I am standing at a monument to General Braddock near Fort Necessity in Farmington, Pennsylvania. His face is etched into the panel. More than 250 years cannot erase the arrogance with which he tore a road through the wilderness from the Potomac River over the Alleghenies. I doubt that look was there when a force of French and Indians surprised his army near the banks of the Monongahela, turning them back on each other into mad confusion, just fifty miles from his goal: the forks of the Ohio River at present-day Pittsburgh.
They carried him here, 35 miles away, where Braddock died of his wounds and the only remaining officer, a 23-year-old George Washington, took over, hustled the soldiers about a mile further, and set up a fort to take on the pursuing French & Indians.
I remember the story. I wasn't even in school yet when my dad told it to me. We were walking in the woods at the time, exploring our new home near Amesville, Ohio. He told me how Indians hid in the trees, watched Braddock's army pass, and launched their attack. I pace around the monument. On my way back to the car, I pass this sign: "This is the spot where Major-General Edward Braddock was buried, July 14th 1755."
Washington had buried Braddock in the middle of the road they had built through the thick forest. Indians were known to dig up recent burials to claim scalps. Therefore, Washington's first order as commander was to bury the general and then direct every soldier and pack animal to tread the ground above him. It wasn't until sixty years later, that workers building the National Road (current US 40) unearthed the general's remains, reinterring them further up the hill, underneath the present monument.
These woods are haunted. I can tell that.
I follow the path. It ends at a creek, in woods so think and tangled, I think I can see Braddock's demise hiding in the shadows.
There is the trace of a path off to the right. I can see it. I have a sense for trails. I can see them when others can't, even in the dark of night. I have followed trails--and creeks, and sounds--since I was a boy.
I follow a trail. I see it winding through the ferns. I begin to run. I can't help it. I look down. I can't see my feet.