John Forbes (General)

From Academic Kids

John Forbes (1710March 11, 1759) was a British general in the French and Indian War.

In late 1758, Brigadier General Forbes led the Forbes Expedition that captured the French outpost at Fort Duquesne. He renamed the site Fort Pitt, the location of modern Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Forbes was born in Pittencrief, Fife, Scotland in 1710. The son of an army officer, Forbes intended to study medicine, but in his second year as a medical student, he decided to become a soldier. He was accepted and commissioned in 1735 as a lieutenant in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. He saw action in the War of the Austrian Succession. He later served in the Scots Greys and served under the Duke of Cumberland as acting quartermaster-general.

When the French and Indian War (called the Seven Years War in Europe) broke out, Forbes was sent to the fighting in the new world. His first action in North America came in 1757 when he was dispatched to reinforce an attack on the French fortress of Louisburg in what is now Nova Scotia.

In December 1757, he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to command an expedition to capture the French outpost of Fort Duquesne (present day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) which guarded the vital forks of the Ohio River. General Edward Braddock had tried and failed to capture the fortress in 1755, with disastrous consequence for both the British army and Braddock personally, who was mortally wounded in an ambush. Forbes chose Lt. Colonel George Washington, who had been a member of Braddock’s campaign, to be his aide.

In the summer of 1758, Forbes began his campaign to capture Fort Duquesne. Forbes plan was a slow and methodical march to Fort Duquesne, taking great pains to secure his lines of supply and communication with a string of frontier forts along a newly constructed road from the Pennsylvania frontier. During this time, Forbes's health began a slow decline due to fever, and he spend much of the campaign confined to a litter. He became increasingly dependant on Colonel Henry Bouquet his chief subordinate to execute his plans.

Rather than move on Fort Duquesne via Braddock’s road, which began in western Maryland, Forbes began his march in eastern Pennsylvania. This led to major political infighting among the Pennsylvanians and Virginians in Forbes’s command since both colonies claimed the Ohio River country and the Virginians did not want Pennsylvania to have such direct access to the area. Forbes was able to quell the dissent by agreeing to improve both roads, but travel the route from Pennsylvania, which was longer, but required fewer river crossings and could be more easily defended. This also gave the tactical advantage of forcing the French to divide their assets and defend both approaches.

With 7,000 troops, Forbes began his push into the trackless wilderness of western Pennsylvania. West of the frontier outpost of Raytown (now Bedford, Pennsylvania) he cut a wagon road over the Allegheny Mountains, later known as Forbes’ Road, building a series of fortifications like Fort Bedford and Fort Ligonier to guard his supply lines.

An advance column under Major James Grant was repulsed by the French on the night of Sept. 13-14, 1758 while making a reconnaissance in force. With this defeat, Forbes decided to wait until spring to attack. Soon after this, however, word was received that the French garrison at Fort Frontenac had fallen and the majority of the troops of Fort Duquesne had been evacuated. Forbes devised a plan to launch an immediate attack on the weakened fort. Forbes divided his command into three columns in preparation to make the final assault on the fortress. But the French, who were now hopelessly outnumbered, abandoned and razed Fort Duquesne before the British arrived. Forbes occupied the burned fort on November 25, 1758. He immediately ordered the construction of a new fortification to be named Fort Pitt, after British Secretary of State William Pitt the Elder.

Forbes’s health, which had been poor for much of the campaign, began a rapid decline during his occupation of Fort Pitt. On December 3, 1758, now gravely ill, Forbes began an arduous journey through the wilderness back to Philadelphia leaving Colonel Hugh Mercer in command of Fort Pitt. General Forbes died in Philadelphia on March 11, 1759. He was buried in Christ Churchyard in Philadelphia.

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