The following article is from History of the United States of America From the Discovery of the Continent , by George Bancroft, vol II; D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1876-1883; pages 493-497.

 

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George Washington &
the Forbes Campaign


 

After long delays, Joseph Forbes, who had the command as brigadier, saw twelve hundred and fifty Highlanders arrive from South Carolina. They were joined by three hundred and fifty royal Americans. Pennsylvania, animated by an unusual military spirit - which seized even Benjamin West, known afterward as a painter, and Anthony Wayne, then a boy of thirteen - raised for the expedition twenty-seven hundred men. Their senior officer was John Armstrong. With Washington as their leader, Virginia sent two regiments of about nineteen hundred, whom their beloved commander praised as "really fine corps." Yet, vast as were the preparations, Forbes would never, but for Washington, have seen the Ohio.

The Virginia chief, who at first was stationed at Fort Oum­berland, clothed a part of his force in the hunting-shirt and Indian blanket, which least impeded the progress of the soldier through the forest; and he entreated that the army might advance promptly along Braddock's road. But the expedition was not merely a military enterprise: it was also the march of civilization toward the West, and was made memorable by the construction of a better avenue to the Ohio. This required long-continued labor. September had come before Forbes, whose life was slowly ebbing, was borne in a litter as far as Raystown. But he preserved a clear head and a firm will, or, as he himself expressed it, was "actuated by the spirits" of William Pitt; and he decided to keep up the direct connection with Philadelphia, as essential to present success and future security.

Map of Roads built by Braddock and by Forbes
Braddock's Road: 1. Alexandria, 2, Winchester, 3. Fort Cumberland, 4. Stewart's Crossing.
Forbes's Road: 5. Philadelphia, 6. Lancaster, 7. Ft. Loudoun, 8. Ft. Bedford, 9. Ft. Ligonier
10. French Fort Duquesne, later Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh)

While Washington, with most of the Virginians, joined the main army, Bouquet was sent forward, with two thousand men, to Loyal Hanna. There he received intelligence that the French post was defended by but eight hundred men, of whom three hundred were Indians. Bouquet, without the 'knowledge of his superior officer, intrusted to Major Grant, of Montgomery's battalion, a party of eight hundred, chiefly Highlanders and Virginians, of Washington's command, with orders to reconnoitre the enemy's position. The men easily scaled the successive ridges, and took post on a hill near Fort Duquesne. Not knowing that Aubry had arrived with a reenforcement of four hundred men from Illinois, Grant divided his troops, in order to tempt the enemy into an ambuscade; and, at daybreak of the fourteenth of September, discovered himself by beating his drums. A large body of French and Indians, commanded by the gallant Aubry, immediately poured out of the fort, and with surprising celerity attacked his troops in detail, never allowing him time to get them together. They gave way and ran, leaving two hundred and ninety-five killed or prisoners. Even Grant, who in the folly of his vanity had but a few moments before been confident of an easy victory, gave himself up as a captive; but a small party of Virginians, under the command of Thomas Bullitt, arrested the precipitate flight, and saved the detachment from utter ruin. On their return to the camp, their coolness and courage were publicly extolled by Forbes; and, in the opinion of the whole army, regulars as well as provincials, their superiority of discipline reflected honor on Washington.

Not till the fifth of November did Forbes himself reach Loyal Hanna; and there a council of war determined for that season to advance Fort Ligonier at Loyal Hanna Creekno farther. But, on the twelfth, Washington gained from three prisoners exact information of the weakness of the French garrison on the Ohio, and it was resolved to proceed. Two thousand five hundred men were picked for the service. For the sake of speed, they left behind every convenience except a blanket and a knapsack, and of the artillery took only a light train.

