1763 - 2013 French & Indian War Commemoration - 250 Years

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  • The World Ablaze: An Introduction to the Seven Years' War

    Built in 1758 as part of an Anglo-American effort to expel the French occupying the Forks of the Ohio (site of Pittsburgh today), Fort Ligonier was a key post of the French and Indian War. That conflict was only one of several theaters in the great contest later called the Seven Years' War. Starting in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1754, the war expanded around the world, 1756-1763, to Europe, Africa, and Asia, and to the waters of the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Pacific.

    The Seven Years' War was basically two wars, the British-French clash in Europe and the colonies, and the struggle by Prussia against a coalition led by Austria. Connecting the two conflicts were Britain's alliance with Prussia, and France's alliance with Austria, both of which entailed substantial financial subsidies, Britain to Prussia, and France to Austria. The death toll approached 1 million in all theaters, with 850,000 in Europe alone. The consequences of the Seven Years' War-the most decisive and significant conflict of the 18th century-linger yet.

    Today, visitors to the Fort Ligonier Museum can see a unique, major exhibition on this most significant 18th-century conflict. Entitled The World Ablaze: An Introduction to the Seven Years' War, it dates to a plan adopted in 2001. For decades, most of the visiting public had only a vague idea of the historical context of Fort Ligonier, especially on a global level. Although a temporary exhibition of borrowed objects to address this deficiency was considered for the 250th anniversary of Fort Ligonier in 2008, the decision was made to secure funding from local foundations and expand greatly the permanent collection to provide the appropriate objects for a long-term Seven Years' War exhibit.    Continued on Next Page...

  • PORTRAIT MINIATURE, PRUSSIAN KING FREDERICK II (“THE GREAT”), C.1760-5

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Arguably the central figure of the Seven Years’ War, Prussia’s Frederick II at once encompassed both Enlightenment values of free intellectual inquiry and a decidedly-militaristic approach to statecraft. In the early 1740s, his opportunistic exploitation of the Austrian Succession crisis to seize the Habsburgs’ rich province of Silesia won the lasting hatred of that empire’s young empress Maria Theresa. His 1756 invasion of his neutral neighbor Saxony—a move intended to preempt feared encirclement by enemies including Russia and France—launched the Seven Years’ War in Central Europe and ensured that a brewing Anglo-French conflict over American colonial issues would become a general European war. Prussia would both achieve smashing victories and endure devastating defeats, but survive; Frederick emerged bearing the soubriquet “the Great.” Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • FUSILIER CAP PLATE, PRUSSIAN, 46TH FUSILIER REGIMENT, 1743-60

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Facing enemies on every side, and with Britain his only ally, Frederick II demonstrated great skill at operating on interior lines, remarkable perseverance against overwhelming odds, and impressive creativity with cavalry and artillery. Underpinning all this, however, was Prussia’s infantry—product of a military culture more than a century old, with a reputation for cohesion, obedience, and discipline. Despite excellent performance overall, horrific losses at Kolín (1757), Hochkirch (1758), and Kunersdorf (1759) transformed the Prussian army into a grab-bag of foreign conscripts famously satirized in Candide (1759) by Frederick’s erstwhile intellectual soul-mate Voltaire. Ultimately, the army held together long enough to see Russia exit the war following a court revolution, and Austria sued for peace, acknowledging financial exhaustion. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • PORTRAIT MINIATURE, EMPRESS MARIA THERESA, IN MOURNING FOR FRANCIS I, C. 1765

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Maria Theresa’s Austria was Prussia’s chief antagonist during the Seven Years’ War. The empress-queen’s personal antipathy its ruler Frederick II—and her desire to regain the valuable province of Silesia he had snatched during the 1740s War of the Austrian Succession—lay at the center of the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756. In that upending of Europe’s alliance structure, Austria made common cause with its ancient enemy France and ended a long-standing alliance with France’s equally-venerable rival Britain. But neither these diplomatic maneuvers nor six years of military exertions succeeded in recovering Silesia. The 1763 Hubertusburg treaty ending the war in East-Central Europe confirmed the province’s retention by a Prussia firmly established as a European power. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • MILITARY KETTLE DRUM, ONE OF PAIR FOR MOUNTED MUSICIAN, SAXON, 1697-1733

