- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

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

British and Colonial American troops hacked through 122 miles of Maryland and Pennsylvania wilderness 250 years ago on their way to a resounding defeat by the French near what is now Pittsburgh.

Today, 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.

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. Edward Braddock, who spent two months toiling along an Indian trail from Cumberland, Md., toward Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania, at the fork of the Ohio River, aiming to seize the fortress from the French.

Subsisting on wild 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 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 at what is now Braddock, Pa., seven miles short of Fort Duquesne, on July 9, 1755, when the party was ambushed and defeated by about 1,200 French soldiers and Indians.

Braddock was mortally wounded. When he died four days later, his remains were buried in the middle of the road about 10 miles east of Uniontown, Pa. His grave is part of Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

Although his troops were vanquished, 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. Route 40, was built to replace it.

Today, those who hike the publicly accessible 21/2 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 361/2 miles of Braddock’s Road in Western Maryland.

He says 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,” Mr. Bantz told dozens of Garrett County elementary students at a living-history event last month.

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

Mr. Bantz was delighted to see signs, recently erected by the state Department of Natural Resources, directing people to the old road.

Savage River State Forest Manager Mike Gregory says 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 says.

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

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

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

BRADDOCK’S ROAD

A 21/2-mile portion of Braddock’s Road is marked and publicly accessible in the Savage River State Forest, just south of Exit 29 of Interstate 68. Braddock’s Road Preservation Association: www.jumonville.gospelcom.net/brpa/ or 724/439-4912.

Robert Bantz’s Web site (which includes a map): www.geocities.com/wmdasm/braddock.html. History of Braddock’s Road and U.S. Route 40: www.route40.net/history/braddock.shtml.

ANNIVERSARY ENCAMPMENT

To mark the 250th anniversary of Braddock’s retreat to Dunbar Camp, a model British encampment will be staged from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 16 at Jumonville Camp and Retreat Center, 887 Jumonville Road, Hopwood, Pa.

At 7 p.m., lectures on the Braddock expedition will be held in Wesley Hall. A memorial service takes place the morning of July 17 at the Braddock gravesite at Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

FORT NECESSITY NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD

Located on U.S. Route 40, about 11 miles east of Uniontown, Pa., and 90 minutes from Pittsburgh; www.nps.gov/fone or 724/329-5512.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide