- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

BITTINGER, Md. — It’s not much of a road — but what a road it was.

Two hundred and fifty years after British and Colonial American troops hacked through 122 miles of Maryland and Pennsylvania wilderness on their way to a resounding defeat near Pittsburgh, their route is barely recognizable.

Even a well-preserved section atop Big Savage Mountain is overgrown and eroded, its wide, rugged path winding across steep Appalachian ridges through stands of maple and oak.

But Braddock’s Road is being walked again this summer as historians mark the 250th anniversary of one of the early battles of the French and Indian War.

George Washington and Daniel Boone were among the nearly 2,400 men led by British Gen. George Braddock who spent two months toiling along an Indian trail from Cumberland toward the forks of the Ohio River, aiming to seize Fort Duquesne from the French.

Subsisting on game and rattlesnake meat, they widened the path to 12 feet to accommodate 200 horse-drawn wagons hauling cannons that had been shipped from England to Virginia, and then pulled along roads to Fort Cumberland.

They left Cumberland on May 1, 1755, averaging just two miles a day. At one point, Washington complained in a letter to his brother that “they were halting to level every molehill, and to erect bridges over every brook, by which means we were four days in getting 12 miles.”

The expedition ended seven miles short of Fort Duquesne on July 9, 1755, when the party was ambushed near what is now Pittsburgh and was defeated by a much smaller force of French soldiers and Indians, leaving Braddock mortally wounded.

Braddock’s troops retreated, but their rough road became the main route west for settlers crossing the Eastern Continental Divide to reach the Ohio Valley. It was used for nearly 60 years before the National Pike, precursor to U.S. 40, was built to replace it.

Today, those who hike the publicly accessible 2 miles of Braddock’s Road in Maryland’s Savage River State Forest can thank amateur archaeologist Robert L. Bantz, a retired mechanical engineer from the Cumberland area who has spent the past 10 years charting the route.

Guided by a 1914 article by Harvard University professor John Kennedy Lacock and using old maps, journals and GPS technology, Mr. Bantz, 69, has painstakingly plotted most of the 36 miles of Braddock’s Road in Western Maryland.

He said there are 18 miles of undisturbed road in Maryland, almost all on private land, while just a few traces exist in Pennsylvania.

“My job is to try to preserve it so that you and your grandchildren can walk it,” he told dozens of Garrett County elementary students at a recent daylong living-history event in Bittinger.

He later guided a visitor down a steep section of Braddock’s Road just south of Exit 29 on Interstate 68, to a mountain pass where three wagons reportedly were destroyed and several more were damaged.

Mr. Bantz paused at the bottom of the hill to let the ghosts pass. “If you come right here and you sit down on a stump, you can hear the cussing and smell the horses sweating,” he said.

He was delighted to see signs, recently erected by the state Department of Natural Resources, directing people to the spot.

Savage River State Forest Manager Mike Gregory said the state considers Braddock’s Road a precious asset.

“We don’t want to go ahead and advertise every section of the trail. We want to take it in bits and pieces so we can be sure to protect the trail from any impacts,” he said.

Visitors have included Andrew Wahll, a retired National Geographic research cartographer who compiled a book of historical journals, “Braddock Road Chronicles, 1755” (Heritage Books, 1999) without ever having seen the trail. He called Mr. Bantz a few years later to request a tour.

“He’s made a solid contribution,” Mr. Wahll said in a telephone interview from his home near Knoxville, Tenn.

Historian Robert Adamovich of Hopwood, Pa., said Mr. Bantz had done more than anyone else to save Braddock’s Road. “What he’s done is an absolute national treasure,” he said.

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