As a young colonel of the Virginia Regiment in service to the British Crown in the Pennsylvania backcountry of the 1750s, George Washington was a central figure in the crucible of the French and Indian War, which set America on its future course almost 20 years before the Revolution. 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 in 1775.
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Friendly Fire Incident
After General John Forbes arrived at the Post at Loyalhanna, later known as Fort Ligonier, in early November 1758, he decided to spend the winter here. Intelligence gathered on the day of a friendly fire incident, however, prompted him to change this strategy.
At dusk on November 12, Colonel George Washington, then 26 years of age, led on foot a detachment of 500 Virginia soldiers from Fort Ligonier. Shortly afterward, Lieutenant Colonel George Mercer led an additional 500 men by a different route. The two leaders planned to surround a force of 140 French and Native American warriors which, they believed, was trying to steal the British army’s cattle and horses. Three prisoners were captured; the rest withdrew to Fort Duquesne, 50 miles to the west.
Soon, the two Virginia units encountered each other in the darkness, and, mistaking each other for the enemy, engaged in friendly fire that killed or left missing 38 soldiers and two officers. Intelligence gathered from the prisoners indicated that Fort Duquesne was weak. Forbes accordingly countermanded his orders and led 2,500 troops, including Washington, to the forks of the Ohio River. Fort Duquesne, blown up and abandoned by the French, was captured on November 25, 1758 and renamed Pittsburgh by Forbes. He also renamed the Post at Loyalhanna, Fort Ligonier.