FLOUR SACKS AND INDIANS:
THE BATTLE OF BUSHY RUN, AUGUST 1763
(new added at bottom from Aug. 8, 2008 when just
Melanie, Stephen, Joey, and I did the same walk
Carl and I had done on Memorial Day)
Carl and I moved out east of Pittsburgh in early March of 2008 and so have a whole new
area to explore. On Memorial Day, he and I drove down to the nearby battlefield of Bushy
Run. Since it was Memorial Day, I thought perhaps it might be crowded, but no one else was
about...which is always fine with me. In the quiet the bird calls come more clearly, the leaves
rustle uninterrupted by shouting voices, and the past...what happened there...is more easily
right in front of you. And much happened here. I shall tell the tale amongst the pictures.
This is the grove of trees near the parking area. I just enjoyed the look of it, though it is not at
all representative of what the area would have been like in 1763. Nearly the entire area was
covered in trees, yes, but nothing open like this beneath the canopy.
Same area on Dec. 13, 2008 See WINTER MAGIC 2 for these pictures
This is the main path that runs behind the battlefield. The woods in the background show what the ground cover would have been like at the time.
They've made it a lovely place to walk, with nice wide paths. Nothing like this, of course, would
have been anywhere around. To the left is a steep drop-off to a tiny stream. To the right, the hill
sloped sharply up through thick forest to the site of the main battleground.
This I loved, not just the fact of the presence of the ferns, but the lighting on them.
Across the creek to the left hung a very artistic old hollowed log.
The weather was just perfect...low 70's with a bit of a breeze. Clouds had threatened in the morning, but while we were here the sun came out and provided the most excellent lighting through the leaves.
Yes, lovely lighting...some areas nicely dappled like this just off to the right of the path.
This was a smaller path leading off to the left, which we didn't follow.
I think this is my favorite view of the path. It had curved and started to lead uphill through wonderful evergreen trunks, dark against the backlit green.
Still going uphill. It was so utterly quiet and peaceful that it was hard, really, to imagine this
area filled with Indians intent upon attack.
A good ways up the hill we came upon a small bench and sat a brief spell. This is what you're facing as you sit there. They say the battlefield is topographically intact, so I wondered how
this rocky bluff might have fit into what happened.
Still on the bench, I aimed my camera upwards into the canopy over me.
This is the uphill end of the rocky bluff. Again I wondered if anyone had taken advantage of this small shelter.
At the top of the hill, just before the road, the path right angles and leads you towards the site
of the main action. I loved the contrast between the deep shade and the brightly-lit field beyond.
This hilltop would have been wooded at the time with, possibly, some sort of small clearing that
led the British to take their stand here. Bushy Run has 213 acres and lies 25 miles east of Pittsburgh. Three British regiments fought here under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet, a Swiss-born officer. The regiments were comprised of the 60th Royal Americans, whose men had been raised in the colonies (mostly Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey)
and two regiments from the Highlands of Scotland (including units from the Black Watch Regiment). One cannot help but think how far from home these Highlanders were. Above, a single robin was our only company on the battlefield.
A bit of background: During the 9 years of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) the Indians of the Allegheny Mountains and the lands to their west, had been wooed by the British to remain neutral, believing if they did, their lands west of the mountains would be safe from future settlement. It took less than 3 months after the war ended for Britain to break any and all such promises and for settlers to move into their lands in greater numbers than before. With the French no longer in strong contest for control, the British now considered the native residents
to be impediments and any appeasement of them no longer vital to the interests of the Crown.
Enter Pontiac, the great Ottawa war chief, who from 1761 had been growing in power and wanted the different tribes to join together to fight the British. In early May of 1763 he lay
siege to Fort Detroit and his rebellion spread then into Pennsylvania. Pontiac himself never
left the Great Lakes area, but what he was able to accomplish there encouraged the Western Seneca, the Shawnee, and the Delaware to destroy a series of smaller forts and to then lay siege to Fort Pitt itself in June of 1763.
General Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, ordered Colonel Bouquet and the three regiments to march west in order to relieve and resupply Fort Pitt, whose garrison was starving. Leaving from Carlisle on July 18, 1763, Bouquet had 450
men. Accompanying him were wagons loaded with barrels of flour to feed the soldiers at Fort Pitt. Because of the wagons, he had to travel slowly and when he arrived at Fort Ligonier,
found that there had been no news out of Fort Pitt. Three hundred pack horses were waiting
for him at Ligonier and he transferred the flour from the barrels to huge sacks, loading them
on the horses.
Bouquet, wishing to avoid the deteriorated Forbes Road to Fort Pitt, chose a more southerly route which would take him past the Bushy Run outpost. In the few days before the battle, British families in the surrounding areas had been burned out and even the outpost itself had been warned by a party of Mingoes that if those there had not fled , they would all be killed in four days. The day before the battle, the Indians who had been besieging Fort Pitt suddenly withdrew. Now it is thought that most of them headed out to cover the 25 miles toward Bushy Run, wanting to attack Bouquet before he reached the fort.
