“Braddock's Defeat”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1934 (Lomax)
Keywords: battle death trick river
Found in: US


"It was our hard general's false treachery Which caused our destruction that great day." The singer tells how Braddock attacks his own men (?). Other generals take command, but it is too late; the forces across the river are slaughtered.

Supplemental text

Braddock's Defeat
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, American Ballads and Folk Songs, pp.
526-527. No information whatsoever is supplied as to their source.

It was our hard general's false treachery,
Which caused our destruction that great day.
Oh, he is a traitor, his conduct does show;
He was seen in the French fort, six hours ago.

And to be marked by the French, I am sure,
There round his hat, a white handkerchief he wore,
And one of our bold soldiers he stood by a tree,
And there he slew many till him he did see.

"Would you be like an Indian, to stand by a tree?"
And with his broadsword, cut him down instantly.
His brother stood by him, and saw he was slain,
His passion grew on him, he could not refrain.

"Although you're a general, brave Braddock," said he,
"Revenged for the death of my brother I'll be."
When Washington saw that, he quickly drew nigh,
Said, "Oh, my brave soldier, I'd have you forbear."

"No, I will take his life, if it ruins us all."
And Washington turned round to not see him fall.
He up with his musket, and there shot him down.
Then Braddock replied, "I received a wound.

"If here is (sic.) this place, my life I should yield,
Pray carry your general, boys, out of the field."

* * *

Then General Gatefore, he took the command,
And fought like a hero for old Eng-i-land.
He fled through the ranks, like a cat to her game,
But alas, and alack, he was short-i-ly slain.

Then General Gates, he took the command,
And fought like a hero for old Eng-i-land.
He wished that the river had never been crossed
And so many Englishmen shamefully lost.

We had for to cross, it was at the very last,
And cross over the river, they killed us so fast.
Men fell in the river till they stopped up the flood
And the streams of that river ran red down with blood.


According to Walter R. Borneman, _The French & Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America_ (Harper Collins, 2006), p. 40, "not until the golden-haired Custerfiled to emerge from the Little Bighorn more than a century later would another leader's defeat be so personalized" as that of Major General Edward Braddock (1695-1755).

Braddock was appointed in 1754 to command the American colonies in the French and Indian War. (Which technically hadn't been declared yet, but hey, if we can fight undeclared wars in this century, why couldn't they do it then?) According to Borneman, p. 41, this was based on the recommendation of the Duke of Cumberland, the infamous butcher of Culloden, who had little good on his military record except that one victory. (And who would be held responsible for England's loss of its one continentl possession in Hanover. After that, even George II had to get rid of his less than brilliant son. Borneman, pp. 96-97.)

The English situation at this time was uncomfortable. They had many more colonists in the Americas than had the French, but the French controlled most of the land beyond the Appalachians. The English colonists wanted more land, but the French would not allow it. Braddock's objective was to do something about that. If possible, he was to do this quietly, so as to prevent the trouble from spreading to Europe (Borneman, p. 42)

Braddock was assigned portions of two understrength regiments, in need of discipline, training, and recruits, all of which he was to supply in the colonies. Braddock, who had spent most of his career in non-combat posts (he had been an officer in the Coldstream Guards), seemed well enough suited for this task. But he had no combat experience (see Ted Pulliam, ?A Huge, Red Bull's Eye,? article in _American History_ magazine, August 2005 issue, pp. 50-57; this particular reference is to p. 53), and soon was called upon to do something that couldn't be done "by the book." It didn't help that he quickly angered the colonials with his peremptory orders (Borneman, p. 46).

In early 1755, Braddock set out to capture Fort Duquesne -- a work begun by Americans, at the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela (the site of modern Pittsburg; see Pulliam, p. 53), but taken over by French Canadians. Unfortunately for Braddock, it was very well built and situated. Knowing it would he a hard nut to crack, he decided to bring as much heavy artillery as possible (Borneman, p. 48). Neither it nor he would ever come within range of the walls.

He would have been better off striking as quickly as possible. Instead, he wasted a lot of time and effort building a road in the forest for his wagon train, which accomplished nothing much except to given the French a clear area in which to take pot shots at the British, and a whole month in which to do it (Braddock spent 32 days covering an estimated distance of 110 miles; see Samuel Eliot Morison, _The Oxford History of the American People_, p. 162. To manage even that, he had to leave a third of his force behind; Pulliam, p. 55). And he didn't even have a force of Native American scouts to watch for the enemy (Borneman, p. 52)

The French and Indians ran into Braddock about twelve kilometers from Fort Duquesne -- not an ambush, technically, since the French were surprised too. But they responded quickly and effectiviely. Braddock apparently reacted by shoving more troops into the battle without making any attempt to build a defensive position (Borneman, p. 54). He wouldn't even let his men position themselves behind natural objects such as trees (Pulliam, p. 56). Naturally the situation quickly turned to chaos. Braddock was mortally wounded (he died four days later; Pulliam, p. 57), and two-thirds of his 1300 or o men men became casualties. The French had suffered less than a hundred, their Indian allies even fewer (Borneman, p. 55).

It was a major French victory, as it left the western parts of the American colonies exposed (Braddock's successor, Colonel Dunbar, made it worse by abanding several defensible forts and going into "winter quarters" in July; Borneman, p. 67, Morison, p. 163); many settlers were forced back across the Allegheny Mountains. On top of it all, it helped turn a local war into a world war (Borneman, p. 60).

Formally, the name of the fight was ?The Battle of the Monongahela" (Pulliam, p. 50), but everyone seems to call it "Braddock's Defeat."

Despite this, there is absolutely no record in our sources hinting that Braddock was a traitor. In addition, though the French planned to attack the British at a river crossing, they could not actually mount the attack because their Indian allies were not ready. Thus the only really historical part of this song is the fact that Braddock was defeated.

If the song is based on anything, it perhaps has to do with rumors that Braddock was killed by his own men; the story is that one Thomas Fausett killed Braddock after Braddock killed his brother Joseph for hiding behind a tree (a smart thing to do, but not something Braddock understood). But the only evidence for this was Fausett's own word, and most historians disbelieve the story.

That isn't the only inaccuracy in the (Lomax) text of this song. The command structure is all wrong. Braddock's title was "major general," but that was the title then assigned to brigade commanders; his successor, as noted, was Colonel Thomas Dunbar. He did have an officer named Horatio Gates, but his rank was captain, not general! For the life of me I can't imagine what this is based on.

One thing about Braddock's Defeat would prove very important: It allowed a young officer by the name of George Washington (a member of Braddock's staff) to gain combat experience. Two decades later, when the Continental Congress needed someone to run the army, "George Washington, a Virginia planter, was appointed to chair a committee on military supply. [He was t]he highest ranking former British officer with active military experience" (as a brevet brigadier); see Stanley Weintraub, _Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775-1783_, Free Press, 2005, pp. 11-12.

This song is item dA28 in Laws's Appendix II. - RBW

Historical references


  1. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 526-527, "Braddock's Defeat" (1 text)
  2. ST LxA526 (Full)
  3. Roud #4027
  4. BI, LxA526