Bushy Run, PA - Last Battle of Pontiac's War
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The French and Indian War, which was part of the world-wide Seven Years War, officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. Unofficially, it had ended three years earlier after the fall of Montreal. The French, too broke to continue the fight and with no major bases left, ceased hostilities in North America. Between 1760 and 1763, while the rest of the world was still fighting, the British in North America were consolidating and starting to govern their new territories.
Great Britain now owned the Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes Basin. Together, they ran from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. This was a huge area that was rich in resources such as furs, lumber and farmland. It was also home to a large number of Native Americans, who had been fighting among themselves over this bountiful area for years. In fact, some of the major players in the region, such as the Delaware and Shawnee, had migrated here from back east. Most of the tribes had sided with the French at the beginning of the war but had been enticed to leave them halfway through it. The enticement was the Treaty of Easton in 1758,
By 1758, there had been heavy fighting in the Ohio River Valley theater of the war for four years, with the British getting the worst of it. Fort Duquesne had been the main base of French operations the whole time. Capturing it was vital. That mission fell to General John Forbes and his 6,000 man army. Instead of using Braddock's Road, his force hacked yet another road through the mountains to get to the objective. This road, called the Forbes Road, followed an old trading path called the Raystown Trail from Bedford to The Forks. Although longer, the trail was in better shape and the route had fewer river crossings. It would also force the French to prepare for an attack from two directions. The road they blazed is still in use today as the path that Route 30 takes through those same mountains.
Part of Forbes' strategy for Fort Duquesne was to separate the French from their Native American allies. Without the Indians, the French were no match for the British. He sent Moravian missionaries, who were on good terms with the Native Americans, to the tribes with an offer. If the Indians would abandon the French, 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.
The Indian nations, tired of fighting and hoping to back a winner, accepted. The treaty was signed in October 1758 while Forbes was closing in on Fort Duquesne. The French were left to fend for themselves as an uneasy truce settled over the region. Realizing they couldn't hold the fort on their own, the French burned and abandoned it on November 26, 1758. The British entered the next day and started building Fort Pitt, which anchored British operations in the west for the next decade. The capture of Fort Duquesne was the beginning of the end for the French. The tide of the war turned and less than two years later, they were done.
General Forbes, who had been seriously ill for much of the journey, left Fort Pitt several days later for Philadelphia. He died there in early March 1759. His second-in-command, Colonel Henry Bouquet, took over. Bouquet was a Swiss national who had spent the last 20 years as a soldier-of-fortune. He had seen much action in numerous European campaigns before joining the British Army and had come to America to fight. Unlike many British officers, he understood frontier tactics, trained his men in them and skillfully employed them. Tactically, he may have been the best the British had. He would be the British commander at Bushy Run five years later.
With hostilities subsiding, the Indian nations began to settle into their promised homes and hunting grounds. However, almost immediately, white settlers started swarming west through Pennsylvania, into Ohio and beyond. Even though such activity was forbidden by the Treaty of Easton and by royal proclamation, the pent up demand for land and resources could not be stopped. The settlers simply ignored the government. 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. They built new forts or occupied old French ones. Many of them were simply outposts, with a small blockhouse and a dozen troops. Two exceptions were Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt, which were substantial fortifications garrisoned by hundreds of men and backed up with artillery. By 1763, Fort Pitt was the largest fort in North America, enclosing 17 acres. An entire town had built up around it to support its activities - 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. They instituted trade rules which forbade the sales of powder and bullets to the Indians, but allowed alcohol. They also cut way back on the amount of goods available to the Indians at trading posts.
The Indians could only watch and seethe as their worst case scenario unfolded. Tensions skyrocketed throughout the region and finally reached the breaking point. Only three months after the Treaty of Paris, the American frontier exploded again.
The spark that set off the explosion was a chief of the Ottawa tribe named Pontiac. Even though he has a war named after him, little is known about him prior to 1760. He was a stalwart supporter of the French and when the British began to take over New France, he started urging violent resistance against them. As British dealings with the Indians got worse and worse from 1760-1763, tribal leaders in the Great Lakes region started to align themselves with Pontiac. Leaders in other regions started advocating resistance also but nobody wanted to be the first to tangle with the British.
