Fort Necessity

I was excited to head to Fort Necessity today (8/1/17) because this is where it all began:  The French Indian War which gave rise to the American Revolution.  So much of Washington is tied up in this area–his worst defeat, his biggest betrayal, his deepest humiliation, and the loss of a surrogate father figure.  Standing on the ground here, I felt, would give me the greatest insight for my book.  It is a truly incredible place.

I hadn’t realized that Washington and his men had spent almost two months clearing land for a road to attack Fort Duquesne.  One thing that has always stood out to me in this area is just how many trees there are–everywhere.  I can’t imagine trying to carve a path through them, much less fighting in them.  When he happened upon the Great Meadows, it must have seemed an oasis in the desert.  He termed it, “A charming field for an engagement.”  For a man who desperately wanted a British commission and who had been trained in the shoulder to shoulder British style of fighting, this spot was perfect.  Still, he hadn’t intended it for military service, but merely a supply station for troops attacking Fort Duquesne.

Another view of the fort

That all changed when three days later, Washington’s ally Tanacharison (the Half King) informed Washington there were French in the area (about 7 miles away).  His actions later make me wonder if this was a set-up, and he was simply using Washington.   Washington and 40 men set out to the Half King’s camp.  When they arrive, his scouts lead them to a ravine where the French are encamped.  From this point, two different versions of the story come into place.  Like typical siblings, both the French and the British claim the other one started it.  The French claim the British surprised them, and they fired back.  The British claim the French saw them approaching and fired first, with the British return fire being self defense.  Whatever actually happened, at the end of the day, the French commander Joseph Coulon de Villiers (Sieur de Jumonville) and 9 others were killed, one wounded, 21 prisoners, and one man who escaped to carry the news to Fort Duquesne.  British casualties were one killed, two wounded.  This would lead me to believe the British fired first, though they did have the high ground, so the disparity in casualties could come from that.  The interesting thing is that Coulon de Villiers was actually only wounded and was possibly trying to surrender–until the Half King got ahold of him–literally.  With a tomahawk.

Diorama of the Fort

When British Colonel Fry falls off his horse and dies of his injuries two days later, Washington is promoted to Colonel.  With the weight of leadership on his shoulders and the expectation of French retaliation from Fort Duqesne, Washington begins to try to make the area a fort, while still trying to do work on the road.  He has men guard those working on the road, but even with reinforcements still only has about 400 men.  His Indian allies meet with him, but when they realize Washington’s supplies haven’t come through as promised, and he has barely enough provisions for his men, they decide the British are a lost cause and refuse to fight.  Thus, Washington will face the 700 approaching Frenchmen and Indians with no allies.  I’m sure this was a huge betrayal by those he thought would stand with him–especially the man who was actually to blame for the incident.  But, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Artillery demonstration

It’s a horrible, rainy day on July 3, making fighting sporadic, as both sides are dealing with wet gunpowder, and Washington’s men are standing in trenches, which are slowly filling up.  The commander of the French Army is none other than the Louis, brother of Joseph Coulon de Villiers.  But, Providence will both save Washington and humiliate him.  The Indians with the French prefer the element of surprise and the spoils of war.  Seeing that there is neither at this time, they tell Louis Coulon De Villiers that they will leave in the morning.  He has a choice to make.

He requests a truce to parlay, offering Washington the chance to surrender.  But, when the terms are sent to Washington, they are smudged because of the rain.  Washington’s normal translator had been killed, and the man who was translating was Dutch, but could understand most of what was said.  Most being the key word.  He informs Washington that the terms are generous, allowing Washington and his men to leave with honors of war, taking their baggage and weapons (but no swivel guns–like little cannons) and return immediately to Virginia.  They had to leave two men as hostages (who would volunteer, then provide valuable intelligence as spies.)  Unfortunately, the translator left out the part where, by signing, Washington is admitting to the assassination of Joseph Coulon de Villiers, whom the French claim was acting as an ambassador, in the same role as Washington himself–though papers in his effects give the possibility he was spying as well (as the British would claim).  This report makes it all over Europe and the colonies, and Washington is humiliated.  Though Governor Dinwiddie doesn’t blame Washington when he reaches Virginia, he will disband the Virginia regiments into garrison companies, and will offer Washington the demoted rank of Captain.  When Washington is unable to negotiate a higher rank, he will leave military service less than three months after the Fort Necessity debacle and return to Mount Vernon.

