John Forbes


FORBES (fforbes), JOHN, army officer; b. 5 Sept. 1707 (o.s.) in Edinburgh, Scotland, son of Elizabeth Graham and posthumous son of Lieutenant-Colonel John Forbes of Pittencrief, Fifeshire; d. unmarried 11 March 1759 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

John Forbes began his military career, after abandoning a medical one, by purchasing a cornet’s commission in the Scots Greys, dated 16 July 1735. At the battle of Fontenoy (Belgium) in May 1745 he served as captain and aide-de-camp to Sir James Campbell, commander of the British cavalry. The same year he was promoted major and lieutenant-colonel in the army, and saw service in the suppression of the 1745 rising in Scotland, including action at Culloden. Again in Flanders, he served as aide-de-camp to Sir John Ligonier in the disastrous defeat at Laffeldt, 2 July 1747. The following year he became quartermaster-general on the Duke of Cumberland’s own staff, and in 1750 was made lieutenant-colonel in the Scots Greys.

Forbes came to Halifax in the summer of 1757, as colonel of the 17th Regiment of Foot and adjutant-general to Lord Loudoun [John Campbell], in which capacity he supervised the arrest of Lord Charles Hay. Forbes was promoted brigadier-general 28 December, and the following March, probably on Ligonier’s recommendation, was given his first independent command, the expedition against Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh, Pa.). This same assignment had lured a 2,500-man army under veteran Major-General Edward Braddock to disaster three years earlier.

Much of the spring and summer of 1758 Forbes spent in Philadelphia, gathering men and means for the expedition. Difficulties in obtaining colonial troops, supplies, and wagons, together with the onset of his own fatal illness, brought irritating delays. Intercolonial trade and land rivalries flared over the route: should Forbes follow Braddock’s road, as favoured by the Virginians, or cut a new road west from Raystown (Bedford), Pennsylvania, as that colony urged? Distance, forage and supply considerations, and dangers of flooding at several points on Braddock’s road led Forbes to choose the new road, and hold firmly to his decision. When finally gathered, his force consisted of about 5,000 colonial militia, 1,400 Montgomery’s Highlanders, 400 Royal Americans, and 40 artillerymen.

Convinced that Braddock’s supply system in 1755 had been so weak that a withdrawal would have been necessary even after victory, Forbes was determined to build a supply road marked by defensible stockades and forts no more than 40 miles apart. He claimed to have learned this strategy from Turpin de Crissé’s Essai sur l’art de la guerre but must have come to appreciate it from experience in Scotland and as quartermaster-general in Flanders. Forbes’ fortified road was a clear and eminently successful application of the theory. His attack was not to be a raid but a permanent conquest, and, as the Virginians feared, the road proved to be an enduring route to the Ohio country from Pennsylvania.

Supervision of road construction and forward positions fell to the able Colonel Henry Bouquet, as Forbes’ “bloody flux” continued. By September, when he reported that his health was improved, Forbes could travel only in a litter slung between two horses. Without his order, first contact was made with the defenders of Fort Duquesne on 14 September when an 800-man advance party under Major James Grant was defeated. For ten weeks this victory seemed to the French to have secured the fort, and the garrison under François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery was reduced for the winter.

Harassed by bad weather and the unending claims that Braddock’s road would have been quicker, Forbes nevertheless made good use of time. Aside from Grant’s adventure, no contact with Fort Duquesne was made until a conference between colonial officials and Indians at Easton, Pennsylvania, in October 1758, encouraged by Forbes, had won the neutrality of the Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingos. Although late autumn brought problems for the advancing English, it weakened the French by reducing cover for raiding parties and urging their remaining Indian allies to their winter hunting grounds. By out-waiting his opponents, Forbes achieved a bloodless conquest. On 24 November, when his force was within a day’s march of the fort, the garrison blew it up and retreated. Forbes took possession of the smouldering site, which he renamed Pittsburgh, 193 miles and five months from the beginning of his road, and five days before the expiry of service of his colonial troops.

In fortifying his road, Forbes intended it to be defensible against Indian and Canadian raiding parties, and the raids attempted the following winter all failed. The road was safe, and so were the frontier settlements that had been terrorized by incursions from Fort Duquesne since Braddock’s defeat. The Indians of the upper Ohio had made their peace with the victors. Forbes’ caution, thoroughness, and tenacity had succeeded; he had delivered the upper Ohio to British control.

Forbes returned to Philadelphia in January 1759, bearing visible evidence of the progress of his illness. He died on 11 March, aged 51, and the colony afforded him a funeral befitting one of their own heroes. He was buried in the chancel of Christ Church, Philadelphia.

