The Defeat, The Lesson, The Victory

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Amherst gave Bouquet the remnants of two Highland regiments, members of the Black Watch who had just returned from the siege of Havana and who were more fit for the hospital than for frontier duty. To these the Swiss soldier of fortune added what volunteers he could pick up in Pennsylvania, most of them German emigrants, and headed for Carlisle to gather supplies and transport. Arriving there on July 1, he found that no preparations had been made, but he proceeded with his usual energy to equip and train his little army. Eighteen days later he set out for Fort Bedford, arriving on July 25. There he left his sick, picked up thirty backwoodsmen as guides, and set out along Forbes’ route toward Fort Pitt, more than one hundred miles to the west. Although this road, if it could be called that, put him into contact with more settlements and lessened his supply problem, Bouquet appreciated fully the formidable nature of the forest and the dangers hidden within it at every step. He stationed his wagons and cattle in the center of the caravan, put out advance, rear, and flank guards, and sent selected and experienced frontiersmen far to the front to scout for the enemy.

On August 2 he raised the siege of Fort Ligonier, left his wagons and oxen, and pushed off for Fort Pitt. Bouquet knew the perilous defile of Turtle Creek, near the site of Braddock’s disaster, where the narrow path was flanked on one side by a wall of rock and on the other by a precipice dropping off to the river below. Thinking the Indians might ambush him there, he determined to march as far as Bushy Run on the second day out of Ligonier, and after darkness fell, to cross Turtle Creek in a forced march. But about one o’clock on the afternoon of August 5, as he was approaching Bushy Run, the rattle of guns halted his advance guard. Despite his precautions, it looked as though Bouquet had been surprised as easily as had Braddock.

The principal difference between the two commanders became apparent at once. Bouquet had prepared for such an eventuality, and his advance guard fell back according to plan, a reserve enclosed his supplies and horses, and the troops formed into line. To improve his defensive position, Bouquet led a bayonet charge by the Highlanders—whose war cry was as ferocious and bloodcurdling as that of the Indians—and broke through the Indians to take a solid position on a hill surrounded by woods. Soon it was apparent to Bouquet and his men that they were surrounded on all sides by a force far superior to their own, and their only choice under the circumstances was to form a defensive ring around the supplies and hope for the best. Several bayonet charges broke through the attackers, but the Indians disappeared each time only to appear on another quarter. For seven uninterrupted hours the fight went on—twice as long as the engagement in which Braddock was defeated—and as night fell Bouquet was still completely surrounded. He had sixty killed or wounded, he had no water, and there was no hope of relief; yet the men’s confidence in Bouquet was such that there was no panic. By the light of a lantern the Colonel calmly wrote a detailed dispatch to Amherst which is a classic of its kind. Expressing his “admiration of the cool and steady behaviour of the troops,” he described the heat, fatigue, and thirst which were “more intolerable than the enemy’s fire,” and concluded: “We expect to begin [again] at daybreak. I fear unsurmountable difficulties in protecting and transporting our provisions, being already so much weakened by the loss this day in men and horses.”

As dawn filtered into the gloomy aisles of the forest, the Indians’ attack was renewed more fiercely than ever. Their fire on Bouquet’s force became practically incessant, and while the Indians seemed to gain in strength and confidence, Bouquet’s line was definitely wavering. As the morning wore on, Bouquet realized that his only hope of avoiding slaughter was to draw the Indians from their cover into a compact body enabling his regulars to deal them a decisive blow.

Understanding the Indian character, Bouquet was able to devise a coup de guerre which his disciplined men, dead-tired and harassed though they were, could execute. He knew that the Indians, frenzied with success, were awaiting eagerly the first signs of retreat which would give them the cue to leap forward and massacre his men. To create such an illusion, he ordered two companies to fall back toward the core of his circle. As they did so, he had the troops on either side of the vacant sector spread out thin to cover twice their former front, and then fall back quickly.

As Bouquet expected, this feint entirely deceived the Indians. Led on by his ruse, they rushed forward in a mass toward the gap created by the withdrawal. It was all his thin line could do to prevent them from bursting through, but meantime the two companies which had apparently retreated were moving swiftly out of Bouquet’s circle into the forest vacated by the Indians. Their movement covered from sight by a densely wooded depression, they appeared suddenly and unexpectedly on the right flank of the advancing Indians, whose dense confused mass offered a perfect target for a withering volley. This was followed with a savage bayonet charge by the Highlanders.