Despite never being the focal point of a war, Pennsylvania is home to battlefields from a variety of different conflicts. Whether the battles were between the British and the French, the Americans and the British, or the North against the South, there are many places where you can learn about the wars that effected the state.
However, there is one short-lived war that few know anything about: Pontiac’s Rebellion.
Pontiac’s Rebellion was a direct response to the British victory during the French and Indian War. Near the end of the war, the British promised the Native Americans, most of whom were fighting with the French, that they would grant them all the land west of the Alleghenies. However, as happened so many other times, this promise was quickly broken.
A group of Indian tribes, led by Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, banded together to fight the British starting in May 1763 with a siege on Fort Detroit. Over the next few months, Pontiac and his allies captured many British forts west of the Alleghenies, including Fort Presque Isle, Fort LeBoeuf, and Fort Venango in Pennsylvania.
Eventually, they laid siege to Fort Pitt in present-day Pittsburgh. In July 1763, with Fort Pitt running low on supplies, a contingent of 500 British soldiers left Carlisle bound for Fort Pitt. However, when the Indians surrounding Fort Pitt found out about the approaching column of troops, they made plans to attack.
Just outside of the Bushy Run Station, about halfway between Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier, the Indians ambushed the British soldiers along Forbes Road. The ensuing battle beat back the British soldiers to a hilltop as night fell.
The next morning, British Colonel Henry Bouquet knew he had to do something or his troops would be overrun by the natives.
Feigning retreat, Bouquet sent a detachment of soldiers to flank the Indians, causing panic among them and saving the day for the British. While this was the first time that the British had beaten Native Americans on their own ground, it also ensured that Bouquet’s men were able to resupply Fort Pitt and prevent it from being taken.
For those that want to learn more about the battlefield and Pontiac’s Rebellion, Bushy Run Battlefield is a great place to visit. In fact, the battlefield is the only Native American battlefield remaining in Pennsylvania, and the only site solely dedicated to Pontiac’s Rebellion in America.
Unfortunately, while this makes it an incredibly interesting place to visit, it also makes it a very overlooked destination. Since few people have even heard of the rebellion, few know the importance of this time in history.
In fact, one of the reasons for the American Revolution was because the British ended the rebellion by making a treaty with the Native Americans to stop westward expansion.
Visits to Bushy Run Battlefield start in the visitor center.
It’s from here that guided tours leave. However, if you can, spend some time checking out the battlefield’s small, but informative museum. Especially interesting is their short video which explains the setup to the battle and what happened at Bushy Run.
I found this video to be critical to understanding the events at the battlefield. Because I arrived just as a tour was leaving, I didn’t have the chance to view the museum or the video prior to my tour.
This caused me to be a bit confused with the lay of the land and what happened in the battle for the first half of my tour. However, that wasn’t the fault of the tour guide as he did a great job explaining the battle.
Speaking of the guided tour, it was definitely one of the most unique ones I’ve been on anywhere in Pennsylvania. Because the battlefield is spread out a bit on hilly terrain, tours are conducted with a large golf cart. This allowed us to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.
Stops along the guided tour are focused on the two primary areas of battle during the two-day fight. The area of the first day’s battle features a beautiful statue that was part of the 250th celebration. It was here that the British soldiers were ambushed while walking along the road.
The second area of focus is at the top of the hill. This is where the British soldiers camped overnight, as well as the center of fighting for the second day. Here, another monument stands.
The battlefield itself retains the terrain that was there in 1763 but lacks many of the trees that were there, making it hard to imagine exactly what the battle was like. Fortunately, parts of the battlefield do retain their wooded feel, which helps to understand what the battlefield looked like during the battle.
In fact, the yearly reenactments of the Battle of Bushy Run take place within these woods, instead of on the open fields of the actual battlefield, to help more closely showcase what happened here. Reenactments are held in early August of each year and showcase both days of the battle in one day.
Overall, I was really fascinated with my visit to Bushy Run Battlefield. This quiet field had an important, but little known, impact on American history. This is somewhere that any lover of history should check out during their time in the Laurel Highlands.
Note: My visit to Bushy Run Battlefield was hosted by the museum, but the opinions expressed are my own.
Looking for more places to learn about war history in western PA? Check out Fort Pitt Museum, Fort Ligonier, and Fort Necessity. Also worth checking out is the nearby Braddock’s Trail Park and Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
Bushy Run Battlefield
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 9am-5pm
Cost: Adults: $5, Children: $3
Address: 1253 Bushy Run Road