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When George Washington Wore a “Red Coat” And Fought For The British

redcoatsOur first President and hero of the Revolutionary War once served in the British Army.  In fact, it was Washington’s only military experience before our War for Independence.

It was 1753 and the British and French were fighting over who would control western expansion, the lands to the west of the original colonies.  It was called the French and Indian War, or in Europe, the Seven Years War. The 21 year old Washington, an officer of the Virginia Regiment in service to the British Crown, had worked as a surveyor in what is now southwestern Pennsylvania, made him of considerable help to the British troops under the command of General Edward Braddock.

When Braddock was mortally wounded in an enemy attack, Washington assumed command and led a successful retreat to save the day. This military apprenticeship, which established Washington’s experience and reputation for leadership, was an essential credential that brought him the command of the Continental Army.

Five years later, in 1758, the French and Indian War was ongoing and Washington (now a Colonel) was back again in British uniform in western Pennsylvania.  He was at Fort Ligonier, a post under the command of Brigadier General John Forbes, established in preparation for an attack on the French Fort Duquesne at what is now Pittsburgh.

Colonel Washington, now 26 years of age, led 500 Virginia soldiers on foot from Fort Ligonier. Lieutenant Colonel George Mercer led an additional 500 men by a different route. They planned to surround 140 French soldiers and Native American warriors trying to steal the British army’s cattle and horses. Three prisoners were captured, but the remaining escaped.

The two Virginia units encountered each other after dark and mistakenly engaged in friendly fire that killed or left missing 38 soldiers and two officers.  Washington nearly lost his life in the friendly fire incident, but survived to command  the lead brigade of the Forbes attack on Fort Duquesne.

When 2,500 British troops reached the forks of the Ohio River, they found Fort Duquesne burned and abandoned by the French. It was captured and renamed Fort Pitt by Forbes. William Pitt was then British Secretary of State.
The blockhouse of Fort Pitt can be seen today at Pittsburgh’s Point Park.

At Ligonier, Pennsylvania, (near the Flight 93 Memorial) Fort Ligonier has been reconstructed on its original site and is open to the public.  There is an excellent museum here with exhibits explaining the Fort’s historic significance.  It also has archeological artifacts recovered from the site and items related to George Washington including a set of pistols given him by the Marquis de Lafayette.

Learn more at Plan a visit at

About the Author

In 2000, following a long and successful career as head of his own public relations agency, Jim became a freelance travel writer. In 2003 he was named travel editor at New York Trend. Jim travels widely in North America and Europe and has also visited in Asia, Africa, and Central America. He enjoys writing stories that bring alive his travel experience and entice the reader to visit new destinations. Jim is a member of the International Association of Black Travel Writers.

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