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Sir John Fortescue’s ‘The Red Path’

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Sir John Fortescue’s ‘The Red Path’
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Author(s): J. W. Fortescue
Date Published: 2014/09
Page Count: 180
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-360-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-359-9

War among the forests, mountains and lakes of North America

Among British Army historians the reputation of Sir John Fortescue stands virtually without equal. His comprehensive fourteen volume history is a work of unparalleled achievement in its field. Fortescue combines thorough source material research with insightful academic observation of the conduct of the campaigns he describes and of the decisions, errors and strategic and tactical options of their principal protagonists. The Leonaur editors have carefully selected passages from Fortescue’s magnum opus to create a series of books, each focusing on a specific war or campaign.
It might rightly be claimed that the Seven Years’ War was the first ‘world war.’ Certainly it defined the world as we know it today. It underpinned the expansion the British Empire and ensured that the English language—rather than French—would become the world’s dominant language. The war as it was fought in North America, involving native American Indians on both sides, has particularly fascinated military historians ever since. Fortescue brings his astute perspective to the subject without bias, and readers may be surprised to learn of his view that American colonial troops essentially ‘saved British bacon.’ For the first time Fortescue’s incisive history of the French and Indian Wars is available in a single volume and no library of the period will be complete without his direct analysis and critically observed view of the events and personalities of this epic period in Anglo-American military history. This Leonaur exclusive volume has never been available before, and Fortescue’s original text has here been enhanced by the inclusion of  maps and diagrams.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.

Bouquet thereupon recalled his men to protect his pack-horses, and formed the whole of his troops in a ring around them. The Indians attacked with great gallantry, charging again and again with wild yells up to the line, only to be driven back by steady and telling volleys. But the counter-attack of the bayonet was of little avail against so active an enemy in the forest; and the savages, skipping nimbly from tree to tree, kept themselves under cover, constantly changing the point of assault and pouring in always a destructive fire. For seven long hours the fight raged fiercely, until at nightfall the Indian fire at last slackened, and the weary soldiers enjoyed a little respite from the eternal rain of bullets. It was but a respite, for there was little rest for them that night. To move in the presence of such an enemy was impossible, so, though not a drop of water was within reach, the troops bivouacked where they stood, lying down in order of battle.
Numerous outposts were pushed into the forest to guard against a night-attack; and in the centre of the bivouac a wall of flour-bags was thrown up as shelter for the wounded. In truth Bouquet’s heart misgave him lest his force should share the fate of Braddock’s. His losses had been severe, several officers and some sixty men having fallen killed or wounded; and he could feel no confidence in the issue of a combat on the morrow with his men worn out by fatigue, fighting, and thirst.
Throughout the night occasional whoops told of the presence of the enemy, and at the first glimmer of dawn the Indian attack was renewed, with the same deadly fire from unseen marksmen and the same furious rushes at point after point. The British still fought on bravely; but with renewed exertion and the increasing heat of the sun their thirst became intolerable. From time to time a mob of pack-horses, maddened by wounds, would break away from their place by the wall of flour-bags, crash through the fighting line, and scour away into the forest, while their drivers hid themselves in abject terror without an effort to control them. At ten o’clock the British, though thinned by heavy losses, still kept the ring unbroken, but began to waver from sheer exhaustion. Encouraged by these signs of weakness, the Indians attacked with fresh confidence; and as a last desperate resource Bouquet withdrew two companies into the interior of the bivouac, extending the files of the troops on each flank across the gap, as though to cover the retreat.
The Indians, now assured of victory, pressed furiously into the space thus weakened, and seemed to be on the point of carrying all before them, when they were staggered by a destructive volley full upon their flank. Bouquet, taking advantage of a fold in the ground, had sent the two withdrawn companies to fetch a compass through the forest; and these now opened their counter-attack. The Indians, though heavily punished, with great bravery wheeled to return the fire, but would not stand to await the bayonets that came charging upon them through the trees. They turned and fled in wild confusion; but Bouquet had not done with them yet. Two more companies had advanced by his order before the ring, and now lay in ambush ready for the fugitives. As the Indians passed them, these poured in a volley as destructive as that of their comrades, and the four companies uniting drove the savages through the forest without rest or respite, killing several and dispersing the rest. The Indians on the other side of the ring, seeing the rout of their fellows, did not await attack, but fled likewise; and in a short time the British stood alone upon the ground, every sign of a living Indian having vanished.
Around the ring lay the corpses of some sixty dead warriors, but Bouquet’s loss was little less severe, amounting to eight officers and ninety-six men, or fully a fourth of his force, killed and wounded in the two days’ fighting. The action was one of the fiercest ever fought with Indians; and had any man of less experience in such warfare than Bouquet been in command, its issue might well have been disastrous. Nothing but entire confidence in him, added to the dread of being roasted alive, could have kept the exhausted troops to their work; while the final stratagem whereby success was won reflects equal credit on the resource of the commander and the perfect steadiness of the men. Long though the combat has been forgotten in England, the history of the army can show few finer performances on its own scale than this victory of a handful of English, Highlanders, and Germans under the leadership of a Swiss colonel.
The result of the action was immediate, for the column reached Fort Pitt with little further opposition or loss on the 10th. There Bouquet left another officer in command and returned eastward for the further work that lay before him. A reinforcement of three hundred provincial rangers would have enabled him to finish the campaign there and then; but the Americans, who had not been ashamed to save themselves while British soldiers, too weak to stand on their legs, encountered their enemies, very consistently declined to furnish a man.
So far the depredations of the Indians had been confined to the remoter British posts and to the western borders of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The Iroquois, or Six Nations, who lay between Lake Ontario and New York, had for the most part been kept firm to the British alliance by the influence of Sir William Johnson, and only a single tribe, the Senecas, had thrown in their lot with Pontiac. These Senecas, however, with other insurgent tribes, wrought no little havoc on the western border of New York, and actually succeeded in surprising a convoy near Fort Niagara, and in destroying seventy out of eighty men of the escort. This in the existing scarcity of troops was a serious matter.