Introduction to the Fort Necessity Campaign - Full Uncut Tour

Fort Necessity National Battlefield


Hello, my name is Brian Reedy. I work as the Chief of Interpretation and Site Manager here at Fort Necessity National Battlefield,and we're presenting a virtual tour of our battlefield.

It is the middle of winter. We have to remember that the Battle of Fort Necessity occurred on July 3rd, 1754, but sometimes during this period of the year you actually get to see more of the landscape that is often hidden by the heavy foliage and the trees during the spring, summer, and early fall.

So, we're going to kind of do a little orientation of what we have here. For those of you that would be visiting us virtually, and hopefully, get you excited enough to come here and visit the actual site, and why it's here to learn about.

Anyway, in 1754 we have three cultures that are coming into conflict here in the Ohio River Valley. That's where this National Park Service site sits.

We're about 60 miles South of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania or not very far from the West Virginia line. But in 1754, according to the British, this was considered Virginia. According to the French coming down from Canada, this is part of New France. And, we have American Indians who've been living in this area for nearly 10,000 years. So when three groups want the same thing, there's bound to be a conflict.

For the British, they have a little tougher assignment getting to this area. They have to build roads. There are no navigable rivers through the Allegheny Mountains, and that's why a young Virginian named George Washington was given that assignment, in the spring of 1754, to build a military supply road to the Forks of the Ohio, or what today we call Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

That was considered a very strategic point to be. That's (where) the British were hoping to build a fort, and they needed to have that road to get to that fort. Unfortunately for the British, the French would win out in that race and build a much larger fort there, called Fort Duquesne.

Washington, who was aware of that, still decided to build that road for future operations. And during the process of building the road, he comes to this area that were standing in right now.

This is called the Great Meadows. This is a natural clearing that's been here for thousands and thousands of years. Matter of fact, geologist tell us if we were here about 10,000 year ago, I would be underwater. This was actually a large body of water here that slowly drained away. And when that lake disappeared, well, it wasn't gone completely. A few inches below us is a water table that's quite high. And because of that high water table, it does not allow for trees to fully mature. The roots rot out, or the grounds that mushy that it easily... the trees get blown over in the wind.

So what Washington walked into in the... on the 24th of May, 1754, was a Meadow that was about a mile long.  It began out by our park entrance over here to the east, and kind of swept through here, gradually widening to about 200 yards, and then would eventually head towards the north and the west were it'd begin to narrow again. So think of as a big crescent shaped meadow. And in the midst of this Meadow is where Washington would camp. 

And there's an old adage in the military that basically says that amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. And it's very easy to look at this area and  think, "Boy this is not a good place to camp," But consider that you have 300 soldiers that you have to provide food for, have a place to camp, a place they could defend themselves.

This is not a bad site. It offered forage for his animals. He had approximately 60 head of cattle. He also had horses that were pulling those supply wagons, so this was a oasis in the midst of a desert, desert being the forest. It also allowed him a clear field of fire, should he be attacked.

You have to remember the weapons of their day, the muskets, had a very limited range. In order to kill somebody back then, you literally had to see them, preferably the whites of their eyes, to make sure you've got a good clean shot. So by camping out in the open, it's hard to be ambushed, and it also forces your enemy to come out to you, in order to make their weapons effective.

Now, Washington would build a supply base here, and it began with a very simple stockade in the cabin, Behind me, you see the reconstruction of that, and it's based on the archaeology that's been done through the 20th century.

The first reference of any archaeology being done here is about 1901. There was some work in 1931 for the first real full reconstruction of Fort Necessity, And then, in the 1950s, a more exacting archaeological expedition was done here, which determined the shape and the size of the Fort. So the location was always known. It's just a matter of, was it a square fort, a triangle fort? Well, it actually was a round fort. And we'll take a closer look at that.

I'm going to walk over there.

So as I mentioned, this is based on the archaeology, so there's no guesswork. We know that they actually would have built with White Oak that they would have harvested from the forest. The deciduous forest that was here was probably made up... primarily made up of Oaks and Chestnut trees. But based on the wood that was found in the 1953 archaeological dig, we found remnants of the original posts, and they were White Oak. They were split. The flat side was placed out, and every so often they were these little filler posts, probably serving more as shims, not as a musket ports, in that regard. 

Inside Washington would build a 14 by 14 log cabin, and that cabin's purpose was quite simple. It protected the perishable supplies. So it was not an office for Washington. It was not a barracks for the men.  It is simply a large closet to make sure the gunpowder, the rum, the cornmeal, the flour, were all out of the elements.

