Bridgeville Area Historical Society explores George Washington’s role in Forbes Expedition
For its November “Second Tuesday” workshop, the Bridgeville Area Historical Society continued its series on George Washington’s exploits in western Pennsylvania by focusing on his role in the Forbes Expedition.
In 1758, Gen. John Forbes arrived in Philadelphia with instructions to lead an expedition against Fort Duquesne (originally spelled Fort Du Quesne from its French origin). His army included British regulars; Pennsylvania militiamen; and the Virginia Regiment, commanded by George Washington.
The direct route from Philadelphia to the frontier led through Lancaster to Carlisle. Forbes’ advance guard, led by second-in-command Col. Henry Bouquet, quickly converted the Carlisle stronghold into a major supply depot.
The Pennsylvania troops were sent ahead to improve the road west, through Chamber’s Mill to Fort Loudon, then up Path Valley and Cowan’s Gap to Fort Lyttleton.
By June 28, the advance forces had reached Raystown, a small trading village established in 1732 by trader John Wray. It became the site of another major military fortification, Fort Bedford.
By now it was obvious that Forbes’ strategy was to advance cautiously to the west, building strong points at regular intervals along his route. Washington, with the Virginia troops, joined the expedition at Fort Bedford.
Col. James Burd pressed on across Allegheny and Laurel Ridges to Loyalhanna Creek, where another impressive military fortification, Fort Ligonier, was constructed.
Bouquet arrived at Fort Ligonier on Sept. 7 and promptly sent a contingent of Highlanders, led by Maj. James Grant, toward Fort Duquesne on a reconnaissance mission. When they reached the hill overlooking the fort, Grant elected to “demonstrate” in the hope that he could encourage the enemy to come out and fight.
His hopes were realized when that did indeed occur, resulting in another disastrous defeat. Half of Grant’s forces were lost; he was captured by the enemy.
This apparently encouraged the French and Indians to counterattack. On Oct. 12, they mounted a fierce attack on Fort Ligonier, lasting three hours. When it became obvious the fortification was much too strong, they withdrew to Fort Duquesne, ready to spend the winter there.
On Nov. 3, Washington again displayed his courage by riding between the opposing lines in a “friendly fire” incident, knocking the muzzles of his men’s muskets up and ordering them to cease fire. Nonetheless, 14 of his troops were killed.
Forbes sent a column led by Washington forward to attack Fort Duquesne. When they arrived there on Nov. 25, they were greeted by explosions and smoke. The defenders had destroyed their fort and escaped down the Ohio.
When Gen. Forbes arrived, he celebrated by writing a letter to William Pitt in which he announced that the new fort to be built on the site would be named for the prime minister.
George Washington had seen the forks of the Ohio for the first time five years earlier. His attempts to return had been frustrated twice. Despite his disagreement with his commander’s strategy, he had served faithfully, and on at least one occasion, courageously. Nonetheless, his application for a commission in the British Regular Army was again rejected.
Reluctantly, he returned to Virginia, to woo Martha Custis and to assume the life of a gentleman planter at Mt. Vernon, a life he would enjoy for the next 16 years.
John F. Oyler is a contributing writer. You can reach him at 412-343-1652 or [email protected] Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.