The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter I
Part VII

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Dieskau, the French commander at Crown Point, had a force of 3,500 for the defense of the place. He had expected the attack to develop earlier, and at last he lost patience. He decided upon an offensive, hoping to surprise the British. Leaving Crown Point, he led 1.600 men up Lake Champlain. For one nigh they camped at Ticonderago and, by the way, were the first white men to occupy that point. Proceeding up Lake Champlain as far as South Bay, and then skirting its north shore, he reached to within four miles of Fort Edward, which he hoped to surprise, thus cutting Johnson off from his base. At this point, from a captured convoy, Dieskau gained information as to the forced at Fort Edward and at Lake George. He was now undecided whether to attack the fort, or to turn on Johnson's encampment. The reluctance of the Indians to attack fortification on which cannons were mounted caused Dieskau to turn toward Lake George.

Meanwhile, Johnson received word of the French movement, and at once decided to "catch the enemy in their retreat." His original plan was to dispatch 500 men to the relief of Fort Edward and another detachment of about the same size to south Bay to take the French and Indian forces in the rear. Finally, he decided t send out only one force, in all about a thousand men. Colonel Ephraim Williams was given the command, and the troops marched out in three divisions.

Unfortunately, neither Colonel Williams nor King Kendrick, the Indian chief who accompanied him with a company of Indian warriors, thought it necessary to throw out advance scouts. They probably had no idea that the French would be encountered so near Lake George. But Dieskau had been well served by his own scouts. Less than four miles distant from Lake George, the French commander laid an ambush into which the imprudent Williams and his division marched. They were swinging heedlessly along when suddenly a musket shot was heard. It was the signal that released the murderous volley and an even more blood-curdling series of Indian war whoops. King Kendrick was one of the first to fall. Colonel Williams tried to rally his men, but in his heroism he merely made himself a target for the unerring aim of an invisible woodsman. He was instantly killed, a bullet piercing his brain. "Under the terrible enfilading fire of an invisible enemy, the colonists recoiled, pressed forward in the face of murderous flame, and then broke in confusion amid the yells of the Indians." Within an hour of the departure of Colonel Williams from Lake George, the routed remnant of his command was hurrying back to it in disorder. They rallied at a little pond, later known as Bloody Pond. There, with the assistance of another force that Johnson had despatched to their aid as soon as he head heard the sound of firing, the French and Indians were checked temporally. Colonel Cole, who was in command of the reinforcement, steadies the routed men of Williams' division, so no further disaster occurred in the retreat.

However, their coming into camp in a crestfallen and somewhat panic-stricken state spread demoralization among the colonists. Johnson's position was critical for some time. Had Dieskau been able to follow up his victory over Williams quickly, Johnson might have suffered irretrievable defeat. But the Canadian militia and the victorious Indians gave up the pursuit when it was no longer possible to cut off the retreating men from Johnson's camp. They might have attempted to wipe out Johnson's force also had they not noticed that upon his barricade some cannon been mounted. The Indians especially feared the great guns. So Dieskau lost precious time while awaiting the arrival of the small force of regulars. These precious moments Johnson used to the full in strengthening his defenses and reviving the courage of his shaken men. When the French veterans finally reached the spot, the British were strong and steady again, though the moment was exciting. As the French regulars advanced, in perfect order and inspiring bravery, down the forest road, the French irregulars and their Indian allies regained their flush of victory and rushed down the wooded hillside to join the assault. War-whoops added to the thrills of the moment, but Johnson's men remained cool. They held their fire until the French were close at hand; then grape shot mowed the enemy down and musket fire riddled them. Few of the French regulars escaped, and although Dieskau continued to attack for an hour, Johnson's defenses were at no time in danger of being stormed. Dieskau was twice wounded, but the brave Frenchman refused to be moved, and ordered his adjutant to leave him and make a final charge against Johnson's Position." By this time, however, casualties has reduced the French regulars to very small numbers; and many of the Canadian irregulars and Indians has disappeared. It seems that hundreds of them had returned to the scene of the ambuscade, bent upon scalps or loot. They had no inclination for the hard fighting that would have been their lot at the Johnson barricade.

