Spotlight: Moments That Made America by Geoff Armstrong
From its geological birth during the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent millions of years ago, through the nation-shaping key events that led to its political independence from the British superpower, and other crucial, sometimes miraculous events that worked to create the nation, Moments That Made America: From the Ice Age to the Alamo explores those defining moments, both tragic and inspirational that profoundly shaped the nation and its people - crucial turning points that worked inexorably to mold and make America. These pivotal "tipping" events formed America's geographical, sociological, political and historical landscape. Part 1 culminates with the discovery of gold in California and the role it played in fulfilling America’s dream of Manifest Destiny.
Excerpt from Chapter Three: The Road to Revolution
On the 19th of June, with twelve hundred men and officers, the British army began its march. Braddock’s forces moved slowly, building roads as they advanced. By the 8th of July, Braddock had arrived within 12 miles of Fort Duquesne. Typical of British thinking concerning military action in North America, Braddock failed to send out scouts or set up advance guards. In splendid European-style formation, their bright scarlet uniforms glowing in the summer sunshine, Braddock and his men moved against the French Fort. Washington had spent time in the region and knew it well. He understood the style of fighting they would have to face and recognizing the danger, he tried to persuade Braddock to set up proper security, but Braddock, suffering from what turned out to be terminal arrogance, ignored Washington’s experience and advice.
At about noon they crossed the Monongahela River. The road on which they now marched led through a valley and along two concealed ravines covered with trees and deep grass. What Braddock didn’t know, thanks to his haughty refusal to employ scouts, was that the ravines concealed 600 Native American warriors and 250 French soldiers all armed and waiting.
As soon as the British reached the ravines, the woods in front of them erupted with musket fire as the French and their Native American allies unloaded their weapons into the British. Stunned by the unexpected attack, the leading British troops were hurled backward into their advancing rear units, throwing Braddock’s regulars into hopeless confusion. Disorganized and gripped with fear, hammered by volley after volley of musket fire from directly ahead and then from their flanks, the British struggled to fight back as their legendary discipline began to falter.
The first discharge of musket fire had targeted the officers and many had already fallen. Several times the British rallied and at one point succeeded in killing the French commander. That seemed to act as a signal to the Indians. They threw themselves at the British.
Now panic-stricken and disorientated, ignoring the commands of the few remaining officers, the British regulars huddled together in small groups, firing ineffectively into the surrounding trees and bushes. Protected by the ravines and trees, the French and Indians continued to target the officers.
The only troops who retained any hint of common sense were the Virginians. As soon as they realized whom they were fighting, they ignored Braddock and used the colonial fighting tactics they had learned from the Native Americans.
Washington’s conduct during the battle was exemplary. He refused to huddle in terror, as so many of his fellow officers did, vainly hoping to escape the death that flourished all around them. At six-foot-four and on horseback, he was the most conspicuous officer and the most conspicuous target in the entire British expedition. Witnesses describe him as riding from battered group to battered group, rallying his Virginians and attempting to rally the British regulars into following the example of the Virginians. Four musket balls tore through his coat and two horses were shot out from under him. Inexplicably, nothing touched him.
Finally, Braddock was shot through the lung and carried from the field. He later died of his wound.
Washington, though he was relatively far down in the chain of command, displayed the leadership for which, he would someday become famous. He was able to enforce enough discipline to form a rear guard and allow what was left of the British expedition to retreat.
British losses were appalling with more than 900 dead and wounded. According to most records, only one mounted officer survived the engagement that would become known as the “Battle of the Monongahela”, but should have been called the “Monongahela Massacre”. That officer was George Washington.
He should have died that day. Just one more unknown, low ranking colonial officer, one more casualty in a poorly executed British offensive, his name lost in the mists of history. How Washington managed to survive is beyond explanation and it was only the first of such miraculous escapes. Had he lost his life, the America we know would not exist, or if it did somehow come into being, it would certainly be profoundly different. His survival in the face of almost impossible odds also gives substantial evidence to many, that both Washington and the nation that would someday become America, were under the protection and guidance of Divine Providence.
Washington himself recognized that his survival that day was highly improbable. A few days later, in a letter to his brother John, Washington himself wrote about this. "By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”
About the Author
Geoff Armstrong began his teaching career in 1965 after receiving a teaching diploma from McGill University’s Macdonald College. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Montreal’s Concordia University in 1967 where his major field of study was history. Armstrong credits writers such as Bruce Catton, and Thomas B. Costain, as well as the encouragement of his father who had little formal education, but a deep love of reading and of history, as the inspiration for his own life-long interest.
Throughout a 25-year teaching career he taught history at several grade levels and learned quickly that to reach the hearts of his students, history had to be made immediately and deeply relevant and accessible: that some event that took place centuries before those students were born had a direct and profound influence on every aspect their lives. He also learned that talking down or writing down to his students was a recipe for defeat. It is this awareness, shaped by a quarter century of teaching and countless questions by thousands of intelligent young people that has informed and shaped his writing.