Thanks to so many of you for joining us a few nights ago at our Fall New Releases Party. It was a delight seeing so many familiar names and meeting new guests.
Last month, I wrote about The Battle of Bushy Run, and today I'm following up with a conclusion about that wilderness melee. Pontiac's War--and the Battle of Bushy Run in particular--is the incident that kicks off my story A Tender Siege in The Highlanders collection, releasing in only two weeks (Nov. 15th).
In my previous post about this historic battle, we left off with Colonel Bouquet having marched troops and supplies on 340 pack horses deep into the wilderness. When he was 25 miles from Fort Pitt (about a four-day's march) his troops took a brief respite along a small creek where they could refill their canteens. Colonel Bouquet's intent had been to rest the men, then march them overnight through the high and craggy hills of Turtle Creek, but then the unthinkable happened.
There they were, exhausted, thirsty, sweltering in the heat, when war cries and shots echoed out of the thickly forested hills around them. The Indians rained down upon the army's advanced guard, surprising them with sudden ferocity. As soon as Bouquet drove them back, they reappeared again on another flank. As the entire army fell under attack, this pattern went on for hours in the August heat. Troops split apart into pockets of men, fighting as they could. Others charged in small columns up the slopes, but the natives pressed on. Eventually, by continually reinforcing their attack from first one place and then another, the natives surrounded Bouquet's 500 men and attacked the convoy left in the rear.
The Indians that ambushed Bouquets troops of Highlanders and Royal Americans were the same Indians that had besieged Fort Pitt, which the army had been marching to relieve. The Indians had earlier discovered that troops were on their way to bring that relief, and withdrew from the fort to surprise the troops.
Bouquet ordered a retreat to protect his supplies. The men marched backward up the slope of Edge Hill having already suffered a loss of 60 killed and wounded.
In A Tender Siege, this is where we meet my hero Lachlan McRea. Having fallen to a bullet wound, Lachlan becomes separated from his troops. With the smoke of gunfire filling the woods, and war cries coming from one place and then another, Lachlan can only lie still enough to try and remain undetected in the bush. His heart is torn though. While part of him would rather keep his scull from being cleaved by a tomahawk's blade, another part begs God to take him to his wife Moira and their child, both dead these five years past.
Meanwhile on Edge Hill
The battle, which began at one in the afternoon, now silenced with the dusk. The troops arranged their store of flour sacks into a fortification to protect the wounded and then set up their defense positions. With nervous anticipation, they expected the attack to begin again at dawn, which it did.
With the sunrise, the same yelping and shrieks began from 500 yards distant. Like before, the shouts came from areas surrounding the army--first here, then echoing there. Perhaps the Indians hoped to terrify the army with their numbers. It remains unclear as to exactly how many warriors were actually involved in the ambush. Historically, some have thought from as few as 110 to hundreds, while modern historians suggest that there were actually smaller numbers that moved around a lot to appear as more.
|Depiction of Battle of Bushy Run|
The Bushy Run battlefield remains the only preserved battlefield from Pontiac's War in the nation.
When things appeared their bleakest, Bouquet determined to make a move both daring and brilliant. In hoping to force a concentrated attack by the Indians', he then commanded his men to intentionally weaken the southwest side of their position by withdrawing into a feigned retreat. This had the effect of opening that side like a horseshoe, and the attackers came in.
Bouquet then sent two companies of light infantry undetected to swing around to the east in order to attack the exposed Native American force. The forces, in effect, looped around and turned the whole business inside out, so that the Indians were now being ambushed instead. Bouquet's forces kept up an unrelenting fire, pursuing the enemy until they were dispersed.
Colonel Bouquet writes, "The left of the savages which had not been attacked were kept in awe by the remains of our troops posted on the hill for that purpose. Nor durst they attempt to support nor assist their right, but being witness to their defeat, followed their example and fled."
The roads now being cleared, the companies of Bouquet's army were able to take the hill to the front. As soon as litters for the wounded could be made and the flour destroyed (burned) for lack of pack horses to carry it, they marched on without further molestation.
The troops had last seen Pontiac's warriors heading west back toward Fort Pitt, so they didn't know what to expect. But in hindsight, we know that the Battle of Bushy Run ended the siege at Fort Pitt, and actually brought and end to the war itself, as the Native American coalition fragmented with their defeat. The British still had the problem of resupplying and rebuilding Fort Pitt, but the tide of history had definitely turned.
But what about Lachlan?
After the battle, Bouquet counted fifty men killed, sixty wounded, and five missing. I chose Lachlan to become one of those missing men.
Hanging between life and death, between reality and visions, Lachlan drags himself through the forest. He's afraid to return to the Forbes Road, unsure who has won the battle. Pillars of distant smoke coming from the direction of Bouquet's forces could mean anything. Through a veil of pain, Lachlan turns northward instead. His journey soon reaches its limits however. It is then he is discovered by an unlikely rescuer.
Pontiac's War, August 1763:
"I beg Ye to take me." Wounded in battle in the Ameridan wilderness, Lachlan McRea of His Majesty's 42nd Highlanders pleads with God, yearning to be reunited with his lost wife and child. As death hovers near, he is discovered by Wenonah, a native widow doing all she can to survive alone while avoiding the attentions of a dangerous Shawnee warrior. In aiding one another, their perils increase, but if Lachlan can let go of the woman he once loved, he might yet find healing for both body and soul.