I’ve always been fascinated by this battle during the Great Indian Uprising commonly called Pontiac’s War. Maybe you will be too, in a way it is a little like an 18th Century Rorkes Drift. “We were attacked on every Side”
Colonel Henri Bouquet was a Swiss Professional Soldier born in Rolle to a moderately wealthy roadhouse owner and his well to do wife in 1719. He sered in several European armies before He entered the British Army in 1756 as a lieutenant
colonel in the 60th Regiment of Foot (The Royal American Regiment), a unit made up largely of members of Pennsylvania’s German immigrant community. He was a dark haired man with the wide waist of an 18th century officer and the smug, sly, pointed face of a man used to his importance and position. However he was also a dogged and shrewd commander, with a cruel streak towards Indians, and a professional soldier’s disregard for their methods, yet he had an understanding of Bush Warfare born during the war against France. To relive beleaguered Fort Pitt during Pontiac’s uprising, he travelled 100 miles north from Philadelphia to Carlisle, arriving there on 19 July. He then gathered his forces and marched to Fort Ligonier. He left on the road to Fort Pitt with 460 men of the 42nd, 77th acting as a composite battalion and 18 men of the 60th Royal Americans, a company of Rangers, a train of packhorse’s 60 drivers and a small herd of cattle. He was confident that he would be able to lift the siege and “extirpate the savages”, he did not expect much trouble and was confident of success. On the 5th of August he force marched 18 miles in intense heat, aiming to stop at the abandoned station at Bushy Run Creek to get water for his thirsty, malaria and yellow fever suffering men lately returned from Havana. Once rested he would attempt to negotiate a dangerous defile at Turtle Creek by night. One mile from Bushy Run scouts made up of rangers and veteran light infantry spotted Indian camp fires and found tracks that confirmed they had stumbled onto a force of Indians.
They reported this to Bouquet but as soon as the Indians realised they had been spotted they attacked the vanguard yelling loudly. This was singular to the veteran bush fighters, it was usual for Indians to attack the rear first, however at the Monongahela in 1755 this did happen. At Bushy Run I think that the Indians were surprised by the sudden appearance of the regulars rather than waiting to ambush them. The light companies of the 42nd and 77th, part of the vanguard under Major Allen Campbell of the 42nd, remained calm and opened fire, galling the first onrush and sending the American Indians to cover, before the smoke cleared they fixed bayonets and charged, screaming their own war cries, and driving the Indians back.
The American Indian force was a typical polyglot of the various tribes that joined the uprising, the war party was made up of a collection of Delaware, Miami, Shawnee, Wyandot, Mingo and Ottawa warriors. They seem to have realised first that they had a fight on their hands but probably didn’t know that they where in fact outnumbered by the redcoats, they themselves numbering something like 2-300 elite fighters. Masters of forest warfare, painted in the dark shades of war and death. Stripped naked but for a breech cloth and leggings, armed with Tomahawk, lance, scalping knife and musket, they melted away and appeared along the flanks of Bouquet’s column as he brought up his main force to support the vanguard, again this is what happened at Monongahela where an army of 1,600 regulars and provincials had been destroyed by a mixed, predominantly native, French and Indian force of just 900. Soon gunfire and war whoops were heard at the rear of the column, still coming over a low eminence called Edge Hill, making it appear to the British that they were hopelessly outnumbered. At this point, around 1 O’clock, Bousquet probably decided he had been ambushed by a huge force of Indians blocking the road to fort Pitt, knowing that any relief force
would come by Bushy Run Creek. Despite being under the impression that he was opposed by numberless hordes, due to the subtle art of Indian warfare, he was no less eager than the Indians to step into the ring but if he was going to be surrounded, Bousquet wanted a wall between his men and the Indians, gathering them together he got them back into a circle on Edge Hill. There he drew in his packhorses, supplies and wounded to the centre, and tried to force the terrified drivers who had ran for cover to respond to orders. A barricade of flower sacks was hastily thrown up to shelter the wounded. The Allied Tribes were game to try their luck at an escalade. After a tense wait the troops at the wall heard the whoops, yells coming through the evening woods accompanied by the snapping and rustling of an attack. The Indians came charging up the hill and found every musket loaded and ready, the crashing volley checked them and the following bayonet charge settled the issue for the day but as twilight drew on it was evident they had not gone far. The redcoats dug in further and listening posts where set up, the night was full of false alarms and frightening sounds caused by the enemy prowling the woods. The column had lost 60 men killed and wounded with 5 drivers missing, the heat had made the poor casualties hellishly thirsty. In an attempt to save them from suffering, a band of brave men, all good bush fighters, volunteered to go into the darkness and bring back water through the encircling Indians. Amazingly they succeeded in bringing back canteens of brackish, muddy brook water which alleviated the suffering of the wounded, but no one got sleep that night.