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Prussia’s August 1756 invasion of Saxony opened the Seven Years’ War on the Continent, and this eastern German principality was a primary battleground for clashing Prussian and Austro-Imperial armies for the conflict’s duration. Major battles included Hochkirch (1758), Maxen/Meissen (1759), Torgau (1760), and Freiberg (1762). Repeatedly-besieged, the capital Dresden changed hands twice, and endured a massive conflagration eerily presaging its World War II firebombing. Elsewhere in Saxony, Zittau hosted a major field hospital, Görlitz and Hoyerswerda were key crossing points into neighboring Silesia, and extortions from Leipzig played a key role in Prussian war finance. The Austro-Prussian Seven Years’ War also ended in Saxony, with the signing on 15 February 1763 of the Treaty of Hubertusburg. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • GRENZER CAP PLATE, AUSTRIA

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. While Austria’s overall Seven Years’ War performance is scarcely remembered as brilliant, when its commanders used unorthodox tactics they could achieve impressive results. Prussian King Frederick II was perplexed by Maximilian von Browne’s masking maneuvers at Lobositz (1756), by András Hadik’s brief seizure and ransom of a lightly-guarded Berlin (1757), and by Leopold von Daun’s converging columns at Hochkirch (1758). Austrians also skillfully used (mainly Croatian) Grenzer frontier troops and other irregulars to harass Frederick’s vulnerable supply lines, especially at Domstadt/Olmütz (1758). But while these and other victories affirmed the Austrian use of light infantry, irregular forces and quick deployments, Prussia’s Prince Henry turned the tables at Freiburg (1762), essentially defeating Austrians with “Austrian” tactics. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • GRENADIER CAP, RUSSIAN OFFICER’S, MARKED WITH PETER III CYPHER, 1762

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. From the days of Peter the Great, a certain mystique surrounded Russian arms, and on occasion the mere threat of Russian military intervention could force diplomatic concessions from European rivals. Russian victories at Gross-Jägersdorf (1757) and Königsberg (1758) enabled their occupation of East Prussia and reinforced their military reputation. Russian troops also performed well at Zorndorf (1758) and especially at Kunersdorf (1759), severely bloodying the Prussian army and confounding its royal commander Frederick II. When the key Baltic port of Kolberg fell to Russian besiegers late in 1761, Frederick believed the end had come, but a seemingly miraculous court revolution in St. Petersburg led to Russia’s exit from the war and made possible Prussia’s survival. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • GEORGE WASHINGTON, REMBRANDT PEALE, C. 1825-50, AFTER C.W. PEALE PORTRAIT OF 1772

    Fort Ligonier Gallery of French and Indian War Art George Washington’s experience as a Virginia provincial officer in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War provided an invaluable military education. His youthful mishandling of an armed mission to the contested Forks of the Ohio (future site of Pittsburgh, PA) can even be credited (or blamed) for the escalation of a relatively small-scale intercolonial conflict into an all-out imperial war. Subsequently, Washington survived the nearly total annihilation of the 1755 Braddock expedition to evict the French from the Ohio Forks, and in 1758 led Virginia troops in the Forbes campaign that finally achieved that end. In a unique manuscript memoir now preserved at the Fort Ligonier museum, Washington later recalled his harrowing intervention in a “friendly fire” incident close by the Fort during the 1758 expedition.

