Battle of Bushy Run: British Force Defeats Indians, Relieve Fort Pitt
August 5th, 2010 by Siggurdsson
Today in Military History: August 5-6, 1763 For today’s post, I again leave my historical “comfort zone” to highlight a minor – yet important – battle that help open the lands west of the Appalachians to English settlement. Also, it is a part of American history that today’s government-run (formerly “public”) schools are not teaching to today’s students. Background With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in February of 1763, the French and Indian War came to an end. Great Britain gained the former French colony of Canada, as well as several colonies in the Caribbean. In addition, Britain controlled Florida for two decades (until forced to return it to Spanish rule after the American Revolution). Most importantly for our purposes today, French influence between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River was ending as early as 1759, with the capture of the French colonial capital of Quebec. British troops began to replace French forces in the many forts and outposts in the Great Lakes and the Ohio Country. While this change of command did not at first cause problems, the new policies and attitudes of the British commanders and administrators did anger the many Native American tribes. Despite the vast territory controlled by the French, few settlers actually took land in these areas. By contrast, thousands of British and American families began moving into the lands west of the mountains. Also, French administrators had distributed gifts of guns, knives, tobacco and clothing to local chiefs, which were then re-distributed among the tribes. When the British took over, these gifts – which British leader Sir Jeffrey Amherst regarded as bribery – were stopped as cost-cutting moves. Many Indians viewed this as an insult. Another change was the official British restrictions against selling gunpowder and shot to the Indians. The French had allowed this previously, as the Indians used these supplies to hunt game and obtain animal furs and skins for trade. The natives further believed that this cutback in gunpowder and shot was a prelude to the British making war on them. These acts only confirmed to the Indians that the British viewed them with contempt, treating them like slaves or dogs. Finally, in the early 1760’s, as French control was being replaced with British rule, a religious movement sprang up among many Indian tribes in the Ohio Country. The movement was fed by discontent with the British as well as food shortages and epidemic disease. The most influential individual in this phenomenon was Neolin, also called the “Delaware Prophet.” He called upon Native Americans to shun the trade goods, alcohol, and weapons of the whites. Neolin mixed elements of Christianity with the native beliefs, telling his listeners that the “Master of Life” was displeased with them for corrupting their way of life with the white man’s bad habits. He told them, "If you suffer the English among you, you are dead men. Sickness, smallpox, and their poison [alcohol] will destroy you entirely.” His words struck a chord with many Indian listeners. Pontiac’s War By 1763 the British had about a million and a half colonists on the North American continent. William Johnson, British superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies, said that there were about 50,000 Indians with 10,000 warriors, though scholars consider his estimate low. General Amherst commanded about 8,000 soldiers, but only about 2,000 of them were in the western forts. On April 27, 1763, an Ottawa chief named Pontiac held a meeting with a number of Indian leaders from different tribes near Ft. Detroit. He urged the chiefs to wage war against the British. According to a French chronicler, he said, “It is important for us, my brothers, that we exterminate from our lands this nation [Great Britain] which seeks only to destroy us. You see as well as I that we can no longer supply our needs, as we have done from our brothers, the French....Therefore, my brothers, we must all swear their destruction and wait no longer. Nothing prevents us; they are few in numbers, and we can accomplish it.” Pontiac convinced various Ottawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi and Huron groups to join his confederacy. On May 7, he tried to take Ft. Detroit by surprise, leading 300 warriors into the fort with concealed weapons. The British had been warned of the ruse, and the entire garrison was turned out, armed and ready. Allowed to leave the fort, Pontiac began a siege of the Detroit settlement two days later. The stalemate dragged on, until Pontiac finally lifted the siege on October 31. However, other Indian groups were rather more successful. Between May 16 and June 21, 8 smaller British-held forts were either attacked outright or taken by subterfuge. They included: Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph and Miami in Ohio and Indian; Ft. Ouiatenon in Illinois; Ft. Michilimackinac in Michigan; and Forts LeBeouf, Venango and Presque Isle in Pennsylvania. [Fort Michilimackinac was taken when the entire garrison of 35 men went outside the fort to watch groups of Indians playing stickball, a forerunner of lacrosse.] In addition to Ft. Detroit, several other British strongholds resisted Indian attacks. They included Ft. Niagara in New York, and Forts Bedford and Ligonier in Pennsylvania. Prelude to the Battle The most prominent fort to avoid capture was Fort Pitt, located at the Forks of the Ohio (at present-day Pittsburgh). Built on the ruins of the former French stronghold of Ft. Duquesne, Ft. Pitt was one of the most modern fortifications of the time. Unlike most of the other frontier forts taken by the Native Americans, Ft. Pitt was constructed of brick, stone and turf. The British had built the fort at that location to withstand not only Indian attacks, but the occasional flooding of the three rivers that met at “The Point.” [In early March of 1763, heavy spring rains caused the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to flood, turning the fort into a virtual island and leaving six inches of water inside the fort.] Also, Ft. Pitt’s garrison was considerably larger than the strongholds that had fallen in the previous months, about 330 men, with 200 women and children inside as well. On June 22, Indians gathered outside the fort’s perimeter and began firing upon the garrison. They also attacked the small settlement of Pittsburgh that was growing up along the rivers nearby. The Indians then blockaded the outpost, launching occasional