Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 3

February 13, 2011

In September Major Grant of the Highlanders asked Bouquet for permission to scout out the French fort and take any prisoners he might come across. Lieutenant-Colonel Bouquet consented so Grant left the advance post at Loyalhannon Creek with 800 Highlanders, Royal Americans and militia under his command.

They followed the horse trail used by Indian traders reaching their destination at about 2:00 am on the 14th. The darkness concealed their arrival. They took up position on a small hill about half a mile from the fort. This hill would be known hereafter as Grant’s Hill. Below them lay Fort Duquesne housing several hundred French regulars. Outside the fort slept hundreds of warriors from Detroit all unaware the enemy was perched above them. 

Grant’s first plan of attack was to immediately send Major Lewis and half the Virginians to attack the sleeping warriors in front of the fort. When the warriors responded they were to feign a retreat back to the hill where the rest of the force was spread out waiting for the pursuers. Just before dawn Lewis returned to report that the plan was quite impossible as his troops had gotten lost in the thick woods because of the darkness.

So he abandoned this plan as light was upon them. He sent Lewis with 200 men two miles to the rear to guard the supplies which had been left their with Captain Bullitt and a company of Virginians. Then he spread most of his force out along the tree line except for a company of Highlanders which he ordered out on the small plain between the forest and the fort. When the fog lifted he ordered the drums to play the reveille and the Highlander to play their bagpipes.

The warriors and French soldiers startled by the noise sprung into action. Soldiers poured out of the fort to attack the British positions head on. The warriors skirted along the banks of the two rivers and surrounded Grant’s hill. Many of them took up position on a larger hill behind Grant’s Hill and began to fire down upon Grant and the Highlanders that had stayed there.

Other warriors took to the woods and attacked Grant’s men spread out along the tree line from behind. Their fierce war whoops and unseen musket fire cracked among the dense forest. This so unnerved the British that they fell into a panic. They rushed into a disorderly retreat down the horse trail toward Lewis and the supplies.

Lewis heard the gunfire so rushed to join the battle. He took a more direct route through the forest while the main force retreated pell-mell down the horse trail. Unknowingly they passed each other. Grant was horrified when he reached the supplies and found no one there while Lewis rushed headlong into a much superior force of French and warriors. Grant was taken prisoner. Lewis was taken prisoner. Only 540 returned safely to Loyalhannon out of 813.

When James Smith’s adoptive father heard of the affair he said he was at a loss to explain the British actions. He said the art of warfare was to surprise and ambush the enemy while preventing the enemy from surprising and ambushing you. Grant had placed himself in position to do just that but instead alerted his enemy by drumming the reveille and playing on the bagpipes. He said the only way he could explain such an error was that they must have had too much brandy through the night before and had become intoxicated by dawn.

General Forbes was dismayed to say the least. He was especially disturbed that such an exercise was approved without his knowledge. However, they pressed on cutting the road as far as Loyalhannon where his whole army had gathered by November.

Meanwhile, Captain Ligneris, the commandant of Fort Duquesne had run out of supplies. He had to send most of his command back to Quebec keeping only a few hundred regulars to garrison the fort. He tried to convince the warriors from Detroit to stay on and fight one more battle but they felt it was far too late in the season and they had to rejoin their families for the winter hunt. This would be the last time the First Nations would back the French as allies in any great numbers. Fort Duquesne was left all but defenseless.

General Forbes who was very sick the whole campaign had to be carried from Raystown to Loyalhannon. The fall rained had ruined the road they had cut so far turning it to a sea of mud. Washington and Colonel Armstrong of the Pennsylvania Militia had cut the road to within a mile of the French fort but with the advance of winter and the deplorable condition of the road they decided to winter at Loyalhannon.

Then they received word from their scouts that Fort Duquesne was defenseless. They decided to press on and finish the campaign. On the night of November the 24th the advance guard camped along Turkey Creek. They were close enough to the fort that they heard the distinct rumblings of kegs of powder exploding in the distance. The explosions were coming from the direction of the fort.

The next day the whole force marched on the French fort. The advance guard  was led by General Forbes being carried in a sling between two horses. They were followed by three columns. On the left Washington led the Colonial Militia and Bouquet led the Royal Americans on the right. The center column was commanded by Montgomery the new colonel of the Highlanders. When they arrived at the fort there was none. Ligneris had blown up the fortifications, burned the buildings and retreated up the Alleghany. He left nothing but a smoldering heap to conquer and no great victory to record. However, the campaign was still a great success because it gave the British the strategic ground at the confluence of the three great rivers in Pennsylvania. The following year they would construct Fort Pitt right beside the remains of Fort Duquesne and in later years it would sprawl into the important city of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

NEXT WEEK:  England Supplants France in North America 1760

Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 2

February 5, 2011

By May 1758 word has spread throughout the territories that the British under General Forbes was preparing to march on Fort Duquesne with an army of 7,000 men. This included 1,200 Highlanders, a detachment of Royal Americans with the balance made up of militia from Pennsylvania, Virgina, Maryland and North Carolina.