John Forbes Facts
The British general John Forbes (1710-1759) commanded the expedition that captured Ft. Duquesne during the French and Indian War.

Little is known of John Forbes's early life other than that he was the son of Col. John Forbes of Fifeshire, Scotland. Although trained as a physician, young John purchased a cornet's commission in the 2d Royal North British Dragoons. Serving in various staff positions during the 6 years he participated in the War of the Austrian Succession, he won rapid promotion. By 1745 he was a lieutenant colonel, and in 1750 he was appointed lieutenant colonel of his own regiment. In 1757 he became colonel of the 17th Foot. With the outbreak of the French and Indian War in the American colonies, he accompanied his regiment to Halifax, where, as adjutant general to the Earl of Loudon, he furthered his own cause by a number of valuable suggestions.

In December 1757 Forbes was made a brigadier general in America only, and William Pitt assigned him to command the expedition against the French stronghold Ft. Duquesne. His force was made up of Montgomery's Highlanders, a detachment of Royal Americans, and 5,000 provincials from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Young George Washington accompanied the expedition. Among the trials that beset Forbes were the reluctance of the Pennsylvania Assembly and the refusal of the Maryland Legislature to appropriate funds. Bickering between his officers and the provincials and the reluctance of the local inhabitants to furnish provisions contributed to delays. Forbes's Cherokee allies deserted early in the campaign, while the western Indians held back. The almost continuous rains made a morass of the road built by the army. Yet Forbes continued to press forward through the wilderness, building blockhouses along the way. His road across the Allegheny Mountains later became one of the most important routes of America's western expansion.

From the beginning of the campaign Forbes was troubled by illness, and his troops were spirited by his show of courage. Successful negotiations won over the western Indians to the British side. Although British skirmishing parties were twice defeated, the French evacuated Ft. Duquesne without firing a shot in its defense. On Nov. 25, 1758, five months after the campaign began, Forbes raised the British flag over the fort, now renamed Pittsburgh. He returned to Philadelphia "looking like an emaciated old woman of eighty" and died on March 11, 1759.

Further Reading on John Forbes
Forbes's letters are collected in Alfred Proctor James, ed., Writings of General John Forbes Relating to His Service in North America (1938). Alfred Proctor James and Charles Morse Stotz, Drums in the Forest (1958), has an excellent account of Forbes and his capture of Ft. Duquesne. The military situation is discussed in detail in William A. Hunter, Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1753-1758 (1960). See also Leland D. Baldwin, Pittsburgh (1937).


Lt.-Col. D. F. Forbes, D.S.O. and Bar, E.D.
Born in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, October, 1906, Lt.-Col. Forbes spent the early years of his life and received his public and high school education there. Then, having decided not to follow his father into the pulpit, he turned towards business and enrolled in a Business School in Halifax.

His association with the army began when he was very young. On Sept. 1, 1921, Col. Forbes enlisted in the Colchester and Hants Regiment (N.P.A.M.) as a bugler and the following year found him promoted to the rank of corporal. Commissioned in December, 1922, he served with this unit until 1937 when he transferred to the Cape Breton Highlanders as a captain.

The outbreak of the war found him leaving his General Insurance Brokerage in Sydney, Nova Scotia and assuming full time duty as adjutant of the Cape Breton Highlanders. When the North Nova Scotia Highlanders were reformed in 1940 and included in the order of battle of the third division, he transferred to the new battalion as adjutant, which appointment he held until May, 1941, when he became a company commander.

After the many weary months in England, Lt.-Col. (then Major) Forbes was chosen as one of the party of Canadians to be attached to the British First Army in the Tunisian Campaign. The two months tour of duty there passed very quickly and he soon found himself back in England and in July 1943, was appointed second in command of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

Lt.-Col. Forbes was in the thick of the fighting from D-Day onwards and on Aug. 5, 1944, was promoted to Lt.-Col. and appointed to command. He commanded the unit throughout the campaign in North West Europe with the exception of the period between Dec., 1944 and 18 Jan., '45 when he was out with a broken ankle. In recognition of his work, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the fall of 1944 and the bar to the D.S.O. in January, 1945.

The cessation of hostilities in Europe did not signify that the task was finished so Lt.-Col. Forbes immediately volunteered for occupational duty and on June 5, 1945, was appointed to command the 3rd Battalion, North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Despite overwhelming difficulties, he has succeeded in building up a well-knit unit which has been a tribute to his organizing ability. Fair and just in all situation, he is admired by all who have come into contact with him. The successes of the 1st Battalion in action and the 3rd Battalion in the occupation have been mainly due to Lt.-Col. Forbes' untiring work and his ability to develop a spirit of unselfish co-operation within the units.


