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Battle of Fort Duquesne

The Battle of Fort Duquesne, which took place on September 14, 1758, was a failed attempt by elements of General John Forbes's British-American army to reconnoiter Fort Duquesne in the Ohio Valley during the French and Indian War.

Forbes commanded between 6,000 and 8,000 men, mostly British regular infantry and Provincial (American) troops, including a contingent of Virginians led by George Washington. Forbes, very ill, did not keep up with the advance of his army, but entrusted it to his second in command, Lt. Col. Henry Bouquet, a Swiss officer commanding a battalion of the Royal American Regiment. Bouquet sanctioned a reconnaissance of Fort Duquesene by Major James Grant of Ballindalloch, acting commander of the 77th Regiment of Foot (Montgomerie's Highlanders),

Battle

On September 11, 1758, Grant led over 800 men (regulars and American provincials) to scout the environs of Fort Duquesne ahead of Forbes's main column. Bouquet believed the fort to be held by 500 French and 300 Indians, a force too strong to be attacked by Grant's detachment. Grant, who arrived in the vicinity of the fort on the 14th, believed there were only 200 enemy within, and sent a small party of 50 men forward to scout. These saw no enemy outside the fort; they burned a storehouse and returned to Grant's main position, two miles from the fort.

The next morning, Grant divided his force into several parts. A company of the 77th, under a Capt. McDonald, approached the fort with drums beating and pipes playing as a decoy. A force of 400 men lay in wait to ambush the enemy when they sallied out to attack McDonald, and several hundred more under the Virginian Maj. Andrew Lewis were concealed near the force's baggage train in hopes of surprising an enemy attack there.

The French and Indian force was, in fact, much larger than anticipated and moved swiftly. They overwhelmed McDonald's decoy force and overran the party that had been meant to ambush them. Lewis's force left its ambush positions and went to the aid of the rest of the force, but the French and Indians by then had gained a point of high ground above them and forced them to retire. Grant and Lewis fell back to their baggage train and tried to make a stand there, but their force was too demoralized, and most fled. Grant and Lewis were captured, nearly 300 other British and Provincial troops were killed or captured, but over 500 returned to rejoin the main army under Forbes and Bouquet.

Though the French had beaten off the initial British attack, de Lignery understood that his force of about 600 could not hold Fort Duquesne against the main British force of more than ten times that number. The French continued to occupy Fort Duquesne until November 26, when the garrison set fore to the fort and left under the cover of darkness. As the British marched up to the smoldering remains, they were confronted with an appalling sight. The Indians had cut off the heads of many of the dead Highlanders and impaled them on the sharp stakes on top of the fort walls, with their kilts displayed below. The British and Americans rebuilt Fort Duquesne, naming it Fort Pitt after the British prime minister William Pitt who had ordered the capture of that strategic location.

Notes

References

  • Fleming, George Thornton, History of Pittsburgh and Environs: From Prehistoric Days to the Beginning of the American Revolution, Volume I, (The American Historical Society Inc., New York and Chicago, 1922) This includes letters from both Grant and Washington discussing the action.
  • Stewart, David, Sketches of the Character, Manners and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland(John Donald Publishers Ltd., Edinburgh, 1977 - originally published in 1822)

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