« ZurückWeiter »
ninety Frenchmen were approaching fie instantly ordered out a hundred and fifty of his best men ; put himself at their head, and leaving Major Muse with the rest, to man the fort and mount the swivels, sallied forih “ in the full hope" as he afterwards wrote to Governor Dinwiddie,“ of procuring him another present of French prisoners."
It was another effervescence of his youthful military ardor, and doomed to disappointment. The report of the scouts had been either exaggerated or misunderstood. The ninety Frenchmen in military array dwindled down into nine French deserters.
According to their account, the fort at the fork was completed, and named Duquesne, in honor of the Governor of Canada. It was proof against all attack, excepting with bombs, on the land side. The garrison did not exceed five hundred, but two hundred more were hourly expected, and nine hundred in the course of a fortnight.
Washington's suspicions with respect to La Force's party were justified by the report of these deserters ; they had been sent out as spies, and were to show the summons if discovered or overpowered. The French commander, they added, had been blamed for sending out so small a party.
On the same day Captain Mackay arrived, with his independent company of South Carolinians. The cross-purposes which Washington had apprehended, soon manifested themselves. The captain was civil and well disposed, but full of formalities and points of etiquette. Holding a commission direct from the king, he could not bring himself to acknowledge a provincial officer as his superior. He encamped separately, kept separate guards, would not agree that Washington should assign any rallying place for his men in case of alarm, and objected to receive from
him the parole and countersign, though necessary for their com. mon safety.
Washington conducted himself with circumspection, avoiding every thing that might call up a question of command, and reasoning calmly whenever such question occurred; but he urged the governor by letter, to prescribe their relative rank and authority. “ He thinks you have not a power to give commissions that will command him. If so, I can very confidently say that his absence would tend to the public advantage."
On the 11th of June, Washington resumed the laborious march for Redstone Creek. As Captain Mackay could not oblige his men to work on the road unless they were allowed a shilling sterling a day; and as Washington did not choose to pay this, nor to suffer them to march at their ease while his own faithful soldiers were laboriously employed; he left the captain and bis Independent company as a guard at Fort Necessity, and undertook to complete the military road with his own men.
Accordingly, he and his Virginia troops toiled forward through the narrow defiles of the mountains, working on the road as they went. Scouts were sent out in all directions, to prevent surprise. While on the march he was continually beset by sachems, with their tedious ceremonials and speeches, all to very little purpose. Some of these chiefs were secretly in the French interest; few rendered any real assistance, and all expected presents.
At Gist's establishment, about thirteen miles from Fort Necessity, Washington received certain intelligence that ample reinforcements had arrived at Fort Duquesne, and a large force would instantly be detached against him. Coming to a halt, he began to throw up intrenchments, calling in two foraging parties, and sending word to Captain Mackay to join him with all speed. The 1754)
RETREAT TO THE GREAT MEADOWS.
captain and his company arrived in the evening; the foraging parties the next morning. A council of war was held, in which the idea of awaiting the enemy at this place was unanimously abandoned.
A rapid and toilsome retreat ensued. There was a deficiency of horses. Washington gave up his own to aid in transporting the military munitions, leaving his baggage to be brought on by soldiers, whom he paid liberally. The other officers followed his example. The weather was sultry; the roads were rough ; provisions were scanty, and the men dispirited by hunger. The Virginian soldiers took turns to drag the swivels, but felt almost insulted by the conduct of the South Carolinians, who, piquing themselves upon their assumed privileges as “ king's soldiers," bauntered along at their ease; refusing to act as pioneers, or participate in the extra labors incident to a hurried retreat.
On the 1st of July they reached the Great Meadows. Here the Virginians, exhausted by fatigue, hunger, and vexation, declared they would carry the baggage and drag the swivels no further. Contrary to his original intentions, therefore, Washington deterinined to halt here for the present, and fortify, sending off expresses to hasten supplies and reinforcements from Wills' Creek, where he had reason to believe that two independent companies from New York, were by this time arrived
The retreat to the Great Meadows had not been in the least too precipitate. Captain de Villiers, a brother-in-law of Junonville, had actually sallied forth from Fort Duquesne at the head of upwards of five hundred French, and several hundred Indians, eager to avenge the death of his relative. Arriving about dawn of day at Gist's plantation, he surrounded the works which Washiington had hastily thrown up there, and fired into them. Finding them deserted, he concluded that those of whom he came in search had made good their retreat to the settlements, and it was too late to pursue them. He was on the point of returning to Fort Duquesne, when a deserter arrived, who gave word that Washington had come to a halt in the Great Meadows, where his troops were in a starving condition; for his own part, he added, hearing that the French were coming, he had deserted to them to escape starvation.
De Villiers ordered the fellow into confinement; to be rewarded if his words proved true, otherwise to be hanged. He then pushed forward for the Great Meadows. *
In the mean time Washington had exerted himself to enlarge and strengthen Fort Necessity, nothing of which had been done by Captain Mackay and his men, while encamped there. The fort was about a hundred feet square, protected by trenches and palisades. It stood on the margin of a small stream, nearly in the centre of the Great Meadows, which is a grassy plain, perfectly level, surrounded by wooded hills of a moderate height, and at that place about two hundred and fifty yards wide. Washington asked no assistance from the South Carolina troops, but set to work with his Virginians, animating them by word and example; sharing in the labor of felling trees, hewing off the branches, and rolling up the trunks to form a breastwork.
At this critical juncture he was deserted by his Indian allies. They were disheartened at the scanty preparations for defence against a superior force, and offended at being subjected to military command. The half-king thought he had not been sufficiently consulted, and that his advice had not been sufficiently
* Hazard's Register of Pennsylvania, vol. iv., p. 22.
ATTACK ON FORT NECESSITY.
followed ; such, at least, were some of the reasons which he subsequently gave for abandoning the youthful commander on the approach of danger. The true reason was a desire to put his wife and children in a place of safety. Most of his warriors followed his example; very few, and those probably who had no families at risk, remained in the camp.
Early in the morning of the 3d, while Washington and his men were working on the fort, a sentinel came in wounded and bleeding, having been fired upon. Scouts brought word shortly afterwards that the French were in force, about four miles off. Washington drew up his men on level ground outside of the works, to await their attack. About 11 o'clock there was a firing of musketry from among trees on rising ground, but so distant as to do no harm; suspecting this to be a stratagem designed to draw his men into the woods, he ordered them to keep quiet, and refrain from firing until the foe should show themselves, and draw near.
The firing was kept up, but still under cover. He now fell back with his men into the trenches, ordering them to fire whenever they could get sight of an enemy. In this way there was skirmishing throughout the day; the French and Indians advan. cing as near as the covert of the woods would permit, which in the nearest place was sixty yards, but never into open sight. In the meanwhile the rain fell in torrents ; the harassed and jaded troops were half drowned in their trenches, and many of their muskets were rendered unfit for use.
About eight at night the French requested a parley. Washington hesitated. It might be a stratagem to gain admittance for a spy into the fort. The request was repeated, with the addition that an officer might be sent to treat with them, under their