We recently began reading a Pulitzer prize winning book: “Washington A Life” by Ron Chernow. Very well written, this weighty and well-researched book takes you through the life of George Washington. It talks about his personal life, his long military career and years in public service, culminating in the presidency.
Reading this book brought back memories about our visit to Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Pennsylvania. A tiny place, but large in Washington’s history, this is the site of his first military confrontation and the only time he ever surrendered to the enemy.
It was at the beginning of the French-Indian War. Washington found himself as the commander of a small force, having received a battlefield promotion to Colonel. After a skirmish that resulted in the rout of an unsuspecting French force, Washington anticipated that they’d be coming after him. (He was right!) He dug in, fortifying their position by building a fort in the middle of a large marshy meadow, a circular palisade that he called “Fort Necessity”.
It was a nice green meadow, with food for the animals and a small creek as a water source. They built a fort big enough for about 75 men and dug a trench around it. Before the French and Indians arrived, they got reinforcements of both colonials and British, ending up several hundred men.
Around the first of July 1754, a large force of French and Indians took up position in the surrounding forests. What we remember from the visit was how this was so non-traditional at the time. Wars were typically fought by lining up against one another, but not this time. They used the Indian tactics of hiding out in the forest and shooting from behind the shelter of trees and ambushing their enemies. Washington and the British were effectively pinned down.
Adding to this was incessant rain… turning the meadow into a marsh and flooding the trenches around the fort. Fort Necessity lost over 100 men; the French and Indians, only a couple. When the French offered surrender, Washington took it and both sides withdrew. The French burned the fort to the ground. Washington continued with his military career.
Most notable, this small battle set the stage for the American Revolution – showing the colonists that the mighty British could be defeated!
Things to do at Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Fort Necessity National Battlefield is just off highway 40, near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. That is about an hour and a half drive south from Pittsburg. Plan an hour or two to visit the fort. There is a reproduction, in exactly the same location. You can walk around the site and area. Also stop by the Interpretive Center to see the movie and displays.
While you are there, you might also want to stop by the Mount Washington Tavern. This has nothing to do with the fort, but it was one of the first stage stops along the national road. Now highway 40, this was the first federally funded highway and the first step in developing a road that would go across the country. It is an interesting historic building, but no beer or food at this one any more. You’ll have to go into Uniontown for that.
If you are planning a road trip, this area of the country is lovely and full of history. Fort Necessity and Mount Washington Tavern are just two of the many things to see and do.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.