October 6, 2008

French and Indians Attack Ligonier Outpost in 1758

By Burton Kummerow

This series of occasional articles is presented in conjunction with this year's Ligonier 250 Celebration and follows the Gen. John Forbes Campaign as it marched across Pennsylvania in 1758. The series is written by Burton Kummerow, author of the book, "Pennsylvania's Forbes Trail."

On Oct. 5, 1758, British Gen. John Forbes had an important meeting with Lt. Col. Henry Bouquet and Col. George Washington at Raystown (Bedford).

The general and the rest of his army were in a hurry. The commanders were planning how they could get 6,000 men with their supplies and equipment to the Forks of the Ohio before the snow and cold stopped everything in its tracks.

Luck seemed to have deserted them. The rainy weather was unrelenting in September and the new road, carved through the Allegheny Mountains, was a muddy mess. Maj. James Grant's Sept. 14 misadventure, with hundreds lost at the gates of French Fort Duquesne, was a depressing setback.

The far Loyalhanna Post (Ligonier) was the hope of the moment. Beyond two of the three daunting mountain ridges in the Laurel Highlands, it was the final outpost, the launching point for the assault on Fort Duquesne.

The challenge was to get the troops, guns, wagons, pack trains, equipment, herds of cattle and other food to the post so the redcoats could mount a final campaign. Fall had come to the mountains, and winter weather might only be a month away.

With the assistance of British engineer Capt. Harry Gordon, Pennsylvania Col. James Burd and his 1,500 troops were furiously chopping and hacking at thousands of trees as a substantial fort was going up alongside Loyalhanna Creek. The men were building a "defense in depth" with fields of fire in every direction.

They began with the retrenchment, a breastwork bristling with spiked logs that circled the perimeter. The interior fort, protecting the ammunition and other precious supplies, was even stronger. When Forbes discovered that the fort walls were being filled with dirt for extra strength, he soon ended such elaborate precautions.

"For God's sake, think of time, money and labor and put a stop to all superfluities," he said.

The French commander at Fort Duquesne, Capt. Francois-Marie de Lignery, was faced with his own set of problems. After the Sept. 14 victory, many of his Indian allies went home with their captured loot. As British assaults continued in New York, his long supply line from Montreal was becoming more precarious. When French and Indian reinforcements arrived from the Illinois Country, Lignery decided to take the offensive.

On a rainy and moody Oct. 12, Bouquet was just east of Laurel Hill, still trying to find a good route so more troops and supplies could be funneled over the mountain to Loyalhanna. He heard bursts of gunfire on the other side of the slope but was helpless. The road was a slippery, impassable tangle of trees and brush.

Loyalhanna was under attack. It was one of those invisible assaults in the forest that favored the more experienced French and Indians. When the British heard firing near the fort, Burd sent out 500 men in two columns to meet the challenge. A running, confusing melee went on for hours in the deep woods.

The fighting backed into Pennsylvania and Maryland tent camps just east of the fort. Two Maryland officers, surprised while drinking tea, were killed. The British dragged their artillery through the mud to the edge of the fort and started firing to frighten the Indians. The attack sputtered out, but musket fire and Indian shrieks around the fort continued after dark. The frightened garrison kept firing its big guns blindly into the night. With the enemy gone the next day, Burd was convinced he had prevailed. Announcing, "I have drove them off the field," he sent 200 men over Laurel Hill with axes to help Bouquet get to the fort.

For his part, Bouquet was far less sanguine.

"The affair appears humiliating to me," he said. "(The attackers) keep more than 1,500 blockaded, carry off all their horses, and retire undisturbed after burying their dead. This enterprise which should have cost the enemy dearly shows a great deal of contempt for us."

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