Finally, Johnson counter-attacked. "The colonists rushed from their entrenchment's, fell like a whirlwind on the French, and drove them in confusion from the field." Dieskau was gain wounded and was captured. He narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Mohawks, who would have burned and eaten him had not Johnson taken his brave and stricken adverse in to his own quarters.

Johnson was himself wounded. This was one of the reasons why he did not follow up his victory by an attack upon Crown Point. Reinforcements were sent to him, and Colonel Lyman urged him to carry through the original plan. But Johnson realized that Crown Point was strongly garrisoned, and that the season was far advanced. In addition, the Iroquois contingent was now an unreliable, uncertain quantity, since their most powerful chieftain King Kendrick, was dead. Weighing all the possibilities and contingencies, it hardly seemed that Johnson had much chance of success. To advance fifty miles from his own base upon the main base of the enemy under such condition hardly seemed prudent. So he rested on his laurels. He had built two forts, Fort Edward and Fort William Henry, he controlled lake George, he had brought complete disaster to one French force, and had provided a base from which a stronger expedition might be supplied in the next year for an operation against the French base at Crown Point and the other fort (Carillon) that the French were feverishly building at Ticonderago. Taking everything into consideration, Johnson deserved the favor which his victory over Dieskau brought him. "England soon rang with the story of his bravery, his picturesque career, his commanding personality; Parliament gave him the substantial recognition of £5,000, and the King made him a baronet." Yet Parkman sums up Johnson's campaign of 1755 in a phrase: "the Crown Point expedition was a failure disguised under an incidental success."

The fourth campaign of 1755 gave the English complete possession of Nova Scotia. The deportation of the whole Acadian population oat this time emphasized the fact that there was no place in North America for both French and English sovereignties. Undoubtedly war was on in earnest in America; and although the English ministers had striven hard to prevent the state from spreading to Europe, it was not possible though when war did break out in Europe, it was not because of American happenings. France was intent upon dominating Europe, and was glad to encourage those monarchs who wee jealous of Frederick of Prussian. By 1755, Frederick was literally ringer by enemies, and Pitt saw grace danger to England in the downfall of Frederick. King George would have involved England with Russia against Prussia, but his ministers showed such emphatic opposition that he had to abandon the scheme. Pitt, Grenville, Townshend, and Newcastle recognized that a strong Prussia would be less dangerous to England than a dominant France. France was the logical enemy. Events of the past two years in America had emphasized this fact. Benjamin Franklin, when in London in 1754, had made the fact clear to the English ministers. "there is no hope of repose for our thirteen colonies," he said, "as long as the French are masters of Canada." Parliament had responded by voting £4,000,000 "for supplies." Nevertheless, King George had opened that session of Parliament by congratulating both France and

England "on the peace and friendship which existed between them." He Hoped "to protect this general goodwill" by planning certain measures of commercial expansion. One of these measures I seems was the despatch of Braddock, with English troops, to America in December. Some of the £4,000,000 went to "supply" Virginian and other colonies with the means of war.

France was not sleeping however. A couple of months after the sailing of Braddock, a French fleet assembled. In April it left Brest, convoying French troops to Canada. By no coincidence, it would seem, Admiral Boscawen sailed out of Plymouth almost in the wake of the French fleet. Yet, the English cabinet thought it proper to calm the anxieties of the French court by stating: :Most certainly the English will not commerce hostilities." Admiral Boscawen came into contact with part of the French fleet off the coast of Newfoundland; and although he said there was peace between the two nations, someone on either a French or a British ship pulled a lanyard. This was followed by an engagement from which Boscawen emerged victorious. With the guns still as hot as their passions, the British then raided French shipping, seizing 300 merchant ships. In addition, they pressed or persuaded, the crews of the captured ships into the royal navy. In that year, also occurred all the other important land operations to which reference has been made--the death of Braddock, the two New York expeditions, the Acadia sensation. The net of war was certainly enmeshing the motherland, and bewildering her ministers.

