British Major General Edward Braddock was determined to retake Fort Duquesne from the French. In 1754 both the Brits and the French claimed the territory lying along the Ohio River. Because of his knowledge of the area General Braddock called upon 23-year old George Washington to guide his troops into that wild and largely uncharted domain.
General Braddock commanded a force of 2,000 men including 1,400 British regulars and 450 Virginia militiamen. There were also 300 axmen whose job it was to cut a road through the thick forest. An unknown number of Indians also accompanied the expedition.
Just a few miles from Fort Duquesne, Braddock’s army marched right into the mouth of disaster. Some 900 French soldiers and an undetermined number of Indians had secreted themselves in the dense forest and opened up unexpectedly with a deafening volley of gunfire that leveled scores of British officers and men on the front lines.
In the ensuing confusion, the panicked British soldiers shot many of their own men while trying to return fire. General Braddock and his personal staff tried to direct the fighting but the mounted officers were easy marks for the hidden enemy and were shot down within minutes—except for the young George Washington.
Washington “had two horses shot out from under him and miraculously was unharmed as a bullet rushed through his hat and three more passed through his coat! He later wrote that he survived only ‘by the miraculous care of Providence, that protected me beyond all human expectation.’”
Washington ranged all over the battlefield trying to rally the troops but the panic-stricken British regulars turned and ran in confusion and soon the entire regiment was in full retreat. That day, 977 men, including 63 officers, were either killed or wounded.
Sixteen years later, in 1770, Washington returned to that area to examine some of the western lands that had been granted to colonial veterans of the French and Indian War. During that journey they were met by a delegation of Indians who were led by an old chief who had commanded the Indian forces that had fought with the French against Braddock’s troops that fateful day.
When the old chief had learned that then Colonel Washington was visiting the area he set out on a mission to locate and to converse with him. After the two groups had arranged themselves around a council fire, the old Indian rose and spoke to those assembled through an interpreter:
“I am a chief and ruler over many tribes. My influence extends to the waters of the great lakes, and to the far blue mountains. I have traveled a long and weary path that I might see the young warrior of the great battle.
“It was on the day when the white man’s blood mixed with the streams of our forest that I first beheld this chief. I called to my young men and said, Mark yon tall and daring warrior? He is not of the red-coat tribe—he hath and Indian’s wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do—himself alone is exposed.
“Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies. Our rifles were leveled, rifles which but for him knew not how to miss—‘twas all in vain; a power mightier far than we shielded him from harm. He cannot die in battle.
“I am old, and soon shall be gathered to the great council fire of my fathers in the land of the shades; but ere I go there is something bids me to speak in the voice of prophecy. Listen!
“The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies—he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire!”
It is interesting to note that George Washington never received the slightest injury in battle during his lifetime.
(The Real George Washington: The True Story of America’s Most Indispensable Man, by Jay A. Parry and Andrew M. Allison. Chapter 4)