The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Fifty Two

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Section Fifty Two[edit]

I receiv’d of the General about 800£ to be disburs’d in Advance-money to the Wagon-Owners &c: but that Sum being insufficient, I advanc’d upwards of 200£ more, and in two Weeks, the 150 Wagons with 259 carrying Horses were on their March for the Camp. The Advertisement promised Payment according to the Valuation, in case any Wagon or Horse should be lost. The Owners however, alleging they did not know General Braddock, or what dependance might be had on his Promise, insisted on my Bond for the Performance, which I accordingly gave them.

While I was at the Camp, supping one Evening with the Officers of Col. Dunbar’s Regiment, he represented to me his concern for the Subalterns, who he said were generally not in Affluence, and could ill afford in this dear Country to lay in the Stores that might be necessary in so long a March thro’ a Wilderness where nothing was to be purchas’d. I commiserated their case, and resolved to endeavor procuring them some relief. I said nothing, however, to him of my Intention, but wrote the next Morning to the Committee of Assembly, who had the Disposition of some public Money, warmly recommending the Case of these Officers to their Consideration, and proposing that a Present should be sent them of Necessaries & Refreshments. My Son, who had had some Experience of a Camp Life, and of its Wants, drew up a List for me, which I inclos’d in my Letter. The Committee approv’d, and used such Diligence, that conducted by my Son, the Stores arrived at the Camp as soon as the Wagons. They consisted of 20 Parcels, each containing

  • 6 lb Loaf Sugar
  • 6 lb good Muscovado D°
  • 1 lb good Green Tea
  • 1 lb good Bohea D°
  • 6 lb good ground Coffee
  • 6 lb Chocolate
  • ½ Cwt. best white Biscuit
  • ½ lb Pepper
  • 1 Quart best white Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Gloucester Cheese
  • 1 Kegg containing 20 lb good Butter
  • 2 Doz. old Madeira Wine
  • 2 Gallons Jamaica Spirits
  • 1 Bottle Flour of Mustard
  • 2 well-cur’d Hams
  • ½ Doz. dry’d Tongues
  • 6 lb Rice
  • 6 lb Raisins.

These 20 Parcels well pack’d were plac’d on as many Horses, each Parcel with the Horse, being intended as a Present for one Officer. They were very thankfully receiv’d, and the Kindness acknowledge’d by Letters to me from the Colonels of both Regiments in the most grateful Terms. The General too was highly satisfied with my Conduct in procuring him the Wagons, &c. and readily paid my Account of Disbursements; thanking me repeatedly and requesting my farther Assistance in sending Provisions after him. I undertook this also, and was busily employ’d in it till we heard of his Defeat, advancing, for the Service, of my own Money, upwards of 1000£ Sterling, of which I sent him an Account. It came to his Hands luckily for me a few Days before the Battle, and he return’d me immediately an Order on the Paymaster for the round Sum of 1000£ leaving the Remainder to the next Account. I consider this Payment as good Luck; having never been able to obtain that Remainder, of which more hereafter.

This General was I think a brave Man, and might probably have made a Figure as a good Officer in some European War. But he had too much self-confidence, too high an Opinion of the Validity of Regular Troops, and too mean a One of both Americans and Indians. George Croghan, our Indian Interpreter, join’d him on his March with 100 of those People, who might have been of great Use to his Army as Guides, Scouts, &c. if he had treated them kindly; but he slighted & neglected them, and they gradually left him. In Conversation with him one day, he was giving me some Account of his intended Progress. “After taking Fort Duquesne, says he, I am to proceed to Niagara; and having taken that, to Frontenac, if the Season will allow time; and I suppose it will; for Duquesne can hardly detain me above three or four Days; and then I see nothing that can obstruct my March to Niagara.” Having before revolv’d in my Mind the long Line his Army must make in their March, by a very narrow Road to be cut for them thro’ the Woods & Bushes; & also what I had read of a former Defeat of 1500 French who invaded the Iroquois Country, I had conceiv’d some Doubts & some Fears for the Event of the Campaign. But I ventur’d only to say, To be sure, Sir, if you arrive well before Duquesne, with these fine Troops so well provided with Artillery, that Place, not yet completely fortified, and as we hear with no very strong Garrison, can probably make but a short Resistance. The only Danger I apprehend of Obstruction to your March, is from Ambuscades of Indians, who by constant Practice are dextrous in laying & executing them. And the slender Line, near four Miles long, which your Army must make, may expose it to be attack’d by Surprise in its Flanks, and to be cut like a Thread into several Pieces, which from their Distance cannot come up in time to support each other.

