HOPWOOD -- Fog shrouds trees,
birds greet the new day and a single sentry patrols the French camp.
Thirty-three men, under the command of Ensign Joseph Coulon de
Jumonville sleep under wool blankets or sit by a small fire,
lighting cheroots and starting breakfast.
Suddenly a shout in French, "To arms! To arms!"
Gunshots shatter the air above the Frenchmen.
Birds stop singing; men rise from their blankets and some fall
again, struck by British bullets.
British Army Lt. Col. George Washington and 40 of his men joined
Mingo (Seneca) Chief Tanacharison, known as Half King, and several
other Mingoes in a dawn attack. The British and the Mingoes flank
the French on two sides, firing down on the camp.
Rain the night before the battle has left some powder wet, and
rifles often misfire during the 15-minute battle.
Half King fells Jumonville with his hatchet, crying out in
French, "You are not yet dead, my father!" as he sinks the blade
into the Ensign's body.
Nine other Frenchmen die; one escapes; the rest become
On May 28, 1754, the first men died in the French and Indian War;
exactly 250 years later, a group of re-enactors bring the ghosts of
that battle to vivid life at the Green Cathedral of Jumonville
Christian Camp and Retreat Center.
"It was a very profound experience," says Greg Henning of
Edinboro, who portrayed Jumonville as part of the Compagnie Le
Boeuf, Jumonville's company. "This is where it happened. The whole
French garrison (at Fort Duquesne) took it personally. Jumonville
knew the English were very close the night before the attack.
Jumonville was almost a martyr. Washington later signed a document
showing he murdered a French officer."
Half King actually murdered the Ensign. Tom Vecchio of Shaler
portrayed him in the re-enactment. "What he did started the war. He
and Washington had known each other for about a year," he said.
"Today was very significant. I was extremely honored to be asked to
participate." Half King died of illness before the end of the French
and Indian War.
"I don't think of the battle as an ambush," says Bryan Cunning of
Washington, who portrayed Lt. Col. Washington. "They were French and
had made threatening movements in the area. Our mission was to meet
Cunning has also played the commander in the films "When The
Forest Ran Red" and "Washington's First War" and posed as Washington
in historical paintings by John Buxton and Andy Kenez. He is a
member of the First Virginia Company; Trent's Company of Canonsburg
also participated in Friday's re-enactment.
The Braddock Road Preservation Association sponsored the
re-enactment, as part of a weekend of historical programs, and
Paladin Communications filmed it for possible future release.
Robert Matzen of Bethel Park operated one of the cameras and
found the experience "extremely intense. The most shocking element
was how smoky it was. They had to fight a battle and the smoke was
just hanging there. The number of misfires was also interesting. It
would have been worse and cost a lot of guys their lives if the
powder had been dry." Matzen found the authenticity of the battle
Bruce Egli, vice president of the Braddock Road Preservation
Association, put accounts of the attack together for the event; the
re-enactors had not rehearsed.
The attack on the French camp is considered Washington's baptism
of fire. It escalated the undeclared war. The 22-year-old officer
will be defeated July 3 at Fort Necessity by nearly 700 French under
the command of Jumonville's brother, Louis Coulon de Villiers, who
witnessed Washington's signature on a French surrender document that
includes the admission of assassinating Jumonville.
The French and Indian War will not be formally declared between
Great Britain and France until May of 1756. The French wanted to
control the Ohio Valley, with its access to rivers for transporting
furs to Europe. The British wanted to expand their holdings in North
Despite early French victories, in 1759, the British captured
Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Niagara and Crown Point in New York and the
February 1763 Treaty of Paris gave all French possessions east of
the Mississippi River, except New Orleans, to the British.
Judy Kroeger can be reached at email@example.com or (724)