The Battle of Bushy Run, 1763 Pontiac War
By 1763 the British had about a million and a half colonists on the North American continent. William Johnson, British superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies, said that there were about 50,000 Indians with 10,000 warriors, though scholars consider his estimate low. General Amherst commanded about 8,000 soldiers, but only about 2,000 of them were in the western forts.
On April 27, 1763, an Ottawa chief named Pontiac held a meeting with a number of Indian leaders from different tribes near Ft. Detroit. He urged the chiefs to wage war against the British. According to a French chronicler, he said, “It is important for us, my brothers, that we exterminate from our lands this nation [Great Britain] which seeks only to destroy us. You see as well as I that we can no longer supply our needs, as we have done from our brothers, the French….Therefore, my brothers, we must all swear their destruction and wait no longer. Nothing prevents us; they are few in numbers, and we can accomplish it.”
Pontiac convinced various Ottawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi and Huron groups to join his confederacy. On May 7, he tried to take Ft. Detroit by surprise, leading 300 warriors into the fort with concealed weapons. The British had been warned of the ruse, and the entire garrison was turned out, armed and ready. Allowed to leave the fort, Pontiac began a siege of the Detroit settlement two days later. The stalemate dragged on, until Pontiac finally lifted the siege on October 31.
However, other Indian groups were rather more successful. Between May 16 and June 21, 8 smaller British-held forts were either attacked outright or taken by subterfuge. They included: Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph and Miami in Ohio and Indian; Ft. Ouiatenon in Illinois; Ft. Michilimackinac in Michigan; and Forts LeBeouf, Venango and Presque Isle in Pennsylvania. [Fort Michilimackinac was taken when the entire garrison of 35 men went outside the fort to watch groups of Indians playing stickball, a forerunner of lacrosse.] In addition to Ft. Detroit, several other British strongholds resisted Indian attacks. They included Ft. Niagara in New York, and Forts Bedford and Ligonier in Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Bushy Run
At about 1 p.m. on the afternoon of August 5, 1763, Bouquet’s force had already marched some 17 miles that day, knowing they were drawing closer to Ft. Pitt, about 25 miles to their west (just north of the present-day city of Jeannette, PA). It was likely about 80-85° F, with muggy conditions and little prospect of rain. Their canteens were almost dry, but nearby was a stream called Bushy Run, which would help slake the men’s thirst. Then, the frontiersmen scouting ahead were attacked by Indians. Sending word back of the ambush, Bouquet ordered a few companies of the Royal Americans forward to assist them. Almost immediately, the entire force was attacked on both flanks and rear by a large force of Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo and Huron Indians who four days ago had left the siege of Ft. Pitt to attack this relief force. [Col. Bouquet estimated that the Indian force was equal to his own.]
Perhaps some of the British and Americans in the column remembered Braddock’s Defeat eight years previously. In a sense, the action of the Indians was “déjà vu all over again.” However, there was one major difference. General Edward Braddock was a career soldier, had fought on the European continent, and was disdainful of the “savages” that eventually killed him. Col. Bouquet, by contrast, had spent the previous decade recruiting troops in Pennsylvania and fighting the Native Americans. He knew their abilities and their tactics, and was prepared to fight them on their own ground, in his own way.
Bouquet ordered his force to form a hollow square, using the slight rise of Edge Hill as their base. Concentrated volley fire and selective bayonet charges kept the mercurial savages at bay throughout the long, hot, muggy day. Finally, near sunset after seven hours of fighting, the Indians pulled back for the night. Almost immediately, Bouquet ordered the construction of a redoubt on Edge Hill. Lacking any other material, the soldiers used the bags of flour to build their protective cover. [Since that time, the “Flour-Bag Fort” has passed into legend.] Inside the redoubt Bouquet placed his wounded, their few remaining supplies and the livestock. The majority of his force hunkered down in the woods, using whatever cover they could find.
As dawn of August 6 approached, the evening sentries noticed movement in the woods. The Indians had returned, and appeared to be massing for a final all-out attack. Informing their commander of this development, Col. Bouquet began to make his plans. After the evening sentries were relieved, Bouquet realigned his forces. He took the grenadier and light companies from his three regiments – primarily the Black Watch – and arranged them behind one section of his line. Then, as the Indians began their attack, Bouquet ordered that particular section of his line to fall back, as though in disordered, headlong retreat. Completely fooled, the Indians poured through the gap in the British line…
On cue, the hidden companies then delivered a tremendous volley into the Indians. Then, as a second round surprise, the hidden soldiers of the Black Watch arose from hiding and charged the Indians with bayonets and swords. After a fight of perhaps an hour, the entire Indian force melted back into the forests. The battle of Bushy run was over.
The 247th year anniversary of the battle re-enacted at the Bushy Run State Park in Harrison, PA.
See all my photos on my Fotki.com site.