Rediscovering Colonial America: Forbes’ Campaign for Fort Duquesne, Part Two

In 1758, Brigadier General John Forbes was given the opportunity to command a major campaign to take Fort Duquesne that would shape North America. He remained in New York until April, when he moved to Philadelphia. Brigadier General Forbes remained in Philadelphia for several weeks gaining financial support, supplies, and recruits for the campaign. While there, his second in command, Colonel Henry Bouquet led the main portion of Forbes’ army to Ray’s Town, to establish a forward depot for supplies that would be sent from Philadelphia. Ray’s Town also served as a training ground, and a concentration point before pushing across the mountains to Fort Duquesne.

About thirty-five miles to the south of Ray’s Town was Fort Cumberland, where Colonel George Washington was ordered to cut a road connecting the two forts. Fort Cumberland was located along the Braddock Road where Major General Edward Braddock led his command to Fort Duquesne. The question was, how to proceed to lay siege to Fort Duquesne? From Ray’s Town, Brig. Gen. Forbes could march his army west across the mountains, using some of the established paths, and then cut a new road to Fort Duquesne. From Ray’s Town to Fort Duquesne was about ninety miles. Moving west, the British army would march through a wilderness with no major river crossings. The three main ridges of the Allegheny, Laurel and Chestnut mountains would be the only natural obstacles to cut through.

Or, Brig. Gen. Forbes could move south from Ray’s Town to Fort Cumberland, where the Braddock Road was established. However, three years of growth would have made the road difficult to travel upon. Secondly, the Braddock Road was the same road that many Indians used to launch raids into Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, so a surprise attack could be compromised. Thirdly, several major river crossings could slow the advance down, and Brig. Gen. Forbes could miss his November deadline of attack. Finally, the route was over one hundred sixty miles, and supplies would take longer to arrive for the advance of the British army.

The decision was made to construct about fifty miles of new road from Ray’s Town to Loyalhanna. On August 10, British Major James Grant would move westward from Ray’s Town, across the Allegheny Mountain and Laurel Ridge to Loyalhanna Creek, building a road. As Major Grant moved, small working details began to cut a new road. These smaller work details would move along at a faster pace by not getting in the way of one another, as Braddock had during the construction of his road.

Six Pound Field Piece. This gun has a maximum range of about 2,000 yards.
Six Pound Field Piece. This gun has a maximum range of about 2,000 yards.

On August 15, Colonel Bouquet ordered Ensign Charles Rohr to select a location for a storehouse at Loyalhanna. Loyalhanna would become yet another concentration point for the British army. It would also serve as a training ground to those units and volunteers that would join up with Forbes’ army.

While the army was in western Pennsylvania, Brig. Gen. Forbes stayed behind at Philadelphia, taking care of administrative problems. By early July, Brig. Gen. Forbes began moving to catch up with the army. He would set up his headquarters at Carlisle, and remain there for several weeks before moving to Shippensburg. He was battling his illness of what many today feel was stomach cancer. He was typically transported from place to place on a stretcher or litter. By early September, Brig. Gen. Forbes was at Fort Loudoun, just west of Chambersburg. By September 15, Brig. Gen. Forbes made it to Ray’s Town, where, for several weeks, he would establish his headquarters.

One of the artillery defenses of Fort Ligonier.
One of the artillery defenses of Fort Ligonier.

On August 21, the location of a fort had been chosen, and the next day Colonel Bouquet ordered 1,500 men, supported by artillery, to move to Loyalhanna to begin construction of a storehouse and hospital. Troops first reached the area at the end of August to begin working on entrenchments. With a chain of forts supporting the encampment at Loyalhanna, Forbes’ army would be better protected and not as exposed as Maj. Gen. Braddock’s army was when they attempted to take Fort Duquesne.

On the evening of September 2, although some sources state September 3, Colonel James Burd arrived at Loyalhanna, and began establishing camp. Most of the army wagon trains would begin arriving the next day. Just as they were during Maj. Gen. Braddock’s campaign, the wagon trains were a plague moving across the mountains. The wagon trains travelled very slowly along the new road.

Six Pound Field Piece. This gun has a maximum range of about 2,000 yards.
Six Pound Field Piece. This gun has a maximum range of about 2,000 yards.

Colonel Burd began studying the area to gain knowledge. He quickly laid out plans for an entrenchment of a fort. Following Colonel Bouquet’s instructions, a storehouse was built and stockades quickly went up. Fort Ligonier was to be the name of this new fortification.

The fort was set up on a high piece of ground that would become heavily armed, and became the forward supply depot for the British army. The east and west faces of the fort would feature heavy redoubts for artillery batteries. A wooden stockade surrounded the fort, with moats located at various points. Logs with wooden spikes lodged through the bean called Chevaux de fries would dot the landscape leading to the fort, serving as obstacles in case of a major attack.

Quartermaster stores, officers’ quarters, hospital, smokehouse and ovens were all built. The interior also featured a parade ground. A powder magazine was also built using earth. A blacksmith shop and sawmill were located on site. The army could sustain itself for weeks or months if it had to.

The defenses of Fort Ligonier.
The defenses of Fort Ligonier.

If the campaign looked as though the French would attack the British, they now had a closer fall back position than what Braddock did at Fort Cumberland. From Fort Ligonier, Fort Duquesne was only a few days march. To cover the British army’s rearguard, and keep supplies moving forward to the outposts, 1,200 British soldiers were needed to stay at the various networks of forts.

Brigadier General Forbes had about 100 men stationed at Carlisle, and at Forts Morris, Loudoun, Littleton, Juniata and Frederick. At Fort Cumberland and Ray’s Town, Brig. Gen. Forbes had about 200 men stationed. The future fort at Loyalhanna would see about 300 men to garrison the fort, as the British army moved out to attack the French at Fort Duquesne.

Five and half inch Howitzer.
Five and half inch Howitzer.

During the construction of Fort Ligonier, the British soldiers were subjected to French and Indian raiding parties, who harassed the soldiers. On September 9, Colonel Bouquet ordered 100 men to entrench an area west of Fort Ligonier, near modern day Latrobe, which was nicknamed “Grant’s Paradise.” As the skirmishes occurred, Colonel Bouquet would be forced to answer back. It was no secret that the French were well aware of the British location, and this would play a role that would be played out in two months during the climax of the campaign.

Resources:

Cubbison, Douglas. The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, Jefferson, NC. 2010

Anna Kiefer The Logistics of Supply and the Forbes Campaign of 1758 http://web.hardynet.com/~gruber/supplies_forbes_road.html 2003

James P. Myers Preparations for the Forbes Expedition, 1758, in Adams County, with Particular Focus on the Reverend Thomas Barton 1995.

Sipe, C. Hale. Fort Ligonier and its Times. Fort Ligonier Memorial Foundation, Ligonier, PA, 1976.

Stewart, Irene. Letters of John Forbes, Allegheny Co. Committee, 1927.

Waddell, Louis M., Bomberger Bruce D. The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania 1753-1763. Fortification and Struggle During the War for Empire. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, PA, 1996.

West, Martin. Fort Ligonier Official Guide Book and Map. Fort Ligonier Association, 2009.

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