On May 8, 1763, Pontiac took action. With 900 warriors, he attacked Fort Detroit. When the attack failed, he laid siege to it, something which Indians had never done before. With the troops bottled up in the fort, Pontiac's rebels scoured the countryside, killing everything they came across except for French settlers, who were left alone.
Word spread quickly throughout the region. Angry frustrated tribes joined in the resistance. They attacked forts, settlements and homesteads without mercy. Through May and June of 1763, eight British forts were attacked and burned. A ninth, Fort Edward Augustus in present-day Green Bay, was abandoned. Many of the soldiers in them were killed outright. The ones who were unlucky enough to survive were burned at the stake. A few managed to escape, bringing first hand knowledge of the carnage.
Settlers and homesteads were also targeted. It was the ultimate aim of the rebellion to drive them out and it succeeded. Within weeks, the formerly bustling frontier region was almost devoid of settlement.
Up to this point, the British had not reacted. They considered the uprising to be a local problem. That changed when mighty Fort Pitt itself became a target.
On May 29, 1763, a force of 500 Indians attacked Fort Pitt. The fort fended off the attack and the Indians laid siege to it. Indians knew little of siege warfare and didn't have the equipment or firepower necessary to do it. Instead, besieging a fort meant cutting it off, harassing it, terrifying it and pillaging the surrounding area. With the British garrison trapped inside, Indians raiders ran amok in western Pennsylvania, western Maryland and down into Virginia.
Prior to being completely cut off, the commander of Fort Pitt, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, got a message through to Fort Ligonier informing them of his situation. Then there was nothing. Fort Ligonier was 40 miles to the east along the Forbes Road and was itself attacked twice in June. The attacks were unsuccessful in taking the fort but served as a warning that the area between it and Fort Pitt was hostile and impassable. No one knew the fate of Fort Pitt.
The British commander in North America, General Jefferey Amherst, assigned Colonel Henry Bouquet to lead a relief expedition to Fort Pitt. Bouquet assembled and trained his force at Carlisle, then moved out along the Forbes Road on July 15. They reached Fort Ligonier on August 2 after a tough march over the mountains with artillery, wagons and over 500 head of cattle, sheep and horses. They spent two days resting and reorganizing for their trek across 40 miles of hostile territory. They left the artillery and wagons behind, transferring all supplies to horses - over 300 of them plus some sheep and cattle to feed the defenders of Fort Pitt. Bouquet's original force of 600 men had been whittled down by heat, illness and the need to reinforce garrisons along the way. When he left Ligonier on August 4, he had 400 men. Their initial destination was a way station about halfway to Fort Pitt. Bouquet himself had established it several years earlier to enhance the lines of communication along the Forbes Road. The station itself had already been destroyed but it still had good water and forage for the livestock. It was named after the stream (called "runs" by us mountain folk) that ran right next to it - Bushy Run Station.
The siege of Fort Pitt continued without let up throughout the months of June and July. Conditions were getting worse. Frightened settlers seeking shelter had ballooned the fort's usual contingent of 300 to over 1500 people. Food was running out. Smallpox had hit the post. Twice, the Indians parlayed and offered the garrison safe passage if they surrendered. Suspecting treachery, Ecuyer refused. At the second parlay, he gave the Indians blankets from the smallpox hospital hoping to infect them. It didn't appear to work because the Indians stepped up the pressure. They were already tracking Bouquet's relief force. If they were going to take the fort, it had to be soon.
The last week of July, they came from all directions, day and night, firing non-stop. They were up against the walls trying to dig, chop or burn their way in. Ecuyer's men dropped grenades, hot liquids and whatever else they could find on them. This went on for five days. Then, on August 1, the siege lifted. Patrols ventured out cautiously and reported that the area was clear. Captain Ecuyer correctly surmised that a relief force must be closing in. The defenders of Fort Pitt could do nothing but wait. The Indians had moved to intercept Bouquet's column. They would ambush them in the dense rattlesnake infested forest near Bushy Run Station.