  • MOCCASINS, DEERSKIN, GREAT LAKES, 18TH CENTURY

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Swiftly traveling on moccasin-shod feet, the best Native warriors had a mastery of woodland warfare that only a few Europeans could match, making “Indian” allies a prized military asset in an environment of contending European empires. But Native peoples could be as skilled at diplomacy as in the making of war, and many Indian nations mastered interimperial power politics. In the latter part of the Seven Years’ War, some tribes who had been allied to France exited the conflict; others who had been neutral joined the 1760 campaign against Montreal, a diplomatic realignment some historians argue was essential to Canada’s conquest. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • TRADE KNIFE WITH QUILLWORK CASE, EASTERN WOODLANDS, BEFORE 1760

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. For peoples reliant on hunting for sustenance and trade, short trade knives like this fulfilled many workaday functions, but could also be used for scalping. While Native combatants in the Seven Years’ War generally emphasized the capture of enemies—either to incorporate them into the tribe or for sale or ransom—over their killing, the ritual execution of selected foes culminating in the removal of the scalp fulfilled spiritual purposes. European colonists associated the scalping ritual with Native “savagery,” but the bounties their own governments offered for Native scalps contributed greatly to the practice’s spread, and scalping became an all-too-common colonial military practice along the American frontier. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • COAT, BRITISH OFFICER’S, 1760-4, WITH GORGET AND MILITARY SASH

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. In the course of the Seven Years’ War, red-coated British troops fought the French and their allies in theaters around the world. These included North America’s Ohio Country, Great Lakes region, and St. Lawrence Valley; British King George II’s native Germany; the mountainous border country where Portugal meets Spain; West Africa’s slave and gold coasts; the waters and islands of the Caribbean; and the Indian subcontinent. The officer who wore Fort Ligonier’s coat could have served in any one of six British regiments distinguished by blue facings, the most famous of these being the 60th Royal Americans. Also on display at Ligonier are a contemporary officer’s cocked hat, waistcoat, breeches, and gaiters, a museum display of a complete set of mid-eighteenth century British military clothing that is quite possibly unique. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • BONNET, HIGHLAND SCOTTISH, 1750-1800

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Despite broadly supporting the Stuart dynasty’s failed 1745 attempt to regain the British throne, Highland fighters had martial qualities too useful for London to ignore, and too dangerous to leave idle. So just a few years after Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat and the official banning of clan culture, the British were raising special Highland regiments of men equipped with kilts, bonnets, claymores, and bagpipes. In the North American conflict zone, Highland mastery of rugged terrain had premium value and lingering Stuart loyalties seemed somehow less subversive. Highland units played notable roles at Louisbourg (1758), Ticonderoga (1758), Québec (1759), Montreal (1760), Signal Hill (1762), and Bushy Run (1763), and in the course of the war Scots traditions were lastingly integrated into British military culture. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • CUIRASS, FRENCH MILITARY ENGINEER’S, C.1730-60

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Canadian authorities requested 100 “cuirasses or complete armor[s]” from France in the critical year of 1758. The request for such protective gear, valuable protection for engineers working under fire, underlines the relatively prominent role—in comparison with earlier colonial conflicts—military engineering played in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War. French fortification projects included improvements to existing defenses at Niagara, Crown Point, and Louisbourg, and the erection of new structures in northwestern Pennsylvania and on Nova Scotia’s contested border. Key siege operations included Oswego (1756), William Henry (1755 and 1757), Louisbourg (1758), Niagara (1759) and Quebec (1759). Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • MILITARY SNARE DRUM OF THE DAUPHIN REGIMENT, FRENCH, 18TH CENTURY

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. During the Seven Years’ War, soldiers marching to the beat of French snare drums like this fought a series of back-and-forth campaigns whose planning was muddled and whose outcomes were mixed. Court intrigues fostered a lack of strategic vision and a “revolving door” of military and ministerial appointments, and a strained fiscal system tottered into partial bank-ruptcy following Canada’s conquest in 1759. Late-war efforts to resuscitate French fortunes focused on regaining ground in Germany—George II’s Hanoverian domains would have been a valuable diplomatic bargaining chip—and on convincing Spain to join the war, a policy that in the end only contributed further head-aches. Reversals on all fronts forced peace in 1762-3, and gave impetus to ambitious reform and rebuilding efforts thereafter. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • PISTOL, FRENCH MILITARY, MODEL 1733

