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Footnote to Braddock's route

POWELL: A

September 11, 2012

In “A Witness to History,” (Herald-Mail, Sept. 3) local historian John Frye made the following observation about a portion of the route taken by the regiment of Braddock’s troops that passed through Maryland on the campaign to capture Fort Duquesne:

“We don’t know exactly what route Braddock’s troops took in 1755 to the mouth of the Conococheague Creek, where they crossed into Virginia on the way to Winchester. It’s been in dispute. I’ve always pretty well felt that it was the old road you’re talking about.” John Frye is correct, that it was “the old road” through Fox’s Gap that Braddock used rather than Turner’s Gap or Orr’s Gap.

The evidence for this call is based on some original research uncovered when I authored, “Maryland and the French and Indian War” in 1998. At that time, writers of the period followed the lead of early Maryland historians who accepted as fact that Braddock’s troops passed though Turner’s Gap. I was fortunate to have access to the more direct knowledge of local historian Doug Bast, and a visiting historian, Curtis

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Older, who had done extensive research on the Braddock march through our colony.

Space permits only a glimpse at the case for the Fox’s Gap road, but it is compelling. In a book on the court records of Frederick County is a petition by a resident living on that old road dated 1754 — one year before Braddock came to America. The petitioner asked for permission to alter and repair the badly eroded road “on the west side of the Antietam Ford on the main road that goes from Frederick Town to Capt. Swearingham’s Ferry on Potomack”. This is the now well-traveled road that takes travelers through Sharpsburg to Shepherdstown.

The second source of information is a study of the mileage recorded in General Braddock’s orderly book showing the distance from Frederick Town to the mouth of the “Conogogee.” It shows a march of 35 miles, with one stop at about midpoint. A drive through each gap, taking odometer readings, shows that the route through the two alternate gaps was too circuitous, less desirable physically and, maybe nonexistent.

The mileage study was done by Doug Bast, the late re-enactor Billy Ware and this writer.

The spelling, “Conogogee” is not a mistake. In my research on this war, properly regarded as “the real World War I,” I came across about two dozen different ways to spell this word. A few might be of interest: Kanchet-Schieck, Konokagig, Conogocheak and Conogochego. It is a Delaware word which means “a long way indeed.”

An interesting tidbit of history is the account of a meeting in Frederick Town in early April of 1755 — just before Braddock’s Maryland forces made their march through Fox’s Gap. General Braddock, exuding complete confidence in his expected success, offered this opinion to Benjamin Franklin: “After taking Fort Duquesne, I am to proceed to Niagara; and having taken that, to Frontenac, if the season will allow time, and I suppose it will, for Duquesne can hardly detain me about three or four days, and then I can see nothing that will obstruct my march to Niagara. These savages may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia, but upon the King’s regulars and disciplined troops Sir, it is impossible they should make an impression.”

Franklin was not convinced by Braddock’s bravado. He gave a wise caution to the haughty general: “The only danger I apprehend of obstruction to your march is from ambuscades of Indians, who by constant practice are dexterous in laying and executing them; and the slender line, near four miles long, which your army must make, may expose it to be attacked by surprise on its flanks, and to be cut like a thread into several pieces, which from their distance, cannot come up in time to support each other.”

Tragically, on July 9,  barely over two months after Franklin made his concerns known to Braddock, the French forces, supported by many more “savages,” intercepted his army about nine miles upstream from the French citadel. In a three-hour battering, Braddock lost about two-thirds of his army —wounded or killed. It was three years later that General Forbes successfully entered the fort. However, the issue of which gap his army passed through is pretty much settled.

Allan Powell is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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