The English ministers at last reached the point where it was no longer possible or worthwhile, to keep an ambassador at the French court, France has asked for an explanation of Boscawen's act, had demanded restitution, had declared that refusals would be taken "as an authentic declaration of war." England refused restitution and evaded the question of law. She recalled her ambassador. France responded in January, 1756, by putting an embargo on all British shipping in French ports. France declared war not long afterwards. England however deferred her declaration until May, 1756. By which time she had come to see that, dark though the future seemed, she must face it. She was unready, but that was her misfortune. Words with Versailles were of no further avail. England knew that sword were being sharpened for use against her, and she had no other course than to gather her own implements of war also. The English ministers were convinced that England's very existence was being threatened by France.

One of their ways of preparing for the struggle was an alliance with Frederick of Prussia. The alliance was hardly more than an understanding which would assure England of the neutrality of Frederick and Hanover in the event of war between England and France; but its effect was as great upon England's enemies as if the alliance had been a full offensive and defensive one. In the eyes of France and her allies it was an alliance between Prussia and England and the Seven Years' War was on from the very moment that the understanding was affected. Nevertheless, the common opinion is that France would have forced a war upon England in any case, and not only to settle the American trouble. The American acts of war loomed large at the moment, but there were other reasons for the declaration of war by France, though Voltaire seems to infer that peace would have continued had not the struggle for supremacy in the West become so disturbing. He said that "such a dispute as that about the frontiers of America, between the two colonizing races, had it taken place between individuals, would have been settled in a couple of hours of arbitration." There we see the difference between individuals and nations. Arbitration could hardly have settled such a dispute. Arbitration is the resort of the weak. When Dame Fortune smiles, the favored one is more apt to be arbitrary than conciliatory. France had been looking toward the East with ever-lengthening visions of empire, and the activities of a few resourceful England empire-builders were obscuring her vision in that direction somewhat. Turning to the West, she may have seen that

England's misfortunes of that year were shaping in bolder outlines France's realm in America yet she must have sadly misread national character if she supposed that the English colonies would accept these reverses as the end of the struggle. France, it seems, saw clearly enough that stern work was ahead of her,. that nothing but the sword could drive England out of her paths to eastern and western empires. Still she had no grave doubt as to the outcome; she thought she had gathered the material with which to make her sword of empire strong enough for any test. Her sword, fashioned in France, tempered in Spain, sharpened in America and bejeweled in Russia, ought to be strong enough to clear for her an unobstructed way to world empire.

There were a few doubters, who, while finding reason for confidence in the strength of France's position on land, could not lose sight of her woeful weakness on the ocean. "What use to us will be hosts of troops and plenty of money," declared the advocate Barbier," if we have only to fight the English at sea? They will take all our ships, one after another, they will seize all our settlements in America and get our trade." Yet the French King's chief advisers considered that France would be so dominant in Europe that, when peace came, she could demand the return of all she might have lost in American operations. So France went forward confidently with her plans while the English ministers moved with trepidation as they expanded their own war plans. During the winter of 1755-1756 the French forces at Crown Point erected a fort at Ticonderoga. English colonial authorities were active also. Shirley summoned the Governors of the colonies to a conference at New York in December, 1756. It was then proposed that a winter campaign against Ticonderoga be undertaken. The attempt was not made, however, Shirley also planned an offensive against Fort Frontenac, and went forward with these preparation until relieved by Colonel Webb, who in turn gave way to General Abercrombie. In July, 1756, John Campbell, the Earl of Loudoun, arrived in New York to take command of all military operations. At that time there were more than 3,000 regular soldiers in New York, and the militia establishment brought Loudoun's command up to about 10,000 men. These were "scattered along the road from Albany to Lake George." Great operations would seem to be in the making , but not much progress had yet been made, notwithstanding that the season was half spent.

On the other hand, the French had been very troublesome. The English had been preparing for an extensive movement into Canada from Oswego, and during the spring and early summer Bradstreet had put military stores sufficient for 5,000 men into Oswego. Batteaus were also built in great numbers on Lake George for an attack upon Ticonderago, where soon 5,300 French and Indians were gathered. Loudoun had 10,000 men, but with these he seemed to be capable of hardly more than the protection of his lines of communication with Oswego. In march, a raiding band of 400 French and Indians, under De Lévis, had penetrated English territory to Fort Bull, where Rome is. The fortifications at that point were destroyed, and the garrison captured. In May, De Villiers attacked supply columns en route to Oswego. Colonel Bradstreet, with new York troops, succeeded fairly well in repulsing these attacks and in keeping forty companies, each of fifty boatmen, plying between the base and Oswego, but he warned the commanding generals at Albany that a French force was gathering for an attack on Oswego. Yet Loudoun seemed to be incapable of putting his superior forced into quick motion.