The Three Fires Confederacy which included Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi warriors gathered at Detroit in July. The Wyandotte joined them and they all marched off to the defence of Fort Duquesne. The memory of Braddock’s defeat fresh in their minds and the vast amount of plunder gotten drove the warriors on. Their design was a repeat of 1756.

The first decision was which route to take. Washington, being a loyal Virginian, favoured the road that Braddock had cut which led from Virgina. Forbes favoured a new road that would have to be cut through the Pennsylvanian wilderness. It would be a more direct route and only have to cross one range of the Alleghenies. There would be time enough to accomplish the road as Forbes planned to take his time advancing on the French fort. He knew the warriors there would tire of waiting for him and would have to abandon the field to return to their territories for their winter hunt. Thinking Washington’s argument was more politically driven than sound military strategy Forbes won out. By July the advance guard under Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Bouquet was camped near Raystown the site of present day Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Governor Vaudreuil sent supplies to Fort Duquesne with reinforcements to follow. Unfortunately, the supplies were at Fort Frontenac awaiting the reinforcements when Bradstreet arrived and captured them. The reinforcements were on their way from Montreal when they got word of the fall of Fort Frontenac, so with no supplies they returned to Montreal. There would be no help for the under garrisoned Fort Duquesne except for the warriors who arrived that summer.

 Meanwhile, Forbes had received word of the discontent of the Ohio First Nations. He enlisted the help of Christian John Post a Moravian missionary who knew the Delaware well, had lived among them and had married one of them. Most importantly he was well trusted by them. He arrived at the Delaware town of Kushkushkee north-west of Fort Duquesne where he met with chiefs King Beaver, Shingas and Delaware George. His message from the Governor of Pennsylvania was well received there so they took him to another town nearby.

Post got a different kind of reception there. The young warriors were in a nasty mood. Some wanted to kill him on the spot but others wanted to hear what he had to say. His message pleased them but they insisted he go with them to Fort Duquesne to deliver the message to the chiefs and warriors there. He resisted the dangerous proposal but the Delaware would accept nothing less.

When they arrived at the fort the French insisted he be turned over to them. The Delaware refused insisting that they all hear the words of the Governor of Pennsylvania. So all the First Nations and the French officers gathered outside the fort to hear what Post had to say. He informed the chiefs that General Forbes was on his way with a large army to drive the French from Ohio and that they should remain neutral in the conflict. The governor also invited them to renew the chain of friendship and peace with the British at a conference to be held at Easton, Pennsylvania. This displeased the French very much but there was nothing they could do but watch the Delaware leave with Post under their protection.

The whole Delaware nation met in council and decided that they would take hold of the peace-chain again if the invitation did not just come from Pennsylvania but from all the British provinces. This was done and the conference was held at Easton in October. The Iroquois Five Nations attended it with William Johnson along with the Delaware, Mohegans and a few other nations. The British were represented by delegates from most of their provinces. The result was that the invitation should be sent by wampum belts to all their allied nations to the west. The Moravian Post was given the task of delivering the belts. The French/First Nation alliance was beginning to disintegrate.

Post was at one of the Delaware towns meeting in council with the chiefs when a French officer from Fort Duquesne arrived. He had a belt to present them inviting them to come to the fort and help drive back Forbes. The belt was rejected with disdain. Chief Captain Peter took the French wampum string and threw it on the floor. He then took a stick and flung it across the room and the other chiefs kicked it around from one to the other. Captain Peter said that they had given their all for the French cause and had gotten nothing in return so they were determined not to help them fight the British again. He was referring to Montcalm’s betrayal the previous year.

The French officer was the escorted to a Grand Council that had been called. Post delivered messages of peace from the council at Easton. They were accepted with great pleasure by everyone except the French officer. He was ridiculed by the chiefs and warriors. One called Isaac Still pointed at him and said, “There he sits! The French always deceived us!” They all began to shout whoops of agreement. The officer could take no more. He left the council to return to Fort Duquesne to give his report. The overtures of peace were accepted all over Ohio as far as the Wabash River. The Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo and Miami were no longer allies with the French but were at peace with the British.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 3