Visiting the scene of the Battle of Fort Necessity re-emphasised to me how important Pennsylvania is in US history. It also provided a glimpse of the past whilst also leaving me humbled knowing I was standing on the ground where men died a horrible, violent death.
The Battle of Fort Necessity National Battlefield lies on the US 40 route around 11 miles east of Uniontown in Pennsylvania (Pa). The park is run by the US National Park Service which provides a fascinating history lesson for us all.
This location saw a battle which is significant in the history of the US and indeed the world. These points clearly come across in the fascinating exhibits and video available to watch in the Visitors Centre which is a short walking distance away from the Battlefield where the battle of Fort Necessity took place. Also at a mere cost of $5 per person (November 2013) you feel as though you’ve obtained value for money from the Pennsylvania National Park.
The history of the battle of Fort Necessity site relates to George Washington in his early military career. It does in fact represent the only time that George Washington surrendered.
In 1754 a rivalry was building in North America between the French and the British. Both were building up trading routes and seeking to claim the newly discovered lands of America. Tensions were building as the French settled at Fort Duquesne (which was located at modern day Pittsburgh).
The French, moving down from Canada were building forts and driving the English out of desired trading routes particularly around the Ohio River Valley. Washington was sent to provide a warning to the French that they must leave the lands they had taken which were previously claimed by Virginia.
On 28th May 1754 Washington and a small group of men came across a small French camp close to Chestnut Ridge. Even though the two nations were not at war at this stage a skirmish ensued for around 15 minutes. Ferocious gun fire followed leading to 10 deaths for the French and only one of Washington’s men.
To this day accounts are mixed as to who fired the first shot.
In this battle, the French commander, Sieur de Jumonville was killed. As it happens he was killed by a native Indian with a tomahawk. Around this time the native Indians of America formed alliances with the British and the French, depending upon which served their interest more.
Washington knew that the death of the French commander would not be tolerated and there would be some retaliatory action. Based upon this he decided to set up base at a place referred to as Great Meadows. This marshy, wooded area was described by Washington as “a charming field for an encounter”. The field was an open area through the woods and a place where he decided to have Fort Necessity built and ultimately determined the location for the battle of Fort Necessity.
Also referred to as a “Fort of Necessity”, this wooden, round structure was set in the field. It was believed that the English would find protective cover from the fort and trenches whilst the French would be exposed in the field. By the day of the inevitable battle Washington had around 300 men against an estimated 700 by the French. The Battle of Fort Necessity was never going to be even in number but at least Washington could prepare for this.
The battle of Fort Necessity took place on 3rd July 1754 on what turned out to be a rain sodden day. This hampered the British troops ability to fire their guns due to sodden gunpowder. Plus their trenches became muddy and a big obstacle to overcome.
The French ambushed Fort Necessity and were able to do so by remaining under the cover of the woods. Washington’s plan of making the battle of Fort Necessity happen out in the open meadow was flawed since the fort was built too close to the woods.
On visiting the Battle of Fort Necessity battlefield there are sign posts indicating where the wooded area came up to. The British forces were clearly exposed and out numbered whilst the French troops hid in the woods. Of 300 men with Washington it is thought that around 30 died and 70 were wounded.
Eventually a young Washington, in his early twenties, accepted a chance to surrender and be able to leave the area with most of their weaponry.
On their departure the French troops took it upon themselves to burn down Fort Necessity. What we see today is a rebuilt construction on the site to reflect what it would have looked like.
The battle of Fort Necessity was the beginning of a long and drawn out conflict between the English and the French. Eventually the English declared war on the French and this became known as the Seven Year War (otherwise known as the French and Indian War in the US).
This war is seen by many as the first world war. Battles raged in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and India. The spoils of eventual victory for the British was their new Empire. The strains of the empire however led to the taxing of Americans (to help pay for the Empire) and this ultimately led to the American War of Independence.
Clearly the battle at Fort Necessity was a significant factor in the way the world is today.
For me, seeing the Fort was a fascinating and momentous event. It was clear to see from the surroundings (Great Meadow) how the battle would have taken place. Also by seeing the Battle of Fort of Necessity historic site I was surprised as to how small it was. To think this place would hold up to 300 soldiers was a bewildering concept.
I was very impressed with the exhibits here and the reconstructed fort.
I was slightly baffled at how few the number of people were who visited the site on the same day I did. Here was a significant piece of history which helped shaped the future of what is today the most powerful nation in the world. Yet here I was, walking to the Fort Necessity battlefield with nobody else in sight.
Later that day I spent a few hours at nearby Falling Water. This is an architecturally impressive structure, a house built over a waterfall. It was the holiday home for a rich family from Pittsburgh and was used in the 1900s. This tourist attraction was packed out, yet what significance does it have on American or World history?
For me, the history lesson and whole experience of Fort Necessity was a fascinating one. For just $5 I learnt so much more to my already reasonable knowledge of American history. My ticket was also valid for a week so I could return if I chose to do so.
I love finding these historical sites. I think that you can never stop learning. I was also quite moved by the experience even though it happened more than 250 years ago. To think I stood in the exact spot where so many died. I also stood where a significant figure in history (George Washington) once was.
I would recommend the Battle of Fort Necessity experience to everyone without hesitation.