NEWS FROM THE HUT by John Hamilton
Just like many legionnaires, my father, Jack, was also a veteran of two major wars, WWII, and Korea. He enlisted in the Navy along with his brother Guy shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At the end of WWII, my father was separated from the Navy and returned home to San Diego, California. When the Korean war broke out, he very quickly reenlisted in the Navy with the attitude that he, “Wasn’t going to let those knuckleheads get away with more funny business.”
My father’s family history dates to 1759 during the French and Indian war where his third great grandfather was sailing silently, with about 4500 soldiers, up the St. Lawrence River to take part in a surprise attack on Quebec, which was the capitol of New France in North America. The British 48th Regiment of Foot, led by the respected and now immortal General James Wolfe, was a part of this group. It was shortly before midnight when the troops arrived in their flat bottomed and whaling boats during the still and quiet of the night. A few at a time, Wolfe and his men began scaling a steep embankment about 350 ft. above the river, hanging onto small trees, rocks, whatever they could find to help them arrive at the flat area above now called the Plains of Abraham. General Wolfe carefully arranged the soldiers in two lines that would reach over a mile long.
Twenty-five-year-old James Hamilton, my 4th great grandfather, was one of the soldiers of the 48th Regiment and was one of those men stumbling up that embankment. The following is a highlight of what we do know about the 48th Regiment, of which James Hamilton was a member. The 48th Regiment was first raised in England in the year 1741. In mid-January 1755, under the leadership of Major General Edward Braddock, the 44th and the 48th British regiments sailed from Cork, Ireland to Alexandria, Virginia, arriving in March. The British objective was to seize the huge territory claimed by the French in North America, called New France, a very wide swath of land, stretching from Nova Scotia in the north to the New Orleans area in the south. The plan for Braddock, who was made the commander of all troops in North America, was to seize Ft. Duquesne while other leaders would take other French forts. When Braddock’s troops arrived in Virginia, they found they were unprepared with food, wagons, etc. which were unavailable in Virginia. The two regiments were also below strength so more men were recruited locally wherever they could be found. A young Virginia military man, nearly the same age as James Hamilton, requested to join them and was accommodated. His name was George Washington! As he had failed at his previous military assignment at Ft. Necessity, he hoped to learn more strategy from General Braddock.
It is interesting to note that Benjamin Franklin was the individual who was able to obtain 259 horses, 150 wagons and food from the state of Pennsylvania, which were desperately needed and not available in Virginia, for this expedition. He personally guaranteed payment as he was a wealthy man at this time, but it was a big gamble. Luck was with him and he was repaid by the army after the battle. Daniel Boone was another famous person who was with them on the expedition. Boone oversaw the horses.
By May, Braddock’s troops were assembled in Ft. Cumberland, Virginia, and ready for their march to Ft. Duquesne. On June 10, the British troops set out to march northwest 110 miles over heavily wooded mountain terrain to their destination, the French Ft. Duquesne (which is now Pittsburgh). As there were no roads, they only averaged about 4 miles a day, clearing a 12 ft. wide area of trees from the Indian trail as they traveled. Braddock was ill prepared for battle in this rugged terrain, unlike the flatlands of England, and had no experience dealing with Indian tactics. Unfortunately, unlike the French, he never developed a good rapport with the Indians and was able to recruit only eight of them. The French knew of the approaching British troops and had sent out scouts, both French and Indian. The British regiments were marching in columns, as was the custom in England, and had safely crossed the Monongahela River just below the fort when they heard the war cry of the Indians. Panic set in as they were attacked from both sides and unable to even see the enemy. Not being accustomed to this type of warfare, they were at a complete loss. Of the 1,350 men in the two regiments and another 500 men recruited in the colonies, 456 were killed and another 421 wounded. Sixty-three of 86 officers were either killed or wounded and General Braddock was killed. They buried General Braddock in the middle of the road to protect his body from desecration by the Indians and the remaining troops marched over it to hide the grave. The French with their Indians had far fewer men in the battle but lost very few. George Washington proved his leadership abilities and remained calm. He was able to pull together what was left of the demoralized regiments, lead them back to Ft. Cumberland and emerge as Virginia’s military hero.
It is possible that James Hamilton was in the 48th Regiment at the time of Braddock’s defeat and was a survivor in this failed battle. However, the only surviving British muster rolls for James’ regiment do not begin until October 1759. The earlier records are missing but I suspect that he was not involved at this time.
Until further notice, our regular Legion meeting will be the third Thursday of each month. Our next meeting will be on Thursday, January the 21st. at 7:00 PM. The Sons of the American Legion meetings have been suspended until after the first of the year, depending on the COVID-19 situation at that time. All dinners have been cancelled until further notice. The Monday morning Koffee Klatch meetings have been postponed until after the first of the year depending on the COVID-19 situation at that time. If you are a veteran, come by for our monthly meeting, and if you have a good story, it may end up in print. Also keep up with us at the Post 142 website “americanlegion142.org” and Hominy Legion on Facebook.