An extract from A Time of Need by Brent A. Harris an alternative history in which Washington is a hero - but on the British side...
Point of Departure
Braddock’s Road, Monongahela River, British America
July 9th, 1755.
In retrospect, General Edward Braddock realized that he should not have survived. Maybe the French ambush had gone awry. Maybe someone had been out of place. Maybe he had just gotten lucky. He experienced, if only for a fleeting instant, a feeling that things should be different. But now, he was engaged in the chaos of battle, on the brink of defeat. Retreat was his only option.
Personally, the French and the Savages could have the damned Ohio Valley and the damnable heat that went with it. His red woolen coat stank, and his white uniform blouse had long since turned yellow. His red silk sash wrapped loosely around his chest. The summer humidity made his buff breeches sticky, wedging uncomfortably under his saddle.
Despite this, his allegiance laid with his uniform and he would not betray it. Braddock held his hunting sword high. He wove between cypress semi-evergreens and massive white oaks. On some of those trees, scalps of his men were hung like trophies. He passed them and his stomach tightened. His mount was his fifth, the others had been shot out from under him. His men had lost the will to fight. Many were dead, of those who lived, most fled. Still, Braddock rode on among his remaining men.
As far as he was concerned, everything around him—the undrinkable water of the Monongahela River, mosquitoes, venomous vipers and Savages—was literally trying to kill him. Those things weren’t to be found back home in Scotland and his nice thick uniform would have actually served him quite well in the highlands. But, like everything in the British Colonies, what served well at home was often a hindrance here.
He spied his aide-de-camp, a young Yank—sweaty and flustered—not meters away, returning from the head of the column to the rear. Braddock rode to him, then quickly recoiled and reared his head back in disgust. “You smell like the wrong end of a horse.” George Washington cut an imposing figure when on horseback. But not today. Up close he looked pale and wet. Several folded blankets padded his saddle, most of which were soaked in a slick, brownish mess.
“We are overrun, sir. We cannot hold,” Washington said. Sweat poured freely over his face, but his mouth and eyes remained dry. “The Ottowan and Potawatomis Natives are breaking our ranks. The French are keeping us penned-in.”
The Scotsman gave it one last thought, then said, “If we cannae hold them here, then we must fall ba—”
His horse bucked, as if stung by something sharp. Braddock grabbed ahold of the reins, but it was too late. He couldn’t get a tight enough grip on them. He felt light, then the sensation of flying. His sword flew out of his hand and his sash came undone. He was off his horse and falling through open air. He heard the snap in his leg before he felt himself hitting the ground. His right leg, below the knee, twisted sideways against the momentum of his fall. Then, his beast fell dead on top of him and crushed Braddock’s broken leg. He let out a bellow of pain which rivaled that of the cannon firing nearby and matched the haunting war whoops of the Savages encircling his men. The next thing Braddock knew was that two of his men held him propped up by the shoulders.
“Do I have your orders to call for retreat?” Washington was above him, still on his horse.
Braddock’s leg was about to overwhelm him. Everything felt distant. He managed to nod slowly. “Aye.”
“Very well, I shall carry the orders myself to the men and drag them away if necessary. If we cannot have victory, we shall at least share no shame in our withdrawal.” Though Washington was very nearly on his deathbed, Braddock thought, he didn’t act the part. Washington actually shot him a look of concern, then spoke to the two men. “Get the General to safety.” With that, Washington turned away.
The two men attempted to haul the wounded General back up the road, keeping the weight off his leg, but it was little use. Braddock gasped. “No lads, let me rest a bit.” He turned a finger behind him, “there, get me up on the rise, steady as you can.” He grunted with each step.
A moment later, he looked down, just in time for him to see his aide-de-camp fly down the hill. Braddock heard two distinct shots fire, both muzzle flashes aimed at Washington. If either of them hit, Braddock couldn’t tell, but Washington rode on. Bloody ‘ell that luck.
Braddock was a General in the best equipped, best trained army in the world. One British soldier was worth ten savages. Or, so he thought. The wilderness challenged that assumption. Washington pushed him to accept that things were different here. Braddock had at first sneered, as if a Yank knew anything about proper British soldiering. What Washington did not know or understand was that Braddock had changed. He had adapted his method of soldiering to face the peculiarities of the New World. Apparently, Braddock thought, as he saw the destruction of his army all around him, he had not changed them enough. Perhaps, in the future, he should take his aide’s advice closer to heart. Maybe Braddock had underestimated him.
Later, when the British had made good on their withdrawal, he was not surprised to learn that they owed much of their orderly departure to the work of Washington. The sickly, flux-riddled Yank had performed more admirably then even some of Braddock’s best Generals. They would all live to fight another day as they made their slow and arduous way to Ft Duquesne to liberate the Ohio Valley from French invasion. Thanks largely in part to George Washington.
Braddock would not have believed it had he not borne witness to it himself. Maybe the Yank had enough British blood in him yet to make a proper soldier. Braddock raised an eyebrow as he tried to envision the youth in a bright red British uniform instead of the Colonial rags he wore. In his head, the result was smashing. “Hmm,” he said to no one in particular. “Who would-ev’ thought?”
Cover designed by Ian Bristow.