National Geographic : 1976 Jul
Washington's inexperience doomed the cam paign. Although no state of war existed, he and his troops attacked an encampment of 31 Frenchmen, killing 10-including their leader, the Sieur de Jumonville. French propagandists were quick to exploit the fact that Washington had attacked a diplomatic mission, an act that helped spark the French and Indian War. The young officer then had erected an ill conceived stockade that was called Fort Necessity. The French duly attacked, wiped out a fourth of the command, and imposed a surrender in which the young American, who very likely did not understand the French text, admitted the "assassination" of Jumon ville. The document was, observed an out raged Englishman, "the most infamous a British subject ever put his Hand to." In the wake of the debacle, Washington "too ready to complain, too nakedly con cerned with promotion," in the words of one biographer-resigned his commission. The spring of 1755 saw Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock arrive in Alexandria with two regi ments of British regulars. His mission: to drive the French from the upper Ohio Valley. Braddock soon learned that the former pro vincial officer had a useful knowledge of the Ohio country. Braddock could offer Washington no rank that the Virginian regarded as worthy, but he decided to serve as a volunteer aide. Brad dock, however, made no attempt to conceal his loathing for provincials: ". .. very indiffer ent Men, this Country affording no better...." Such chronic contempt for Americans by British commanders would pay bitter divi dends at Breed's Hill, Saratoga, and Yorktown. As spring mellowed into summer, Brad dock's force advanced into the wilderness. On July 9 some 850 French and Indians ambushed the 1,500-man army. The regulars had never before encountered unseen foes who fired devastatingly from behind trees. They responded with a "general Pannick." Braddock fell, as did many of his officers. Washington, in his report to Governor Din widdie, praised the valor of the Virginia companies. The British troops, he added, "broke and run as Sheep before the Hounds." After three more years on the frontier this time as "Commander in Chief of all Virginia forces"-Washington retired to the life he loved, that of a planter. Spending long days in the saddle, he expanded Mount City that was his second home, Alexan dria, Virginia, parades in honor of Washing ton's birthday. Here he recruited soldiers for the British hostilities against the French in the 1750's. With them he experienced defeat, then victory in the Ohio Valley. The First Virginia Regiment, wearing the casual hunting-shirt uniforms that Washington favored, recalls units he served with and lauded: "[They] behav'd like Men and died like Soldiers."