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   Chapter 9 DISHONORS AND DISASTERS

The Wonderful Story of Washington By Charles M. Stevens Characters: 4415

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Finding that co-operation with the North Carolina troops was impossible, Washington left Fort Necessity in their charge, and toiled forward through the forest, making a military road toward Fort Duquesne, which was at the point where Pittsburg now is, and which was in the very heart of the region claimed by the English colonies.

Washington reached the station kept by Christopher Gist. This was the heroic woodsman who had been his companion through the most perilous part of his romantic journey when he carried the history-making message from the Governor of Virginia to the Commander of the French.

Here he learned that a large force from Fort Duquesne was coming against him. He hastily threw up fortifications and called in all his forces, including several companies of Indians. A messenger was hastily despatched to Captain Mackay at Fort Necessity, thirteen miles away, and he came on with the swivel guns of the fort. A council of war soon decided that they could not hold their own at this place, and must retreat to more favorable grounds for a stand against the enemy.

In the retreat that followed, the Virginians were greatly exasperated by the North Carolinians. Mackay's men were "King's soldiers" and so would not belittle themselves with the labors of the retreat. At Great Meadows, in the center of which was Fort Necessity, the Virginians, exhausted and resentful, refused to go any farther, and Washington decided to make his stand there.

They had left Gist's station none too soon. At dawn on the morning following the retreat, Captain de Villiers with five hundred Frenchmen and several hundred Indians surrounded the place. Finding that the English had escaped, they were about to return to Fort Duquesne, when a deserter from Washington's camp arrived. He told them that he had escaped to keep from starving to death, and that the troops under Washington were in mutiny over their desperate situation.

De Villiers set out at once to capture Fort Necessity.

Meanwhile, Washington set the Virginians at work strengthening the defences of the fort. The Indians seeing such inferior equipment for defense, and the discord among the troops, became afraid and deserted.

On the morning of July 3, 1754, the French arrived at the edge of Great Meadows and began firing from behind trees, at whatever they could see. All day Washington kept his men close sheltered in the trenches, keeping the enemy at rifle's distance in the edge of the woods. At night a steady downpour of rain began, half drowning the men in the trenches and ruining their ammunition.

At eight o'clock the French demanded a parley looking to the surrender of Fort Necessity. Washington at first refused, but their condition was hopeless. The only person with them who understood any French was Jacob Van Braam, the swordsmanship teacher of Washington at Mount Vernon.

Van Braam went back and forth in the drenching storm of the black night, between the lines, with the negotiations. At last the French sent in their ultimatum. Van Braam tried to translate it by the light of a candle, under cover of a rude tent, through which the rain was pouring upon candle, paper and persons. The terms of the surrender were very humiliating and reflected severely on Washington's honor, but according to Van Braam's translation the terms, though hard, were acceptable.

Washington signed the document and the next morning the bedraggled and disheartened men marched out with the honors of war, though the document of surrender, as afterward correctly translated, did not leave a shred of honor for the defeated colonists. It was then believed that Van Braam had purposely mistranslated it in the service of the French, with whom he and Captain Stobo had to remain as hostages. But subsequent information from the French exonerated Van Braam from this charge, deciding that the mistranslation was from ignorance and not intentional.

The soldiers were put into quarters at Will's creek, and Washington went on to make his report to the Governor.

The Virginia legislature took up an investigation of the charges as to Van Braam's treason and Captain Stobo's cowardice, as well as the conduct of Washington, and the questions of the surrender. Thanks and rewards were freely voted to the troops, but it was some time later before evidence came in, establishing the patriotic character of Van Braam and Stobo.

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