BOUQUET AND WASHINGTON, NOT FORBES, BUT THE OTHER GRANT
In 1755, Braddock’s defeat and Washington’s retreat left the backcountry of Pennsylvania and Virginia open to French and Indian attack. Deprivations for three long years. Washington and his Virginia militia patrolled the close-in frontier settlements, but were powerless to help those settlers that remained further out.
But the tide, in the broader theatre of war, was turning Britain’s way. British Admiral Wolfe would soon be headed to fame on the Plains of Abraham, sailing up the St. Lawrence Seaway. And in 1758, British General John Forbes began cutting a new road into the wilderness, seeking to overwhelm the French at Fort Duquesne and finally eject them from the Ohio backcountry.
Forbes was 60 years old. Sick, too. He would die soon after the campaign. But he had a well-trained second-in-command, British Lt. Colonel Henry Bouquet. How well he did, will have to be seen. Forbes assembled 6,000 men [including 2,000 British regulars, mostly Scottish highlanders], but Bouquet brought them forward to lead. Forbes was too ill, and following instead.
Forbes decided to construct a new road out of Pennsylvania, north of the one cut by Washington three years earlier, now called Braddock’s Road. It may have been a strategic choice, but was certainly influenced by a desire not to promote Virginia’s claim to the Ohio country’s real estate. Perhaps there were also some grumblings about the business profit sought by the private Ohio Company of Virginia in which George Washington and Virginia Governor Dinwiddie were investors. Land, it seems, was everywhere and everything.
Regardless, Washington, now a Colonial Colonel, joined Forbes’ forces, leading a large contingent of militiamen from the first Virginia regiment. Back he would go into that furnace of defeat and retreat that he had experienced before. Before he knew any better.
But this time would be different. Six thousand soldiers and a veteran British Commander. Well, we will see about that. Washington himself was now 26.
Forbes was slow, but methodically so. And along his road, he built redoubts and forts for supplies and protection. Finally, in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania, 50 miles from Fort Duquesne, Bouquet built Fort Ligonier. No puny palisade like Fort Necessity, this one was big and imposing, and on top of a hill. It could withstand a siege, and would. And then launch the last thrust forward.
In September 1758, Bouquet sent some 800 men under Major James Grant to reconnoiter Fort Duquesne. Why he attacked the fort instead, we cannot really know, other than that the inferior French force inside was able to fool him into such a stupid, strategic move.
As with Braddock’s defeat three years earlier, the force of perhaps 500 French and Indians poured out to flank the British by taking the higher wooded ground. The British lost more than 340 men, killed, wounded, or captured. Virginia Captain Thomas Bullitt was able to rally the British and retreat. He had been with Washington at both Fort Necessity and Braddock’s defeat.
Several of the English prisoners were stripped naked, painted black, and that night tortured to death, their screams heard throughout the darkness, screeching for help across the river. Their heads were then impaled on stakes at the stockade, their kilts displayed. The French lost only sixteen killed or wounded. We call that the Battle of Fort Duquesne.
In October 1758, the French forces attacked Fort Ligonier itself. Colonel James Burd of Pennsylvania was in command, Bouquet being away. He sent militia forces out to meet the French, with fighting spreading out into the forest. Eventually, driven back into the fort, the British used artillery to repulse the attack. This is called the Battle of Fort Ligonier, or the Battle of Loyalhanna, the Delaware Indian name for the nearby creek.
A strange and unfortunate event in George Washington’s military career happened next, about one month later. Forbes had ordered Washington out with one of his Virginia contingents to chase and capture a French raiding party. Forbes then sent out a second Virginia contingent to cut off the escape by those same French raiders.
In the fog, in the dim light of dusk, the Virginia contingents stumbled upon one another. Fearing the enemy, each began firing before Washington could ride in and stop it. Forty soldiers were either killed or wounded. His own men. Again.
Some people of faith, however, believe that Washington was saved from death while riding in with his horse to stop the slaughter. Captain Thomas Bullitt, who was there, held a different opinion.
But Washington had caught up with some of the French raiders. And some of them had been taken as prisoners. From them, he learned of the shortness of supplies, and the weak defense of Fort Duquesne itself. That is why the French had kept on the offensive. When Forbes learned this information, he reversed an earlier decision and decided to march immediately on the fort.
On November 25, 1758, the French abandoned and exploded the fortifications as the British arrived at Fort Duquesne. The British would build Fort Pitt nearby, preventing the French from ever again entering the lands around their “Belle-Riviere!”
And George Washington had, again, survived.