Triumphant Return to Fort Duquesne
by Robert Griffing
As the sun sets on July 9, 1755, victorious warriors return from the scene of Braddock's Defeat carrying all the loot they can handle. Scalp halloos are answered by cannon fire from the fort. It will be three years before another attempt is made by the British against "The Forks". Mr. Griffing is one of America's foremost historical artists, specializing in frontier and eastern Native American works.
**Historical footnote: On the morning of the battle with Braddock's army, the commander of Fort Duquesne was preparing to abandon the fort in the face of what appeared to be an overwhelming force - which it was. His officers convinced him to let them engage Braddock and at least draw some blood. With the British closing in and no time to spare, the French force was literally a pickup team put together on the run. But they got the job done.**
Summer 1758 in present-day western Pennsylvania. The French and Indian War is in its fourth year and so far, it's been all French and Indians. There is no British military presence on the frontier save for a regiment of part-time volunteer Virginia militia commanded by George Washington. For three years, they have been fighting a lost cause, trying to hold back French and Indian raids across the depth and breadth of the colonial frontier. These raids have plundered as far north as Lake Erie and south to the Potomac River while moving east as far as the Susquehanna River in the center of Pennsylvania.
The base for these raids is Fort Duquesne (dew-cane'), located at the junction of the three rivers in present-day Pittsburgh. This location was simply referred to as "The Forks". From the northeast flows the Allegheny River. Up from the southeast flows the Monongahela River. They join at "The Forks" to form the Ohio River, which flows southwest to the Mississippi River. With all the navigable rivers and tributaries that connect to this water network, one can go from the Gulf of St. Lawrence via the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Whoever controls The Forks controls this inland water super highway, making it the most strategic and valuable piece of real estate in the interior.
Both sides knew this and both sides fought to get it. The British got there first in the late winter of 1754. The Governor of the Virginia colony sent Captain William Trent and a small group of 40 soldiers and surveyors to occupy The Forks. They built and loaded up rafts and poled their way down the Monongahela River until they reached their objective. They planted the Union Jack and built a stout log redoubt along with a hasty stockade, naming it Fort Prince George in honor of the future king. George Washington was on his way to reinforce it that same spring when the French came down the Allegheny River in force and took it, allowing Trent and his men to surrender with honors. They began building Fort Duquesne, named for the Governor-General of New France (Canada). These actions led directly to the skirmish at Jumonville Glen and the Battle of Fort Necessity. When Washington surrendered with honors at Fort Necessity, he took with him the only remaining British military force in the region.
**Historical footnote: Surrendering with honors was a courtesy extended to a vanquished enemy during the Napoleonic era. After a parlay to work out the specifics, a defeated force was allowed to march safely out of their position. They were allowed to keep their colors, personal weapons and equipment and one artillery piece.**
A year later, the British tried again to take The Forks. This time it was General Edward Braddock in command, with George Washington at his side. Braddock led the largest British military force ever assembled on the North American continent up to that time. They were more than a match for the garrison at Fort Duquesne but not for the tactics employed against them. On July 9, 1755, only six miles from their objective, Braddock's 1500 man army was cut to pieces by a force of French and Indians less than half its size. The British regulars had no answer for the woodland raider tactics, the tomahawks and the scalping knives used against them. They broke and ran in a panic-stricken rout, leaving behind 500 dead. Braddock's Defeat left the frontier wide open for three more years.The French and the Indians had free rein throughout the region and they made the most of it.
By the summer of 1758, the French and their Indian allies had done what they set out to do. The frontier areas of western Pennsylvania and the Potomac River basin were completely disrupted. Hundreds of settlers were killed and several thousand taken captive. Thousands more fled east to escape the ferocity of this brutal back country war. Similar depredations were occurring in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys of New York. Meanwhile, the bleached bones of Braddock's 500 dead still lay in the kill zone near the banks of the Monongahela River.
A diorama of Fort Duquesne seen at the Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park in Pittsburgh. This was Fort Duquesne in its prime. As more people gathered, external stockades were built for housing and livestock. Note the four arrowhead-shaped bastions. This is where the artillery was located. Allowing flanking fire on an enemy along the walls, this was standard fort construction everywhere for hundreds of years. Although you can't tell from this view, Fort Duquesne was small. The open area in the center, called the parade deck, was about the size of a tennis court. A land attack would have come from the upper left hand corner.
Whether British or French, every major lake, bay, harbor and river from The Forks to Nova Scotia had a fort watching over it. Some were built for military purposes, designed to fight off an attack and deny access to the enemy. Others were more like supply depots and trading posts where settlers and Indians could trade and obtain goods. Fort Duquesne was both. The French already had a line of forts that ran from the Gulf of St Lawrence, down the St Lawrence River past Quebec and Montreal, across Lake Champlain in New york, then on to Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and down into the Ohio River Valley of western Pennsylvania. Fort Duquesne would be the southern anchor of that line and secure water access all the way to the French colony of New Orleans.
Captain Trent and his men were barely out of sight as the French began to demolish Fort Prince George and build Fort Duquesne. The location directly on the point of The Forks was not really a good position for a fort. It had high ground across the river on two sides that was well within artillery range. Additionally, the land was prone to flooding. Several times in its short life, Fort Duquesne was completely inundated with water and could only be reached by canoe. Despite the less than ideal location, the point was the best place to accomplish its primary mission of defending and denying river transit to the British. Just as important, there was a ready supply of big timber that came right up to the fort site. So while they harvested lumber for the fort, they would also be clearing fields of fire around it. Time was of the essence as an attack could come at any time. Scouts told them there were 5,000 British soldiers marching overland towards their position. There really weren't, but it had the intended effect. Fort Duquesne went up in record time.
The fort was relatively small but formidable. It was one of the few French frontier forts to be designed and supervised by a trained engineer. Here, that officer was Captain Francois Le Mercier. Designed as a square with a bastion on each corner, Fort Duquesne was about 160 feet on each side from point to point. With one pointy end of the fort placed on the point of land at the river junction, it was built as close to the water as possible to aid the defense of the two riverside walls.
**Historical footnote: Flooding was a constant hazard for Fort Duquesne. Because of its close proximity to the water, it flooded every year and sometimes more than once. Later, Fort Pitt was built further back from the water's edge but still experienced severe flooding. The three rivers at The Forks are wild and relentless in the spring. Even today, with locks, dams and seawalls to control the rivers, the grounds at the point still flood.**
The riverside walls were classic stockade or palisade construction - 16 foot timbers, each one foot in diameter or more, sunk vertically four feet into the ground. Sharpened on the top, with firing ports for muskets, Mercier was satisfied and concentrated his efforts on the landside walls.
The landside walls were a much stronger crib construction, consisting of squared off logs stacked and braced horizontally. Abatis (pointed stakes and lots of them), firing ports, cannon apertures and firing steps completed the walls. Just outside the walls was a dry moat measuring 15 feet across and 12 feet deep with a drawbridge at the gate. The dirt from the moat was used to fill in a second line of parallel crib walls on the outer perimeter. These 10-20 foot thick earth and log walls would protect the inner perimeter from direct cannon and musket fire, but not from the siege mortars that would lob huge shells over the walls.
A simple but effective diagram showing the construction of the walls for an earth and wood fort as described above in the text.
Records and notes from the construction indicate 15 cannon at Fort Duquesne, probably mounted in the three landside bastions.
As construction continued non-stop, French reinforcements and native American fighters began to arrive in large numbers. Soon the fort that was built for 300 had a garrison of 1100 men, most of them living outside the fort. The Indian allies fought for the French as the lesser of two evils. Additionally, at the fort they could trade their valuable furs and pelts for guns, food, blankets, tools, tobacco and many other items. The Indians came and went with the seasons but Fort Duquesne provided them with things they couldn't obtain otherwise. This trade relationship was crucial to the French and Indian alliance. Anything that interfered with it would be trouble. The Indians would leave and the French would have to fight alone - no match for the British.
Work on a defensive position is never finished. Fort Duquesne was a work in progress for most of its four year existence. However, in the immediate future, it needed to be able to defend against a British attack. Starting work in mid-April, Captain Mercier and the fort commander, Captain Claude Contrecoeur, sent a dispatch to Governor-General Duquesne in mid-May that they were ready. Four years later, Fort Duquesne was still waiting.
Despite its formidable design and build, Fort Duquesne had no chance against a determined European-style siege. The fort's biggest advantages were its remote location and the hundreds of Indian warriors lurking in the woods nearby. It also had a ready escape route out the back door. The French never had any intentions of fighting a siege-type battle at The Forks. They defended Fort Duquesne the only way it could be. They went out and attacked the attackers. Their plan was always to abandon it if a large British siege army closed in.
Major French forts in 1758. Many smaller ones are not shown. Months before the move on Fort Duquesne, major British victories at Louisbourg and Fort Frontenac sealed its fate. Louisbourg denied access to the St. Lawrence River, the main French supply route. Fort Frontenac was the major logistics depot for frontier forts and the primary supplier of Fort Duquesne. Cut off and deprived of supplies and trading goods for the Indians, French fortunes went downhill rapidly.
**Historical footnote: Fort William Henry was a British fort. Cutoff and under siege in August 1757, it surrendered to French forces under General Montcalm on August 9. Allowed to surrender with honors and given safe passage, a column of over 1,000 people left at sun up the next morning. Shortly after leaving, they were attacked by Indian allies of the French. They killed 200 and took 500 captives, most of whom were never seen again. Called the Massacre at Fort William Henry, it was a key event in the book and movie "The Last of the Mohicans". It became a rallying cry for the British, who offered no honors for the rest of the war.**
The first four years of the French and Indian War were a complete disaster for the British. They suffered one defeat after another in addition to having Indian raids plunder and terrorize their colonies. There were a number of reasons for this. First, British policy makers in London simply didn't think that North America was a priority. They had a world war on their hands - the Seven Years War. Up to now, the focus was on the European battlefields, where they were fighting the French, Spanish, Austrians, Russians and Swedes (Yes, Swedes).
Second, British military leaders in North America tended to be pompous and dismissive of anybody who wasn't regular army. Then they would turn around and demand the colonies provide them with men, money and materials. Trying to get the American colonies to agree to anything was like herding cats. Even though they were governed by British officials appointed by the King, each colony had their own personalities, policies, priorities and problems. There was one thing they all seemed to agree on, though. Supporting the Crown with blood and treasure on demand with nothing in return wasn't high on the agenda.
Third, British tactics were terribly ineffective against the enemy they were facing. Volley firing in ranks and marching with pipe and drum were recipes for disaster. Trying to conduct woodland campaigns with European tactics and no Indian support put them at an enormous disadvantage. Knowing that they were facing scalpings, tomahawks, ambushes and torture at any time could take the fight out of the most seasoned British regular. Over three years after Braddock's Defeat, this type of battlefield was still totally foreign to them.
After four years of failure and bad news, the army, the colonies, the British government and King George himself all began to doubt the outcome of the war in North America. In 1758, a number of factors converged to finally turn the tide.
In London, William Pitt became the Prime Minister in the summer of 1757. The outspoken and persuasive leader of the House of Commons was not a favorite of the Crown but King George II needed someone to turn around the North America situation. Pitt got the call. He regarded the French as their primary enemy and planned to fight them anywhere and anytime he could. He paid the Germans to fight the Austrians, the Russians and the Swedes in Europe while the British took the fight to the French. The Royal Navy began aggressively attacking French ships and possessions all over the world, including Africa, India and the Caribbean. Ejecting them from North America became official policy and strategy. He started by firing several senior military commanders and putting younger, more capable officers in their place.
Then he sent letters to all the colonial governors asking for their support. To sweeten the deal, he offered to pay for all materials and costs as well as salaries and bonuses for enlistees. Their colonial ranks would be recognized by the Crown and His Majesty's Army. It worked. By the spring of 1758, the colonies raised an army of almost 30,000 men, many of them hardened frontiersmen or settlers with a score to settle. The British Army also grew in size with the addition of regiments of Scottish highlanders, recruited specifically to fight in the colonies. Pitt now had over 40,000 soldiers in North America plus a strong Royal Navy force.
Unbeknownst to Pitt, the French were already in bad shape and it was their turn to doubt the outcome of the war. They were down to 10,000 men. Crops failed two years in a row and supply ships were few and far between. Widespread hunger and disease killed more people than the British did. One of the unintended consequences of the Indian raids was smallpox, which they carried back to their villages. During the winter of 1757-58, native American lodges were ravaged. They were unable or unwilling to respond when the French needed them most that summer. Additionally, the cost of the war was bankrupting the treasury of King Louis XV. All of this was strangling the French before the British even launched their planned offensives of 1758.
Despite their increasingly bleak outlook, the French weren't about to roll over and quit just yet. There was still some sharp fighting ahead but the tide had definitely turned in favor of the British. It was time to get serious about winning this thing.
This map is an excellent quick reference showing the major battles and timelines described on this page. These battles didn't happen in a vacuum. The forts on both sides were interlocking links in a chain. The fate of one affected all of them. A full size version of this map is available HERE and opens in a new window.
The first objective was Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, on the very tip of Canada's maritime peninsula. It controlled access to the St. Lawrence River, France's main route to Quebec, Montreal and the interior. The fortress was large, heavily fortified and well defended. The initial amphibious assault by the British on June 8 took place in heavy seas and was almost another disaster. Winds, tides, obstacles and heavy enemy fire prevented landings at the planned locations. The commander, General Jeffrey Amherst, was on the verge of calling it off when some boats on the left flank found a landing spot down the coastline and behind some rocks. The entire landing force headed for it. The French defenders were completely out of position to counter these new landings. The British got ashore in force and within days, began siege operations all around the fort. Seven weeks later, a thoroughly battered and demoralized Fort Louisbourg surrendered.
As paybacks for the Fort William Henry massacre a year earlier, General Amherst refused to allow the French to surrender with the honors of war. He made all 5,600 defenders POW's and sent them to England in chains. They were released later in prisoner exchanges for British POW's held in Europe.
A powerful Royal Navy squadron based at their new harbor now controlled the sea lanes in and out of New France. There would be no more French ships on the St. Lawrence.
British forces at Louisbourg staved off a disaster and turned it into a significant victory. The next British operation didn't fare as well.
In northeast upstate New York on the Canadian border are two lakes - Lake Champlain and Lake George. They are long and narrow and form a straight line running north and south with a 3½ mile portage between them. At the north end of Lake Champlain is the St. Lawrence River Valley, controlled by the French. The southern end of Lake George leads right into the Hudson River Valley, controlled by the British. Control of this route gave an attacker from either side a straight shot into the heart of enemy territory. The area was heavily contested throughout the war. In 1755, the French built a massive fort right on the portage - Fort Carillon. The British called it Ticonderoga. It comes from an Iroquois word meaning "the joining of waters".
In early July of 1758, General James Abercrombie had the mission of taking the fort. He had 18,000 men, heavy guns and siege equipment facing 4,000 French defenders. Fort Carillon had a number of defensive defects, not the least of which was being surrounded by high ground. A siege and bombardment would have made short work of it. Knowing this, the French constructed a strong entrenched position on a hill a mile from the fort and between it and the British force. Out of range of their own guns, they hoped to entice the British to fight out in the open. Abercrombie took the bait. On July 8, in a stunning display of incompetence, he decided to forget the siege and end it quickly with his massive numerical advantage. Leaving his artillery behind and tossing any semblance of tactics or maneuver out the window, he sent wave after wave of British soldiers in frontal assaults against the French position. When it was over, more than 3,000 British dead and wounded littered the battlefield. The slaughter was only stopped when the remaining soldiers panicked and ran, retreating all the way to their base at the southern end of Lake George. It was the bloodiest action of the entire war.
Abercrombie abandoned the Ticonderoga mission but didn't want to return empty handed. Two hundred miles to the west, where the St. Lawrence River empties into Lake Ontario, was Fort Frontenac. It was an old fort, dating back to 1673 and was lightly defended. It was also the main supply base for the frontier forts, including Fort Duquesne. Abercrombie sent a force of 3,000 men commanded by Lt. Col. John Bradstreet to capture Fort Frontenac. They attacked on August 26 and the fort surrendered two days later. Bradstreet paroled the defenders, allowing them to walk away. Then the British helped themselves to the warehouses. What they couldn't carry, they destroyed and with it went the supply of trade goods that was so critical to the French and Indian alliance at Fort Duquesne. The seizure and destruction of this supply base did more damage to the French at The Forks than had been done in the entire war.
While all this was going on, preparations were already well underway to attack and seize Fort Duquesne.
Nat Youngblood was a Pittsburgh artist and the art director at the Pittsburgh Press newspaper for many years. He painted a series of six pictures about the French and Indian War. This scene from Fort Bedford is one of them. It could be a scene from any frontier fort on the Forbes Road. One gets a very realistic sense of the frantic activity here that simply can't be conveyed in words. All of Mr. Youngblood's original paintings are on display at the Fort Pitt Museum. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 90.
The British had never fully recovered from their two big losses trying to seize The Forks in 1754-55. The first foray ended with Fort Necessity and the second with Braddock's Defeat, which cast a pall over everything. Then they had to watch the French and Indians run amok in British territory for three years while government and military leaders dithered over how to run the war. Now, finally, they were going back thanks to William Pitt. The first concern of everybody involved in the operation was to avoid Braddock's fate.
Under Pitt's plan, seizing The Forks was the most important objective on the colonial frontier. With The Forks and Louisbourg in British hands, the line of French forts on the rivers and lakes in between would be isolated and flanked, making them untenable. With the forts gone, multiple lines of attack would open up on Quebec and Montreal. When they fell (and they did), that would be the end of New France.
The tactical and logistical challenges of capturing Fort Duquesne were larger than ever. There was no British military presence for 100 miles around The Forks. Braddock's Road hadn't been used in three years and would have to be extensively repaired or a new road hacked out of the wilderness. Indians owned the countryside. They seemed to be everywhere. The new force would find itself under surveillance or attack all the time. Increasingly long supply lines would be especially vulnerable. The sheer amount of food, supplies and military equipment just to support one day on the march was staggering. The army would have to bring it all with them. Still, Fort Duquesne had to be taken - no matter what.
That task fell to Brigadier General John Forbes, a Scotsman who had been a physician before deciding to become a soldier. Forbes was a capable and steady officer with combat experience in Europe and North America - most recently with Abercrombie at Ticonderoga. At age 50, he had been in the Army for 22 years. He was also a dying man, afflicted with a painful and bloody disease which was eating up his insides. He spent much of the campaign on his back, out of commission. Nevertheless, he was active in the planning and made the command decisions that needed to be made.
Forbes was fortunate to have as his Second-in-Command one of the best officers in the British army - 39 year old Lt. Col. Henri Bouquet. A native Swiss, he had spent the last two decades fighting as a soldier of fortune in Europe. He came to America to fight and was a battalion commander in the Royal American Regiment, a unit much like the Foreign Legion. Bouquet was tough, savvy and tactically sound. He understood woodland warfare and trained his men for it. He also had a talent for getting things done. Throughout the campaign, Forbes was the planner and Bouquet was the field leader.
**Historical footnote: Five years later, not far from Fort Duquesne, Bouquet would distinguish himself by defeating a superior Indian force at the Battle of Bushy Run , effectively ending Pontiac's War.**
Another Nat Youngblood painting. This one depicts movement on the Forbes Road. The Allegheny Mountains aren't the Rockies. There are no jagged, snow capped peaks above the treeline. The highest point in Pennsylvania is only 3200 feet at Mount Davis. Located in southern Somerset County, it is near - but not on - both the Forbes and Braddock Roads. Summits along the Forbes Road average about 2700 feet. They are steep, rocky and heavily wooded. Winters are hard. Even the modern road in use today, Route 30, uses switchbacks to get up the steepest parts. Trucks and some cars struggle to get to the top and weather closures are not uncommon. It's hard to imagine the effort it took to cut the original road and then haul everything over it. Mr. Youngblood does a great job giving us a glimpse of that.
Forbes had a force of 6,000 men along with artillery, siege guns, wagons, hundreds of head of livestock, teamsters to tend to them, sutlers, quartermasters and a sizable contingent of women. They sewed, did laundry and helped tend to the sick and wounded. His plan was pretty straightforward. They would do a classic European-style approach march from Carlisle, PA west to Fort Duquesne. Security and march integrity were of the utmost concern. Therefore, along the way, they would build forts at a moderate distance from each other. Smaller fortified camps would be built as needed. Sections of the column would move forward when needed or called. The total distance to be covered was right around 200 miles although the heavy part of the logistics train would only be going about 150. It would be a slow, methodical movement across central Pennsylvania, then up and over the uncharted Allegheny Mountains. On the western side of the mountains, they would establish a strong forward base. There they would re-organize and re-fit the combat elements, then move quickly and decisively to attack Fort Duquesne. The timeline had all this happening before the onset of winter, which in western Pennsylvania usually means late November. At least, that was the plan.
Above all, there would be no repeat of the Braddock debacle. The line of march would be protected. Columns would be guarded. Forts and camps would be manned and defended. Scouts would be out. Supply lines would be patrolled. In the field, trenches and breastworks would be built every night. It was slow, time consuming and absolutely exhausting. Soldiers were dead on their feet and rations were meager. The number of troops needed for security duties alone was in the hundreds. With the benefit of 20/20 historical hindsight, it was probably overdone and greatly slowed the campaign. But nobody could get Braddock's ghost out of their head. It set the tone for the entire war on the frontier.
Forbes and Bouquet met up in Philadelphia in March of 1758. The General remained in the city to plan and deal with the politics. Bouquet began forward staging at Carlisle, PA. In early June, as the force gained strength, they started moving 20 miles west to Shippensburg, PA - a frontier town and the last civilized place they would see for a while. Once they left there, they would truly be in Indian country.
A week later came Fort Loudoun, a wilderness stockade built by Pennsylvania militiamen to protect settlers from Indian raids. Only 25 miles from Shippensburg, it served as a forward command post and supply depot.
On June 24, a little over two weeks after leaving Carlisle, Bouquet and an advanced guard of 800 men entered Raystown, a trading post abandoned during the Indian raids. It had plenty of room, forage for the animals, good water and was located in the eastern foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Bouquet immediately commenced building a fort, storehouses and defenses, naming it Fort Bedford. Units started flowing in and were immediately put to work. Here, they would wait for the entire force to catch up and stage for the move across the mountains. That would take weeks.
This map shows the trace of both the Braddock Road and the Forbes Road, along with forts and posts built on the march. The routes taken by these two roads are still in use today. The Braddock Road became part of Route 40, also called the National Road. It was the first highway built by the federal government and has been in use since 1811. The Forbes Road became part of Route 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway. Opened in 1913, it was the first transcontinental highway for automobiles. It runs from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Before the turnpikes and interstates, these were main east-west thoroughfares. A larger version of this map is available HERE and opens in a new window.
The next thing they had to do was pick a route and there were several options available.
Native Americans had been using paths through the mountains for at least a century. Later came traders and explorers who improved on them or made their own. The old trading post at Raystown was located at or near the junction of several of them. The Raystown Trail was blazed by the Shawnee and ran from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. The Cumberland Trail ran south from Raystown and joined the Braddock Road, which followed the path of the Nemacolin Trail.
After scouting reports and consultations with his staff, Forbes, who was still in Philadelphia, decided on the Raystown route. It was 40 miles shorter, only crossed one river (the peaceful Juniata River at Raystown), had better sources of water and forage along the way and had far fewer ambush sites. It also had none of the stigma attached to anything named Braddock. The downside was they would have to cut a road through virgin hardwood forest on steep slopes and improve it enough to support the movement of thousands of people, animals and wheeled conveyances - in both directions.
However, Forbes kept his route options open. George Washington kept a large contingent of troops 30 miles south at Fort Cumberland. This had been the jumping off point for the Braddock expedition. The Virginians started working on the road just like they were going to use it again. This would give Forbes an alternate route in case the Raystown route didn't work. There was also the possibility of using both routes for a multi-axis advance to Duquesne. Lastly, it might keep the French guessing as to where an attack would come from or fool them altogether.
** Historical footnote: George Washington did not have a high profile for most of the Forbes Expedition. Nevertheless, he made an invaluable contribution to the campaign during the main building phase. He and his Virginians remained at Fort Cumberland and worked vigorously on the Braddock Road. That effort kept the French occupied. They were convinced the attack would come that way and that Washington would lead it. To them, the Forbes Road was a side show. Consequently, they spent most of their time and effort watching Washington instead of Forbes. There were Indians raids and skirmishes. There was a heavy recon effort and ambush positions were prepared all along the route. A main advance along the Braddock Road would have been a very different campaign, with the British having to fight their way in. Washington and his men finally arrived at Loyalhanna in mid-October. The French were right about one thing. He commanded the lead elements on the final push to Fort Duquesne a month later. Like the British army, this was his third attempt to reach The Forks.**
By mid-August, most of the force had gathered at Raystown with another large element commanded by George Washington encamped at Fort Cumberland. Forbes made it to Fort Loudoun. Bouquet already had 1,000 men out building the new road. They alternated 500 men working and 500 providing security. Serious problems were putting the operation and its timetable at risk. The summer was the rainiest in recent memory, turning dirt pathways into mud. Portions of the road had to be rebuilt several times. The supply of stores and equipment were way behind. Rations were slim. There weren't enough horses or wagons. Broken tools couldn't be replaced. The work load was taking a terrible toll on the soldiers. Along with exhaustion and hunger, disease was taking more and more people out of action. Bickering among the units was constant. Whether it was regulars vs colonials, Virginia vs Pennsylvania or something else, someone was always mad. Still, the work continued and the Forbes Road moved steadily into the mountains.
This is a photo of a small part of the beautifully reconstructed Fort Ligonier. It was a formidable installation and the reconstruction is painstakingly accurate. As the forward base for operations against Fort Duquesne, General Forbes ordered the construction of a fortress that could withstand a determined attacker. The French had shown repeatedly over the years that their preferred method of defending Fort Duquesne was to go out and attack the attackers. Forbes meant to be ready for anything before they stepped off for The Forks. You can see construction that was common in most frontier forts of the era. Vertical stockades, horizontal log walls, sharpened stakes (abatis) and multiple defensive belts. There were even more walls and redoubts further out from the fort, but they weren't reconstructed due to space limitations. Fort Ligonier was a hotbed of activity during the French and Indian War and Pontiac's War. It repelled several major attacks and the area around it was the site of numerous skirmishes. After the frontier moved west, it was no longer needed and was abandoned in 1766.
Bouquet sent a 100 man detachment led by Major George Armstrong way ahead of the road builders to recon and mark the route. It was a risky, hair-raising mission going deeper and deeper into enemy territory and leaving tree blazes as a calling card. In early August, Major Armstrong's unit came out of the mountains and into the western foothills about 50 miles east of Fort Duquesne. At a place called Loyalhanna Creek, he found a good spot for an advanced base and sent a courier back to tell Bouquet.
The workload, the pace and the sense of urgency all went into overdrive. The time table was getting shorter and shorter. The weather continued to hamper operations. As they moved further into Indian territory, units were getting strung out and isolated. Tired men were getting careless. Major Armstrong and his men started building defenses at Loyalhanna and hoped the enemy didn't come calling.
Two weeks later, the road builders broke out of the mountains. Although far from finished, there was now an open path over the Alleghenies. Bouquet formed up a 2500 man strike force in Raystown. Their orders were to make an all out run for the new camp and secure the site. Once there, they were to build entrenchments, storehouses and a hospital. General Forbes also asked that they build him a small cabin with a fireplace. By early September, Bouquet was at the site laying out a proper fort. Initially called the Post at Loyalhanna, it was later named Fort Ligonier. Road improvement continued and by mid-September, the rest of the expedition was making its way over the mountains.
Up until now, the entire Forbes expedition was an exercise in engineering, logistics and security. The fact that the approach march had been without significant enemy contact was a tribute to the leadership and organization. The security measures had paid off. For now, Fort Ligonier was the end of the line for the large and ponderous logistics train. They wouldn't see Fort Duquesne until the Union Jack was flying over The Forks. It had taken five months to get to this point. Now, as the leaves started changing color, it would get tactical with surprises for both sides.
From the Fort Ligonier walking tour, an artist's rendering of life at the fort. Contrary to what the history books and Hollywood portray, most of the people and activities at a fort were outside the walls. There simply wasn't enough room inside for everyone and everything. Important functions like the armory and the headquarters were always inside. For everything else, it depended on the location, the tactical situation and the priorities of the fort commander. If attacked, then the fort would fill quickly. Families, livestock, weapons, food, horses, wagons and more would be crammed into the compound. In many cases, settlers came from miles around during times of danger to the safety offered by a fort. These crowded circumstances quickly became unhealthy and couldn't be sustained indefinitely. This painting of Fort Ligonier accurately depicts garrison life and activities around the fort as well as its structure, shape and size.
Forbes' dual route plan worked better than he had hoped. It kept the French guessing. There were large forces at both Raystown and Fort Cumberland and two roads were being built. They weren't sure which one was the main attack axis, so it was wait and see. They probably figured the same thing as a lot of other people. Nobody would be crazy enough to hack a new road over those mountains when there was already an existing road that ran parallel to it only 30 miles to the south. Besides, Fort Cumberland was the start of the Braddock Road and George Washington was in command there. Where else could they be going? When the Forbes column came out of the mountains in force and started building a large fort, Indian scouts were quick to report it. It could only mean one thing. This was the main attack force and their objective was Fort Duquesne.The French had spent significant resources getting ready to defend in the wrong direction.
**Historical footnote: Fort Cumberland was a critical east-west link during the French and Indian War. Built in 1754, it was located on the banks of the Potomac River at the western end of its navigable length. From here, it was overland to The Forks via the Braddock Road. Washington and Braddock both launched their ill-fated missions from here, so it wasn't much of a stretch for the French to think the next attack would come the same way. The Fort is long gone and in its place stands the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in downtown Cumberland, MD. Built in 1851, it is said that there are trenches and tunnels from the fort underneath the church.**
The French commander, Captain Marchand de Lignery, surely knew the game was over. His supplies were almost gone and many of his men were too sick to fight. His native American allies were getting restless and impatient. The prolific raids of the last several years were at an end and the supply of trade goods was just about gone. Thanks to the destruction of Fort Frontenac, there would be no more. Additionally, during the recent rainy summer, the rivers at The Forks had completely flooded Fort Duquesne and it wasn't the first time. During those floods, the French used canoes to evacuate their powder stores and other essential items. Trade goods got left behind, including the whiskey and tobacco. The fort was unstable and literally rotting away.
So what do you do when commanding a small rotting isolated post facing a force 10 times the size of your own? Go on offense. Attack as far forward as possible but don't get sucked into a decisive engagement. Preserve your force. Pick your fights. Inflict casualties. Take scalps. Kill or steal livestock. Prevent intelligence gathering. String it out as long as possible. When things finally get terminal, burn the place down and get out.
That's the way Captain de Lignery planned it. Even though the news from New France was all bad, Lignery was confident. The early defenders of Fort Duquesne had beaten the British twice before by going out and attacking them. In fact, throughout the entire war, the British were outfought in the wilderness. If nothing else, he could string out the British offensive and make them set up in winter quarters before they launched their final attack. Maybe a winter in the snowy, bitter cold Pennsylvania mountains would temper their enthusiasm come spring. Maybe by then, the situation in New France would be better.
From the website of a fellow battlefield fanatic at John's Military History page. An annotated and very accurate schematic drawing of Fort Ligonier. The unit encampments are clearly labeled outside the walls. The arrowhead shaped symbols are external redoubts - strong points that could be quickly occupied and defended. The trace of the Loyalhanna Creek is correct for its time. It was redirected about 200 feet away when Route 30 was built. The road is now where the creek is on the map. When you drive past Fort Ligonier, you literally drive under the pointed abatis of the east battery sitting on top of the cliffs. It was the target of the French night attack on October 12. A full size diagram with more details is HERE and opens in a new window.
It was now late August. Fort Ligonier was a beehive of activity as a small city began to take shape. In wagons, tents and crude huts, all the support needed for a frontier town of 5,000 people was getting started. Blacksmiths, bakeries, kitchens, a hospital, repair shops, gunsmiths, mercantiles and more all sprang up outside the gates. Construction was non-stop. Road building continued. Couriers went back and forth to Raystown and beyond. Hunting, fishing and gathering parties ranged for miles. Livestock grazed all over the place. The tight highly managed expedition was now all spread out, creating lots of soft, easy targets. Now that he knew the British scheme, Captain de Lignery unleashed his Indian raiders.
The Indians didn't have to be told twice. Many had already left for home instead of waiting around for some action. Raiding a British fort held the promise of a last haul before winter. It wasn't like the old days, but it would have to do.
The first raids hit at about the same time Lt. Col. Bouquet arrived at Fort Ligonier in early September. When the Indians saw the size of the fort and the force occupying it, they confined their mayhem to the surrounding territory. As a result, the assaults were small and isolated but deadly to those caught up in them. Hunters got picked off along with people at the grazing fields. Horses and cattle were stolen. Out lying structures were burned. Captives were taken. Harassing fire was directed at the fort itself. The area around Loyalhanna became quite dangerous and it had quite an effect on the garrison. When Bouquet arrived, he found the whole fort in a state of panic. Work wasn't getting done. Movement and activity were way down. Instead of planning the assault on Fort Duquesne, he was dealing with fear and anxiety that was sapping morale and fighting spirit. The raids continued for several days, then ceased. Bouquet decided it was time to fight fire with fire.
September 14, 1758. The Battle of Grant's Hill was very one-sided, as the British showed yet again that they were not proficient in fast moving, close in wilderness fighting. Grant lost almost 400 of his 800 men and himself was taken prisoner. French losses were in single digits. The area where the battle was fought is now in the middle of the "Golden Triangle" in downtown Pittsburgh. It has been called Grant's Hill since the earliest days of the city. The site of the heaviest fighting is now the location of the Allegheny County Courthouse built in 1884.
Lt. Col. Bouquet was not happy. Here they were getting ready to attack the largest French bastion on the colonial frontier and the whole force was cowering because of a couple of dozen Indians roaming around the countryside. Throughout the entire war, it was taken as gospel that Anglo attempts to operate in Indian territory were tantamount to suicide. The expedition had to re-take the offensive and establish the freedom of movement needed to complete their mission. They also needed hard information on the objective. He decided to send a raiding party of his own to Fort Duquesne.
The officer selected to lead it was Major James Grant, an officer with Montgomerie's Highlanders. Grant was a bad tempered and impatient Scotsman who was tired of building roads. In his view, it was time to fight. Although he had been in the army since 1744, he had no wilderness fighting experience. Nevertheless, he convinced Bouquet that they should go big with a large force of several hundred men - conducting what the military calls a "reconnaissance-in-force". They left Loyalhanna on September 9 with 800 men - about 400 highlanders and 400 militia troops. Their orders were to create as much mayhem as possible around the fort without getting trapped in an all out battle, take prisoners and bring back detailed information on the fort.
Grant planned and executed his movement well. They traveled light and carried everything in their haversacks. Noise and light discipline were strictly enforced. No fires at night. Barking dogs encountered along the way were killed. On September 13, they reached a hill several hundred yards away from the fort. They had gotten there undetected. Grant estimated there were 200 defenders and no sign of any Indians. He decided to attack the fort. His plan was to decoy the defenders out and ambush them in the open with a bigger force. Another section would be held in reserve further up the hill. Fifty Virginia militia troops were left further back to guard the packs. Some militia officers advised against the plan. Grant, who was openly contemptuous of colonial units, brushed them off.
The Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh sits on the site of the Battle of Grant's Hill.
At 0700 on September 14, 1758, the French defenders of Fort Duquesne were greeted by an unbelievable sight. One hundred Scottish Highlanders, kilts and all, were marching towards the front gate to the music of bagpipes. The gates opened and defenders came rushing out while Indians came running up from the river banks where they were encamped unseen. Grant's estimated 200 defenders inside the fort quickly became 500 swarming all over them with more on the way from across the Allegheny River.
The decoy force was overwhelmed almost immediately. While that brief action was going on, other defenders went down to the rivers, ran along the banks and came up above and behind the rest of Grant's force. The whole attack plan fell apart and desperation set in so the British used what they knew - European linear tactics. On the heavily timbered hillside, they tried to form up in ranks and volley fire.
It was right out of the Braddock playbook. Grant was on the verge of a completely successful mission when he got stupid. All up and down the hill, groups of British soldiers were surrounded and cut to pieces by an enemy they couldn't see or defend against. Some of the British broke and ran for the "safety" of the river, where they became targets of the Indians. In a panic, some soldiers rushed headlong into the water and drowned. The only reason Grant's force wasn't completely annihilated is because the Virginians guarding the packs came forward and counterattacked. It bought enough time and space for survivors to bug out.
Of the 800 men who left Fort Ligonier, only 400 came back. The rest were dead or captured, with wounded men dying on the retreat. Grant himself was taken prisoner. It was a complete disaster and the very thing that Forbes and Bouquet had sworn would never happen on their watch. They still had no hard intelligence other than what survivors told them. They painted a picture of an impregnable fortress with thousands of defenders.
The campaign had suffered an enormous setback. Bouquet was livid, especially since he had not told Forbes about the mission. At this point, most people would have set up camp for the winter and picked up the campaign in the spring. Forbes, who still hadn't made it to Loyalhanna, was determined to finish the job before that. He probably knew he wouldn't live that long. He also had an ace up his sleeve that he was about to throw down.
**Historical footnote: The courthouse was built in 1884 and has been in continuous use ever since. In 1901, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a commemorative plaque on the outside of the building. Inside the lobby is an elaborate mural painted in the 1930's depicting the battle. The area around the courthouse is still called Grant's Hill. The hill itself was bulldozed flat in 1912 to allow for development. The first floor of the courthouse that you see in the picture was originally the basement.**
Missionaries were the unsung heroes of the colonial wars. Often traveling alone, they acted as emissaries and negotiators as well as spreading the word of God. All this was undertaken at great personal risk, for death by torture awaited those who didn't connect with the Indians. In this painting by Robert Griffing called "Welcome to Logstown", the arrival of a missionary in the midst of an Indian village creates quite a stir. This scene would have been repeated when Moravian missionary Christian Frederick Post arrived in villages and councils to negotiate for General Forbes, trying to convince the Indians to abandon their long-time French allies. Post spoke several Indian languages and had circulated among them for years. Even with those advantages, this was one risky undertaking. A single misstep among the Indians would have been fatal. The French would have gladly killed him, but that might have enraged the Indians. They had to wait it out. Post was successful in his efforts, which seriously degraded French military operations and paved the way for victory at Fort Duquesne. General Forbes later wrote, "Post was worth another regiment of men".
Part of Forbes' strategy all along for Fort Duquesne was to separate the French from their Native American allies. Without the Indians, the French couldn't hope to stand up to the British. He had been working on it for months and those efforts were paying off. A treaty was in the works and native American tribes were already beginning to leave the French. The British offer was this. If the Indians would abandon the French and at least remain neutral, the British (after winning the war, of course) would return their lands, withdraw all troops and allow no white settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains.
It seemed too good to be true (and it was). Nevertheless, it was clear the French weren't going to win the war and being an Indian on the losing side did not bode well for the future. The Indian nations, tired of fighting and hoping to back a winner, accepted.The Treaty of Easton was signed on October 26, 1758 in Easton, PA, near Philadelphia. It was signed by representatives from 13 eastern native American tribes and the British governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Even before the treaty was signed, Forbes was working to break up the Indians and the French. During the fall of 1758, a Moravian missionary named Christian Frederick Post agreed to help Forbes communicate his entreaties to the Indians. Post had good relationships with them and spoke their languages. After the Grant disaster, Post was in the Ohio River Valley negotiating with the Delaware and the Shawnee. He even talked to them outside the gates of Fort Duquesne itself. He was successful and by late October, the French found themselves with fewer and fewer Indian allies. In just weeks and at great risk to himself, Post had done more harm to the French in North America than the entire British army had done in four years.
The raids on Ligonier stopped and Fort Duquesne was hanging on by their fingernails. Forbes and Bouquet didn't know that and were still pondering their actions against an objective they believed was many times stronger than it was. They were also concerned about the training level and fighting ability of their soldiers, who had not fared well in recent fights. Back at Fort Duquesne, Captain de Lignery was planning to give them even more to worry about.
John Buxton is another historical artist with a great interest in this era of American history. In this painting, French soldiers are dropping packs and preparing for their attack on Fort Ligonier, which is visible in the background. You can clearly see the rows and rows of white tents, which is where the attacks will soon concentrate. Mr. Buxton's works are very detailed and accurate.
By October, the French had resigned themselves to the loss of Fort Duquesne. It was falling apart and its supplies were gone. The Indians who had done most of the fighting were leaving in droves. Captain de Lignery was ordered to evacuate his cannon and powder stores to other French units. He was also directed to destroy everything and abandon the fort when the British started closing in - whenever that might be.
General Forbes could have taken it any time in the fall of 1758, but the Grant's Hill disaster had him spooked. The best information he had was that there were several thousand defenders at Fort Duquesne. The French had a nasty habit of carrying the fight to the British outside the fort - Fort Necessity, Braddock's Defeat, Grant's Hill. For all he knew, those defenders could show up at Fort Ligonier at any time, deciding the fate of the campaign there instead of The Forks.
Forbes was taking no chances, ordering that the strongest possible fortifications be built before they headed for Fort Duquesne. The Indian raids had been over for six weeks and a sense of normalcy and security returned to the growing garrison. Fort Ligonier was now a formidable bastion with 18 artillery pieces and multiple defensive rings. The supply lines over the new road were running at full tilt. The fort was surrounded by tent cities, corrals, grazing areas and logistical support facilities. Some of these were over a mile away and offered soft easy targets. Strong, freestanding redoubts had been built to provide protection outside the walls.
Captain de Lignery knew all this because he had the fort under constant surveillance. He still believed that he could stall the British until spring. They had been sitting there for weeks and had not fought well in recent engagements. He hoped to wreck their timetable by attacking Fort Ligonier with his entire remaining garrison of 450 soldiers and 150 Indians.
The attack force was led by Captain Charles Aubry, a very savvy and experienced wilderness fighter. Aubry had led the defenders of Fort Duquesne on the end run that surrounded Major Grant's soldiers a month earlier. It took them a week to move to the fort and another week to recon and plan their attack. At no time were they detected by the British defenders.
On Thursday, October 12, General Forbes and Lt. Col. Bouquet were both in Raystown. Colonel James Burd of the Pennsylvania militia was in temporary command at Fort Ligonier. Around noon, there was sporadic firing at one of the outer grazing areas. Burd sent a small patrol to investigate and they soon came running back after encountering a much larger French force. Burd mustered a 500 man reaction force and sent them to deal with it. They too came running back. About this time, the wood line all around the fort erupted in gunfire. Small groups of attackers swooped into the tent cities burning, slashing and scalping their way through them. Entire battalions were upended. Captain Aubry had caught the British flat-footed and they were all running for the safety of the fort's walls.
From the Fort Ligonier walking tour. October 12, 1758. The French attack on Fort Ligonier wrecked all the outer camps and sent over 2,000 British soldiers scrambling to the shelter of the stockade. For 24 hours, Captain Aubry's men probed, sniped and looted. When they left, they took everything they could ride or carry and destroyed the rest.
British artillery opened fire, keeping the French at bay. However, they spent the next 24 hours harassing the fort. They burned, wrecked and looted everything they could, often within full view of the garrison. On the night of the 12th, they attempted a night attack on the eastern redoubt, which was repulsed. The rest of the long terrifying night was filled with artillery fire, gun shots and the dreaded "scalp halloos" of the Indians who were lurking all around them.
The raiders also ambushed a hapless supply column arriving at the fort, taking cattle and other badly needed supplies. Throughout all this, Forbes' army sat inside the walls of Fort Ligonier and did nothing. Artillery carried the day (and the night). When the French quit the attack the next morning, they took with them every horse, cow, chicken and goat at Fort Ligonier along with weapons, loot and an unknown number of captives. What they couldn't carry they destroyed. Then they all rode away on horseback and were back at Fort Duquesne two days later.
The French reported light casualties in their reports - 2 dead and seven wounded. All were taken back to Fort Duquesne. They also reported taking over 100 scalps. The British reported light casualties - less than 100 total - but that number seems low. Regardless, it was another damaging blow to the campaign. The French had made fools of the British army once again.
When Bouquet returned, Colonel Burd proudly relayed to him that they had successfully repulsed a major attack against the fort with light casualties. Bouquet interpreted otherwise and said so in a letter to General Forbes in which he wrote,
"...this enterprise, which should have cost the enemy dearly, shows a great deal of contempt for us, and the behavior of our troops in the woods justifies their idea only too well."
An annotated Google Earth view of The Forks. Now part of Point State Park, the original outline of Fort Duquesne is clearly visible. The building with the blue roof is the Fort Pitt Museum. It is built on the location and in the shape of one of Fort Pitt's five bastions. Fort Duquesne was puny in comparison. The French never had any intentions of fighting a siege-type battle at The Forks. The plan all along was to destroy it and head upriver if the British ever got that far.
General Forbes finally arrived at Loyalhanna on November 2, riding on a litter carried between two horses. The expedition was entering its final phase and major decisions had to be made. The most important one was whether to attack Fort Duquesne now or wait until spring.
The campaign had big problems. Winter was just around the corner. In fact, across the continent every major British force had already ceased campaigning and hunkered down in winter quarters. Forbes was the only one active. They still had no hard intelligence about the objective and were operating under the assumption that it was many times stronger than it really was. Under that assumption, one had to conclude that the prospects for a successful attack were not good.
The Forbes expedition had done a masterful job of getting this far. They had done what most considered impossible or crazy - hack a new road over the Allegheny Mountains and make it work. They built a fortress from nothing and with it, a small city of 5,000 people. Additionally, Forbes had successfully separated the French from their Indian allies. It was a marvel of numbers, logistics and power politics but his army had yet to prove they could fight. The French had beaten them badly in every engagement thus far and even threw in a Braddock-style defeat for good measure. The odds that they could move the last 50 miles to The Forks, lay siege to Fort Duquesne and capture it by storm before the onset of winter were not good.
General Forbes held a council of war at Fort Ligonier on November 11 to make the final decision. After considering all options and possibilities, he decided to suspend the campaign until spring. The next day, he changed his mind.
The French, on the other hand, weren't suspending anything. Ever on the offensive, they were lurking around the fort as usual. On November 12, the day after the war council, a 20 man French patrol ran into a British patrol about three miles from Loyalhanna, where Idlewild Amusement Park now stands. As usual, the French immediately went into the attack. As usual, the British ran back to the fort.
Forbes sent two groups of soldiers totaling 500 men out to the skirmish site. They were led Colonels John Mercer and George Washington. They left separately and converged on the site by slightly different routes. When they came within sight, both groups opened fire - on each other - thinking the other was the enemy. The French fired on both groups.
On horseback, Washington galloped between the two lines yelling to cease fire and knocking muskets aside with his sword. Despite his hazardous position, he escaped without a scratch, as usual. When the smoke cleared, 20 British were dead and a like number wounded. It could have been worse if their marksmanship weren't so bad. The encounter demonstrated once again that the British were inept and ineffective in wilderness warfare. It seemed that Forbes was vindicated in his decision. However, the British took several prisoners in this encounter and one of them had a very interesting story to tell.
The last of Nat Youngblood's six paintings of the French and Indian War. General Forbes was terminally ill and barely able to function, but he would not be denied a look at his prize. Here at the gates of a mangled Fort Duquesne, he writes dispatches to his superiors. A week later, he left for Philadelphia riding on a litter between two horses. The 300 mile journey at the height of winter took six painful and miserable weeks. He arrived in mid-January and was dead two months later at age 51.
His name was Richard Johnson. He was an Englishman serving with the French. How that came to be has been lost to history, but he was given a choice. Tell us everything you know about Fort Duquesne - and don't even think about lying to us - or die a slow and painful death. Johnson sang like a bird and his information completely changed the campaign.
According to Johnson, there was no impregnable position with over a thousand defenders at The Forks. The fort was falling apart. The Indians were gone. The cannons were gone. The supplies were gone. There were fewer than 200 defenders left and they were eating their horses to survive. Preparations were being made to destroy the fort at the approach of the British.
Forbes ordered an immediate march on Fort Duquesne. The vanguard was led by George Washington. They had to cut a road the rest of the way to The Forks to accommodate wagons and artillery. With no Indians to worry about and victory in the air, they worked with a frenzy. Ten days later, they established their last camp only 10 miles from the objective and waited for the rest of the army. In the meantime, ever mindful of the Braddock and Grant disasters, British scouts went over the entire last 10 miles with a fine toothed comb to make sure there were no surprises. There was one. They found the bleached bones of Braddock's dead lying where they had fallen over three years earlier.
On November 25, French scouts reported the massive British force was within a half day's march of the fort. Captain de Lignery pulled the plug. During the day, British scouts reported seeing columns of smoke coming from the area of the fort. Later that night, there was a huge explosion that rocked and lit up the countryside for miles. The burning fort had set off the 80 barrels of gunpowder left behind for just that purpose.
The Forbes expedition rode up to the remains of Fort Duquesne on the cold, blustery morning of November 26. Not a shot was fired. All that was left standing were iron works and chimneys. Everything else was in ashes. Having already discovered Braddock's bones, other gruesome scenes awaited them. A short distance away on the side of Grant's Hill lay the scalped, mutilated and decomposing bodies of Major Grant's men. The worst of it was found by the river. On long rows of pointed stakes, they found the heads and kilts of highlanders captured in the Battle of Grant's Hill. Victory and relief turned to rage and revenge, but there was nothing to be done except bury them. Such was the nature of frontier warfare.
**Historical footnote: The officer assigned to bury Braddock's dead was Major Francis Halkett. His father and brother, Colonel and Lieutenant Halkett, were killed fighting next to each other with their regiment at Braddock's Defeat. Major Halkett, who was Braddock's adjutant, survived the battle along with George Washington. They became close friends. The Major found the remains of his family members and they were respectfully buried at an undisclosed spot. The rest of the remains were buried in a mass grave, which has never been found. Historians believe it's under the giant Edgar Thomson Steel Works, which covers much of the Braddock battlefield.**
Now that they had taken The Forks, they had to keep it. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the French would be back in force. After the dead were buried, work immediately began on a new fort. Forbes christened it Fort Pitt. It became a huge, heavily fortified stronghold that took two years to build. It anchored British operations in the west for a decade. The town that grew up around it came to be called Pittsburgh.
After eight months, General Forbes had Fort Duquesne. It was an ugly win, not the glorious outcome he had envisioned. European tactics failed him but European logistics, movement and manpower won the day. There's an old saying that goes, "Ya dance with the one that brung ya". The British were never going to be a wilderness army. Twenty years later in the Revolutionary War, they still weren't. Forbes was resolute and stuck to his plan. He played to the British strengths which won out in the end. For that, he deserves a lot of credit.
The history books tend to make short work of the capture of Fort Duquesne. Usually squeezed into a few paragraphs, they simply recite the basics. It was a French fort. The British attacked it with a large force and the French surrendered. Now it's called Pittsburgh. Well, yes and no. The final capture of Fort Duquesne was the culminating event of a campaign against The Forks that lasted almost five years - from early 1754 to late 1758. The French mounted a spirited and effective defense until the bitter end. They outfought the British at every turn and ultimately denied them the satisfaction of a resounding victory. It was, however, celebrated as a great victory throughout the colonies and back in England. General Forbes was lauded as a hero. At long last, the ghost of Braddock had been banished and The Forks belonged to the British. It was the beginning of the end for New France.
A drawing showing the relative positions and sizes of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt. The center area of Fort Duquesne was about the size of a tennis court. When finished, Fort Pitt enclosed 17 acres with five bastions. It was enormous. The Fort Pitt Museum was designed and built to simulate one of the bastions. (See the building with the blue roof two pictures up.) There's nothing left of Fort Duquesne, although construction workers occasionally come across artifacts. The only part of Fort Pitt left is "The Blockhouse". It's a stone redoubt built in 1764 outside the main walls to add defense in depth. It was one of five built and the only one left. The Blockhouse has a long and colorful history which you can read about HERE.
The fall of Fort Duquesne did not end the battle for control of The Forks. Even as Forbes was planning his defenses, the French were planning for their return. They were only 80 miles up the Allegheny River at Fort Machault. Both sides worked through the winter. By spring, Captain de Lignery and Captain Aubry had assembled a force of 2,000 soldiers and Indians supported by gunboats to attack the 400 defenders of a partially completed Fort Pitt. In fact, advance operations had already started. French and Indians raids swooped down on the Forbes Road once again, drastically curtailing the crucial traffic to Fort Pitt. There was even another attack on Fort Ligonier, which was repulsed.
In early July, de Lignery was ready to go when he received an urgent change of orders. Instead of attacking Fort Pitt, he was move his army 175 miles north to Fort Niagara. Located where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario below Niagara Falls, it was the linchpin of the entire French fort system. Under relentless British siege, it was in imminent danger of falling. Reluctantly, he complied. On July 24, 1759, only two miles from Fort Niagara, the hunters became the hunted. De Lignery's force blundered into a prepared battalion-sized British ambush reinforced with newly allied Iroquois warriors. In the ensuing Battle of Le Belle Famille, the French force was decimated. Captain Aubry was taken prisoner and Captain de Lignery was killed.
During this same week, the British again moved against Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) in upstate New York and this time they did it right. The French abandoned the fort after General Amherst got artillery on the high ground that overlooked it.
Fort Niagara and Fort Carillon surrendered within 24 hours of each other on July 26 and 27, 1759. This ended the immediate threat to The Forks and sealed the victory at Fort Duquesne. The French abandoned all their outlying forts and consolidated at Quebec and Montreal. A year later, the fall of Montreal in August 1760 effectively ended the French and Indian War. The larger Seven Years War continued outside of North America until 1763 and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The French gave up all claims to New France, which became the British Commonwealth nation of Canada.
The Treaty of Easton came back to haunt the British big time. After the fall of Montreal, the French ceased military operations in North America. Between 1760 and 1763, while the rest of the world was still fighting, the British were consolidating and governing their new territory. The Indian nations began to settle into their promised homes and hunting grounds. Almost immediately, white settlers started swarming west through Pennsylvania, into Ohio and beyond. Even though such activity was forbidden by the Treaty of Easton, the pent up demand for land and resources could not be contained. The British Crown, deeply in debt from the war, needed the commerce revenue and looked the other way. Meanwhile, the British continued to militarize the entire region. Fort Pitt became the largest fort in North America, enclosing 17 acres and growing as was the new city of Pittsburgh. To make matters worse, British administrators and bureaucrats were tone deaf. They made no attempt to establish rapport with the native tribes, which the French had done quite effectively. The Indians could only watch and seethe as their worst case scenario unfolded. Tensions skyrocketed throughout the region. Only three months after the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War, the American frontier exploded again in Pontiac's War. The Forks, Fort Pitt, Fort Ligonier, Forbes' Road, Braddock's Road and Lt. Col. Henri Bouquet would all be right in the middle of it.
The Great Lakes, the northern border region and areas of New York and Pennsylvania would become battlegrounds again in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. There would also be major Indian uprisings, especially Pontiac's War, which would threaten Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier again in just a few years. It would be another 50 years before one could travel safely and peacefully in the areas where the French and Indian War was fought.
General John Forbes left Fort Duquesne on December 4, headed for Philadelphia. Too ill to ride or even sit up, he rode on a litter rigged between two horses. The 300 mile journey took six miserable, painful weeks in the dead of winter. The illness, which has never been identified, was relentless. He died in Philadelphia on March 11, 1759 at the age of 51. He's buried at the Christ Church Burial Ground just two blocks north of Independence Hall .
Lt. Col. Henri Bouquet remained on the frontier for several more years. He supervised the construction of Fort Pitt and was its first commander. In 1763, he had a significant role in Pontiac's War. In August of that year, he was in command of a column marching to relieve Fort Pitt, which was cut off and under siege by hostiles. Near a way station on the Forbes Road called Bushy Run, he defeated a large Indian force in the last major battle of the conflict. Promoted to Brigadier General in April, 1765, he was assigned command of Britain's new southern territories, headquartered in Pensacola, Florida. He arrived there in August and almost immediately went down with yellow fever. He died on September 2, 1765 at age 46 and is buried in St. Micheal's Cemetery in Pensacola. His exact resting place there is unmarked and unknown, lost to history, urban development and the elements.
Major James Grant spent a year as a POW in Quebec before being released in a prisoner exchange. He blamed the colonial soldiers for his defeat at Fort Duquesne and was never held accountable. Between wars, he served as a governor of Florida and a member of Parliament. While there, he advocated strong repressive measures against the American colonies. He returned to active duty in 1775 and went to Boston just before the outbreak of the American Revolution. He successfully filled both staff and command roles throughout the war and was involved in major campaigns in New York and Massachusetts. Rotated home in 1779, he returned to Parliament and served there until 1802. He died at his Scottish estate in April 1806 at age 86 and is buried there.
Captain Charles Aubry proved himself a superb combat leader in both Europe and North America. He was taken prisoner at Fort Niagara and spent a year as a POW. Released in a prisoner exchange, he returned to French territory in Louisiana where he had started his colonial military service in 1750. He served in various military and political posts during his time there. In 1765, he was appointed interim Governor when the current one died in office. The 50 year old Aubry was returning home to France in February 1770 when his ship got swept up in a storm and dashed against the rocks just off the coast of Bordeaux. He was killed and his body was never recovered.
Captain Francois le Marchand de Lignery, the commander of Fort Duquesne facing the Forbes expedition, was also an exceptional battle-tested leader. A career officer in the French colonial army ("troupes de la marine"), he saw combat against Indian and European foes in North America for 30 years. He was killed in action on July 24, 1759 at the Battle of Le Belle Famille just outside of Fort Niagara. He was 56. His burial place is unknown.
Major General James Abercrombie was a one trick pony. His place in history is defined solely by the disaster at Ticonderoga. For his appalling leadership there, he was recalled to England, promoted to Lt. General and became a member of Parliament for 20 years. There he became a leading voice for strong repressive measures against the insolent and ungrateful American colonies. He died at his Scottish estate in April 1781 at age 75 and is buried there.
This is where it happened. You can do a very nice walking tour from the point over to the courthouse at Grant's Hill and back around to the point. You can either walk on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which follows the waterfront or take the urban route through the central business district. There are shops and great places to eat, especially at Market Square. The entire round trip will be about two miles.
Two hundred sixty six years and five Super Bowl rings later, Pittsburgh is still going strong.
I am a native son of Pennsylvania, born and raised in the areas described on this page. In other pages I have authored, I have often said that Pennsylvania is one big museum. All you have to do is drive down almost any road, keep your eyes peeled and you'll find history. That goes double for Pittsburgh. This is no longer the smoky city I grew up near.
Part of that process of urban renewal was to draw attention to all the historical resources you can find there. The epicenter of all that is the Fort Duquesne/Fort Pitt sites at Point State Park. The Fort Pitt Museum and the Fort Pitt blockhouse are right there. The John Heinz History Center is just a few blocks away.
Grant Street, which runs in front of the courthouse, has been named one of the 10 Great Streets by the American Planning Association. Running for 10 blocks between the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, it forms the base of an urban triangle that is Pittsburgh's central business district. On Grant Street, you'll find some of the oldest, newest and tallest buildings in the city. It's worth a stroll just to see it.
From downtown, you can easily connect with the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.You can also tour the rivers on the Gateway Clipper.
Natasha and I like to hunt geocaches, munzees, benchmarks and letterboxes. We also obsessively collect National Park Service passport stamps. There's plenty of all that to keep us busy in downtown Pittsburgh at The Point and along the three rivers.
Of course, if it looks this, you might want to come back another day.
If you get tired of the urban scene, you're 90 minutes or less from Fort Ligonier, Fort Necessity, Jumonville Glen and Bushy Run Battlefield. If you're in a hurry, you can see all of them in a day. You can do road trips along the Forbes Road and Braddock's Road, which both have large numbers of historical markers and turnouts. While you're running around out there in the mountains, you can swing by the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site. When you finish that, you'll still have time to visit the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.
Historical markers for all these places and more can be found in the Historical Marker Data Base at hmdb.org. You can scout an area and even make maps. It's a great way to do some advance work before heading out to explore.
Anyway, you get the idea. There's lots to see and do and you don't have to worry about getting scalped - unless you're buying Steelers tickets out in the parking lot on game day.
I hope you enjoyed the Fort Duquesne page. Feed back is always welcome.
Adios until next time ... Boris and