Bouquet's relief force had some tough hombres. Bouquet himself was an experienced wilderness fighter. His men were equally battle worthy. The bulk of them were Scottish Highlanders from the 42nd (Black Watch) Regiment and the 77th (Montgomerie's Highlanders) Regiment. There was also a large contingent from the 60th (Royal American) Regiment. The 60th was like the Foreign Legion - recruits from other countries, the colonies and British volunteers commanded by foreign officers. Instead of swords, they all carried hatchets. This was Bouquet's home regiment.
All of them had seen extensive action throughout the war. The Highlanders had most recently fought in the Caribbean campaigns against both the French and the Spanish. Many were recovering from various tropical diseases. Both Highland regiments were at Staten Island waiting to rotate home when they got the call to meet Bouquet in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Off they went, marching towards the sound of the guns. Even in their depleted condition, they were a formidable force.
The colonial militia had a very small role in Pontiac's War. The British had sufficient troops in country to fight on their own and they didn't trust the colonials. Bouquet did retain a force of 20 local rangers (irregulars) as scouts and guides. Also along were 50 civilian teamsters and wranglers, who would tend to the livestock.
The relief force departed Fort Ligonier early on August 4. They marched 12 miles that day and made a hasty encampment along the road.
August 5 would be 20 more miles in the August heat. They broke camp before sun up. Bouquet knew the area well and planned a route to avoid the most likely ambush sites. Moving tactically, with the rangers screening his movement, the day progressed without contact. Even so, there was no doubt in his mind they were being watched.
By 1:00 PM, his lead elements were only a mile from Bushy Run Station. The column was strung out for quite a ways, with the livestock far behind. It was very hot and humid. Everyone was feeling the effects of both. It was starting to look like the day would pass without incident. That's just the way the Indians had figured it. The selection of this place for the ambush was no accident. They were laying in wait ready to pounce when they knew the soldiers would be at their most vulnerable.
Bouquet's column entered a gully between two hills. The rest of the column formed a giant L that snaked out of the gully and went up the hill to the east. There was only one more ridgeline to their west before getting to the station. The Indians sprang the trap.
They opened fire on the lead elements. The rest of the ambushers began ranging along the flanks of the column. The Highlanders volley fired but hit nothing. Then, as Bouquet had trained them to do, they began advancing into the trees to engage their attackers, only to find they had already moved.
Although they were fighting hard, Bouquet's force was totally reactive and unable to seize any sort of momentum. They charged aggressively but the Indians simply melted away and popped up somewhere else, working their way down both sides of the column. If they got to the lightly defended pack train, the British would have another wilderness debacle on their hands. They had to get out of there and re-group.
Bouquet ordered a fighting retreat back up the slope to the top of Edge Hill. Using a box formation that provided a moving fighting perimeter, the British were able to extricate themselves from the kill zone and bring out the wounded. The dead were left behind. On top of the hill was a 10 acre clearing ringed on all sides by forest. The British hoped their open field tactics of massed volley fire would be more effective. The Indians stayed in the trees and fired at individual targets, refusing to be drawn out in the open.
Meanwhile, Bouquet ordered a circular stockade built using the hundreds of mealy bags tied to the pack horses. This was the famous "flour bag fort." The livestock, supplies and wounded were all crammed inside. It would also serve as a redoubt for a last stand if it came to that.
They went back and forth for several more hours. The British soldiers, forming up in the open field, volley fired into the woods then advanced with bayonets. The Indians used the forest as cover while individually shooting and moving. The entire hill top was shrouded in smoke and it hung thick under the trees where no wind could get at it. The fighting stopped when night fell. The British had gotten the worst of the hilltop exchange. The flour bag fort was full of wounded and many pack animals had been killed. The British soldiers spent a harrowing, sleepless night on the perimeter at the edge of the forest. It was pitch black, with a waning crescent moon that didn't rise until the pre-dawn hours. The night was full of the cries of the wounded, skittish animals and the occasional war whoop from the forest.
