The Sole Surviving Colonel – Thomas Dunbar

19th century engraving of Braddock's march for Fort Duquesne
19th century engraving of Braddock’s march for Fort Duquesne.

Col. Thomas Dunbar was a career soldier who rose through the ranks and was appointed commander of the 48th Regiment of Foot in 1748. On Jan. 13, 1755, he boarded one of six Royal Navy warships escorting Gen. Braddock to North America to remove the French from the Ohio River Valley.

One of the most difficult tasks Braddock and his army faced was carving a 12-foot wide, 125-mile road through the Allegheny Mountains, from Fort Cumberland in Maryland to Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio. Beginning on June 7, Braddock marched his army out of Fort Cumberland in three divisions. Dunbar was assigned to the rear of the army with the third division and did not begin his march out of Fort Cumberland until June 10.

After several days of marching, Braddock split his army in half in order to reach Fort Duquesne more quickly. He created an advanced column of 1,200 men to go ahead of the main column. Dunbar commanded the main column with the majority of the baggage, wagons, and artillery and aspired to be only a day’s march behind Braddock and the advanced column.

By July 10, Dunbar and the main column had stopped at Chestnut Ridge (near modern day Uniontown, Pa.). That same morning, men and news of Braddock’s defeat arrived in camp. On July 12, Braddock ordered the retreat to Fort Cumberland. Due to the lack of horses and wagons, Dunbar ordered any remaining ordnance or supplies to be destroyed. The Fort Pitt Museum has items on display that were found at Dunbar’s camp, including musket balls, cannon balls, stirrups, buttons, and more.

Thomas Dunbar artifacts at the Fort Pitt Museum

Braddock died during the retreat on July 13 and was buried in the road to hide his grave. The army began arriving at Fort Cumberland on July 17. Dunbar later led the army to Philadelphia, abandoning the frontier.

In November 1755, Dunbar was appointed lieutenant-governor of Gibraltar, a station previously held by Braddock, which Dunbar held until his death in 1767.

In honor of the anniversary of the Battle of the Monongahela, the Fort Pitt Museum will host Dr. David Preston tomorrow, Saturday, July 9, at 11 a.m. for a presentation on his latest book “Braddock’s Defeat.” Tickets are currently available online.

Any tickets remaining at the end of business on Friday, July 8, will be sold at the museum on a first come, first served basis. Future Fort Pitt Museum speaker series events include Using DNA for Family Research on July 17 and the Annual Women’s History Seminar on July 30.

Sources

“Braddock’s Defeat,” David Preston

“Braddock’s Road,” Norman Baker

“Crucible of War,” Fred Anderson

Kathleen McLean is the education manager at the Fort Pitt Museum.

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