Zech spotted the familiar blue historical marker in the distance. We had been following Route 422, headed westward towards Kittanning. The route, though it doesn’t follow the exact route of the Frankstown Path, still gives a sense of the long journey that the captives were forced to take and Colonel Armstrong’s men used on their march to attack Kittanning. Note: 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 modern roads that are closest to where the Indian paths once existed.
There was a small pull-off along Route 422 where I parked and we got out of the vehicle. Next to the familiar blue Pennsylvania historical marker is a plaque set in a rock, but both remember the Battle of Blanket Hill, a skirmish which occurred near this location in the early morning hours of September 8, 1756, while Colonel John Armstrong led the force that destroyed the Indian village of Kittanning. Note: More about Colonel Armstrong’s attack on Kittanning can be found here: The Destruction of Kittanning
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.
The Battle of Blanket Hill had its origins on the evening of September 7, 1756, when advance scouts reported back to Colonel John Armstrong they had discovered a handful of Indians – three or four of them – sleeping along the Frankstown Path. Not wanting to have the surprise attack on Kittanning foiled, Colonel Armstrong left Lieutenant James Hogg and twelve other men to watch the sleeping warriors and 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 by slowly 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 a Delaware warrior walked past them, unaware of their presence. The hidden soldiers opened fire on the lone warrior. Despite all the shooting the warrior escaped the ambush without being hit. The soldiers then turned their attention to the other Delaware camped around the smoldering remains of the fire.
And then it all went downhill.
The three or four men Lieutenant Hogg and his men had been expecting was now a large group of angry Delaware warriors. It is not known if the guides made a mistake and there were more Indians than thought at the fire or if another group of warriors arrived sometime during the night without being noticed. Whichever is the case, Lieutenant Hogg and his men were greatly outnumbered.
The Battle of Blanket Hill lasted roughly an hour as Lieutenant Hogg’s men fought for their lives against the Delaware. 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.
As shots from both side filled the woods, into this fighting arrived a sergeant from Captain Mercer’s company with a handful of men. These men had not arrived to reinforce Lieutenant Hogg and his men, but had inadvertently wandered into the battle after they fled from Kittanning when the fight began.
This group immediately saw Lieutenant Hogg and, despite Hogg’s warnings, removed him from the thicket where he had been hiding. Lieutenant Hogg was still protesting when the men lifted him up on a horse and attempted to flee the battle. The group made it only a short distance when four warriors appeared on the trail ahead of them. The men who insisted Lieutenant Hogg should flee with them, left him sitting in the trail to defend himself as they fled into the woods.
The warriors attacked, killing one of the fleeing soldiers and wounding Lieutenant Hogg a third time, this time in the stomach. At this point, Lieutenant Hogg had no choice but to attempt fleeing for his own safety – he rode a short distance before he collapsed from the horse and died from his wounds.
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 – the attack by Lieutenant Hogg and his men was a complete disaster.
Many of the men returning from Kittanning would spot the group of Delaware warriors in the area of Blanket Hill and leave the trail in search of a safer route back to civilization. Among these men was Captain Mercer, who was persuaded by some of his men to take a different trail due to the warriors patrolling the Frankstown Path. Captain Mercer reluctantly agreed and went with the men, taking with him four of the recovered prisoners from Kittanning.
While Captain Mercer’s group made their way along the trail, the party was ambushed by Delaware warriors. A number of Captain Mercer’s men fell on the first volley and the survivors fled, including Captain Mercer. When Captain Mercer and two of his companions stopped to fix the bandage on his wound, they were approached by a Delaware warrior. The sight of the enemy 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 Delaware, seeing the other two running away, chased after them. With no enemy in sight Captain Mercer managed to hide in 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 the enemy and after a stand-off with the man, Captain Mercer 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. His companion was soon discovered and he too was brought to Fort Lyttleton to recover.
Captain Mercer was not the only person to get lost while fleeing to safety. Over the next couple weeks, men who got lost fleeing the conflict began arriving 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.
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.