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The Father of Our Country started out as a failure, at least as a military man.
George Washington’s great, early failure is remembered at Fort Necessity National Battlefield in southwestern Pennsylvania, as are some of his later successes.
In 1754, Lt. Col. Washington led a force of Virginia troops to try to push the French out of the Ohio Valley. He was unsuccessful.
After surprising and killing a number of French troops, the British colonial force under Washington’s command quickly erected a makeshift fort to prepare for the coming reprisal.
Washington built Fort Necessity on a “charming field for an encounter,” as he called it. Unfortunately, it was less charming to defend, being located in a meadow within rifle shot of French snipers in the surrounding woods. Washington and his men were forced to surrender and march away with their tails between their legs.
Today a re-created Fort Necessity stands on the site of the original. The first re-creation, built in the 1930s, resembled a traditional, diamond-shaped wooden fort, but archeological digs in the 1950s revealed the original to be much smaller, round and, to be honest, a bit pathetic.
Today’s fort is a much more accurate representation. Approaching it through the surrounding trees, a visitor might well wonder, “What was Washington thinking?” Of course, he was only 22 at the time. And, if I recall my history correctly, he was a bit more successful during the American Revolution.
A film at the visitors center museum recounts Washington’s early exploits and gave me a much better perspective on the French and Indian War, a conflict whose history and effects I hadn’t fully considered before.
Museum exhibits do a good job of sorting out the French, British, colonial and American Indian interests that led to the conflict and the far-reaching consequences of the war.
The museum also recounts some of the history of the National Road, which was
begun in 1811 and would pass near the site of Fort Necessity very close to the trail that Washington’s troops cleared on their way through.
Eventually the National Road linked Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois, via Columbus. It later became U.S. Route 40. And although Washington never slept there, park visitors also can tour the historic Mount Washington Tavern, built in 1828 as a National Road stagecoach stop.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SteveStephens.