"...Twenty Brave Men"
by Jackson Walker
Hampshire County, West Virginia -- Spring 1756
During the 18th century, Britain and France were engaged in an almost continuous struggle to see which nation would be the world's dominant military power. Wars between the two spilled over to their North American colonies. By the middle of the century the great prize, claimed by both sides, was the Ohio Valley. If France could successfully hold it as part of Canada, the 13 English colonies would not be able to expand west of the Appalachian mountains. In 1755, Britain sent troops to drive the French from the Ohio country. But Major General Edward Braddock's force of 2,000 British regulars and Virginia militia was ambushed and routed by a French force which included 650 Ottawa and Potawatamie Indians. Braddock's disastrous defeat left the British frontier undefended. The French organized their Indian allies into raiding parties led by French officers, spreading death and destruction throughout the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontier. In Virginia, hundreds of terrified settlers in the northern Shenandoah Valley fled east; those that remained gathered together in fortified houses or log forts. Militia officers were sent west to organize the settlers for defense and recruit for the regiment of full-time troops which would serve with the British Regulars. In the spring of 1756, Captain Jeremiah Smith of Albermarle County arrived in Hampshire County, Virginia, then on the western edge of settlement and today part of West Virginia. He was just in time: "...a party of about 50 Indians, with a French captain at their head, crossed the Allegheny Mountains...Capt. Jeremiah Smith raised a party of twenty brave men, marched to meet this...foe, and fell in with them at the head of the Capon River, when a fierce and bloody battle was fought. Smith killed the captain with his own hand; five other Indians have fallen...they gave way and fled." Episodes such as this were repeated scores of times in the frontier counties of what is now West Virginia, which also supplied recruits for the full-time Virginia Regiment. The spirit of these citizen-soldiers of the French and Indian War is carried on today by the men and women of the West Virginia Army National Guard.
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