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. French military prestige was severely dented in the Seven Years’ War. Early victories at Minorca (1756) and Hastenbeck (1757) augured well, but a humiliating defeat by the Prussians at Rossbach (1757) derailed France’s efforts to take the German principality of Hanover, British King George II’s personal domain and a perfect diplomatic bargaining chip. The French rallied at Lütterberg (1758) and Bergen (1759), but things came spectacularly apart at Minden (1759), a year further blighted by stunning colonial and naval defeats at Québec and Quiberon Bay. Late-war victories were again offset by defeats and France’s one major conquest of the European war—the Hessian capital, Kassel—was evacuated before the peace preliminaries were signed. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • JäGER RIFLE, GERMAN, C. 1750

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Massed fire from smoothbore muskets was the principal tool of eighteenth-century European land warfare. But aimed fire from weapons like this Jäger (hunter’s) rifle played a role as well. Soldiers who had been hunters, gamekeepers, and foresters in civilian life could be found serving in elite rifle-bearing “Jäger” units in the armies of Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Hanover and other German principalities. While the smoothbore firearm was the primary military weapon in North America as well, some members of “ranger” companies carried rifles, as did some Native warriors—although many elicited surprisingly-accurate fire from smoothbore trade guns. The downside of rifled firearms was their expense, slow loading times, and unsuitability for fitting with a socket bayonet. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • SOUNDING LEAD FROM H.M.S INVINCIBLE WRECK SITE, 1758 OR BEFORE

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. The eighteenth century was a time of innovation in amphibious warfare, with commanders learning to thread large warships through narrow channels to bring their firepower to bear on targets ashore and to land infantry forces. British operations at Rochefort, St. Malo, Cherbourg, and St. Cas (1757-58) achieved indifferent success, but the captures of Louisbourg (1758), Gorée (1758), Guadeloupe (1759), and Québec (1759) featured skillfully executed troop landings in treacherous inshore waters, while superior seamanship among reefs and shoals won the day in the naval battle of Quiberon Bay (1759). Such mastery of amphibious warfare also made possible the late-war British expeditions that took Dominica and Belle Isle (1761), and Martinique, Havana, and Manila (1762). Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • OCTANT, BRITISH, WORKSHOP OF JOHN ROWLAND, C. 1745

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. In a great-power conflict in which commerce and colonies loomed larger than ever before, command of the oceans, particularly the sea lanes connecting Europe with the wider world, was essential. Although the French were a formidable maritime foe with a real edge in naval architecture, they were thrown on the defensive early in the war and never fully recovered the initiative, despite mounting invasion threats in 1758-9 that the British were forced to take seriously. For its part, Spain—despite possessing an empire of truly global scope—utterly failed to bring its naval forces to bear against the British after entering the war. Despite a few naval fiascos like the loss of Minorca (1756), Britain had the resources and the political will to send dominating forces to sea during year after year of global war. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • POWDER HORN, ANGLO-AMERICAN, ENGRAVED WITH HAVANA MAP, C. 1762

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Spain’s brief involvement in the Seven Years’ War included significant operations against its Portuguese neighbor, but in the Americas it is remembered chiefly for the 1762 loss of Havana. The British expeditionary force counted some 45 warships, 150 transports and support vessels, and 12,000 regular soldiers, later reinforced by 4,000 North American provincials. Anglo-American losses during the siege of Havana numbered about 2,800; by October, disease claimed more than 4,700 more. Hundreds of colonials unaccustomed to the Caribbean disease environment succumbed to yellow fever and related maladies: in January 1763, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported that of 18 soldiers sent from one Connecticut village, 15 were dead, two sick, and only one had returned home. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • SHACKLE AND MANACLE, EUROPEAN, 18TH CENTURY

