Fort McCord and The Battle of Sideling Hill

DSCN3062
Memorial for Fort McCord, Edenville

Leaving Chambersburg, I headed northwest toward the distant mountains. I was taken in by the beauty of the rolling hills of the Cumberland Valley as I made my way toward the memorial to the fort that once stood in the shadows of the Blue Mountains. No wonder the early pioneers had the desire to settle here despite the dangers that they would face clearing the lands on the frontier – the area was beautiful and the land fertile.

I soon found myself traveling on Fort McCord Road, near Edenville, and a short distance later I found the familiar blue Pennsylvania historical marker at the intersection of Fort McCord and Rumler Roads. After taking a couple pictures of the historical marker, I looked around for the stone memorial for the fort and not seeing it, I continued a short distance along Fort McCord Road. Not finding the memorial, I turned around and drove back to the historical marker.

At the historical marker, I turned onto Rumler Road and almost immediately spotted the memorial I was searching for. From my initial stopping point along Fort McCord Road, the monument, topped by a Celtic cross, had been hidden by the barn it was beside. Parking near the monument, I got out of the vehicle and walked over to the memorial. On the plaque were listed the names of those killed, injured, or taken prisoner in an attack on Fort McCord by Chief Shingas and his raiders in April 1756.

Built by John McCord in 1756, the private fort was poorly constructed and from all accounts could not be easily defended. Fort McCord might have only been a footnote in the history of the state had it not been for the arrival of Chief Shingas and his warriors in early 1756. Notes: 1) Some sources state that the fort was built on William McCord’s lands. There is a William and John McCord who were brothers and I believe the fort erected by John was erected on his brother’s lands. 2) Exactly when the fort was built is vague. Most markers and sources place its erection in 1756, but some places state it was erected in late 1755.

On April 1, 1756, Shingas arrived in the Cumberland Valley. Shingas, also recorded as Chingas and Shingiss, was a noted leader of the Delawares. A member of the Turkey Clan, Shingas was a feared warrior and his name created dread in the hearts of those living on the frontier. John Heckwelder, the noted Moravian missionary, described Shingas as having a small stature, but made up for it with his fighting and courage.

The raid into the Cumberland Valley in April 1756 was not the first one that Shingas led into the region. He previously led a band of warriors into the region in late 1755. His raiding party entered the Cumberland Valley and for several days murdered settlers and took captives. Among those captured were members of the Martin and Knox families who lived in the Big Cove region.

While many of his raids and skirmishes have been lost to history, the raid in the April of 1756 would secure Shingas a place in Pennsylvania’s frontier history, when he and his band of warriors attacked and burned Fort McCord. The exact events of the attack on and the burning of Fort McCord have been lost over the years and have remained a debate among those who have studied the attack’s recorded history.

What is known about the destruction of Fort McCord is the twenty-seven settlers who had sought refuge there were either killed or taken prisoner. After burning the fort to the ground, Shingas and his men started back into the wilds of western Pennsylvania; his intention was to take their prisoners to Kittanning.

Almost immediately a group of militia and settlers, led by Captain Alexander Culbertson, started after Shingas and his raiding party. At Fort Lyttleton, Captain Culbertson’s party was reinforced by nineteen men from the fort, along with a group of men from Fort Granville who were also searching for Shingas and his warriors. The combined group of rescuers caught up with Shingas and his warriors at Sideling Hill, but the exact location of the battle has been lost to history.

What followed was a two hour battle. During the battle, Shingas’ group was reinforced and they dealt a terrible blow to Captain Culbertson’s force. Thirty-two members of Captain Culbertson’s combined group were killed and another seventeen were wounded. While the fighting was going on, Captain Culbertson was shot and killed. With his death, the Pennsylvania forces lost a loyal and brave man.

Another victim of the fighting was Mary McCord, the daughter of Ann McCord. During the fighting, she was accidentally shot and killed by those trying to rescue her.

Listed among those killed during the pursuit was John Blair. Blair is listed as a soldier, but in some accounts, he is listed as a captive – it is possible he was a soldier at the fort who had been taken prisoner. At one point during the chase, one of Shngas’s warriors killed Mr. Blair and cut his head off. The head was then tossed onto Ann McCord’s lap with the claim it was the head of her husband. Ann knew the man killed was not her husband, but I cannot imagine the terror she must have experienced. Ann would be recovered later that year when General Armstrong attacked the Indian village at Kittanning.

As I stood there taking in my surroundings, I see the rolling hills that were farmed over two centuries ago are still being farmed. A sense of emptiness fills the air – the remoteness of long ago still exists here in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. Though the modern world has caught up with the region, it still holds the excitement and emptiness that existed years and years ago when this was the American frontier.

After its destruction, Fort McCord was not rebuilt. The fort became one of the most famous of Pennsylvania’s private forts, but unfortunately it was only due to its destruction that the fort was – and still is – remembered.

Notes: I’ve had the chance to debate the fall of this fort with a number of people and a question that has been asked is why Culbertson led his men to Fort Lyttleton, which seems to be out of the way. Rereading Sipe’s The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania, I found an answer to that question. Robert Robinson, who was a part of the party pursuing Shingas, wrote that they were following the path the raiding Indians had taken and that path passed by Fort Lyttleton. 

A glance at Wallace’s Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, the Raystown Path passes near Fort Lyttleton before moving towards the northwest. Wallace records that the Raystown Path passed through the gap created by Sideling Hill Creek, between the present-day towns of New Grenada and Waterfall (on Route 913). In Hanna’s The Wilderness Trail he states that the Ray’s Town Path was the major route through the mountain used by Indians and traders alike and it passed through this gap in Sideling Hill. Neither Hanna or Wallace mention any other path crossing Sideling Hill.

With the information from the books by Wallace and Hanna, I am confident in stating that the Battle of Sideling Hill occurred in this gap. Unless Singas and his raiding party used a path that has been lost to history, the Battle of Sideling Hill happened here. The lay of the land would provide a perfect trap if Shingas had his men wait to ambush their pursuers as they entered the gap.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s