Sunday, July 16, 2017

Battle of Blanket Hill

Pennsylvania Historical Marker and Monument
Remembering the Battle of Blanket Hill
Along Route 422, about six miles east of Kittanning, stand 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. The skirmish happened near this location in the early morning hours of September 8, 1756, while Colonel Armstrong led the force that destroyed the Indian village of Kittanning. More about the battle of Kittanning can be found here: Part One and here: Part Two. .

The morning 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 goes into great detail where the paths went and the roads that are closest to where the Indian paths once existed.

We were roughly ten miles from Kittanning when Zech announced that he could see the historical marker ahead of us on the northern side of the road. There was a small pull-off along Route 422 and I parked there while taking pictures. The people living in the house next to the markers paused to stare as we got out of the vehicle to take pictures of the memorials. Though I was well off the road, I did not feel comfortable standing along the road as the traffic passed by at high rates of speed. Please note: in my opinion this is not a safe place to allow small children out to explore. I would recommend keeping them in the vehicle if you choose to visit.

As I got back into the vehicle, I couldn’t help but wonder if the countless vehicles passing by even realized the importance of this place. It was near this spot, while Colonel Armstrong's main force invaded Kittanning, a group of men would fight for their lives.

On the evening of September 7, 1756, Colonel John Armstrong’s guides reported they encountered a handful of Indians, in their words, three or four of them, sleeping along the trail. Not wanting to have the surprise attack foiled, Colonel Armstrong left Lieutenant James Hogg and twelve other men to watch the sleeping Indians, 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 and his men. This action would cause the place to be known forever as Blanket Hill.

The night must have crept slowly by as the men eagerly waited for first light. As morning approached, Lieutenant Hogg gave the command and the group of soldiers crept through the underbrush toward the camping Indians.

No sooner did the soldiers make it to their concealed positions than an Indian walked past them, unaware of their presence. However, some of the soldiers fired shots at the Indian and somehow managed not to kill the warrior and he escaped the ambush. The soldiers then turned their attention to the other Indians camped around the smoldering remains of the fire.

And then it all went downhill.

Monument for the Battle of Blanket Hill
The three or four Indians that Lieutenant Hogg and his men were expecting had been replaced by a band of very angry Indians. It is not known if the guides made a mistake and there were more Indians than thought at 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 Lieutenant Hogg's men fought for their lives against the Indians. As the battle continued, Lieutenant Hogg lost three of his best men and he himself was wounded twice. These wounds prevented Lieutenant 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. This group cowardly fled from Kittanning when the fight began and had wandered into the fighting at Blanket Hill.

This group immediate saw Lieutenant Hogg and, despite Hogg's warnings, removed him from the thicket where he was hiding. Lieutenant Hogg was still protesting when the men lifted him up on a horse. The group made it only a short distance when four Indians appeared on the trail. The cowards left Lieutenant Hogg to defend himself as they ran for a safer place.

The Indians attacked, killing one of the cowardly soldiers and wounding Lieutenant Hogg a third time, this time in the stomach. At this point, Lieutenant Hogg had no real choice but to flee for himself. He rode a short distance before he collapsed from his wounds and died.

While the fighting was going on, more men returning from Kittanning were arriving on scene. Both sides were still taking shots at one another, but the battle here was over and the attack by Lieutenant Hogg and his men was a complete disaster.

Plaque on the monument
Many of the men arriving at Blanket Hill on their return from Kittanning would spot a group of Indians and would flee the trail in search of a safer route back to civilization. Among these men was Captain Mercer. He was persuaded by a few of men to take a different trail due to the warriors patrolling the trail. Maybe it was due to his loss of blood, but he reluctantly agreed and went with the men, taking with him four of the recovered prisoners.

While making their way along the trail, the small party was ambushed by a group of Indians. A number of them fell on the first volley and the survivors fled. Captain Mercer was one of those who survived the ambush and fled for his life. When he and two of his companions stopped to fix the bandage on his wound, they were approached by an Indian. The sight of this Indian caused the other two men to run away, leaving Captain Mercer to defend himself.

Captain Mercer managed to hide himself behind a log and the Indian, seeing the other two running away chased after them. Having been overlooked by the Indian, the Captain managed to escape into a plum thicket where he spent the night, eating fruit to ease his hunger.

The next morning, Captain Mercer started his long journey homeward. Along the way he encountered a man he thought was an Indian and after a stand-off with the man, he discovered it was one of his own men. Together the two of them continued toward safety, though they were both weak and could barely stand, let alone walk.  Near present-day Frankstown, Captain Mercer's companion sank to the ground and Captain Mercer abandoned him. Captain Mercer traveled roughly seven more miles before he too collapsed. Shortly after he dropped to the ground in despair, a group of Cherokees employed by the British Government discovered him and took him to Fort Lyttleton. Soon after his arrival, the group of Indians returned with the companion he had abandoned along the trail.

Captain Mercer was not the only person to get lost while fleeing to safety. Over the next couple weeks, a number of lost men arrived at one of the many forts in the Susquehanna and Juniata River Valleys.

The final tally presented by Colonel Armstrong was: seventeen killed, thirteen wounded, and nineteen missing. Among those killed were Lieutenant James Hogg and John Baker, the former captive who had helped plan the attack with Armstrong.

As I stated above, if you choose to stop and read the markers remembering Blanket Hill please do 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.

A note: While not a part of the events at Kittanning, the plaque at Blanket Hill 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.

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