As a matter of fact there was considerable underlying friction between regular and colonial officers, just as there had been in Braddock's day, and for the same reason. The "regulations of command," which made it possible for a junior regular officer to outrank even colonial generals of the experience of Johnson, Bradstreet, Winslow, or Lyman, naturally reduced the efficiency of the English force. Loudoun's chances grew less with the arrival of reinforcements from France, and especially with the coming of the marquis de Montcalm, who displaced Dieskau. Montcalm was not yet forty-five, yet he had had almost thirty years of military experience. He had distinguished himself in Germany and Italy, and shown himself to be a brace resourceful commander as well as a gentlemen of humane instinct and scrupulous honor. He infused new life into the Canadians, whereas Loudoun seemed to have only a deadening effect upon colonial troops. The British commander applied himself ponderously to the problem of Ticonderago, but the more he pondered the deeper he sank into the mire of indecision. Franklin said that Loudoun was "like St. George on the tavern signboards, always on horseback but never going ahead." Loudoun came at last to the opinion, that expeditions against Frontenac and Niagara were inadvisable, while such a strong enemy force as that at Ticonderoga flanked him.

Montcalm did not remain idle during Loudoun's period of indecision. He moved quickly upon Oswego. Leaving a skeleton force at Ticonderoga, he added the reminder to the force at Frontenac, for an operation against Oswego. Loudoun noticed Bradstreet's warning to the extend of sending General Webb with his regiment to strengthen Oswego but Webb reached no father than the head-waters of the Mohawk. There he heard that Montcalm had pounced upon Oswego, capturing Fort Ontario, one if outworks,. on August 13th, and next day forcing the entire Oswego garrison of 1,600, including Colonel Peter Schuyler, to surrender. It was a great victory. The spoils of war included 120 cannons, six war vessels, 300 boats, an immense quantity of stores and three chests of money. In his report to Minister of War Rouillé, Montcalm stated; "It is the first time that, with 3,000 men and less artillery, a siege has been maintained against 1,800, who could be readily relieved by 2,000 and who could oppose our landing, having the naval superiority on Lake Ontario." It was a daring enterprise, and like many successful military operations before and since Montcalm's time, succeeded mainly because it was conducted, "contrary to the regular rules" of military tactics. Montcalm apologized for this departure, promising that if ever His Majesty should employ him in other field, he would prove that he could "behave differently."

Montcalm, it would seem, need not have feared that he had incurred royal displeasure, for in fact by this one stroke, he had upset all the English plans for that year as completely as those of 1755 had collapsed after the defeat of Braddock. On august 20th, eight days after Webb had left for Oswego, Sir William Johnson, with two battalions of militia and 300 Mohawks, had followed him. But it was then to late. His force had to fall back with Webb's, and the campaigning for that year was at an end. The British regular units went down to New York and Philadelphia, there to be billeted upon the inhabitants, much to the annoyance of the latter. Loudoun excused this inaction by his lack of confidence in the "provincials."

Montcalm did not hold Oswego. He was satisfied in destroying it, for he now had command of Lake Ontario, Forts Niagara and Frontenac were freed from danger, and he could concentrate his own forces at more central points--Ticonderoga and Crown Point--for more forcible blows at the heart of the enemy. Albany was inconstant danger, and quick movements against New England could pivot from those points. Moreover, such demonstrations as those at Braddock Field and Oswego were convincing arguments in dealing with the Indians--even with the Iroquois Confederacy. Sir William Johnson experienced increasing difficulty in countering the growing respect of the Iroquois for French arms. Four in the Iroquois nations actually send an embassy to Montreal, promising neutrality and appealing for protection. So New Yorkers spend an anxious winter. The next year, however, was to be worse.

