general to ever set foot in the colonies, Edward Braddock, arrived in Virginia.

Braddock was a general in the tradition of British generals, well versed in European warfare and completely ignorant of the possibilities and necessities of New World warfare. Soon after reaching shore, Braddock crafted a three-pronged strategy for defeating the French. The Massachusetts regiments were sent to reinforce the defenses at Oswego, with the expectation that they would then go on to capture Fort Niagara on the south shore of Lake Erie. Colonel William Johnson was assigned to capture Fort Frederick at Crown Point, on the banks of Lake Champlain. Braddock himself was to take Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania.

The first battle after arrival of Braddock actually had nothing to do with Braddock's plan. In May and June of 1755, about 2,000 militiamen moved into French controlled Acadia (now Nova Scotia), and quite easily brought about the fall of the region in May and June of 1755. Many of the battles were small and almost uncontested, as the region was sparsely occupied. Some of the forts were won after a few days of musket fire, without any direct conflict between the troops. The governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, sent about 6,000 Acadians, some half of those living in the region, to the colonies after the battle. Quite a few of these Acadians settled in New Orleans, where they became known as "Cajuns" and created an earthy, rich culture of their own in the United States. For the French, the loss of Acadia certainly stung, but it was no great tragedy; Acadia had little strategic value.

The first significant battle of 1755 was Braddock's battle for Fort Duquesne. Despite the fact that the British outnumbered the French by two to one, 2,200 men to 1,000 men, the French won in a colossal rout. In approaching the fort, Braddock arranged his men to cross the Monongahela River in columns, thereby allowing the French to easily ambush the British forces while using the surrounding trees as cover. In all, the British lost 977 men to the French's 9. Braddock was also killed. The British disaster would have been even worse had the French, shocked by their easy victory, decided to pursue the retreating army.

When news of Braddock's defeat reached the regiments approaching Fort Oswego, morale sank and there were many desertions. The attack on Fort Niagara was deferred until the next year, and the troops reinforcing Oswego were left with the prospect of facing an invigorated and more-experienced French army. The loss at Fort Duquesne sent the British forces into a tailspin from which they did not quickly recover; a three-year period the British termed "the years of losing."

Commentary

The story of General Edward Braddock's defeat can be interpreted as a lack of cultural knowledge. Braddock's fighting style was suited to the plains of England and Europe, where columns of men in red jackets marching in an intimidating line towards the enemy was designed to create the image of an impenetrable force. In Europe, this strategy worked. However, the regions in which the French and Indian War took place were not plains; the battles of the war took place in mountains, forests, and fierce wildernesses. Trees, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and hills twisted the landscape, making straight-on combat virtually impossible and highly unlikely. The type of battle most suited to this natural landscape was not Braddock's style, but rather sniping gunfire from the cover of trees, ambushes, surprise attacks, and guerrilla warfare. One of the primary reasons the French were able to hold an advantage in the war for four years despite being outnumbered and underfunded, was their tactical understanding of the landscape, and their ability and willingness to act on that tactical understanding. The French owed a great deal of their understanding to their Indian allies, who taught them invaluable things about fighting in the American landscape.

The example of Braddock demonstrates how far the British were in the early stages of the war from comprehending the realities of warfare in the colonies. It was only after Lord Pitt took charge of the army and reorganized it according to the necessities of the colonies that the British began to turn the tide of the war.

More Help

Previous Next

Follow Us