Citadel professor brings the story of Braddock's Defeat to life
Dr. David Preston teaches lessons from the “disastrous” colonial battle
Equipped with 18th-century British Army uniforms, Dr. David Preston, an award-winning historian, had the full attention of a large group of teens watching him in person, and on closed-circuit television, from several high schools in the Pittsburgh area. He was speaking in animated fashion about a 1755 battle so far from victorious it is described as “ill-fated”, “disastrous”, and “catastrophic.” Braddock’s Defeat, or the Battle the Monongahela, ranks as one of the worst disasters in the British Army’s history. Two of every three British soldiers who crossed the Monongahela River on July 9, 1755 were killed and wounded. One of the survivors was the young George Washington, who acted as an aide to General Braddock:
“The setting sun brought an end to the day of slaughter. But Washington’s ordeal−like that of the battle’s survivors−was just beginning. Braddock ordered Washington to undertake a mission that the utterly spent aide must have thought impossible…,” Preston writes in his book Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution.
Preston, a professor of history at The Citadel, was invited to speak to the more than 100 high school students, following the 2015 release of Braddock’s Defeat; one of numerous invitations for appearances related to the highly-lauded book.
In a review published by the Wall Street Journal , historian Stephen Brumwell praised Preston’s approach to examining the battle:
“…this ill-fated campaign has attracted the attention of many fine historians, yet none of them has explored it so thoughtfully and compellingly as David Preston. His “Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution” is distinguished not simply by his refusal to accept traditional interpretations but by his readiness to consider the perspectives of all the protagonists: British, colonial American, French-Canadian and, not least, Indian. Carefully researched throughout, “Braddock’s Defeat” showcases some remarkable discoveries, including a detailed French account of the battle culled from archives in Normandy. No less significant is the record found in the National Archives in London of a speech made by an Iroquois warrior that provides fresh witness to a key earlier episode, the “Jumonville Affair” of May 1754.”
And in a review in the Post and Courier, by Ben Moise calls Braddock’s Defeat a page-turner. “What makes this book stand out from earlier accounts is the emphasis on why this particular battle mattered and how its outcome shaped the direction of subsequent American history and how the actions of individuals directly affected the course of events. He goes on to say that, “The Citadel should be justly proud to have such a gifted scholar among its faculty. Preston has investigated this important, though somewhat obscure, event in American history and penned an absorbing account rich in details, logical in its conclusions and written with great narrative drive.”
Additionally, one of Amazon’s Top 500 Reviewers, Steven Peterson, writes: “This is a wonderful history of General Edward Braddock's campaign to capture Fort Duquesne and then continue with additional forays against French forces during the French and Indian War. Things did not work out as intended. . . . This book explores the background of English forces being sent to the colonies, the strategic decisions behind Braddock's march, the Battle of the Monongahela, and its aftermath. All in all, an excellent volume…”
During the presentation for the schools, Preston shared his authentic British Army regimental coat with the students while describing significant battle details. He also presented the high school with an autographed copy of his book, as well as a blown up map of the battle overlaid on the contemporary Braddock streets.
“I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and speaking with the students at Woodland Hills High School, near Braddock, Pennsylvania where the famous battle took place,” Preston said. “They seemed eager to know what had come so many years before them.”
Preston also addressed a distinguished group at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh. The audience included business leaders, judges, the Honorary Consul of France and a former U.S. Ambassador, now living in the area. Preston discussed personally traversing Braddock's original road, and canoeing of the Allegheny River, tracing the route the French took from Canada to Pittsburgh.
Preston earned his Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in American History from the College of William and Mary. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Mary Washington with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1994. He is currently the Westvaco Professor of National Security Studies at The Citadel, where he teaches cadets, students and graduate students about U.S. military and early American history.
Braddock’s Defeat is part of Oxford University Press’ prestigious Pivotal Moments in American History book series. Preston’s first award-winning book, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquois, 1667-1783 (The Iroquoians and Their World), was published in 2009.
Professor Preston's appearance in Pittsburgh was sponsored by members of the Greater Pittsburgh Area Citadel Club, including Mr. Walter Bunt, a member of The Citadel Class of 1969. Mr. Bunt co-authored this article.