Washington, who, pleading a "long intimacy with these woods" and familiarity" with all the passes and difficulties," had solicited the responsibility of leading the party, was appointed to command the advance brigade. His troops were provincials. Forbes, now sinking into the grave, had consumed fifty days in marching as many miles from Bedford to Loyal Hanna. Fifty miles of the wilderness still remained to be opened in the late season, through a soil of deep clay, or over rocky hills white with snow, by troops poorly fed and poorly clad; but Washington infused his own spirit into the men whom he commanded, and who thought light of hardships and dangers while" under the particular directions" of "the man they knew and loved." Every encampment was so planned as to hasten the issue. On the thirteenth, the vet­eran Armstrong, who had proved his skill in moving troops rapidly and secretly through the wilderness, pushed forward with one thousand men, and in five days threw up defences within seventeen miles of Fort Duquesne. On the fifteenth, Washington, who followed, was on Chestnut Ridge; on the seventeenth, at Bushy Run. "All," he reported, "are in fine spirits and anxious to go on." On the nineteenth, Washington left Armstrong to wait for the Highlanders, and, taking the lead, dispelled by his vigilance every "apprehension of the enemy's approach."

French Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio
Model of the French Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio R.

When, on the twenty-fourth, the general encamped his whole party among the hills of Turkey creek, within ten miles of Fort Duquesne, the disheartened garrison, then about five hundred in number, set fire to the fort in the night-time, and by the light of its flames went down the Ohio. On Saturday, the twenty-fifth of November, the little army moved on in one body; and at evening the youthful hero could point out to Armstrong and the hardy provincials, who marched in front, to the Highlanders and royal Americans, to Forbes himself, the meeting of the rivers. Armstrong's own hand raised the British flag over the ruined bastions of the fortress. As the banners of England floated over the waters, the place, at the suggestion of Forbes, was with one voice called Pittsburg[h]. It is the most enduring monument to William Pitt. America raised to his name statues that have been wrongfully broken, and granite piles of which not one stone remains upon another; but, long as the Monongahela and the Alleghany shall flow to form the Ohio, long as the English tongue shall be the language of freedom in the boundless valley which their waters traverse, his name shall stand inscribed on the gateway of the West.

The twenty-sixth was observed as a day of public thanksgiving for success; and when was success of greater importance? The connection between the sea-side and the world beyond the mountains was established forever; a vast territory was secured; the civilization of liberty and commerce and religion was henceforth "to maintain the undisputed possession of the Ohio." "These dreary deserts," wrote Forbes, "will soon be the richest and most fertile of any possessed by the British in North America."

On the twenty-eighth, a numerous detachment went to Braddock's field, where their slaughtered comrades, after more than three years, lay yet unburied in the forest. Here and there a skeleton was found resting on the trunk of a fallen tree, as if a wounded man had sunk down in the attempt to fly. In some places, wolves and crows had left signs of their ravages; in others, the blackness of ashes marked the scene of the revelry of cannibals. The trees still showed branches rent by cannon, trunks dotted with musket-balls. Where the havoc had been the fiercest, bones lay whitening in confusion. None could be recognised, except that the son of Sir Peter Halket was called by the shrill whistle of a savage to the great tree near which his father and his brother had been seen to fall together; and, while Benjamin West and a company of Pennsylvanians formed a circle around, the Indians removed the leaves till they bared the relics of the youth, lying across those of the elder officer. The remains of the two, thus united in death, were wrapped in a Highland plaid, and consigned to one grave, with the ceremonies that belong to the burial of the brave. The bones of the undistinguishable multitude, more than four hundred and fifty in number, were indiscriminately cast into the ground, no one knowing for whom specially to weep. The chilling gloom of the forest at the coming of winter, the religious awe that mastered the savages, the groups of soldiers sorrowing over the ghastly ruins of an army, formed a sombre scene of desolation. How is all changed! The banks of the broad and placid Monongahela smile with gardens, orchards, and teeming harvests; with workshops and villas; the victories of peace have effaced the memorials of war; railroads send their cars over the Alleghanies in fewer hours than the army had taken weeks for its unresisted march; and in all that region no sounds now prevail but of life and activity.

Newly constructed Fort Pitt

Two regiments, composed of Pennsylvanians, Marylanders, and Virginians, remained as a garrison, under the command of Mercer; and for Washington, who at twenty-six retired from the army, after having done so much to advance the limits of his country, the next few weeks were filled with happiness and honor. The people of Fredericktown [Winchester] had chosen him their representative. On the last day of the year, "the affectionate officers" who had been under him expressed, with "sincerity and openness of soul," their grief at "the loss of such an excellent commander, such a sincere friend, and so affable a companion," "a man so experienced in military affairs, one so renowned for patriotism, conduct, and courage." . They publicly acknowledged to have found in him a leader who had "a quick discernment and invariable regard for merit, an earnestness to inculcate genuine sentiments of true honor and passion for glory; "whose" example inspired alacrity and cheerfulness in encountering severest toils;" whose zeal for "strict discipline and order gave to his troops a superiority which even the regulars and provincials publicly acknowledged."

