Best Defense

Blind into America: Braddock got crushed because of poor handling of Indian allies

I picked up "Braddock’s Defeat" because I loved "Crucible of War."


I picked up Braddock’s Defeat because I loved Crucible of War, also about the French and Indian War. I was especially interested because I once considered writing a book about Braddock’s March and defeat. Also, the new book has been getting good word-of-mouth among historians.

It lives up to the talk. The author, David Preston, did a far better job than I think I would have.

The key point of the book is that the French worked with their Indian allies far better than the British did with theirs. This meant the French had far better intelligence, and also a good assault force when the battle began. They received precise reports not just on the location of British forces, but also their size and composition.

For example, here is one report from Indiian scouts shortly before the battle: The British column, they reported, “was filled with their wagons and baggage; that a few grenadier companies marched at the head of this column, around 15 men abreast supported by 2 pieces of cannon, that 2 small corps of light cavalry formed the advanced guard and the rear guard of this army, and that the rest of the artillery was located toward the center.” That’s pretty handy to know if you are planning an ambush.

The French officer corps was tough, experienced, and savvy. Basically, they worked as advisors and liaisons to the Indians who made up the bulk of their force.

Braddock, by contrast, was working blind. He had almost no scouts and not enough fighters. He was killed, and the British casualty rate was about two-thirds. The result was a British setback which Preston likens to Quinctilius Varus’ defeat in 9 AD in Teutoberg Forest.

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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1
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