Wednesday, August 15, 2007

THE STORY

WILDERNESS CONFLICT

BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS CHAPTER 1

Two hundred axes slammed into tree trunks creating a constant staccato of thuds. Morning till night the sounds of men felling trees continued. Boys and women were busy hacking and pulling the cut brush as far back into the woods as possible. Ten teams of oxen were hitched repeatedly to fallen trees. Their groans and grunts of displeasure mingled with the sounds of axes striking wood filled every waking moment of the day. Red jackets and green shirts were thrown in disarray on every shrub or low tree limb that would bear the weight of the garments. The men swinging the axes were shirtless for the most part, but many still wore their white silk undershirts. The women were wives, sweethearts and ladies of ill repute who had been following the large group of men since the 29Th of May. It was now July 5, 1755. There were twenty two hundred men with General Edward Braddock on his march to capture Fort Duquesne on the west side of the Monongahela River. The going was slow. Less than two miles per day was made. A road had to be cleared through the dense forest in order to pass canon and supply wagons onward to the point of future conflict with the French. The pace was far too slow. The closer his army moved toward the Monongahela the greater the odds of discovery and retaliation. A meeting was held with his commanders, Charles Lee, Thomas Gage and Horatio Gates to determine the most advantageous course of action. After thirty short minutes it was decided that General Braddock would split his forces. He would take 1500 men (a flying column) and push on ahead at great speed. Colonel Thomas Dunbar would command the supply column and baggage wagons. This supply column would fall far behind the main thrust. July 7 and 9 found the flying column being harassed by occasional rifle fire from deep in the woods. Their adversaries could not be seen. The only indication of the enemy was the lingering puff of white smoke from the shot. The General could now assume that the French and indian defenders at Ft Duquesne would be alerted to their presence and a surprise siege was out of the question. The intelligence of that time indicated the fort contained approximately three hundred French regulars and seven hundred indians comprised of Ottawas, Ojibwas and Pottawatomie's. That small contingent of French regulars and savages would be no match for crack, seasoned British regulars and Scott's Guard troops.

July 9, 1755 found Braddock crossing the Monongahela River. Braddock split his 1500 men yet again. He sent colonel Thomas Gage ahead at a fast pace to try to find siege positions on the South side of the French fort. It was during this maneuver that Gage ran directly into a large party of French, Canadians and Indians. The enemy scattered left and right disappearing into the forest. Seconds later the sounds of musket and rifle fire could be heard and the associated white puffs of smoke could be seen from whence the shots originated. The shooting began as a few occasional sharp cracks and gradually accelerated to a continuous barrage of rifle and musket fire. The French with their Indian allies had taken positions on both sides of the British column. Colonel Gage and General Braddock both whipped the lobster backs into long ranks and had the men step out away from the line in groups of forty men. These groups of forty would split again and reassemble in a line with twenty riflemen in front and twenty more directly behind them. In this way the row of riflemen in the rear could fire a volley while their kneeling comrades in front reloaded their muskets. While this military posturing was being undertaken; the colonial militia took cover behind whatever was available and returned fire. They aimed a foot under the white puffs of smoke that lingered above a fired enemy gun. Balls could be heard whizzing by and smacking hard into tree wood with a sound resembling a large stone striking a tree when thrown. Sounds of Ka Thunk, were led balls striking human bodies. That sound was on the increase. The British formations were being decimated. Some formations of forty men were quickly reduced to ten and less. The air was thick with the smell of burned gun powder. It had an acrid stench to it and burned the eyes. Screams could be heard from the forest as Indians were growing eager in their success. An occasional savage would run full out and into a formation of red coats swinging his tomahawk wildly, striking one or two troopers and exit out the back side of the line before anyone could react.

A commotion toward the front of the fighting!!!!!!! General Braddock can be seen, left foot in a stirrup, mounting a horse. His white mare has been shot from under him and he had commandeered another. Not a heart beat later and his newly acquired gray stallion was felled by a bullet to its forehead. It lay on its side, legs thrashing as it neared death. General Braddock was given yet another horse and mounted it from the right side in an ungraceful manner.