raids throughout the region attacking isolated settlements. During the weeks of the siege, several negotiations took place. The natives, led by the Seneca chief Guyasuta, sought to draw the garrison out by offering them safe conduct if they left. The fort’s commander, Col. Simon Ecuyer, did not trust the Indians and refused. By mid-July, the fort’s population had swelled to nearly 1400 souls, most of them frontier families looking for protection from the Indians. Col. Ecuyer managed to get word of his situation eastward to Philadelphia. Col. Henry Bouquet, Swiss soldier-of-fortune, was in charge of British military affairs in Pennsylvania. He quickly managed to organize a force of about 450-500 men. They consisted mainly of the 60th Royal American Regiment – which he had helped organize – the 42nd Regiment of Foot (the Royal Highlanders, also known as the Black Watch) and the 77th Regiment of Foot (Montgomerie’s Highlanders). This force left Carlisle on July 18, with supply wagons drawn by oxen and artillery. They followed the old Forbes Road, laid out five years previously when the late General John Forbes led the forces that occupied the abandoned Ft. Duquesne. In spite of the rough terrain and the extensive wagon train, Col. Bouquet had his men covering 15-20 miles a day. Reaching Ft. Ligonier (near present-day Latrobe) on August 2, Bouquet became concerned that he’d received no word from Ft. Pitt. He decided that speed was now of the essence; Bouquet ordered the wagons, oxen and artillery to be left behind. He also recruited some 80 local settlers, volunteering to act as scouts for the force. Placing provisions, including dozens of flour bags, on pack horses, Bouquet’s men began the last leg of the journey, hoping that the garrison of Ft. Pitt was still holding out… The Battle of Bushy Run At about 1 p.m. on the afternoon of August 5, 1763, Bouquet’s force had already marched some 17 miles that day, knowing they were drawing closer to Ft. Pitt, about 25 miles to their west (just north of the present-day city of Jeannette, PA). It was likely about 80-85° F, with muggy conditions and little prospect of rain. Their canteens were almost dry, but nearby was a stream called Bushy Run, which would help slake the men’s thirst. Then, the frontiersmen scouting ahead were attacked by Indians. Sending word back of the ambush, Bouquet ordered a few companies of the Royal Americans forward to assist them. Almost immediately, the entire force was attacked on both flanks and rear by a large force of Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo and Huron Indians who four days ago had left the siege of Ft. Pitt to attack this relief force. [Col. Bouquet estimated that the Indian force was equal to his own.] Perhaps some of the British and Americans in the column remembered Braddock’s Defeat eight years previously. In a sense, the action of the Indians was “déjà vu all over again.” However, there was one major difference. General Edward Braddock was a career soldier, had fought on the European continent, and was disdainful of the “savages” that eventually killed him. Col. Bouquet, by contrast, had spent the previous decade recruiting troops in Pennsylvania and fighting the Native Americans. He knew their abilities and their tactics, and was prepared to fight them on their own ground, in his own way. Bouquet ordered his force to form a hollow square, using the slight rise of Edge Hill as their base. Concentrated volley fire and selective bayonet charges kept the mercurial savages at bay throughout the long, hot, muggy day. Finally, near sunset after seven hours of fighting, the Indians pulled back for the night. Almost immediately, Bouquet ordered the construction of a redoubt on Edge Hill. Lacking any other material, the soldiers used the bags of flour to build their protective cover. [Since that time, the “Flour-Bag Fort” has passed into legend.] Inside the redoubt Bouquet placed his wounded, their few remaining supplies and the livestock. The majority of his force hunkered down in the woods, using whatever cover they could find. As dawn of August 6 approached, the evening sentries noticed movement in the woods. The Indians had returned, and appeared to be massing for a final all-out attack. Informing their commander of this development, Col. Bouquet began to make his plans. After the evening sentries were relieved, Bouquet realigned his forces. He took the grenadier and light companies from his three regiments – primarily the Black Watch – and arranged them behind one section of his line. Then, as the Indians began their attack, Bouquet ordered that particular section of his line to fall back, as though in disordered, headlong retreat. Completely fooled, the Indians poured through the gap in the British line… On cue, the hidden companies then delivered a tremendous volley into the Indians. Then, as a second round surprise, the hidden soldiers of the Black Watch arose from hiding and charged the Indians with bayonets and swords. After a fight of perhaps an hour, the entire Indian force melted back into the forests. The battle of Bushy run was over. British casualties amounted to; 29 dead from the Black Watch, seven dead among the Royal Americans, six killed from the 77th Highlanders, and eight civilian volunteers dead. About 60 men were wounded, and five men went missing. Indian casualties were unknown, though one contemporary source put their death toll at 20 and many more wounded. Another source states 60 Indians were killed. Bouquet then slowed his march to Ft. Pitt, apparently guarding against any further ambushes. They reached the fort on August 20, officially relieving the siege. Footnote #1: After relieving Ft. Pitt, Col. Bouquet led British forces into the Ohio country, finally achieving some measure of peace between the Anglo-American colonists and the Indians. Bouquet would be promoted to brigadier general in 1765, but died in September of that year in Pensacola, West Florida, probably of yellow fever. Footnote #2: The Bushy Run Battlefield Park, established in the 1920’s and is currently run by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. It was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1960. Due to the recent budget crisis, the park is open from Wednesday through Sunday year-round, with the visitor’s center open from April 1 through October 31. It is currently staffed by volunteers from the Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society. It is the only battlefield or historic place in the country devoted solely to Pontiac's Rebellion.
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