Zounds, Annie Dillard, where were you when I was a kid? (“The French and Indian War: A Memoir,” July/August)
I, too, grew up thrilled at the idea that I may have stood on the very same spot as an Indian or a French or British soldier gazing at the Allegheny River snaking through the rolling hills some twenty miles upstream from Fort Pitt. I played on those hills more than ten years where the Raystown Path met the Allegheny, in the “Indian Caves” and the foundation of the log cabin burned during Pontiac’s War. Our nightly campfires were theirs, and our heads filled with bloody and terrifvins massacres.
Then, suddenly, I was fifty years old and living five miles from General Forbes’s Camp (listed as Bouquet’s Camp), his last on the march against Fort Duquesne. There his army of twenty-five hundred men with only weapons and light packs encamped on November 24, 1758, and heard the thunder of the explosions and saw the glow in the sky as the Fort at the Forks was destroyed by the French. The next day, with his officers, among whom were Colonels Mercer, Armstrong, Bouquet, and Washington, he tramped the last miles to the fort. They found it burned and abandoned. On those ashes rose the great Fort Pitt.
Thanks to my friend Ed Williams, octagenarian, historian, and author for the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, and his intensive research, I was introduced to the exact campsite. I stood on the W-shaped fortification thrown up 229 years ago and now overgrown with trees and briars. I climbed into the breastworks a quarter of a mile to the south that guarded the Forbes Trail. The trail is now a paved road.
Dressed in my eighteenth-century uniform as surgeon in Col. Hugh Mercer’s 3d Battalion, Pennsylvania Regiment of Provincials, I’ve sat on the ramparts of Old Fort Niagara while below me were hundreds of tents, candlelit and alive with more than 500 uniformed reenactors; watched the shooting stars over Edge Hill, where Pontiac’s screaming horde killed or wounded 123 of Bouquet’s force at Bushy Run; strolled atop the original brick walls of Fort Pitt as the twentieth-century real world roared on the expressway overhead; listened to the far-off drums from the breastworks of Fort Necessity; perched high on the rock ledges overlooking Jumonville’s Glen; and for the past eleven years, helped refight the Battle of Fort Ligonier. And I slept in all those places with the ghosts and spirits of the dead. It’s true, George Washington slept in my backyard.
Thanks, from another dreamer.