On August 5th, about one o'clock in the afternoon, Bouquet's regiments were attacked from
the top of a forested hill in front of them. Two light infantry companies were ordered to dislodge them from the hilltop, but despite much battling, neither the British nor the Indians had accomplished anything decisive. Unable to advance, Bouquet pulled back about half a mile and had his men begin to erect what became known as the 'flour sack fort.' Quickly the big sacks were pulled from the horses' backs and stacked into a make-shift wall into the enclosure of which Bouquet had his wounded placed. On the site today, large sacks made from stone rest to give some sense of the bags.
Same spot in October of 2008. Click here for those pictures.
A central monolith marks the site of the flour fort. Bouquet had about 300 of his men surround the hilltop. Bouquet himself described the hours there on the hilltop as "a running fight" wherein as soon as a section of the attackers would be repelled, they were immediately replaced by a fresh wave or withdrawn only to attack in a new position.
Looking at the large stone flour sacks, it was easy to realize how the actual ones would have made an excellent wall, soft and thick so that bullets or arrows would not penetrate all the
Battle plan at the base of the monolith. Bouquet, a professional soldier, saved his men by using the Indians' own strategy against them. Native Americans had developed a practice of deploying their forces into the basic shape of a loose horseshoe around the enemy. They would leave the back end open, hoping to force a retreat through it. The Indians would then fold in the sides of the horseshoe and the soldiers, fleeing through the small back opening, would be easy to kill.
Bouquet understood that this was what he and his men were now facing. So he pretended to retreat, sending two companies of his light infantry over the top of the hill, but ordering them
to curve around its base to the south. The Indians attacked what they saw as thinned lines of troops toward the front of their horseshoe, but the companies from the south attacked them
on their flank. The Indians retreated and Bouquet sent his Light Infantry in pursuit.
As it was Memorial Day, there must have been a rifle salute sometime that morning. In the area near the stone sacks, shell casings were scattered in the grass.
Looking at the sacks through one of the old clumps of cedar.
Pontiac understood that treaties were not going to be honored. His rebellion was a major turning point in the history of his people as it would determine if British colonization could
be limited. This battle at Bushy Run was the critical moment in Pontiac's War. The gateway
to western expansion had been kept open. The capture of the major fort at Pittsburgh had been prevented and lines of communication between the eastern settlements and the frontier had been restored.
By midsummer of 1763, nine British forts had been captured, a tenth abandoned, and the two
great strongholds at Detroit and Pittsburgh were under siege. A huge area was affected by this,
including the modern states of New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin,
and even parts of Maryland and West Virginia. This can be considered the greatest Indian threat during the 18th century to the British colonies. Even though one's ancestors were colonists, one cannot help also but understand the why of Pontiac.
The flags were flying half-mast due to Memorial Day and a nice breeze had them standing well
against the sky.
I had just taken the top flag picture when a golf cartish sort of vehicle came up with these two men who said the President ordered flags be raised to full staff at noon. It was noon. So Carl and I stood and watched as they raised the flags.
So then I took a picture from the other side of the flagpole when they were at full staff. I asked the men a few questions about the battlefield and then they were off in their golf cart again and Carl and I were alone to continue our walk.
The battle lasted the afternoon of the 5th and into the 6th, so I suspect a rather tense night was spent up here in this spot. I did think about that a lot. Bouquet lost 50 men killed, with around 60 wounded. He had to leave the flour, so split open the sacks.
Here I'm heading toward another path that leads steeply down through the woods. I paused to look back at the main battlefield.
All this would have looked like the distant line of trees. Sometimes it's hard to imagine the
action in a particular place when the trees have been so changed. At least the topography is
the same. They do two versions of the reenactment. One is up here in the field where massed spectators can see.
Last view of Flour Fort area.
Part way down the trail to the bottom of the hill.
To the right off this trail is this area thinned of undergrowth where the reenactment in the woods takes place.
Still going down the trail...
Looking back up the trail from just past the woods-reenactment site (left center)
Getting closer to the bottom of the trail.
The far edge of that grove near the parking area in the picture at the very top of this page.
On August 3, 2008, we came back for the re-enactment of the battle. See link below.
These next ones are from the same walk but taken by me with Melanie, Stephen, and Joey
on Aug. 8, 2008
ON TO THE RE-ENACTMENT OF THE BATTLE
ON TO WINTER MAGIC 2 FOR BATTLEFIELD IN WINTER
ON TO A BITTERSWEET DAY AT BUSHY RUN FOR IT IN AUTUMN
BACK TO JO'S OTHER PLACE
PLACES OF REBELLION