Mount Vernon

On the sixth of the following January, the woman of his choice was bound with him in wedlock. The first month of union was hardly over when, in the house of burgesses, the speaker, obeying the resolve of the house, publicly gave him the thanks of Virginia for his services to his country; and as the young man, taken by surprise, hesitated for words in his attempt to reply, "Sit down," interposed the speaker, "your modesty is equal to your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language I possess." After these crowded weeks, Washington, no more a soldier, retired to Mount Vernon, with the experience of five years of assiduous service. Yet not the quiet of rural life by the side of the Potomac, not the sweets of conjugal love, could turn his fixed mind from the love of glory; and he revealed his passion by adorning his rooms with busts of Eugene and Marlborough, of Alexander, of Caesar, of Charles XII.; and of one only among living men, the king of Prussia, whose struggles he watched with painful sympathy. Washington had ever before his eyes the image of Frederic. Both were eminently founders of nations, childless heroes, fathers only to their countries: the one beat down the dominion of the aristocracy of the middle ages by a military monarchy; the Providence which rules the world had elected the other to guide the fiery coursers of revolution along nobler paths, and to check them firmly at the goal.

For George Washington's personal recollections of this campaign and the famous "friendly fire" incident click here.
 

Timeline:


1748 Ohio Company organized by Virginia gentry and merchants. 
1749 Celoron de Bienville travels down the Ohio River as far as the Miami River claiming land for France. The Ohio Company of Virginia receives a grant of 200,000 acres on the Ohio River and constructs their first storehouse at Wills Creek on the Potomac.
1752 Marquis de Duquesne becomes governor-general of Canada and begins to fortify the route down the Ohio River. Logstown Treaty: The British try to cement the earlier transfer of lands east of the Ohio to the British by the Iroquois. French attack Pickawillany.
June 29, 1757 William Pitt becomes Prime Minister
Jan. 12, 1758 Dinwiddie sails for England having been retired.
June 14-16, 1758 Colonel Henry Bouquet of Gen. Forbes's army mets at Fort Loudoun with representatives of the Cherokee and Catawba Nations to seek their assistance in the ongoing war with the French.
July 24, 1758 George Washington. wins election to House of Burgesses from Frederick County.
August 1758 Gen. John Forbes finally assembles his army at Raystown for the assault on Fort Duquesne
Oct. 12-13, 1758 French force attacks Gen. Forbes's troops at Ft. Ligonier at Loyal Hanna and is repulsed.
October 1758 Treaty Conference with Indians at Easton brings renewed alliances with Britain and a British guarantee for restricting settlement west of the Alleghenies.
Nov 24, 1758 French abandon and burn Ft. Desquene before Forbes army can attack it.
Dec. 1758 George Washington resigns his commission in the Virginia Regiment and retires to Mount Vernon.
January 6, 1759 George Washington marries Martha Dandridge Custis
February 22, 1759 George Washington takes his seat in the House of Burgesses representing Winchester.
Oct. 7, 1763 British government sets line of the Alleghanies

 

For further, more in-depth reading see:

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 by Fred Anderson; Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000. This Crucible of Waris considered the best of the modern accounts of the war taking into consideration the three important parties involved. It treats the politics of Native American involvement and looks at the whole conflict from a perspective of its contribution to the coming Revolution. It has 746 pages of text with 85 pages of supporting footnotes so it is not for the casual reader. It is to be expected that a work of this scope will, of necessity, omit many local events that various readers might want to know about; many events in Virginia are not well recounted. However, one might consider at least reading the first 168 pages for an insight into the early stages of the conflict. It is available through most any bookstore or www.FortEdwards.org .

    

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2008 Charles C. Hall
updated: Feb. 11, 2008
www.FrontierForts.org