Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Catastrophe at Kittanning: Battle of Blanket Hill

Historical markers for Blanket Hill

Along Route 422, about six miles east of Kittanning, stands two memorials on the northern edge of the road. One is a plaque set in rock and the other a familiar blue Pennsylvania historical marker, but both remember the Battle of Blanket Hill that happened near this location in the early morning hours of September 8, 1756.

As Zech and I headed to Kittanning, we followed Route 422, and though it doesn't follow the exact route of the Frankstown Path, it still gave us a sense of the long journey that the captives were forced to take and that Colonel Armstrong's men took for their attack on Kittanning. An excellent resource for those who may be interested in following the Frankstown Path is Indian Paths of Pennsylvania by Paul A. W. Wallace. In his book he follows the Indian paths using modern roads and goes into great detail where the paths were.

One day I plan on going back to Kittanning, taking the roads that Wallace used, in order to gain a better sense of the length of the trail and the route that the captives were forced to take, but on this trip I took the shorter (though seemingly just as long) route.

As we stood there, I realized that this was the last piece of the destruction of Kittanning. My journey was slowly coming to an end. Near here, while Colonel Armstrong's main force invaded Kittanning, a group of men would fight for their lives.

Blanket Hill Memorial Plaque

On the evening of September7, 1756, guides had reported back to Colonel John Armstrong that they encountered a handful of Indians (three or four) sleeping along the trail. Armstrong left Lieutenant James Hogg and twelve other men to watch the sleeping Indians and with orders to attack at first light. Colonel Armstrong and the rest of his men made a wide detour around the sleeping party and continued on their march to Kittanning.

Colonel Armstrong's men, who were already tired from the long march with very little rest, left their blankets and "unneeded" supplies with Lieutenant Hogg - this is the origin of the name Blanket Hill."

The night must have crept slowly by as the men waited. I can only imagine that they expected a quick and easy victory over the small group of Indians. As morning approached, Lieutenant Hogg gave the command and the group of soldiers crept through the underbrush towards the camping Indians.

The soldiers made it to their concealed positions and an Indian walked past them, unaware of their presence. However, shots were fired at him and somehow - I'm not sure how - the Indian escaped the ambush. The soldiers then fired at the other Indians around the smoldering remains of the fire.

And then it all went downhill.

Close-up of the plaque

The three or four Indians that Lieutenant Hogg and his men were expecting was replaced by a band of very angry Indians. We will never know if the guides made a mistake and there were more Indians than thought at the the fire or if this group arrived sometime during the night. Whichever is the case, Lieutenant Hogg and his men were outnumbered.

The Battle of Blanket Hill lasted roughly an hour as Hogg's outnumbered men fought for their lives against the small band of Indians. As the battle continued, Lieutenant Hogg lost three of his best men and he himself was wounded twice. These wounds prevented Hogg from fighting and he hid in a thicket, waiting for Colonel Armstrong's troops to return.

Then into this battle arrived a Sergeant from Captain Mercer's Company with a handful of men. The group was not there to reinforce Lieutenant Hogg and his men - they were there because they cowardly fled from Kittanning when the fight began. This group immediate saw Lieutenant Hogg and, despite Hogg's warnings, removed him from the thicket where he was hiding and lifting him up on a horse. They made it only a short distance before four Indians suddenly appeared. The cowards left Lieutenant Hogg to defend for himself as they ran for their own safety. The Indians attacked, killing one of the cowardly soldiers and wounding Lieutenant Hogg a third time through the belly. At this point, Lieutenant Hogg had no real choice but to flee for himself - he rode off a short distance before he collapsed from his wounds and died.

Pennsylvania historical marker remembering
Blanket Hill

While not a part of the events at Kittanning, the plaque also remembers Fergus Moorhead who was captured by Indians in March 1777. During the ambush that took him prisoner, his traveling companion, Mr. Simpson, was killed and scalped.

If you choose to stop and read the markers remembering Blanket Hill, please due so with respect and caution. There is a small parking area, but it is in front of a private residence, and traffic speeds by on Route 422. They can be easily read and viewed from the roadside - please do not trespass on the private property.

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