He smil’d at my Ignorance, & reply’d, “These Savages may indeed be a formidable Enemy to your raw American Militia; but upon the King’s regular & disciplin’d Troops, Sir, it is impossible they should make any Impression.” I was conscious of an Impropriety in my Disputing with a military Man in Matters of his Profession, and said no more—The Enemy however did not take the Advantage of his Army which I apprehended its long Line of March expos’d it to, but let it advance without Interruption till within 9 Miles of the Place; and then when more in a Body, (for it had just pass’d a River where the Front had halted till all were come over) & in a more open Part of the Woods than any it had pass’d, attack’d its advanc’d Guard, by a heavy Fire from behind Trees & Bushes; which was the first Intelligence the General had of an Enemy’s being near him. This Guard being disordered, the General hurried the Troops up to their Assistance, which was done in great Confusion thro’ Wagons, Baggage and Cattle; and presently the Fire came upon their Flank; the Officers being on Horseback were more easily distinguish’d, pick’d out as Marks, and fell very fast; and the Soldiers were crowded together in a Huddle, having or hearing no Orders, and standing to be shot at till two thirds of them were killed, and then being seiz’d with a Panic the whole fled with Precipitation. The Wagoners took each a Horse out of his Team, and scamper’d; their Example was immediately follow’d by others, so that all the Wagons, Provisions, Artillery and Stores were left to the Enemy. The General being wounded was brought off with Difficulty, his Secretary Mr Shirley was killed by his Side, and out of 86 Officers 63 were killed or wounded, and 714 Men killed out of 1100. These 1100 had been picked Men, from the whole Army, the Rest had been left behind with Col. Dunbar, who was to follow with the heavier Part of the Stores, Provisions and Baggage. The Flyers, not being pursu’d, arriv’d at Dunbar’s Camp, and the Panic they brought with them instantly seiz’d him and all his People. And tho’ he had now above 1000 Men, and the Enemy who had beaten Braddock did not at most exceed 400, Indians and French together; instead of Proceeding and endeavoring to recover some of the lost Honor, he order’d all the Stores Ammunition, &c to be destroy’d, that he might have more Horses to assist his Flight towards the Settlements, and less Lumber to remove. He was there met with Requests from the Governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, that he would post his Troops on the Frontiers so as to afford some Protection to the Inhabitants; but he continu’d his hasty March thro’ all the Country, not thinking himself safe till he arriv’d at Philadelphia, where the Inhabitants could protect him. This whole Transaction gave us Americans the first Suspicion that our exalted Ideas of the Prowess of British Regulars had not been well founded.

In their first March too, from their Landing till they got beyond the Settlements, they had plundered and stripped the Inhabitants, totally ruining some poor Families, besides insulting, abusing & confining the People if they remonstrated. This was enough to put us out of Conceit of such Defenders if we had really wanted any. How different was the Conduct of our French Friends in 1781, who during a March thro’ the most inhabited Part of our Country, from Rhode Island to Virginia, near 700 Miles, occasion’d not the smallest Complaint, for the Loss of a Pig, a Chicken, or even an Apple!

Capt. Orme, who was one of the General’s Aid de Camps, and being grievously wounded was brought off with him, and continu’d with him to his Death, which happen’d in a few Days, told me, that he was totally silent, all the first Day, and at Night only said, Who’d have thought it? that he was silent again the following Days, only saying at last, We shall better know how to deal with them another time; and dy’d a few Minutes after.