“The Savages exerted themselves with uncommon Resolution”
On the morning of the 6th the beleaguered garrison faced a day of searing heat and ferocious Indian attacks. At Dawn the rising sun shone pink through the dark slits of the tree’s and a chilling chorus of shrieks came out of the forest from all directions, it was the allied tribes making whooping up a din to unnerve the defenders. Then there was the silence to contend with as they advanced and then the tense quiet was shattered as the shooting began, and the redcoats returned fire at their unseen enemy’s who were masters and concealment, stealth and surprise. Edge hill had the disadvantage of being overlooked by rising ground and not wanting to run low on ammunition they picked their shots carefully, as horse stretchers where made for the wounded. By noon the fight was hot in both senses of the word, musketry crackled like wildfire around the oval redoubt, the sun was at its height and the Indians where becoming more audacious and made several attempts to storm the position, each time they where driven back with cold steel. Determined to destroy the garrison they yelled over the wall that they would have the Colonel’s scalp by nightfall. Bouquet realised that it very well might come to that if something didn’t change and he decided to stake all on a daring gamble.
With the firefight intensifying he ordered Major Campbell commanding the light infantry companies of the 42nd and 77th to withdraw precipitously from the perimeter as if in flight. The sweating, powder stained highlanders were dangerously near the point of heat exhaustion, many wounded, with bruised and aching shoulders from the kick of their muskets, mouths dry from biting cartridges, lips cracked from the heat, tongues beginning to dry and swell, faces burned by the sun many still suffering from fever. As they pulled back from the wall and filed towards the centre they knew it was their last chance. Bouquet now ordered Campbell to exit the defences and deploy in dead ground to the south as a mobile strike force. Stripping his garrison of such a large amount of men was a bold step given he thought he was outnumbered but he needed to get the Indians to engage him hand to hand. The Grenadier companies were then ordered to support their withdrawal and flanking companies to open their files to close the gap, then the whole were to retire as if the position was collapsing. In the smoke filled woods the Indians looked at the hill to see the redcoats withdrawing from the wall, first in huge chunks and then they slowly receded as a body. Thinking victory was at hand the warriors rushed from their hiding places and swarmed up to the redoubt where they engaged the regulars across the breastwork and poured into them a galling fire over the now mounting piles of dead and wounded. Seeing the mass of tribesmen concentrated on assailing the west wall Bouquet ordered his attack force waiting in the hollow below the south rampart to charge the Indian right flank. The crash of volleys and the yells and whoops of charging Indians could be clearly heard by the Highlanders in question, they had been lead down the hill by Major Campbell. Formed in a ragged line, they faced to the right, two ranks deep in open order with rangers on their left, below the hill the largely Gaelic speaking highlanders grimly fixed bayonets in the swirling smoke. At the word they swung around the west side of the hill like a pendulum. The exhausted redcoats charged with a hoarse yell rising from parched throats and sweeping aside scattered parties of Indians not yet engaged, they halted briefly to empty their muskets and crashed into the flank of the swarm of Indians fighting at the wall. In the tanged undergrowth of the Pennsylvania bush, the wide arc of a claymore was a liability and the Highlanders went in with both hands on their muskets and their bayonets flashing. Unused to such a brutal standup fight the Indians turned and gave a scattered volley but quickly realised their mistake, and were pushed off the hill. Now Bouquet sent Captain Basset to tell the Grenadiers to advance, this new set off attackers caught the Indians before they could reload and they broke into a mob of fugitives. Major Campbell took up the pursuit with the four victorious companies, the main body limped off the fatal hill to quench their fierce thirst at Bushy Run Creek, despite the fact it was now an accepted part of forest warfare, the regulars either had too much respect for their fallen enemy or were too tired to take any scalps for bounty, that was left up to the Rangers.
Bouquet finally dragged his weary column into Fort Pitt on the 10th of August, offering relief to both besieged and saviour, the desperate battle had cost Bousquet 50 dead including 2 officers and 60 wounded of which 3 were officers and a volunteer, with five packhorse drivers missing, a quarter of his force and the loss of the flour sacks that he could not carry because he had lost too many horses during the battle. Amongst the living was an exhausted private of the 77th (Montgomery’s) Highlanders, Robert Kirkwood who had been captured and adopted by Indians during the war against France, who had been singled out by Major Robert Rodgers as a skilled bush fighter, had survived the disease and shot of the Havana Campaign, volunteered to bring water to the wounded at Bushy Run and partook in the last violent charge of the day. In ten years of campaigning this soldier had travelled over 5,000 miles by foot, canoe, whaleboat and transport ship. having survived so many dangers he safely retired from the service and wrote his memoirs. Bouquet spent a dicey summer at Fort Pitt trying to keep his disease ridden forces together as the men of the 60th clamoured for overdue discharge. The battle of Bushy Run for all it’s drama did not break the siege though the British thought it did. Rather much like at every other fort still held by the end of the summer of 1763, the Indians realised that they would not get help from the French and returned to their homes in the autumn to prepare for winter, after a six month siege. Josh.
2 Replies to “The Battle of Bushy Run 1763.”
excellent detailed account of an outstanding military event
Agreed, very detailed as well.