Fort Necessity National Battlefield, in southwestern Pennsylvania, consists of three separate areas. The main portion of the park is the battlefield itself, site of the first battle of the French and Indian War, now home to the reconstructed Fort Necessity, the Mount Washington Tavern, a visitors’ center, a picnic area, and several fairly short hiking trails. Also part of the National Battlefield are the grave of Major General Edward Braddock, located 1.5 miles away, and Jumonville Glen, 7 miles away.
The Battlefield and Jumonville Glen
In the middle of the 18th century, with England claiming much of the Ohio River valley, the French began to advance southward from the Lake Ontario area. In late 1753, Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia sent a small expedition, commanded by George Washington, to try to persuade the French to withdraw. The French refused.
Meanwhile, Dinwiddie sent another group to build a fort at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers; however, these Virginia soldiers were driven off by French soldiers, who rebuilt the fort as the larger Fort Duquesne.
Washington, now promoted to lieutenant colonel, was sent away in command of another mission in April 1754, this time to help build a road from Wills Creek (now Cumberland, Maryland) northwest to the Monongahela River, and then to continue northward to help defend the fort on the future site of Pittsburgh.
While on the journey, Washington heard that the fort had fallen to the French, but continued toward the Monongahela. On May 24, the regiment arrived in a marshy area called the Great Meadows, which Washington thought would be “a charming field for an encounter.” He set up a temporary encampment.
On May 27, hearing French soldiers had been spotted 7 miles away, Washington set out with 40 men to find them. Along the way, they met a Seneca chief named Tanacharison, or the Half King, whose scouts helped Washington find them.
The Virginians caught the French by surprise, killing 10 men, including the commander of the party, Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville. 21 men were taken prisoner, but one man escaped for Fort Duquesne. The site of this skirmish became known as Jumonville Glen.
Washington decided it had become necessary to fortify the camp on the Great Meadows; over five days at the end of May and the beginning of June, he and his men built a circular fort which he named Fort Necessity.
Reinforcements and supplies arrived on June 9th, putting 293 men under Washington’s command; about 100 British solders from South Carolina arrived several days later. Washington also unsuccessfully attempted to recruit the Seneca to help, then began to work on building a road north from Fort Necessity to a settlement called Gist’s Plantation. However, on July 1st, reports came in that French and Indians had assembled at Fort Duquesne and were marching south, and Washington withdrew to Fort Necessity.
Two days later, July 3, 1754, 600 French and 100 Native Americans arrived, taking up positions in the woods surrounding the meadow and the fort, and what came to be known as the Battle of the Great Meadows began. The fighting lasted throughout that rainy day, with both sides suffering fairly heavy losses but the British suffering more. At about 8:00 P.M., French Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers, Jumonville’s brother, called for a truce and negotiated surrender terms with Washington.
Under terms of the surrender, the next morning, both sides left, with the British heading for Wills Creek and the French going back to Fort Duquesne, burning down and destroying Fort Necessity before they left.
In 1755, Major General Edward Braddock, commander in chief of British forces in North America, launched what was to be a major offensive against the French, including simultaneous attacks on major French strongholds. Braddock chose to personally lead an attack on Fort Duquesne, accompanied by 2,400 men, including both British soldiers and Colonial militia. George Washington volunteered to serve as Braddock’s aide.
The army traveled along the road Washington had earlier helped to build, having to widen it to accommodate the large amount of men and equipment. Progress was slow, and the army was finally split in two.
On July 9, 1755, the first group crossed the Monongahela River near Fort Duquesne and was suddenly ambushed by the French. The advance group fell back while the second group continued forward, and in all the confusion, 900 men out of 1,400 ended up dead before the British officially began their retreat.
General Braddock had been seriously wounded, and he died of his wounds on July 13th, while the British were camped near the former site of Fort Necessity. He was buried in the road the next day while the soldiers obliterated any trace of it, afraid of being followed and slaughtered by Native Americans.
The road, which came to be known as Braddock Road, remained a major route through the area both before and after American independence. In 1804, workmen discovered what were apparently Braddock’s remains, which were reburied alongside the road. In 1913, the grave was marked by a monument.
Mount Washington Tavern
In the early 1800s, the United States government began building a road west from Cumberland, Maryland, using the Braddock Road for the first portion of the route, which eventually stretched as far as Vandalia, Illinois. This new highway was called the National Road.
Around 1828, next to the former site of Fort Necessity, the Mount Washington Tavern opened, one of many such establishments along the National Road, providing food, drink, and beds to stagecoach travelers and others. Business declined beginning in the mid-1850s once the railroads replaced stagecoach travel in the area, however, and the tavern saw only occasional use into the 1900s. It has since been restored somewhat and now houses exhibits on the building of the National Road and early 1800s tavern life.
Reconstructing the Fort
The original Fort Necessity had been built quickly with no plans and then burned down soon afterward, and so no one really knew exactly what it looked like. Some depressions and ridges marked the general area, and for years, it was thought that these represented the dimensions of the fort. After Fort Necessity was officially named a national battlefield in 1931, some archaeological excavation seemed to support this theory, and the fort was reconstructed as a diamond-shaped structure.
Further evidence, though, proved that the fort was actually smaller and circular, and it was re-reconstructed to reflect this in the mid-1950s. Later reconstructions, every 10 years or so, were necessary to replace wood that had rotted due to the marshy conditions in the meadow. In 1997-98, the fort was rebuilt with a foundation made of plastic and only the above-ground portions made of wood in an attempt to slow down the cycle.
The main Fort Necessity National Battlefield site is 11 miles east of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on U.S. Highway 40, the numbered route into which the National Road was incorporated. The nearest large city is Pittsburgh, which is about 60 miles away, either via U.S. 40 to Pennsylvania state route 51 or U.S. 40 to the Mon-Fayette Expressway (Pennsylvania state route 43).
Braddock’s grave is about a mile and a half west of the battlefield along U.S. 40. The Jumonville Glen site is 4 miles west on U.S. 40, then 3 miles south on Jumonville Road.
The battlefield is open sunrise to sunset daily, but closed on all Federal holidays except Memorial Day and Independence Day. The picnic area and Jumonville Glen are closed throughout the winter (approximately November 1 to April 15).
The individual admission price, payable at the visitors’ center, is $3.00 per person for a 7-day pass. Also available for $15.00 is the 12-month Southwestern Pennsylvania Park Pass, good for one year of unlimited family admission to not only Fort Necessity, but also the Johnstown Flood National Memorial and the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.
Fort Necessity visitor information telephone number is 724-329-5805, and the park headquarters number is 724-329-5512.
Source: Personal experience, and the National Park Service web site at http://www.nps.gov/fone/index.htm.
Back to U.S. National Parks and Monuments