By candlelight that night, Bouquet wrote a letter to General Amherst, explaining in detail what had happened that day, including diagrams and sketches. He also outlined his plans for the next day and what he thought the enemy would do. These letters have survived and are the definitive account of the Battle of Bushy Run. It's also clear from his writing that Bouquet did not expect his force to survive.
As the first gray hint of dawn lightened the eastern sky, Bouquet's men started hearing something that had terrified British soldiers on the frontier for years - the blood curdling war cries and "scalp halloos" of the Indian braves. They were all around them and getting closer. Fighting started again at first light. They picked up where they left off the day before. British casualties continued to mount and the Indians were tightening the noose. Once they had thinned the British ranks enough, they would swarm over the hilltop and finish them all. Somehow, Bouquet had to get them out in the open in sufficient numbers while he still had the firepower to stop them.
Then the Indian fighter in him came up with a scheme. It was a common tactic for Indians to leave defenders with an escape route. There were two reasons for this. Encircled defenders with no escape fought like demons and took as many attackers with them as they could. Native American tribes had to conserve manpower, so they often left a way out. If the defenders took it, the Indians could let them go or run them down individually or in groups instead of attacking into massed fire.
Bouquet realized that there had been no attacks from the east side of the hill, which went down a steep slope and into a wooded gully. He pulled two companies of the Black Watch out of the line and sent them over the hill like they were bugging out. The perimeter was pulled in closer to the stockade and the gap created by the "bug out" was filled in by the remaining troops. There was now a wide swath of open ground between the forest and the perimeter that the Indians had to sprint across to overrun the position. The soldiers loaded their rifles with double shot.
The Indians took the bait. After seeing the soldiers run off, they gathered in the woods facing the south side of the hill and prepared to stampede through the razor thin perimeter as they had done so many times before in battles with the whites. Meanwhile, the two companies of Highlanders, led by Major Alan Campbell, were doing a fish hook using the hill as a screen and were coming up on the right flank of the now concentrated attackers.
As the Indians broke cover, Edge Hill exploded. The perimeter fired a tremendous volley into them. Then the Highlanders slammed into their rear and right flank, first with shot then with blade. The Indians, stunned and taken completely by surprise, turned to meet the new threat. Two more companies charged out of the perimeter and screamed down the hill, their bayonets, swords and hatchets ready to go. The Indians broke and ran, with four companies in hot pursuit. They chased them to the top of the ridge overlooking Bushy Run Station and set up a defensive position. Bouquet's gambit had worked.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, history tells us that Bouquet had just won the Battle of Bushy Run with a decisive victory. He had also saved Fort Pitt, ended Pontiac's War in the region and dispersed the Indians back to their villages. On the field, in real time, none of that was obvious. Bouquet's force still had big problems to overcome, a fort to relieve that was 26 miles away and not a lot of time to do it.
Colonel Bouquet's force had survived. The immediate crisis was over but the mission to relieve Fort Pitt was not. When last seen, the Indians were headed west - back towards the fort and along Bouquet's march route. For all anyone knew, they could be waiting up ahead or going back to the fort to finish the job - or both.
The battle had been costly. The relief column was short of men, horses and water in addition to being exhausted from three days of non-stop marching and fighting in the muggy Pennsylvania summer. By Bouquet's own count, they had 50 dead and 60 wounded. Five soldiers were missing. It wasn't much of a relief column at this point, but it was Fort Pitt's only hope. They got ready to move.
Supplies that couldn't be carried were burned. Injured animals were killed. Since they had no wagons, litters had to be made and carried for the wounded. The situation was so fluid and the manpower so short that Bouquet couldn't risk getting a message to Fort Pitt. Sending two or three men would be a suicide mission and a force big enough to fight its way through would leave him with nothing.