Braddock’s memorial

But, Washington doesn’t get too comfortable in the quiet life as a farmer.  When General Braddock is named Commander in chief of the British forces and arrives in America with two Irish regiments, Washington sends him a note of congratulations–a great way to get noticed.  Because of the way British commissions worked, Washington would be subordinate to even his British inferiors, so he makes the decision to accept the offer to join as Braddock’s Aide de Camp–a volunteer position in which he only answered to Braddock, and he could pave the way to a commissioned rank.

I can’t imagine what he must have felt when his path led him back to Fort Necessity, where the bones of his men were still visible against the landscape (the French had burned Fort Necessity to the ground.)  But, he had another chance to assault Fort Duquesne.  Unfortunately, it would be another devastating loss.

View of Braddock’s original burial site (right) and monument (left)

Braddock has mostly heeded Washington’s advice on the advance.  He has men scouting and protecting the flanks and rear as the army crosses the Monongahela River.  When he doesn’t get ambushed, however, Braddock assumes the French are holed up in the fort and pulls the scouts in, lining his men up, unfurling the banners, and striking up the band.  There’s not a chance the French can miss their arrival.  Unfortunately.  Unbeknownst to him, the French know Braddock’s coming and had made the decision to surprise attack–they just didn’t make it to the river in time.  The two armies slam into each other.  And though the British have over twice the numbers, the French and Indians are fighting ambush style, hitting the flanks from the treeline, and the British lines literally collapse into each other, forming a mass of red coated men–a horribly easy target.  Washington and Braddock, both on horseback, are trying to return order to the situation.  Both have horses shot from under them.  Both have bullet holes in their clothing.  Both are unhit–until Braddock is struck with a bullet to the shoulder which passes into his chest.  Washington is able to get him into a wagon and off the field, then assemble the men and cover the retreat.

The original spot where Braddock was buried.

Unfortunately, Braddock, who had been a sort of father figure to 24 year old George who had lost his own father at 11, would die three days later.  Washington himself will preside over the burial, choosing to bury him in the road he had built where soldiers will march over his grave, obscuring the site from those who would seek to desecrate the body.  He will remain there until 1804 when men repairing this section of the road will stumble upon the remains and move them to the hill.

Ironically, this site of so much pain will be bought by Washington who visited after the war.  For the surveyor, it is indeed a beautiful piece of land, but I can’t imagine being able to see past all the memories he would have had.  But, knowing that he also revisited Valley Forge, I believe Washington didn’t shy away from the hard places.  Perhaps that’s another thing that makes him great.






Welcome to Cades Cove!

Welcome to Cades Cove!

As we spent today (3/23/15) driving around Cades Cove, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of nature. Every turn offered some new delight that made us exclaim, “Look at that!” I was reminded of a principle I’ve heard often and hadn’t thought of recently–that Beauty demands to be shared. While all of us enjoy things that bring us delight, there’s another joy entirely when we are able to share them with another person–or a number of people via social media. And so, while a picture cannot possibly do justice to the real life experience, I’m inviting you along to share some of the beauty and stories we experienced today.

We saw amazing scenery along our drive out to the Cove, but I just wanted to arrive at the scenery I knew was coming. No sooner had we gotten into the park, we saw our first deer. I love deer, so this is a special joy for me. But, there are so many joys here.

John and Lucretia Oliver's cabin

John and Lucretia Oliver’s cabin

Our first stop was the cabin of John and Lucretia Oliver. He bought land in the 1820’s and built a 1 1/2 story cabin on it. This cabin stayed in his family for over 100 years until the park was established. One thing that was neat to notice about the cabin is that the notches where the logs fit together were carved at a downward angle (about 45 degrees.) I’ve always seen cabins with square notches, but John made them angled to run water away from the house–a great piece of ingenuity. One sad fact I learned by visiting the National Park website was that John W. Oliver (a namesake descendant of the builder) was one of the residents who fought the National Parks buying up land. He apparently went to court several times before losing his family property.

