Last week’s column about the District’s subterranean Braddock’s Rock — legendarily, if not accurately, the hunk of granite upon which Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock alighted before starting his ill-fated 1755 campaign — made Answer Man curious about what other traces of this British military figure remain in our area.
The most obvious reminder of the general’s brief time here is Braddock Road, a.k.a. State Road 620, which passes through Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
A cursory glance at a map may leave you scratching your head. In April 1755, Braddock left Alexandria, crossed the Potomac River near Georgetown, and began marching north toward the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Why would he have headed south and then west, the route followed by Braddock Road?
The answer is, he didn’t. He split his forces. Those under the command of Lt. Col. Thomas Gage and Sir Peter Halkett went through Northern Virginia on their way to a crossing of the Shenandoah, said Washington lawyer Tom Crocker, who spent 20 years researching the ill-fated campaign for his book, “Braddock’s March.”
The Historical Marker Database lists 42 different monuments related to Braddock and his role in the French and Indian War. One is in the District: a plaque on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral erected in 1907 by the Society of Colonial Wars to mark the route Braddock and his men took along present-day Wisconsin Avenue. Others are scattered throughout Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Virginia is home to some of the most martial reminders of Braddock’s time here. A 1921 Washington Post article noted that the general left behind “a number of cannon that were later planted, muzzles pointing skyward, at the entrances to several of the principal alleys of the city of Alexandria.”
The cannons have since been moved. One — a three-pound fieldpiece known as a “grasshopper” — is the centerpiece of a monument at the intersection of Braddock and Russell roads. Another was transformed into a drinking fountain for humans and horses and is near Gadsby’s Tavern. (It no longer dispenses water.) There’s a Braddock cannon in Winchester, Va., too.
But if Braddock were to somehow miraculously return to Alexandria, his strongest memories would probably be of the place he stayed: Carlyle House. It had been standing for only two years when Braddock arrived and made it his temporary headquarters. Owner John Carlyle, a wealthy Scottish immigrant and one of the town’s leading citizens, was not pleased.
In correspondence, Carlyle allowed as how Braddock was a “brave Man” but thought him “Very Indolent, Slave to his Passions, Women & Wine, As Great an Epicure as could be in his Eateing.”
And Carlyle was peeved that during his stay, Braddock “abused my house, & furniture, & made me little or No Satisfaction.”
Said Susan Hellman, director of Carlyle House Historic Park, now a site open to the public: “The Carlyles were not particularly happy with him as a houseguest. They didn’t have a whole lot of choice.”
By Carlyle’s account, the British troops who landed in Alexandria were similarly uncouth. They cursed at townspeople who complained about their boorish behavior and called the colonials “the Spawn of Convicts.”
Such actions, Carlyle noted, “made their Company very disagreeable.”
What were Braddock and his disagreeable troops doing here in the first place? Well, the French — Britain’s traditional enemy — had established footholds in Quebec and New Orleans. Now they were in the process of stitching those two enclaves together with a series of forts in the Ohio Valley. If successful, that would cut off the western frontier to British colonial expansion.
The galling Gauls had to be repelled.
Braddock arrived in Alexandria with 1,400 British regulars. To this he would add 450 colonials — including a young George Washington. Before he left on his expedition, Braddock met at Carlyle House with the leaders of five colonies, including Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia and Gov. Horatio Sharpe of Maryland. (On April 5, Carlyle House will celebrate “Braddock Day,” with costumed reenactors re-creating the historic meeting.)
Of course, Braddock didn’t live to see the French eventually defeated. He was killed on the way to Fort Duquesne, the French outpost that the victorious British renamed Pittsburgh, after William Pitt, the secretary of state who successfully prosecuted the war. A street in Alexandria is named after Pitt, too.
As for Braddock Road, its original name was Mash Pot Road. Before the redcoats famously marched upon it, a savvy Virginian must have run a moonshine operation nearby.