Fort Ligonier – Fort Duquesne
‘These incursions, these harassments by the enemy have to stop,’ said Colonel Bouquet to Major Grant. Since beginning the construction on Fort Ligonier they had been under almost constant attack especially the timber and foraging parties. ‘I have a plan,’ answered Major Grant, ‘give me 500 men and I will lead a reconnaissance in force. If we can coax the French into attacking what they think is a forage detail we can deal them a crushing blow.’ ‘I like it but take 750 men,’ replied Bouquet, ‘and be sure to take Sgt. Mulhern, he’s regular army and I know how you dislike the colonial troops. He at least has their measure and can be relied on to give good counsel.’ ‘Very well, Colonel,’ answered Grant, ‘I consider Sgt. Mulhern as more colonial than regular but will look to him for advice.’ ‘Very well,’ said Bouquet, ‘leave at dawn tomorrow. If you do not draw the French out by the time you get within 5 miles of their fort, leave some lookouts and return here.’ The next morning at dawn 750 troops left the nearly complete fort unaware that two Ojibway warriors were watching.
Sgt. Mulhern took a drink from his water skin and wiped his face with some of the cool water. The march had proceeded with surprising speed and this had the hair on the back of Mulhern’s neck stand up. They were only a couple miles from Duquesne and so far had met no resistance but no amount of talking could convince Major Grant that there could be trouble ahead. His latest attempt drew nothing but scorn from the Major and now the Major was overstepping his orders by continuing the advance way beyond what Colonel Bouquet had stipulated. Now the Sgt. found himself in charge of one of three wings Grant had split his force into. Grant was on the right approaching Fort Duquesne from the Allegheny River side; the left was led by Lieutenant Collins, a new arrival and with no wilderness fighting experience. He was following the course of the Monongahela River to the fort. Mulhern had the center and had his men spread out to take advantage of the cover the woods provided. The reflection of the sun off a series of moving bayonets caught Mulhern’s attention and he barely had time to shout a warning before the first arrows arrived, one catching the corporal standing next to Mulhern in the right shoulder. ‘Down! Take cover! Be sure of a target before you shoot,’ shouted Mulhern as he dragged the corporal over behind a tree. ‘Be a good lad and hand me your musket after I shoot mine and then reload it. We’ll take a look at your arm shortly.’ The woods were now alive with the war cries of Ojibway, Ottawa and Shawnee; the sound of musket fire and the screams of the wounded. Mulhern surveyed the situation and decided they could hold long enough to retreat in an organized fashion. After about half an hour the French and allies backed off their attack and started back to the fort. Mulhern gathered up his men and his wounded and headed back to where Grant had split the force. Survivors of the other two groups began showing up at the defensive position Mulhern had established. Most of those retreating arrived in chaos many without their muskets; thrown down in fear in the face of the enemy. Lieutenant Collins had been killed in the first rush. Many of the dead from his group had been killed while attempting to escape in the river. Major Grant’s group fared no better; only 100 of the 250 made it back to Mulhern. The Major and eighteen of his men were captured by the French. When Mulhern arrived back at Fort Ligonier he had 408 men left alive from the 750 sent out. He also had one Mohawk with him as Wahta had shown up carrying a message from Liam.
Liam and Wahta had watched the ambush of Major Grant’s group unable to render any aid and saw him captured and taken to Fort Duquesne. They could also see the battle taking place with Mulhern’s command and could tell that he would withstand the attack. Liam told Wahta to go find Sgt. Mulhern while he headed to Fort Duquesne. ‘There are a couple things I need to do,’ Liam told Wahta, ‘Jimmy Two Birds needs to know about Frontenac falling and what’s coming his way. I know he’s French but I owe him and he’s a good contact to have. I’m also going to take a look at the French garrison; see what kind of shape they’re in, the mood of the troops, can they hold out in a prolonged siege.’ Tell Mulhern to tell Washington that I’ll be along in two days.’
Liam gave his horse to Wahta, poured water over his face and streaked it with dirt and ran to catch up with the French. He fell in next to a wounded Marine and helped him limp into the fort all the time keeping an eye out for Huritt. Fortunately Huritt had been leading the attack on Lieutenant Collins group and was even now a mile away on his way back to the fort with Collins’ scalp a new trophy hanging from his war lance. Leaving the wounded marine in the care of a surgeon Liam made his way to Jimmy Two Birds’ tavern. He entered through the back door and went into the kitchen area and gave a coin to the cook sending her to get Jimmy and then went down the hall to wait for him. A few minutes later Two Birds walked in, ‘Liam, my boy, why am I not surprised, seems like things are coming to a head around here.’
‘Quicker than you may think, my friend,’ Liam replied, ‘Frontenac has been taken from the French and General Forbes has assembled more than enough men to take this place.’
‘Frontenac taken? Mon Dieu! That cuts the supply line rather effectively. Well, I knew this day was coming. A word of warning, however, the French commander, Lignery is an aggressive sort as you can tell from today’s little action. He may not just roll over and play dead for General Forbes.’
Liam stood up and walked around the room gesturing to all the hides, the wine and ale casks, ‘What are you going to do? Things could get ugly once the British overrun the garrison here.’
‘No need to worry about me. I’m an adapter, besides our friend Mr. Trent has allowed me to use the land where his trading post was. I’ve built a few storehouses so the bulk of my goods will be safe. Once the British rebuild this fort, I will simply open a new tavern, with a British name, of course.’
