Training Ground: The Battle of Bushy Run, August 5 & 6, 1763.
July 24, 2007
In the annals of American military history, Lord CornwallisAca,!a,,cs surrender at Yorktown to the Continental Army still stands as one of the US ArmyAca,!a,,cs defining historical moments. George Washington utilized all of his military experience (experience he had gained in the woods of western Pennsylvania in the 1750s) to push one of BritainAca,!a,,cs greatest generals to the sea. While the Battle of Yorktown may serve as an important milestone for the US Army, it was the military experience Americans gained during the French and Indian Wars period that helped prepare them for Revolution. One such educational event occurred across two hot August days in 1763 when the British crown was forced to quell another rebellion. Deemed PontiacAca,!a,,cs War by 19th century historians, this conflict was conducted by an adversary who often operated unseen, used the available terrain to their advantage, and intimidated their enemy with their purported Aca,!A"savagery.Aca,!A?
On August 4, 1763, Colonel Henry Bouquet left Fort Ligonier anticipating an attack from Indian forces. He predicted that he would encounter the enemy near Turtle Creek and so decided to move through that defile at night to try to avoid the enemy who had already been watching his movements. He never made it. As the mixed army of Highland and Royal American troops, Virginia Aca,!A"woodsmen,Aca,!A? and pack horse drivers crested Edge Hill on their way to what was left of Bushy Run station, they were attacked from the hill to their front. Colonel Bouquet ordered two companies of the 77th RegimentAca,!a,,cs light infantry, a relatively new concept of highly mobile troops, to push the Indians from their superior position. The Highlanders took heavy casualties. As the day turned towards night, the small army had more than 50 casualties, and they were without water for horses or men. Bouquet pulled his troops back to Edge Hill, quartered his wounded in a defensive position made from flour bags, and awaited the Indians to renew their attack at dawn.
Not to disappoint their adversary, the Indian forces, primarily Delaware, Shawnee, Western Seneca, Mingo and some Ottawa, renewed their persistent fire and probing forays around the small armyAca,!a,,cs circular defenses the following morning. By mid-afternoon of August 6, BouquetAca,!a,,cs position was becoming increasingly precarious. Without water, running low on ammunition and with an increasing casualty list, Colonel Bouquet ordered two companies of light infantry at the front of his defenses to withdraw. The withdrawal created the illusion of a retreat and opened a controlled area of BouquetAca,!a,,cs line. The Indian forces fell for the ruse and moved into the void with a heavy fire. Bouquet had ordered his grenadiers and the company of American woodsmen, or rangers, to his left flank to protect his supply train. Just as the Indians Aca,!A"thought themselves masters of the camp,Aca,!A? Bouquet moved up two companies in support, closing the gap, while the grenadiers and rangers moved out from cover and laid down a devastating supporting fire. The action broke the back of the enemy. Days later, BouquetAca,!a,,cs army marched in to relieve the besieged Fort Pitt (present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
The following year, Colonel Bouquet wrote a paper called, Reflections on War with the Savages in North America. In it, he acknowledged that American provincials and woodsmen were best suited for woods warfare. Eighteen years later, along the York River in eastern Virginia, that same collection of backwoodsmen and farm boys proved themselves masters of more conventional warfare, as well.