Following Britain’s 1763 victory in the French and Indian War, Crown authorities earned the ire of tribes previously allied with the French by allowing settlers to occupy Indian lands in violation of treaty terms. Assuming the British intended to drive them out or destroy them, many called for action. The frontier exploded into Pontiac’s War, named after the Ottawa chief who helped organize a confederation of disaffected Indians from across the Great Lakes region and Ohio and Mississippi valleys, including a few thousand Ottowas, Ojibwes (Chippewas), Potawatomies, Hurons, Miamis, Kickapoos, Delawares, Shawnees, Mingos, Wyandots and Senecas.
Maj. Gen. Sir Jeffery Amherst, Britain’s North American commander, sought to establish Crown authority on the frontier and reaffirm claims to the Ohio Valley. He tasked Swiss-born Colonel Henry Bouquet with relieving British forts west of the Allegheny Mountains, the most formidable of which was Fort Pitt, with other key garrisons at Detroit and Niagara.
Indian forces laid siege to Fort Detroit in May, Pitt in June and other British forts on into summer. Fort Pitt commander Captain Simon Ecuyer—like Bouquet, a professional Swiss officer—fortified his defenses, but his supply line to the east was problematic, as Forts Bedford and Ligonier were small and difficult to reinforce. In late June Amherst dispatched detachments of Scottish Highlanders from the 42nd and 77th regiments of foot from New York to Carlisle, Pa., to join Bouquet and the 60th (Royal American) regiment in relief of Fort Pitt. Bouquet first reinforced Forts Loudoun, Bedford and Ligonier, but the fate of Pitt was uncertain, given that Forts Presque Isle, Le Boeuf and Venango had all fallen.
The resolute Bouquet had assembled nearly three-dozen wagons, some 340 packhorses and thousands of pounds of flour and gunpowder. Meanwhile, a relief force under Captain James Dalyell had crossed Lake Erie seeking to relieve Fort Detroit, but on July 31 Pontiac’s men met and defeated Dalyell’s column at the Battle of Bloody Run. Fort Pitt remained cut off as Bouquet arrived at Fort Ligonier two days later. Leaving the wagons behind, he set out on August 4 with the packhorses and some 450 soldiers for a rapid march to beleaguered Pitt. Bouquet planned to rest and water the horses at Bushy Run, an outpost roughly midway between Ligonier and Pitt. But the Indians besieging Pitt learned of his approach, and on August 5 they ambushed the column at Edge Hill, a mile east of Bushy Run.
Bouquet consolidated his forces around the supply train, using flour bags to protect the wounded. On the morning of August 6 the Indians renewed their attack. The British repulsed several assaults, but the situation looked bleak. Bouquet then hatched a plan to lure the enemy into a killing zone. Ordering two companies to withdraw in seeming resignation, he prompted the overconfident Indians to advance into the gap. As the latter penetrated the line, two companies positioned out of sight behind a hill struck the enemy’s right flank. The surprised Indians retreated across the front of two stationary companies, who raked them with fire. The four companies then chased off the survivors. Bouquet later reported British losses as 50 killed, 60 wounded and five missing. Though difficult to determine, contemporaries estimated Indian losses as upward of 50 dead, with an undetermined number of casualties spirited away by surviving braves.
After the battle Bouquet marched his men to water at Bushy Run. After destroying any supplies they could not carry, they proceeded with caution, making the 25-mile march to Fort Pitt in four days. With the road to Fort Pitt reopened, the British evacuated noncombatants and resumed supply convoys. In the autumn of 1764 Bouquet, then in command of Fort Pitt, led nearly 1,500 British soldiers and militiamen more than 100 miles into the Ohio country. At the Muskingum River (near present-day Coshocton) tribal representatives sued for peace and returned more than 200 white captives. Bouquet earned promotion to brigadier general and was given command of British forces in the southern colonies. But in 1765 he died in Florida—likely of yellow fever—forever prompting speculation as to what role he might have played in the coming American Revolution.
Now a state historic site, Bushy Run Battlefield [bushy runbattlefield.com] recalls the past with re-enactments, tours and interpretive and educational programs.