The British formation blocks were deteriorating. The dead and dying were many. Soon groups of red coats were breaking away from the conflict and running back toward the rear. They were terrified! Many more started and a general route was taking place. General Braddock and Colonel George Washington charged through the men on horseback and blocked the escape route in an attempt to turn the tide of desertion. It was here that General Braddock threw up both arms and tilted his head back, face to the sky, and fell from his horse. He was quickly picked up by four aids and carried along toward the rear of the fighting, shuffling through the hoards of frightened red coats who ran, crawled and limped as best they could. The entire fifteen hundred man force was in retreat. The Colonials held their positions, laying down heavy musket fire, to cover the British exit. The French pushed forward until the militia found it prudent to evacuate. They ran on and on. They were beaten. They had ideas of surrender. But they ran harder at that thought. They had heard of what becomes of prisoners taken by savage indians. The French and Indians played a harassing game. They were like mosquitoes ; here, there and everywhere. Lobster backs were falling from their rifle cracks. The holes were in the back; not in the front. To make matters worse, the supply caravan was rushing toward the fight and was startled to be confronted by what was left of the flying column. The two groups collided on the small road. The fleeing troops instilled terror into the wagon drivers and the two columns of troops that travelled beside them. In two's and three's the wagons were stopped, backed up and joined the retreating British. Oxen pulled hard as the heavy wagons creaked back toward the South East. Drivers were jumping off the slow moving wagons pulled by oxen and hitching rides on the swift moving horse drawn supply rigs. Soldiers tried to cling to the wagon boxes with one hand and attempted to run along side only to fall and be run over by the wagon wheels. Their haste to get away would assure their capture by the enemy. There was no time in the retreat to pick up stragglers. They prayed the French would find them before the savages. Edward Braddock lay in misery on the bed of a jostling wagon. A rifle ball entered his body from the right side, passed through his stomach and out the other side leaving a gaping hole above his hip. He was gut shot. He passed in and out of consciousness until finally he expired. His cadre instantly dug a grave in the middle of the wagon road, wrapped the general in white linen and lay him in the hole on his back. The hole was covered with dirt. The hope was that the wagons and horses they would drive over the grave site would obliterate all traces of it from the enemy, who surely would decimate the generals remains if found.

One of the oxen pulled supply wagons became lodged between a boulder and a large spruce. The right rear wheel was broken off the axle. The driver quickly jumped off the seat and ran up to the two oxen in harness. He withdrew an especially long knife and sliced through the harness straps that secured the beasts to the wagon tongue. The proper thing to have done, per orders, was to cut the throats of the oxen in order to deprive the enemy of their use. But the young man grew up on a farm in the colonies and his father taught him to respect animals and to treat them with dignity. Animals were the earths fruit. They sustained human life and provided "everything" the pioneering people required to make a go of it on the frontier. Animals were revered and their lives taken only for human sustenance. So he set them free. They lumbered off a short distance into the woods and started grazing. The indians would probably feast on them tonight, but at least they were free to stand or run.

The young man's name was Matthew Solomon. He was known as Matty for short. His father was a farmer and a black smith in the colonies of Central Maryland. Most children of the time would follow their father or mother's foot steps and simply continue on in life as tillers of the soil or farmers wives. But young Matty always had a wander lust about him. He spent his time in the woods hunting or tracking when he could get away from the farm crops and chores. After a few years he would succumb to the lure of the wilderness and the unknown. He left the farm at 19 years of age and travelled over the frontier. He would work temporary, odd jobs in towns that had no names. Enough money would be collected to sustain him with food, gun powder and ball for his rifle and eventually a horse. His movements took him South along the Allegheny Mountains to Fort Cumberland in the colony Maryland. It was here that he saw the poster tacked to the tail gate of a colonial militia supply wagon. It read "Experienced wagon drivers wanted. Men of adventure needed. Must be over 15 years old and healthy. Inquire at Quarter Master's tent, first on left." Why not? There was nothing else to do. Matty tore the poster from the tail gate and sloshed through the muddy path called a street to the quarter master tent. "Yes sir. The pay is ten cents colonial per day, mess provided by the king twice daily." It was better than nothing. Matty would report to the quarter master in the morning to receive his wagon rig. One thing bothered him Why would they want men of adventure? He would find out. He made his appearance at the appointed place at 6AM next morning. There were already forty men there standing about or leaning against hitching posts or wagons. Many were older and their leathery, dark skin proved that their lives were spent in the wilderness. They were filthy and their clothes were buckskin. Others were obviously straight from the farm. For the most part they were young and, at the least, clean. A militia man appeared with a roster and called out the names of the new hires. "Aye!" and "here!" were yelled after the names were called out. There were many names called that were followed by silence. The militia man named Colonel George Washington appeared from a nearby tent and stepped upon a nail keg to gain the advantage of height. He stared out upon the assembled rabble and moved his head left and right with eyes unblinking and mouth tight shut. He appeared stern and quite serious. Then he spoke. "Men! We are about to embark on a campaign against the French and Indian at Fort Duquesne on the Monongahela. I am not at liberty at this time to state numbers, but General Edward Braddock of His Magesties Army will lead the 32nd a foot, Royal Highlanders and a contingent of colonial militia over the Alleghenies to lay siege to the French stockade that lies where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers flow together. You men will drive the supply wagons for the venture. We depart in four hours after noon. So, say your goodbyes to loved ones and God speed and stay you safe". So this was it., The promise of adventure made his blood hot. He was almost giddy with excitement. He waited there by his wagon until the British General Dunbar directed the assemblage of teams into military order. One column of wagons two abreast flanked by colonial militia. The lobster backs were assembled four abreast and formed in front of the wagons. The column of soldiers was so long that Matty could not see the beginning of it., "There must be over a thousand of em, he thought. In reality, there were 2200 red coats and Colonial Militia total. The wagon drivers were extra. And so, off they went,. The adventure had begun.