The yard that existed between the stockade and the cabin would have been filled with boxes and barrels. Other supplies that didn't have to be stored in the cabin itself, so this really is not a place of refuge for the soldiers to fight from.

What they would have fought from were the Creek beds. Again, we're kind of in the widest part of that meadow, and part of that reason for choosing it, again, forces the enemy to come out to you. But there's also two stream banks.

Behind the stockade, you can kind of see the high shrubs. That outlines what's called Great Meadows Run. That basically bisects this meadow. And then directly ahead of me is Indian Run. And they come together, oh, about 60 yards in the direction I'm pointing.

And Washington, when he first sets up camp here, says that with natures assistance he has been given natural entrenchments. So, what he decided to have his men do. if they were to be attacked here, was to use those natural entrenchments, But again, he never anticipated having to fight here.

He's camped here from the end of May, to about mid June. He receives reinforcements and he actually would push westward, building his road. 

By the end of June, he gets word that the French are now coming after him because, well, the end of May, he had attacked a French patrol. That's known as the Jumonville Affair.  And so, the French are coming after him for revenge. He tries to get out of the area. This is all the further he would get in his retreat. And out of necessity, he ends up having to fight here.

Now, his army has grown from the initial 150 that started out in early April, to almost 400 troops. So, these creek beds aren't going to be enough. So, what he builds is what it was referred to as breastworks. And we see the remnants of that.

Fortunately, a good bit of the snow has melted since yesterday. There was about a good foot of snow here, but the grassy outline you see here kind of forms two "V"s, but form together, it creates a big square. Those are where the breastworks would've been.

Washington's men in the days prior to the battle, would have been piling the logs up. And again, the stockade and cabin were built at the end May, the beginning of June, and a month later when he's back here, the men are hastily basically building a redoubt.

This is the true part of the Fort, right here. And it faces those areas, you know, we have a nice long trench here, and a nice long trench there, because the tree lines come the closest in those two areas.

Remember I told you the muskets had a limited range, about 60 to 80 yards effectively. Well, the tree lines about 60 yards on that side, and 80 yards on that side.

And again, if Washington had that crystal ball that told him he was going to have to fight here in July, he probably have taken the time to clear the woods a little bit further back.

Well now it's too late, and on the morning of July 3rd, the French do appear at the far end of the meadow. Washington goes out to fight them in an open formation. The French take advantage of the tree lines and quickly surround Washington, and Washington and his men would fight from these trenches during 8 to 9 hours of rain. Heavy downpours, mist, fog: Not the best conditions to fight in with the weapons of that time. They tend to misfire. He also has very few bayonets to his defense. So, he figures he's going to get wiped out.

By 8:00 o'clock in the evening he is surprised from the French who call out to him to see if he wants to talk surrender.

And he's a little suspicious, but he does take up their offer, and over the course of three to four hours, the French do negotiate, what's considered an honorable surrender, during a time when there is no declared war. Basically allows Washington to leave here with all his baggage, the men can keep their muskets All they do is clear out of this area and not return here for a year.

But it also says that document that Washington is responsible for the assassination of a French diplomat. So, it gives the French justification to show the world, basically propaganda, that they were justified in their attack, their retribution against Washington.

Now, one thing that is missing here on our battlefield. If you've been to other battlefields maintained by the National Park Service, state sites, local sites, they often have you stop at the place to remember the cost of war. And one question that's often asked here is,  "Where are the tombstones? Where's the Cemetery." There were casualties here. Washington said he lost at least 30 of his men killed. The French claimed that they had at least two French killed along with one of their Native American allies. So where are those bodies? Well, through all our archaeological work, we have never once uncovered human remains. 

We found the musket balls, the flints, the other artifacts of soldier life, but never the soldiers themselves. So part of our responsibility here in the National Park Service is to make this a nice place to visit and learn about that sacrifice that occured here in 1754. So I hope this gives you a nice orientation to what occurred here, and what the battlefield looks like.

Again, I invite you to come and visit our site. We are open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. The grounds are open sunrise to sunset and the visitor center will have limited hours. Again, depending on the season. So always check ahead of time before coming to visit us.

This has been Brian Ready here at Fort Necessity National Battlefield. Take care.


This virtual tour provides an introduction to the Fort Necessity Campaign and battle. The park ranger, in the Great Meadows, where the battle took place, explains why the Virginians were in the meadow, how they defended themselves, and the significance of the battle.


13 minutes, 12 seconds


NPS/Tom Markwardt and Brian Reedy

Date Created


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