Colonel James Forbes Robertson VC DSO & Bar MC

Medals: Victoria Cross (VC), Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Bar, Military Cross (MC), 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals with Mentioned In Dispatches, Defence Medal (WW2), 1937 and 1953 Coronation Medals.

Born at Brighouse in West Yorkshire on 7 July 1884 commissioned into the Border Regiment on 2nd March 1904 and joined the 1st Battalion at Plymouth in April 1904 and served in Gibraltar, India and Burma.

Promoted to Lieutenant on the 31st August 1906 and Captain 3rd November 1914.

At the outbreak of WW1 he was the Transport Officer of the 1st Battalion and served with them at Gallipoli. Wounded in action on 8th May 1915 with gun-shot wound to the shoulder.

He returned to duty at Gallipoli on 16th June as OC for B Company. He was appointed a Staff Captain of 32 Brigade on 28th November and left the peninsula for Imbros on 20th December 1915. Briefly admitted to hospital in Alexandria in February 1916, he relinquished his staff job in May and returned to England joining the 3rd Battalion at Conway.

Promoted to Temporary Major, he went to France on 15 June 1916 and was posted to the 1st Newfoundland Regiment as their second-in-command and then appointed as their CO on 26 November 1916 was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for gallantry on the Somme and then Mentioned in Dispatches in 1917. He was then awarded the Distinguished Service Order as a Captain & Acting Lieutenant Colonel in command of the Newfoundland Regiment on 14th April 1917 “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of his battalion during an enemy attack. He collected all the men he could find and, taking up a position on the outskirts of the village brought the hostile advance to an end by his fire. He undoubtedly saved a very critical situation by his promptness, bravery and example.”

He visited 1 Border on the 28th October 1917 for Arroyo Day, when in command of the 16th Middlesex.

He Mentioned in Dispatches again in December 1917. He recieved a Bar to his DSO for action at Cambrai on 30 November 1917 “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his battalion with great dash and determination in a successful attack. later, during continual enemy attacks, though he was wounded in the eye and unable to see, he was led about by an orderly among his men in the front line, encouraging and inspiring them by his magnificent example of courage and determination.” He was Wounded again on 30th November 1917.

Rejoined 1st Battalion as Major in February 1918.

As Captain Acting Lieutenant Colonel James Forbes Robertson DSO & Bar MC, he was awarded his Victoria Cross whilst in command of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment during the Battle of the Lys on 11th and 12th April 1918 near Neuf Berquin and Vieux Berquin, France. The citation for the VC reads: “For most conspicuous bravery whilst commanding his Battalion during the heavy fighting. Through his quick judgement, resource, untiring energy, and magnificent example Lt.Col Forbes Robertson, on four separate occasions, saved the line from breaking and averted a situation which might have had the most serious and far reaching results.

On the first occasion, when troops in front were falling back, he made a rapid reconnaissance on horseback, in full view of the enemy under heavy machine gun and close range shell fire. He then organised and, still mounted, led a counter attack which was completely successful in re-establishing our line. When his horse was shot under him he continued on foot. Later on the same day, when troops to the left of his line were giving way, he went to the flank and checked and steadied the line, inspiring confidence by his splendid coolness and disregard of personal danger. His horse was wounded three times and he was thrown five times.

The following day, when the troops on both his flanks were forced to retire, he formed a post at Battalion HQ and with his Battalion still held his ground, thereby covering the retreat of troops on his flanks. Under the heaviest fire this gallant officer fearlessly exposed himself when collecting parties, organising and encouraging.

On a subsequent occasion, when troops were retiring on his left and the condition of things on his right were insecure, he again saved the situation by his magnificent example and cool judgement. Losing a second horse, he continued on foot until he had established a line to which his own troops could withdraw and so conform to the general situation.”

He was then Mentioned in Dispatches again in May 1918 and was a Brevet Lt-Col. He was then promoted to Major on the 3rd June 1918. Later becoming a Temporary Brigadier General commanding 87 Brigade 7th June, then appointed OC 155 Brigade in 52 Div on the 16 June.

He was back to command 1st Border Regiment on 23rd October 1918.

On the 30th December 1918 given command of the 5th Battalion at Ivoir on the Meuse and took the Battalion to Bonn as part of the Army of The Rhine.

He was posted to 2nd Battalion Border Regiment in Ireland in 1920 and given command of the Regimental Depot at the Castle in 1923.