‘Rebuild? Why would the fort need to be rebuilt? Some sections perhaps because of the artillery bombardment but surely not the whole place.’
‘You underestimate Ligerny. He will blow this place to kingdom come rather than surrender it. He may be running out of provisions but he has plenty of ammunition and he’s not the type who leaves things for his enemies.’
Liam spent the night at the tavern and when he awoke it was to the news that the Ojibway, Ottawa and Shawnee had decided to pack up their new trophies and head back to their homes leaving defense of the fort strictly to the French garrison of less than 1500 men. With a hearty handshake Liam left Jimmy Two Birds with the promise to return at war’s end. With Jimmy’s help Liam was able to slip out of the fort using a gate in the outer defense perimeter that only Jimmy knew about having it built for just such emergencies.
Washington after getting Liam’s report was taking him to see General Forbes. The General had finally arrived at Ligonier having to make the journey by litter being too ill to sit a horse or ride in a wagon. They entered the General’s tent and found him lying in bed dictating notes to his secretary about troop dispositions for defense and construction. “Ah, Colonel Washington, I presume this young man is the famous Mr. Mallory. Come, sit down. Please pardon my appearance Mr. Mallory, dying of the bloody flux, you see; damned nuisance to say the least. So tell me Mr. Mallory, how are things in Fort Duquesne?’
Sgt. Mulhern having been ordered by Colonel Washington to step up the patrols was pleased to have Liam and Wahta as companions. General Forbes put the fort on full alert after hearing Liam’s assessment of the conditions at Duquesne and the probable attack from the ever audacious Ligerny; an attack that was being shadowed by Mulhern, Liam and Wahta. They sent the rest of their patrol back to warn the fort while they followed and planned a small ambush for the inevitable retreating French force. Soon they heard the booming of two French cannon and headed over to see about eliminating that threat. The advancing 1200 French were met with a withering musket volley followed by an artillery barrage of grape and canister shot. The results were devastating and dozens of attackers were felled. Liam took aim and let an arrow fly hitting the artilleryman in the hand as he was about to light the fuse. Mulhern and Wahta raised their muskets and with Liam advanced on the six French soldiers manning the cannon. None of them were armed other than with ramrods and six pairs of arms were soon raised in surrender.
Encouraged by the results of the French attack, Forbes decided it was time for an all-out assault on Duquesne. Despite the pain of his illness, Forbes insisted on being in command and so accompanied his 2500 man force though he sent Washington to the front of the march to take charge of the actual fighting. They were still a few miles away when night came so they made camp, sending out a patrol and setting a line of double sentries around the perimeter.
At the fort, Ligerny, who was under orders not to surrender the fort, was supervising the setting of demolition charges and the preparations for his garrison to leave in the middle of the night; heading for Fort Le Boeuf 50 miles north on the shore of Lake Erie. If he could not defend the position, then he would at least deny the British not only the use of the fort but also the use of his store of cannon and ammunition. Jimmy Two Birds also made his plans for evacuation and soon his wagon load of goods and his whores were headed to Trent’s old place though he remained behind to say farewell to Ligerny and to prepare for the coming British.
Liam, Wahta, Daniel, Markus and Sgt. Mulhern had led the patrol in a wide circuit around Fort Duquesne and were now camped by the ford on the Allegheny River the army would use in the morning. The explosion shook the ground where they lay sleeping and at once the night sky was aflame with fire and the smoke rose thick enough to blot out some of the stars. The members of the patrol were all startled awake. Liam and Mulhern stood together as more explosions ripped through the now blazing fort. ‘Aye now,’ exclaimed Sgt. Mulhern, ‘sure that’ll make taking the fort a mite easier but what a bloody waste of ammunition.’ Liam nodded and pointed, ‘There go the last of the French troops, most likely the demolition team and there on horseback; that must be the commander. Not much chance we’ll catch them now.’
General Forbes, unable to sleep was drinking a concoction of ground hart shorn mixed in beer, a mixture his surgeon suggested. While he wasn’t sure how much good the drink was doing him it was certainly better than being bled or purged. He had the mug to his lips when the first explosion surprised him, the mug falling from his grasp and spilling on his blanket. ‘God’s bollocks, the French bastard blew the fort,’ he said to the doctor, ‘go find Colonel Washington. I need to know the extent of the damage and the whereabouts of the French.’
Washington and a platoon of infantry crossed the Allegheny and met up with Liam’s patrol. He saw Liam conferring with Wahta and Markus who were now running in the direction the French took out of the fort. ‘Well Colonel that surely was a rude way to wake up. Two Birds told me this might happen but I thought the French would at least put up a fight.’ ‘From what I can see,’ replied Washington, ‘most of the fort itself is burning though there are some buildings outside the walls that are still standing. I hope your friend Two Birds made it out of there.’ ‘Climb on down from your horse, Colonel, sir,’ said Sgt. Mulhern, ‘I have the boys making coffee and it will be a while before Wahta and Markus returns with news of the French.’ Liam held the halter while the Colonel clambered out of the saddle, ‘I wouldn’t be worrying too much about old Two Birds. I’m guessing the rascal will be there to greet us in the morning; probably draped in a Union Jack.’ This elicited a chuckle from Washington, ‘I look forward to making his acquaintance.’