Thursday, May 16, 2013

John Forbes and Fort Ligonier

While my crew was out in central Pennsylvania not finding a site we could call the Shades of Death Site, some of them visited Fort Ligonier.

This is a reconstructed fort from the Seven Years War, or the French and Indian War as Americans used to call it. It was built during General John Forbes' 1758 campaign to conquer Fort Duquesne on the site of modern Pittsburgh. I find Forbes interesting because I grew up in Virginia, where a huge deal was made of General Braddock's failed 1754 campaign to take the same fort. Braddock bungled everything about his campaign, from diplomacy with Indians to supply to scouting, and as a result his expedition was crushed and he was killed. Yet it seemed like everything was named after him -- Braddock Road, Braddock Mountain, Braddock Auto Parts, with historical markers all over -- all this for an abject failure.

Then Forbes came along and demonstrated that the task was not especially difficult if you went about it methodically. First, he made sure of the support of both Pennsylvania and Virginia. (Braddock had been too high and mighty to do much more than insult colonials. The Virginians were impressed by his aristocratic Britishness, but the Pennsylvanians were furious and refused to help him. The impossible to offend Benjamin Franklin stepped and took over raising supplies in Pennsylvania, but even Franklin could only do so much.) Campaigning in the Roman style, Forbes' men built a chain of forts from their base of supply all the way to Fort Ligonier, which they deemed within attacking range of Fort Duquesne. They cleared a good road, scouted extensively around their route of march, hired a top Indian expert (Conrad Weiser) to manage their diplomacy and handed out a thousand pounds worth of presents. (Braddock had treated the Indians even worse than he treated the Pennsylvanians.) The Indians, watching Forbes' inexorable march across the mountains, decided to take the presents and abandon the French.

The French could also see their doom coming, and they tried to preempt it by assaulting Fort Ligonier on October 12, 1758. As you can see from the photos and the 1760 plan above, the fort was a formidable barrier, and the French suffered a bloody repulse. With Forbes within striking distance and their Indians off hunting in the woods, the French abandoned Fort Duquesne and went back to Canada. Forbes says, in my imagination: And there you have it -- nothing to it, gentlemen. But doesn't he look like the sadistic redcoat from an American movie about the Revolution?

Fort Ligonier was attacked once again in 1766 during Pontiac's rebellion, but it was not take then, either.

The Fort was reconstructed by the Mellons, who once had a summer house in the neighborhood, and it is now operated by a foundation. My friends say the museum is very good, with lots of authentic Seven Years War stuff. If I ever get out there myself, instead of being stuck in the office like I was during this last project, I will definitely pay the fort a visit.

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