He went on to Command 2nd Gordon Highlanders from 1926 and then commanded 152 Infandtry Brigade from 1932-34; DL County of Sutherland. He even Served in Home Guard WW2.

Colonel James Forbes Robertson VC DSO & Bar MC died on 5 August 1955.


Colonel William Innes Forbes
Commander-in-Chief 1935 - 1940
by Dr. Robert Girard Carroon, Past Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

William Innes Forbes was a true Pennsylvanian and a natural to become Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion; he lived for a time only a block from the MOLLUS headquarters at 1805 Pine Street in Philadelphia. William Innes Forbes was born on November 22 1868 in Philadelphia. He was the third child of William Smith Forbes and Celauire Bornadou.

William graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in 1889. He joined the Company "D" of the First Regiment Pennsylvania National Guard in 1892 and served for one year. He was then commissioned a Lieutenant JG in the Pennsylvania State Naval Militia and served in that unit until 1894 when he joined the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, serving with that unit as a first lieutenant in the Spanish American War. His military career continued during World War I when he commanded the 57th Field Artillery in Texas. He closed his military career with the rank of Colonel commanding the 305th Reserve Cavalry in 1932.

When not on military duty Col. Forbes was employed as the head of the credit department of Wanamaker's Men's Store in Philadelphia. He married Daisy Cox Wright in 1912. In addition to his active and reserve military service William was a great fan of the theater and participated in the Mask and Wig Club as one of its founding performers in 1889 at its opening at the Chestnut Street Opera House. He had the leading role in the opening show, Lurline. The Forbes's owned a 5,000-acre plantation in North Carolina as well as Scrooby, their home in Villanova.

William Innes Forbes was steeped in stories of the War of the Rebellion told him by his father and other Companions of the Loyal Legion. Major William Smith Forbes was surgeon in the Union Army during the war. He had been commissioned as an acting assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army on May 15, 1862 and served until he resigned with the rank of Major on October 3, 1864. William Smith Forbes joined the Pennsylvania Commandery of MOLLUS and was assigned Insignia Number 10260. He died at his home at 901 Pine Street in Philadelphia on December 17th 1905.

Two days prior to his father's death William Innes Forbes applied for membership in MOLLUS. His application as a Companion of the First Class by Inheritance was approved on February 15, 1906 and he was assigned Insignia Number 14949.

Following his service in World War I Companion Forbes became very active in the Loyal Legion. He served on the Council of the Pennsylvania Commandery from 1924 to 1926. He was elected Senior Vice Commander in 1931 and served until July 6, 1932 when he was elected Commander of the Pennsylvania Commandery, a post he held until May 20 1942. On October 27, 1933 William Innes Forbes was elected Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief and on October 25, 1935 he was elected Commander-in-Chief serving in that position for over four years, retiring on May 23, 1940. He served on the Council-in-Chief from May 20, 1942 to his death and as the elected representative of the Commandery-in-Chief on the Board of Governors of the War Library and Museum from October 21, 1942 until his death on July 4, 1967 in Philadelphia. Colonel Forbes wife, Dorothy, preceded him in death passing away in 1946.

William and Dorothy Forbes had three sons, all of whom became Companions of MOLLUS: William Innes Forbes, Jr., Insignia No. 19077; Francis Coxe Forbes, Insignia No. 19458; and Charles Wright Forbes, Insignia No. 19635. All were Companions of the Pennsylvania Commandery. In addition William Innes Forbes brother, James Fitzgerald Forbes, was also a Companion of the Pennsylvania Commandery with Insignia No. 19988.

During his term as Commander-in-Chief Col. Forbes oversaw the purchase of additional lands to increase the size of the Spottsylvania Battlefield. This 162-acre tract was donated by the Pennsylvania Commandery at impressive ceremonies on May 11, 1940 the 76th anniversary of the fierce struggle at the "Bloody Angle." Approximately 300 members of the Pennsylvania Commandery of MOLLUS attended the dedicatory ceremonies at which William Innes Forbes acted as master of ceremonies. Attending was Branch Spalding, park superintendent and James H. Price, Governor of Virginia who was introduced by M.R. Tillotson, Service Director of Region One of the National Park Service. This magnificent donation to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park culminated William Innes Forbes momentous leadership of both the Pennsylvania Commandery and the Commandery-in-Chief but it was by no means the end of his many contributions to MOLLUS.

In addition to serving as Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS Colonel Forbes was also Commander-in-Chief of both the Military Order of World War I and the Military Order of Foreign Wars and was a member of the Sons of the Revolution.


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