George Washington engaged in his first military action 260 years ago today, May 28, 1754.
Washington arrived at the Great Meadows, as the Fort Necessity area was than called, on May 24. Although the meadow was nearly all marsh, he believed it “a charming field for an encounter” and ordered his men to set up an encampment. Three days later, after hearing that a group of French soldiers had been spotted about seven miles away on Chestnut Ridge, Washington and 40 men set out to find them. At dawn on May 28, the Virginians reached the camp of Tanacharison, a friendly Seneca chief known as the Half King. His scouts then led them to the ravine about two miles to the north where the French were encamped.
The French, commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, were taken by surprise. Ten were killed, including Jumonville, one was wounded, and 21 were made prisoner. One man escaped to carry the news back to Fort Duquesne. Washington’s command suffered only one man killed and two wounded.
Fearing “we might be attacked by considerable forces,” Washington undertook to fortify his position at the Great Meadows. During the last two days of May and the first three days of June, he built a circular palisaded fort, which he called Fort Necessity.
The action at what came to be called Jumonville Glen sparked the world war that we know as the French and Indian War.
For his part, Washington loved it: “I fortunately escaped without any wound, for the right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy’s fire, and it was the part where the man was killed, and the rest wounded. I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me there is something charming in the sound.”
The title to the post is a quotation from Horace Walpole.