Another deep disappointment of the area was captured by the “Bob was here” sign outside. It referenced the fact that so many irreplaceable pieces of history have been spoiled because someone felt the need to carve or write his or her name. In fact, almost every cabin on the property had graffiti on almost every inch of visible surface–it’s truly heartbreaking. As 17th century British clergyman Thomas Fuller observed (and my mom quotes), “Fools names like fool’s faces are often seen in public places.” Please resist the urge to graffiti historic places! If you want to sign your name to remember a trip, do it in a guest book!

The Primitive Baptist Church in shadows

The Primitive Baptist Church in shadows

From the Oliver cabin, we headed to two different churches, The Primitive Baptist Church and The Methodist Church. These buildings not only have an amazing beauty (despite the graffiti), but also a great heritage as well. The Primitive Baptist and the Methodist Churches were both built around the 1820’s. The Baptist Church was closed during the Civil War due to their support of the Union and their fear of their Confederate neighbors. The Methodists were not as numerous as the Baptists, and, although they did not close, were bitterly divided over the issue of the Civil War as well. Though I reenact with a Civil War group which represents a Tennessee regiment, I had not realized they were so divided. This issue of this truly being a “brother against brother” war would come up on other occasions as well. In the present, however, I loved the way the light played with the shadows on this church.

In the middle of the Cades Cove loop is the Visitor Center. Instead of just being a traditional Visitor Center, we were greeted by a number of incredible historic buildings. In addition to the barns, houses, and other out buildings, there were great places to hike, streams to ford, and beautiful photography to be taken. We spent a wonderful time just simply taking time to pursue beauty–definitely a worthwhile task.

Mom's picture--beauty shared

Mom’s picture–beauty shared

Since the title of this entry is that beauty demands to be shared, I want to share one of my mom’s amazing pictures from the Visitor Center (which she went through great contortions to get.)

This whole idea of the separation between people in the cove was brought home to me with our visit to the mill. Here, we found not only beautiful scenery, but also a rare treasure in the form of 91 year old Cliff–the current miller. Cliff began running the mill at 89. He had moved to Tennessee from Florida to retire–exactly the opposite of most. I asked him why he decided to become the miller here, and he explained he had been sitting on his front porch when the park service came by and asked him if he’d like to run it. He informed them that he had no mill experience. They replied that they’d teach him. And he’s never looked back. He said one of his favorite things is all the different people he gets to meet. His favorite story was about Rebecca Cable. She wanted to marry a young man, and her dad said no. She told him that since he wanted grandchildren, she’d never marry to spite him. And she didn’t. (His son, however, did marry and have children, so he got his grandchildren after all.)The Cable family owned a great deal of the park, so many of the buildings were sold by her.

Cable Mill (Cliff's)

Cable Mill (Cliff’s)

Cliff also shared that the mill was a good way of reconciliation after the Civil War. He reminded me that half of the area went for the North and half for the South. Both during and after the war, the mill employed many men from the area. When you have to work in close quarters, you make up your differences. This is why Cliff considers the mill a place of great healing.

We ended our tour by visiting a few other cabins. While each had a slightly different appearance and their own story, I was particularly interested in the Carter Shields Cabin. Carter had been wounded at the Battle of Shiloh–a battle in which the 154th Tennessee Sr. Co. K (with whom I reenact) also fought. It was a horribly bloody battle, and Carter was one of the lucky ones–he was crippled for life, but alive. His story was a happy one though–he married and moved to Kansas, then returned almost 40 years after the war to buy property here. However, he only stayed for eleven years before moving on.

As we drove out of the park, we were able to make our way to a number of the beautiful sites we had seen on the way in. One favorite was the Sinks and Upper Meigs Falls.

Sink at Meigs Falls

Sink at Meigs Falls

This site had beautiful views, hiking trails, and rocks to climb on. Finally, it was time to head home. Because there is so much more beauty to be shared, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite shots from the day. Enjoy! Until tomorrow!

Mountain Beauty

Mountain Beauty

I Love Deer!

I Love Deer!