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Enslaved African labor undergirded eighteenth-century European empires’ economic success: their production of cash crops with high consumer demand—tobacco, cotton, coffee, and above all sugar—had come to depend on it. In 1757, a French naval expedition bombarded but failed to take Britain’s Cape Coast Castle slave depot on the coast of today’s Ghana. British expeditions the following year, however, seized several French posts in modern-day Senegal—most notably Gorée Island with its notorious “slave house.” While Gorée was returned to France under the terms of the 1763 Paris treaty ending the Anglo-French axis of conflict, Britain retained captured mainland posts on the Senegal River. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • FIGURED CUP, ASHANTI, 17-18TH CENTURY

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. From the perspective of Europeans involved in Atlantic commerce and colonization, manpower was far and away Africa’s most valuable resource. But African commodities like gum arabic (used in silk processing), ivory, salt, and above all gold were also coveted African commodities. The British post at Cape Coast Castle, attacked by French forces but not taken in 1757, stood on the African “gold coast” in today’s Ghana. This region was long controlled by the Ashanti or Asante state, whose command of the gold trade made it rich and powerful. This figurine serves both decorative and commercial functions—when turned upside-down the figure’s seat is revealed to be a vessel for measuring gold dust. Photograph by Richard Stoner

  • ROUND SHIELD, MUGHAL INDIAN, 18TH CENTURY OR BEFORE

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Well-armed state-chartered trading companies were the primary vehicle for European involvement in Asia. By the mid-eighteenth century, regional Indian leaders seeking autonomy from Mughal imperial rule had come to see these companies as potential allies; French and British company agents saw opportunities for economic gain. The Seven Years’ War brought naval and military support from home but orders subordinating the pursuit of such profitable local alliances to the defeat of national rivals. Ultimately, frictions between metropolitan goals and company interests were better managed by the British than by the French, with the Royal Navy contributing significantly to British strategic and commercial gains in India. Photograph by Richard Stoner Contributions by Christina Welsch

  • KHULA KHUD HELMET WITH CHAIN MAIL, MUGHAL INDIAN, C. 1700

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Indian armies in the Seven Years’ War included large bodies of armored cavalry that may appear medieval. But is all too easy to read British victories like Plassey (1757), in which some 3,000 British and Indian troops bested the Nawab of Bengal’s army—a force theoretically 50,000 strong—as simple demonstrations of European military superiority. Not only was Plassey essentially disconnected from the Anglo-French conflict, it was more political coup than military victory: large portions of the Nawab’s forces simply sat out the battle thanks to British East India Company exploitation of divisions and dissatisfactions within his court. Such interventions in Bengali politics culminated in the Company taking direct control in the vast state’s governance in 1764-5, a move heralding the beginning of the Raj. Photograph by Richard Stoner Contributions by Christina Welsch

  • KHULA KHUD HELMET WITH CHAIN MAIL, MUGHAL INDIAN, C. 1700

    Collections of Fort Ligonier. Indian armies in the Seven Years’ War included large bodies of armored cavalry that may appear medieval. But is all too easy to read British victories like Plassey (1757), in which some 3,000 British and Indian troops bested the Nawab of Bengal’s army—a force theoretically 50,000 strong—as simple demonstrations of European military superiority. Not only was Plassey essentially disconnected from the Anglo-French conflict, it was more political coup than military victory: large portions of the Nawab’s forces simply sat out the battle thanks to British East India Company exploitation of divisions and dissatisfactions within his court. Such interventions in Bengali politics culminated in the Company taking direct control in the vast state’s governance in 1764-5, a move heralding the beginning of the Raj. Photograph by Richard Stoner Contributions by Christina Welsch

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE
PERMANENT MUSEUM EXHIBITION

 

The World Ablaze:

an Introduction to
the Seven Years War

 
Fort Ligonier
Ligonier, Pennsylvania

 

Made possible by generous support from
the Richard King Mellon Foundation

 

Online interpretive text by

Matt Schumann and Donald C. Carleton, Jr.
in consultation with
exhibition curator Martin West
Fort Ligonier executive director, 1981-2011