If you live and drive in the greater Washington area, you have heard of Braddock Road (VA State Road 620). It’s almost always congested with the heavy traffic that is one of the region’s claims to fame. Virginia is littered with roadways named for early American historical people and battles, and I assumed Braddock was some obscure figure from the colonial period.
It wasn’t until I was visiting Fort Necessity and stumbled across Braddock’s grave that I learned who he was. After George Washington was badly defeated at Fort Necessity during the French and Indian War, England answered an appeal for military assistance by sending troops. The 60-year- old Major-General Edward Braddock of the Coldstream Guards was sent to Virginia in February 1755 with two infantry regiments to march to the fork of the Ohio River and take Fort Duquesne. He and his troops disembarked at Alexandria, where he added to his forces with some American troops and his voluntary aide, George Washington.
Braddock then marched his 2,400 men from Wills Creek up the trail Washington and his men had cut to Fort Necessity the year before; “[b]ecause the trail was inadequate for the army’s large wagons and artillery, it was widened to 12 feet, but only at great effort and expenditure of time.” Finally Braddock’s men reached the Monongahela River on July 9 and then planned to march on to Fort Duquesne. They did not reach the fort, however; he and his men were completely routed by the 200 French and 600 indigenous soldiers, despite the superior numbers of the English. Some 900 of Braddock’s men died in the battle. Park service guides at Fort Necessity note that the English failed to get local Mohawks, Lenape, and other indigenous peoples onside, which the French did do, and likely contributed greatly to the English defeat*. Washington wrote that he had two horses shot out from under him and four bullet holes in his coat, and that Braddock was gravely wounded. The English carried Braddock off the field on his sash, and camped near Fort Necessity; Braddock died on the night of July 13.Since the remainder of Braddock’s force was in a hurry to retreat, they hastily buried Braddock in the road he had built, in an unmarked grave in the woods, so that his body would not be disturbed by the French or local indigenous soldiers. His remains were later moved and a large marker placed on the new grave. While Braddock’s career ended so disastrously that you might think he would be forgotten, his journey from Virginia through Cumberland towards Fort Duquesne did have a positive postscript. The route that Washington had established, and Braddock had widened, became the Cumberland Road when early American settlers moving west traveled on that road. Washington and Jefferson believed that a trans-Appalachian road would unify the country, and advocated that road be built. On March 29, 1806, Congress authorized the building of the National Road, also known as the Cumberland Pike, which was the first federal road constructed. It wasn’t completed until 1818; it later became Route 40, and is still in use today, as is the Virginia road where Braddock’s ill-fated journey from Alexandria began.
* Source: National Park Service interpreters, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Pennsylvania. [tour on August 15, 2017, at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield].