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History - Frontier Forts

The Fall of Fort Duquesne

The command of the expedition against Duquesne was given to Brig. Gen. John Forbes. His force amounted to about seven thousand men, consisting of twelve hundred Highlanders, three hundred and fifty Royal Americans, two thousand seven hundred Provincials from Pennsylvania, one hundred from Delaware (then called the Lower Counties), one thousand six hundred from Virginia, two hundred and fifty from Maryland, one hundred and fifty from North Carolina, and about one thousand wagoners and laborers. The twelve hundred Highlanders were divided into four companies, and the three hundred and fifty Royal Americans into four companies also.

It had been determined, after some dissent among the officers against the protestations of the Virginians, that the route of the expedition from Philadelphia should be through Pennsylvania; but the final decision as to this route was not reached until the advance of the army had arrived at Raystown, (Bedford) ; and it was finally so determined on the earnest representations and requests of Colonel Bouquet, who was satisfied from a military point of view, of the expediency of this route; in which view he was encouraged by the Pennsylvanians. The Virginians wanted the expedition to go out by way of the Braddock road.

Forbes could not keep up with the army on account of his illness. The advance under Bouquet was making its way over the Laurel Hill when Forbes was between Carlisle and Shippensburg. When the Loyalhanna, at the western base of the Laurel Hill, was reached, a fortified camp was formed and a fort was erected called Fort Ligonier. The position was secured by strong works of ample extent.

Instead of marching like Braddock, at one stretch to Fort Duquesne, burdened with a long and cumbrous baggage-train, it was the plan of Forbes to push on by slow stages, establishing fortified magazines as he went, and at last, when within easy distance of the fort, to advance upon it with all his force. It was, therefore, his purpose to gather all the army about this point at the Loyalhanna preparatory to making another step forward.

Before the arrival of Forbes at the Loyalhanna, Bouquet had sent out Major Grant, of the Highland regiment, with thirty-seven officers, and eight hundred and five privates, to reconnoitre the fort and adjacent country. His instructions were to approach not too near the Fort, and in no event to take the risk of an attack.

Grant camped the first day on the banks of the Nine Mile Run, ten miles west of the camp on the Loyalhanna ; the second day he proceeded further, and on the third, to within twelve or thirteen miles of the Fort. Although the French and Indians were constantly watching the movements of the army, yet Grant succeeded in coming within sight of the Fort, after marching near fifty miles without being discovered.

The detachment halted here until three o'clock in the afternoon. The troops then quietly marched to a point about two miles from the Fort, where they left their baggage under charge of Captain Bullitt, two subalterns, and fifty men. It was already dark, and late in the night, Major Grant appeared with his troops at the brow of the fatal hill which still bears his name, between the two rivers, about a quarter of a mile from the fort.

From the apparent stillness of the enemy's quarters, and from not having met with either French or Indians on the march, Major Grant supposed that the forces in the fort must be comparatively small, and at once determined to make an attack. Two officers and fifty men were accordingly directed to approach the fort and fall upon the French and Indians that might be lying out, if not in too great number. They saw none nor were they challenged by the sentinels. As they returned they set fire to a large storehouse, but the fire was discovered and extinguished. At break of day Major Lewis was sent with two hundred men, principally American regulars and Virginian volunteers, to take post about half a mile back, and lie in ambush in the road on which they had left their baggage, under the pretension of fears that the enemy would make a bold attempt to capture it. But the secret was-that Major Grant who was jealous of Major Lewis, wished to have the glory of capturing an enemy who had so signally repulsed General Braddock, with his thousands.

Four hundred men were posted along the hill facing the fort, to cover the retreat of Captain McDonald's company, who marched with drums beating toward the enemy, in order to draw a party out of the fort; as Major Grant believed that there were not two hundred men including Indians in the garrison.

As soon as the garrison were aroused from their slumbers by the music of the invaders, both French and Indians sallied out in great numbers to the attack. Their whole force immediately separated into three divisions. The first two were sent directly under cover of the banks of the river to surround the main body under Major Grant; the third was delayed awhile to give the others time, and then displayed themselves before the fort, as if exhibiting their whole strength.

The attack then commenced, and Captain McDonald was immediately obliged to fall back upon the main body, and Major Grant received and returned a most destructive tire. At this moment he suddenly found himself flanked on all sides by the detachments from the banks of the river. The struggle became desperate. The Provincial troops concealing themselves behind trees made a good defense, but the Highlanders who stood exposed to the enemy's fire without cover, fell in great numbers, and at last gave way and fled. The Provincials, not being supported and being overpowered by numbers were compelled to follow.

Major Grant retreating to the baggage where Captain Bulitt was posted with his forty Virginians, again endeavored to rally the flying soldiers. He entreated them in the most pathetic manner to stand by him, but in vain, as the enemy was close at their heels. As soon as the enemy came up, Captain Bullitt attacked them with great fury for awhile, but not being supported and most of his men killed, he was obliged to give way. The resistance shown by this little company served to check the pursuers, and gave an opportunity to many retreating to make their escape. Major Grant and Captain Bulitt were the last to desert the field. They separated, and Major Grant was taken prisoner.

In this conflict, which took place on the 14th of September, 1758, two hundred and seventy were killed, forty-two wounded and several taken prisoners. It was, says Washington, in a letter to the Governor of Virginia, "A very illconcerted, or a very ill-executed plan, perhaps both; but it seems to be generally acknowledged, that Major Grant execeeded his orders and that no disposition was made for engaging."

The French had always depended on the aid of the Indians to hold this place. But it was the custom of the Indians, after a battle, whether successful or not, to go home. Colonel James Smith, at that time a prisoner who had been adopted into one of their tribes, in his very valuable narrative, says, that after the defeat of Grant, the Indians held a council, but were divided in their opinions. Some said that General Forbes would now turn back, and go home the way that he came, as Dunbar had done when Braddock was defeated-others supposed that he would come on. The French urged the Indians to stay and see the event; but as it was hard for the Indians to be absent from their squaws and children at this season of the year, a great many returned home to their hunting. After this, the remainder of the Indians, some French regulars, and a great number of Canadians, marched off in quest of General Forbes. They met his army near Fort Ligonier, and attacked them, but were frustrated in their designs. They said that Forbes' men were beginning to learn the art of war and that there were a great number of American riflemen along with the red coats who scattered out, took trees, and were good marksmen; therefore they found they could not accomplish their designs, and were obliged to retreat. When they returned from the battle to Fort Duquesne, the Indians concluded they would go to their hunting. The French endeavored to persuade them to stay and try another battle. The Indians said if it was only the red coats they had to do with, they could soon subdue them, but they could not withstand Ashalecoa, or the Great Knife, which was the name they gave the Virginians.

These things, however were unknown to the English. The whole army of Forbes having at length arrived at the Loyalhanna, went into quarters, and as the season was now advancing rapidly it was the intention to remain there during the winter. The fate of Braddock was ever before the eyes of Forbes and his men; and it was distinctly within the remembrance of some, chief among whom was Washington. The knowledge of the actual condition of affairs having reached Forbes, he concluded, late as it was, to advance. On the 13th of November, Colonel Armstrong with one thousand men was sent forward to assist Colonel Washington in opening the road. On the 17th General Forbes followed. He had no opposition in his march, although as the weather was extremely disagreeable, being rainy and chilly, and the road having to be cut as the army proceeded, his progress was necessarily slow. The wagons and all the artillery, except a few light pieces, were left behind. The force consisted of two thousand five hundred picked men who marched without tents or baggage, and burdened only with knapsacks and blankets. In addition to them were the force of Pioneers, and the wagoners and provincials engaged on the roads. Friendly Indians were kept out as scouts, and the greatest vigilance was exercised to avoid surprise. Washington and Colonel Armstrong had opened a way by cutting a road to within a day's march of the fort. On the evening of the 24th, the detachment encamped among the hills of Turtle Creek. That night they were informed by one of the Indian scouts, that he had discovered a cloud of smoke above the fort, and soon after another came with certain intelligence that it was burnt and abandoned by the enemy. A troop of horse was sent forward immediately to extinguish the burning. At midnight the men on guard heard a dull and heavy sound booming over the western woods. In the morning the march was resumed, the strong advance guard leading the way. Forbes came next carried in his litter and the troops followed in three parallel columns, the Highlanders in the center under Montgomery, their Colonel, and the Royal Americans and Provincials on the right and left, under Bouquet and Washington. Thus, guided by the tap of the drum, at the head of each column, they moved slowly through the forest, over damp, fallen leaves, crisp with frost, beneath an endless entanglement of bare gray twigs, that sighed and moaned in the bleak November wind. It was dusk when they emerged upon the open plain and saw Fort Duquesne before them, with the background of wintry hills beyond the Monongehela and Allegheny.

The following incident, among others which occurred on the day of the taking possession of this place by General Forbes, was related on the authority of a Captain commanding a company of provincials on that day:

"Upon their arrival at Fort Duquesne, they entered upon an Indian race path, upon each side of which a number of stakes, with the bark peeled off, were stuck into the earth, and upon each stake was fixed the head and kilt of a Highlander who had been killed or taken prisoner, at Grant's defeat.

"The Provincials, being front, obtained the first view of these horrible spectacles, which it may readily be believed, excited no very kindly feelings in their breasts. They passed along, however, without any manifestation of their violent wrath. But as soon as the Highlanders came in sight of the remains of their countrymen, a slight buzz was heard in their ranks, which rapidly swelled and grew louder and louder. Exasperated not only with the barbarous outrages upon the persons of their unfortunate fellow-soldiers who had fallen only a few days before, but maddened by the insult which was conveyed by the exhibition of their kilts, and which they well understood, as they had long been nicknamed the "petticoat warriors" by the Indians, their wrath knew no bounds.

"Directly a rapid and violent tramping was heard, and immediately the whole corps of the Highlanders, with their muskets abandoned, and broad swords drawn, rushed by the provincials, foaming with rage, swearing vengeance and extermination upon the French troops who had permitted such outrages. But the French had fled, and the wrath of the exasperated Highlanders at the escape of the French subsided into a sullen and relentless desire for vengeance."

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