On Campaign against Fort Duquesne

On Campaign against Fort Duquesne

The Braddock and Forbes Expeditions, 1755–1758, through the Experiences of Quartermaster Sir John St. Clair

Douglas R Cubbison

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2015, 232 pages

Book Review published on: March 17, 2017

In 1755, Gen. Edward Braddock’s two thousand plus soldier “army,” artillery, and supply wagons crisscrossed ninety-five miles of virgin wilderness from Fort Cumberland, Maryland, to Fort Duquesne, Pennsylvania, in five weeks—constructing roads and river crossings the entire way. This accomplishment was achieved in large part to the significant acts of the logisticians. This campaign was the first major British military campaign in the colonies during the French and Indian War, but it is almost forgotten by the public today. Douglas Cubbison does an excellent job reviewing the efforts of two expeditions during this time through the seldom-utilized lens of logistics. His primary source is the record book of letters, orders, and instructions maintained by Sir John St. Clair, quartermaster for Braddock and Gen. John Forbes during their separate expeditions into the Ohio territory in 1755 and 1758 to take Fort Duquesne from the French.

Cubbison begins by describing the roles and responsibilities of different general staff positions utilized by the British Army. This is an excellent subject to begin with so readers do not mirror their own professional experiences, but rather understand the differences and similarities between staffs of today and those of over two hundred years ago. His descriptions are very detailed for each position and include a description of the individuals that filled each position and their basic biography and qualifications.

The book’s primary focus is the logistics aspects of General Braddock Expedition in 1755. This begins with St. Clair’s arrival in Virginia, before the British forces, to begin obtaining supplies and equipment, and moving these to the initial depot at Fort Cumberland. The work demanded of the quartermaster was very detailed and enormous in scope, and it was executed with great autonomy. The author does an admirable job exploring the tasks required and how St. Clair was able to coordinate support and overcome challenges to ensure the supplies for the army were available when it arrived at Fort Cumberland.

The author details the construction of Braddock Road, used to move the army from Alexandria, Virginia, to Fort Duquesne, in present-day Pittsburgh, after it arrived in Virginia from England. His use of historical descriptions of where the army camped and the route of the road, mixed with present day locations by historical marker or current road name, made me feel I could go from my home in Fairfax, Virginia, and find all these places with no problems. I would prefer a few maps in these two chapters to illustrate the specifics of the area, distances, and where routes were cleared for wagons.

This book is a must read for the professional military logistician. It masterfully covers aspects of how the British Army maintained its equipment, provided food, constructed roads and encampments, crossed major rivers and mountains, contracted for support, provided health care, overcame pay issues, and dealt with several manpower issues between the independent British colonial companies and the British regulars. The cultural differences between the local population and the British Army, as well as how seasonal conditions impacted the campaign, are very well explained. The author’s assertion that the British campaign of 1755 was, at the time, the greatest military logistical achievement is well supported by the evidence.

Cubbison’s depth of research is evident in the descriptions and details of the chapters. Without burdening the reader, he explains many aspects of the logistics preparations of the campaigns with names, dates, and data. The author weaves in passages from letters in his explanations of the logistics planning. The language of the time in these passages adds some difficulty to the reading, but provides the reader a better appreciation of the personal situations and communication styles of the time. The reader should remember that these were handwritten letters, delivered by rider on horseback, and that it may have taken a week or more to obtain a response.

The author then focuses on the events that occurred as the British Army reached Fort Duquesne, including the ambush that killed Braddock and forced the British to withdraw. Three years later, Forbes appointed St. Clair as quartermaster for another expedition to capture Fort Duquesne; however, St. Clair could not repeat the logistics successes of 1755. Cubbison finishes by recounting St. Clair’s fall from grace and the last few years of his life.

Two of the three appendices are very interesting. The first is a transcribed copy of the surviving portion of St. Clair’s record book he maintained during the expedition. While the author bases most of the book on this source, he weaves in other source perspectives well. The second part of his record book was lost at the Battle of Monongahela, so the author used other sources for the remainder of the book. The second appendix is a day-by-day timeline of St. Clair’s travels and work from October 1754 through September 1755. It identifies the distances covered and cities visited along with the work performed in each. This illustrates the enormous contrast between that period and current military operations with electronic communications and the time savings for today’s logistician. I strongly recommend the book to anyone who is a student of the French and Indian War or a military logistician in order to gain a sense of the complexity of logistics during the colonial era in America.

Book Review written by: Col. James Kennedy, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia