Once upon a time, a story was told in American history books and every school child learned of our "bullet-proof president." Even today, one can go to the Smithsonian and see one of George Washington's jackets from his French and Indian War days...a jacket riddled with bullet holes. But these days, the story of that jacket, and of that nickname, has faded from public consciousness.
I'm from the western Maryland town of Cumberland, a fort during the French and Indian War. If you take a drive through our area, you'll see where George Washington was headquartered, and you'll also see various streets, squares, and schools bearing the name of Braddock--the officer under whom Washington served during that war. Cumberland was, in fact, where Washington and Braddock fled after a famous ambush on July 9, 1755.
|Washington in his famous coat|
The British troops under Braddock and Gage, joined by the Virginia militia with Washington (23 years old at the time), were making their way through Pennsylvania when they were ambushed in a steep ravine by the French and natives, who shot at them from treetops and from behind rocks. The natives had been given very particular instructions--to aim first at all the officers, at anyone on a horse. And they were easy pickings, being so far above the rest.
The British command ordered the men to form columns--it was their SOP, but it proved the worst thing they could do in that situation. They had lined their men up for slaughter, and that's just what they found. Some of the Virginians decided to adopt the enemies' methods and dropped behind rocks, shooting only when an enemy came within sight.
Braddock thought this a show of cowardice and rode back and forth, commanding them to show courage and emerge. He had Washington riding back and forth too, carrying out his commands. Both had horses shot out from under them multiple times--and at last, Braddock took a bullet to the side as well.
Of the 1500 British troops, 714 were killed and 37 wounded. Of the 86 officers, 26 were killed and 37 wounded. Of the mounted officers, only one was left unscathed.
He lost two horses that day. Men beside him fell at every turn. But Washington didn't pause. When a retreat was finally called, he headed with Braddock toward Fort Cumberland. Settled in for the night...and realized only then that his coat had 4 bullet holes in it. But he himself had not been touched by a ball.
In a letter home to his family, he wrote:
"But, by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!"
It was many years later that Washington finally got more of the story. He was again in the area when a respected Indian chief sought him out--a chief who had fought with the French that day. He said this to Washington:
"I am a cheif and ruler over my tribes. My influence extends to the waters of the great lakes and to the far blue mountains. I have traveled a long and weary path that I might see the young warrior of the great battle. It was on the day when the white man's blood mixed with the streams of our forest that I first beheld this chief [Washington]. I called to my young men and said, mark yon tall and daring warrior? He is not of the red-coat tribe--he hath an Indian's wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do--himself is alone exposed. Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies. Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for you, knew not how to miss--'twas all in vain, a power mightier far than we, shielded you. Seeing you were under the special guardship of the Great Spirit, we immediately ceased to fire at you. I am old and soon shall be gathered to the great council fire of my fathers in the land of shades, but ere I go, there is something bids me speak in the voice of prophecy. Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man [pointing at Washington], and guides his destinies--he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire. I am come to pay homage to the man who is the particular favorite of Heaven, and who can never die in battle."
Washington's jacket can still be viewed in the Smithsonian, and this story has been read by many...and ought to be read again by many more.