They moved out towards Bushy Run Station, where they would stay until August 8th. During that time, burial parties gathered up the British dead and buried them in a mass grave on top of the ridge from which they had been ambushed on August 5. Called Chestnut Ridge by the locals, it was downhill from there to the station. The location of the mass grave was never recorded and despite years of looking, it has never been found.
As it turns out, the move to Fort Pitt was uneventful and they arrived there on August 10 to find the Union Jack still flying. The crippled force covered 26 miles through hostile territory in three days. The Indian menace in the immediate area had been neutralized. Still, the threat was there and it would be some time before things got back to normal.
Bushy Run effectively ended Pontiac's War in the east. The number of Indians in the battle is generally estimated at around 400 with 40-60 casualties. It's quite likely that they had fewer men and fewer casualties than Bouquet, but the numbers alone don't tell the whole story. The native Americans had run into competent leadership and ferocious fighters at Bushy Run and had paid a fearsome price. They couldn't afford to lose 40-50 braves in every battle. There simply weren't that many of them. On the other hand, the whites had almost unlimited manpower to draw on.
To put it in perspective, historians estimate that there were 50,000 Native Americans living in the region with 10,000 braves. The European colonists numbered well over a million with more arriving every day. If the war turned into a battle of attrition, the Indians didn't have a chance. They had to conserve manpower or face extinction. That meant no more Bushy Runs. It meant avoiding major direct engagements and trying to negotiate the best deal they could while they still had some leverage. Before long, that realization would come to the rest of the Indian nations and to Pontiac himself. The fearsome coalition that had terrorized the frontier for months began to fracture. Soon, the individual deal making would begin.
In the Great Lakes area, Fort Detroit was still under siege but holding its own, reinforced by British warships in the Detroit River. In October, the winter snows came early and Pontiac broke off the siege.
The war picked up again in the spring in the form of isolated raids. The frontier was still dangerous for settlers but a reinforced and more aggressive British army had the tribes on the run. Colonel Bouquet commanded the last British foray in October 1764. He led 1500 men to the junction of the Muskingum and Tuscarawas Rivers near present-day Coshocton, Ohio, about 120 miles due west of Pittsburgh. There he waited for the Indians to attack. Instead, they sent an offer to parlay. Bouquet secured the release of several hundred white captives and negotiated a truce with the Indians - all without firing a shot. For all intents and purposes, that was the end of the fighting. It would take another 20 months of negotiations, compromise and politics before a formal peace treaty officially ended the war in July 1766.
Ironically, Colonel Bouquet did not live to see the end of the war he had a major part in winning. 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 and is buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in Pensacola. However, his exact resting place there is unmarked and unknown, lost to history, urban development and the elements.
History is full of examples of the right man being at the right place at the right time to make a difference when it mattered most. Colonel Henry Bouquet at Bushy Run was one of those men. If he had been a typical British officer with a typical British army unit, they probably would have been annihilated just like Braddock at Monongahela eight years earlier. Instead, they held on, improvised and beat the Indians at their own game, giving them a real wake up call in the process. Historians consider Colonel Bouquet to be the best field commander the British had at that time. If he had survived to see the American Revolution and if he had fought for the British, it would have been interesting to see if the right man/right place/right time scenario might have changed our own history.
Pontiac lost influence when he botched the initial attack on Fort Detroit and then had to break off the siege. His coalition fragmented and many turned against him. The British used him as their main point of contact during negotiations, which was another sore spot for the tribes. Ostracized by his own people after the war, he lived quietly with his family on the banks of the Maumee River. On April 20, 1769, he was beaten to death by a Peoria Indian at a trading post in Cahokia, Illinois. The circumstances of his death have been variously attributed to a random act of violence, an Indian reprisal and a British assassination. His burial place is unknown.
Bushy Run was a decisive battle that altered the course of events in North America. It marked the beginning of the end for the Native Americans' way of life and opened the floodgates for western migration and settlement. Within a few years, the battle ground region of Pennsylvania was no longer the frontier. Fort Ligonier was abandoned in 1766. Fort Pitt was turned over to the colonials in 1772.
