Best Defense

Was Ft. Necessity really ‘a death trap’ foolishly chosen by George Washington?

I keep on reading that allegation but I wonder if it is really correct.


I keep on reading that allegation but I wonder if it is really correct.

The conventional wisdom, from Half King on down, avers that it was a poor choice for young George Washington to make as he awaited a French counteroffensive in the Allegheny Highlands at the outset of the French and Indian War. Most recently, I see where retired Army Lt. Gen. Dave R. Palmer, a fine military historian, repeats this. It was, he writes, “a large, low clearing dominated by tree-covered higher ground.” In other words, a death trap.

But I am not sure that Half King understood was Washington’s need for forage for animals. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Allegheny Highlands, hiking and kayaking. In those decades, I’ve noticed that there are only a handful of open, grassy “meadows” offering sufficient pasturage for more than a handful of draft animals. Almost all of those woods are heavily forested, with a few exceptions. I bet Washington’s first focus was on feeding his animals (and if necessary when besieged, eating them). And the spot he chose was one of a handful of places were grass was abundant.

Also, in all the criticism, I’ve never seen an alternative site proposed. I think it was either Ft. Necessity or pull back to Cumberland.

What am I not seeing here?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

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