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History is alive and well in the Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania where the British army and its influence on the western interior of Colonial America, is remembered through a number of important rebuilt historical sites.
Three, of many sites worth visiting along Pennsylvania's Trail of History, are Fort Necessity, Fort Ligonier and Bushy Run Battlefield. Each gives an excellent insight, yet different view of British army life and strife during the mid-years of the eighteenth century. People tend to forget that before the American Revolution in the 1770's, the Colonies were British and had a more structured British lifestyle than that of settlers in the robust and wild Canada West. There is also a tendency to forget that in the eighteenth century, the French exercised their considerable territorial influence from Montreal to New Orleans, bolstering their presence with a line of outposts and forts along the route.
The Allegheny River, on the western border of Pennsylvania lead directly to the Ohio River Valley and on to the great Mississippi. This route, dominated by the French, played a key role in their lucrative fur trade. By the early 1750's, the English were challenging the territorial rights of the French, who had allied themselves with the powerful Six Nations of Indians. Along with a formidable enemy, British troops had to contend with bridging the Allegheny Mountain range to access French fortifications. In 1754 concern mounted about a large French contingent building Fort Duquesne at Forks of the Ohio.
Twenty-one year old Major George Washington was dispatched in May, with company of 132 men to the western border. Washington decided a direct western route was necessary for movement of troops and supplies so proceeded to cut a road over the impregnable Memacolin Path. Progress was slow but eventually Washington's group hacked their way to a mile wide meadow, where a temporary camp was established. 'A fort of necessity' Washington called the fortification he ordered built. By June reinforcements brought his troops up to four hundred individuals, but work on the fort went slowly. On July lst the first skirmish took place near Fort Necessity at Great Meadow, with French and Indians fighters pushing British soldiers across the open field and pinning them in the unfinished palisade. By July 3, Washington's attempt to lure the enemy out onto the meadow for open battle had failed. Both sides were suffering losses from battle, desertion and distractions which included the 'demon rum.' By mutual agreement, a gentleman's surrender was negotiated on July 4, 1754. George Washington had lost his first battle and started a war.
The next thrust was conceived from a plan prepared by the Duke of Cumberland, son of George 11 and notorious for his success at Culloden in 1745. Under the direction of Edward Braddock, a forty-five year veteran of the Coldstream Guard, an attack was perpetuated on Fort Duquesne. Braddock traveled across the mountains uneventfully but through a series of tactical blunders, he was routed close to Forks of the Ohio, leaving the frontier defenseless until 1758. During this period of time both the French and native Indians forces wrecked havoc, driving pioneers out of western frontier with unprovoked vicious attacks toward undefended settlements. In 1757, British Secretary of State William Pitt, with General John Ligonier as Chief Miliary Advisor, took charge of the war. A Scot, Brigadier General John Forbes and Colonel Henry Bouquet were given the task of routing the French and securing the Forks of the Ohio. In a daring move, reminiscent of George Washington's thrust three years before, Forbes decided to cut a direct route over the hump of the Allegheny Mountains to access the Ohio river valley.
The road was begun in July of 1758 and by September 1, a fort on the Loyalhanna River at the midway point way was begun. The fort, aptly named Ligonier, was strategic to the assault on Fort Duquesne, fifty miles west. Several skirmishes between September and November led the French to believe they should withdraw for the winter to positions closer to supplies on the Great Lakes. In November 1758, the British walked into Fort Duquesne without a fight. With the fall of Quebec in 1759 and Montreal in 1760, the war with New France was over and the British took full control of the western American interior. Native populations who were used to easy relations and negotiations with the French, became increasingly annoyed that their demands and concerns were being ignored.
By 1762, when it became apparent that their way of life was in jeopardy, a number of Great Lakes tribes banded together in one last attempt for native independence. Six British outposts fell quickly to their onslaught and a siege was perpetrated on Fort Pitt, now the site of Pittsburgh. By Jan of 1763 they had become such a threat that Colonial Henry Bouquet was sent over the Forbes Road via Fort Ligonier to engage the enemy and relieve a siege at Fort Pitt. In August, Bouquet found himself in an uncomfortable position at Edge Hill near Bushy Run. Through a brilliant military tactic, Bouquet managed to turn a bad situation into victory effectively destroying the Indian initiative.
Rebuilt Fort Ligonier is an excellent site, rich with artifacts, museum and introductory film. Tours are self-guided, giving lots of time for viewing both museum and fort. The use of mannequins in period costume throughout the fort is genius. A number of Scottish Highland Regiments saw duty on the western frontier, and Ligonier's interpretation and display of Scots Highland dress is exceptional. Don't miss their gift shop with its abundance of books pertaining to military campaigns and dress.
In the heart of the Laurel Highlands, one does not expect to find such a salute to the British period in America. Very British! Very good! Fort Necessity, with its rebuilt palisades is strategically placed on Great Meadow. An excellent view of the area and fort can be had from the Interpretive and Visitor Center at the entrance. Staff is always eager to answer questions before a self-guided tour of the fort and meadow is taken.
Great Meadow is an unusual natural meadow, surrounded by the highlands. As Washington surmised, it would have been a marvelous place for a small skirmish, had the enemy cooperated by showing themselves in full on it, instead of hiding behind trees on its perimeter. Bushy Run Battlefield has an excellent Visitor Centre with well thought-out exhibits pertaining to both the British and the Native Indians. Their interpretation of the Native participation is very good. Once again mannequins are used to advantage. If you decide to take a walk along the Edge Hill Trail, pick up a pamphlet at the Centre, which outlines the important locations and events pertaining to General Bouquet's battle.
IF YOU GO:
on Route #30, in the heart of the Laurel Highlands
located three blocks from Fort Ligonier
Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658
at #1 Washington Parkway
A reasonable admission is charged
Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658-9701
An admission is charged
Their postal address is
P.O. Box 468
Harrison City, Pennsylvania 15636-0468
Visitors are asked to pay a small admission fee.
P.O. Box 1026
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17108-1026
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