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