Fort Detroit has an interesting historical footnote. The British maintained a significant presence there long after they had abandoned the other forts. Since it was so far west, it had no involvement in the Revolutionary War. However, it was not part of the 13 colonies, so when America won its independence, Fort Detroit remained British. They continued to operate from there and started causing trouble on the western frontier of the new nation. Using Native Americans, they fought a proxy guerilla war in present-day Illinois and Ohio for years after US independence. It wasn't until the Jay Treaty in 1796 that Fort Detroit and the surrounding territory were ceded to the United States. They would be contested again during the War of 1812.
As for the battlefield itself, it became a farm owned by the Wanamaker family. The battle went unrecognized for over 100 years. In 1883, on the 120th anniversary, a memorial ceremony was held on Edge Hill. Ten thousand people showed up, sparking interest in preservation. Those efforts have continued to this day. In 1929, the Wanamakers sold their farm to the state. Additional land purchases have been made to protect adjacent areas.
The Bushy Run Battlefield is beautiful and well cared for, with almost no urban encroachment. One of the unique things about it is that you can see the whole battle area from any point on the field. It's very compact - 1,000 yards from east to west and about 300 yards from north to south. It is the only preserved battlefield in North America from Pontiac's War and the only recognized Native American battlefield in Pennsylvania. Drastic state budget cuts have made for some tough times and the park has recently struggled to stay open and maintained. There is an ongoing fund raising campaign. To learn more or make a donation, here is a link to the Save Bushy Run website.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Bushy Run Station. It was established in 1761, destroyed in the Indian raids of 1763 and re-built after Pontiac's War. It serviced travelers of all kinds, including settlers, soldiers and Indians until the outbreak of the American Revolution, when it was abandoned for good. No trace of it remains. The entire area was paved over decades ago without even a plaque or marker. In fact, the site is downright ugly, but that's progress. Given all the travelers and history that moved through here, it must be an archaeological gold mine but there's never been any attempt to find out. No doubt the gas station, restaurant and funeral home that sit on top of it wouldn't be crazy about the idea. No records or accounts or drawings of Bushy Run Station are known to exist. It is simply gone, probably forever.
The park is open year round, but the museum and visitor center are closed from November 1 to April 1. In addition to the history, Bushy Run is a haven for hikers, joggers and family picnics. The local Boy Scout councils hold their camporees here. When the visitor center is open, there are volunteer guides that offer both walking and golf cart tours. There is also a gift shop where many of the paintings used in this page are sold. Artists Robert Griffing and Don Troiani have both taken a special interest in the Battle of Bushy Run. There are re-enactments every year and it has a very active volunteer group that keeps the place running.
There are no geocaches in the immediate vicinity, which is surprising. There used to be, but they're gone. The surrounding areas have lots. You can see them on Google Earth by clicking on the picture of the Visitors Center. Adjust your zoom level to see as many or as few as you want.
There are however, three letterboxes on the grounds. We found them last year. They are called Bushy Run 1, Bushy Run 2 and Bushy Run Cub Pack 230. ( Here's an important note for Bushy Run 1 - There are two changes on the clue sheet. Towards the end where it says turn right 90 degrees, it should read turn left 90 degrees. The box is not on the ground. It is tucked away in the rock face. Everything else is good.)
Western Pennsylvania has more history and more things to do than almost any area you can name. I was born and raised here, so I'm partial. If you like history, you've come to the right place. There have been six wars fought here from Fort Necessity to Flight 93. Exploring, hiking, rafting, climbing, geocaching or just about any other outdoor activity - it's all here, usually with a museum or visitors center nearby.
We call our web site Off the Beaten Path because we write about significant things that few people know about. The Battle of Bushy Run certainly qualifies. I hope you enjoyed the page and that you'll check out some others. As always, we welcome comments and feedback.
The GPS coordinates to the Bushy Run Visitor's Center are 40.35886, -79.62544. Click on the coordinates for an interactive Google map.
Semper Fi ....Out here....Alpha6