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

In early September, 1758, the advance of the British army was less than fifty miles east of Fort Duquesne. As construction on the future Fort Ligonier continued, the work details and soldiers were periodically harassed by detachments of French soldiers and their Indian allies. With all of the skirmishing, many of the British and Royal American officers were growing increasingly impatient with the situation. Many wanted to take the fight directly to Fort Duquesne.

Brigadier General John Forbes and Colonel Henry Bouquet had some conversation about sending a small detachment of men to attack Fort Duquesne, and doing so at night. This would conceal their movements and hide themselves from the French. Such a maneuver would allow the British to gather intelligence about the layout of the fort and camps. But with very little information coming to Brig. Gen. Forbes from the numerous scouting parties, he felt such an attack was too risky and it was not the right time.

When Major James Grant arrived at Loyalhanna on September 7, he met with Col.l Bouquet, and suggested that they make a move to Fort Duquesne. This would lessen the pressure placed on the British. The plan between the two men went completely against Brig. Gen. Forbes orders. On the positive side, by sending Major Grant out, information and intelligence could help to speed the process of the campaign. Information such as the strength of the French fort and their Indian allies was lacking. He could also report back as to the layout of the fortification itself. Such an operation would have to be kept secret.

It was decided that a mixed force of British and Royal American soldiers, consisting of about 860 men and 38 officers would move against the French at Fort Duquesne. Major Grant would begin his movements on September 9. He was to move to Grant’s Paradise, and reinforce the area with breastworks. The next day Major Grant was met by Col. Bouquet, where last minute details were discussed.

By September 12, Major Grant was within ten miles of Fort Duquesne and had yet to be detected. He sent out various detachments of the Virginia regiment to gather information. Ensign Allen reported back that night that campfires dotted both sides of the river where Fort Duquesne was located. But for unknown reasons, this information was discounted or ignored by Major Grant.

The next day, Major Grant began his movements once again. He ordered Major Andrew Lewis and 200 men to post themselves five miles from the Fort.  Later in the day, Major Grant moved forward and linked up with Major Lewis. By evening, Major Grant again moved forward. By 11:00 p.m., Major Grant moved onto a high hill, four miles away from the French fort.  Not one campfire was seen in the distance. Violating his orders, and thinking a small garrison guarded the fort,  Major Grant decided to attack the French fort.

Before dawn, in the early morning hours of September 14, Major Grant’s men began penetrating the French exterior hornwork, setting fire to one of the buildings. As daylight came, Major Grant decided to draw up the plans of the fort. But since his force was divided into several sections, the left flank had been discovered, and the ambush that was meant for the French fell apart. Instead, the French and allies, totaling 500 men, ambushed the left flank of Major Grant. Soon, the French and their Indian allies attacked Major Grant’s position. Platoon after platoon began firing. Within a short amount of time Indians began to surround Major Grant’s position, using the banks of the rivers to conceal their movements. Then Major Grant’s left and right flanks began to collapse. The same tactic used to attack Major General Edward Braddock was being used on Major Grant’s command.

Before Major Grant’s command collapsed, he ordered Ensign Alexander Grant back to Loyalhanna for reinforcements. But no help would come. Out of 38 officers, 22 were killed, wounded or captured. Of the 860 men, almost 400 would be killed, wounded or captured. Major Grant himself was captured during the battle. The French losses were a mere 16 killed or wounded. Whether Major Grant was making a name for himself or not, once news got back to Col. Bouquet, he was quite upset. The news then had to be reported to Brig. Gen. Forbes, who in return, was also very displeased with the situation.

Brigadier General Forbes did see the brighter side of Grant’s massacre. The French and their Indian allies had felt that they destroyed another major army. Because of this, many of the Indians began to leave to prepare for the winter. Brig. Gen. Forbes would use that to his advantage as he planned for the final push toward Fort Duquesne late in the Fall. In preparation of the attack, the men back at Loyalhanna strengthened their fortifications, expecting a counterattack, but one never came.

The building of the British fort continued under the command of Colonel Burd while Col. Bouquet moved back east to oversee operations on top of the Allegheny Mountain. For a few weeks, the British and Provisionals did not see any Indians. As building progressed, more Provisional troops were marching along the way. Near the middle of October, troop levels were estimated to be around 2,000 men.

By mid October, the French knew which direction the British army would advance upon them, and scouts were sent out to observe the British army. The French knew that they needed to inflict one more disaster on the British army, which would stall their campaign until the next Spring. Knowing that the encampment at Fort Ligonier was a strong position, the French decided to focus on supplies rather than taking the fort. The French commander Captain François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery at Fort Duquesne dispatched 440 French Marines and Canadian Militia, along with 150 Indians under Captain Charles Philip Aubrey. Their goal was to inflict as much damage as possible on the British forward logistics.

On October 12, the French closed in on Loyalhanna. Guards were stationed outside of the fort’s walls. Known as the “Grass Guards,” these men were located about one and a half miles outside of the fort guarding livestock. At 11:00 a.m. shots were fired. Col.l Burd ordered 200 men from the Maryland Battalion out, but they were quickly driven back. The Marylanders were reinforced by 500 men of the 1st Pennsylvania Battalion and three companies of the North Carolina Provincials, but the larger French force drove them back to the fort. Soon the entire garrison was under arms.

As the French approached the garrison, the men unloaded their weapons on them. After about two hours of fighting, the French were driven back by the British artillery. The French and their allies waited for darkness. By 9:00 p.m., the French attacked, but the British artillery forced them to fall back again. Early the next morning, the French Marines, the Canadian Militia and the Indians fell back and began to march to Fort Duquesne. By the end of the battle, the British losses were 61 men killed, wounded or missing, and upwards of 200 livestock killed. The French losses were light, at 2 killed and 7 wounded.


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 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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