Yet, withal, the year 1757 brought a hopeful change in the attitude of the English people on both sides of the Atlantic. They no longer avoided the inevitable. The colonists were aroused as never before and the people in the homeland faced their dangers with sterner courage. The disasters of 1756 and those of the first half of 1757, when it seemed that France, almost everywhere, was forging ahead, had almost taken all the courage out of the English people. The news of Admiral Byng's disaster in the Mediterranean was followed by that from India, telling of the "Black Hole of Calcutta" horror. These, added to the disasters suffered by a strong British army in America, at the hands of the much weaker French colonials, dangerously lowered the morale of the English people. England seemed incapable of success. Greene wrote: "A despondency without parallel in our history took possession of our coolest statesmen." And even the impassive Chesterfield cried in despair: "We are no longer a nation."

Fortunately, their desperation shook the English people out of their lethargy. This was not the time to permit the nation's affairs to remain in the hands of weak ministers. Stronger hands must grasp the sceptre of State. England must meet all that lay before her, and fight on and one until she had emerged as the paramount power of the world.
She achieved it in the Seven Years' War, of which the French and Indian War in America was an important part. "No war has had greater results on
the history of the world, or brought greater triumphs to England" wrote Greene, "but" he adds, " few have had more disastrous beginnings."

It was in this time of extreme national need that England found the man who was capable of stirring into action the best that was in the national character, both in the colonies and the homeland. In William Pitt she found the pilot who could grip the helm with firm hand and steer the ship of state past the treacherous shallows, into deep and safe waters--into the vast open spaces of the Seven Seas, making safe the lines of communication, the trade routes between the motherland and the colonies, so that the development of both might go on unhampered. It is idle to conjecture how vastly the progress of America might have been affected had Pelham, or Chesterfield, Or Newcastle been the dominant minister of England after 1756. Suffice it that Newcastle was driven from office, or at least was willing to let Pitt have dominant place in foreign affairs. Pitt, the Great Commoner, was of democratic leaning. He was almost American in characteristics. Had he been born in America, he would most assuredly have been one of the champions of independence. He was the first great English minister since Cromwell's day to truly represent the People against the Crown. In his later years Pitt was frank enough to admit that the American colonies were entitled to independence, even though as a Britisher who placed his own nation's affairs first, he fought strenuously against it. His life was lived in England, and for England, from beginning to end; yet, withal, there probably has been no minister before or since his time whose service to his country has so vitally and so favorably furthered the destiny of this great republic in North America. He was a man of unusually clear vision; seemed to be able to pick the essentials from the non-essentials almost by instinct. Impulse almost always drove him in the right direction. He soon saw that the understanding that existed between England and Prussia was merely a flimsy pact; and he quickly changed it into an alliance which took British soldiers into Germany. While Pitt had in mind vast military plans for execution in America, he was positive that he must send soldier into Germany to win America. "England has been a long time in labor," exclaimed Frederick of Prussian, "but,' thinking of Pitt, "she has at last brought forth a man."

The year 1757 was the darkest year of the wart, in both England and America, but Pitt's enthusiasm and aggressiveness renewed hope in those with whom he came in contact. With Pitt at the helm, they were confident that England would weather the storm. Pitt soon saw what was wrong with America, saw that Loudoun was not the only cause of American disasters. At the same time, he did not share Loudoun's lack of confidence in colonial troops. Indeed, the English minister had much more confidence in the average ability of British colonists than to accept the victories of Montcalm as a proof of the superiority of French soldiers. He saw what no doubt other English ministers before him has seen--that the abundant man-power of the American colonies of England had been literally wasted through insular pride. But while earlier ministers had not had the courage to correct the trouble, Pitt id not hesitate. He believed colonials were just as capable of military command as regular officers from England. Believing it, he dared to flout the haughty military caste of his own country. Inasmuch as the colonial armies would have to bear the brunt of the struggle in America, he would give colonial officers the status to which they were entitled--equal rank with regular officers. The operation 1757 were upon the old stultifying basis-- which made a green lieutenant from England superior in military authority in the field to even a seasoned colonial officer of lifelong experience of American fighting. Hence, confusion and mishap continued through 1757. But in 1758 the new order became effective, and with it came the new life that was to carry American troops buoyantly to glorious achievements in the field.

Passing as rapidly as possible over the disheartening American events of 1757, it seems that the military year included the calamitous attempt of Loudoun, with a land force of 6,000 and an equal number of sailors, to capture Louisbourg, the strong French fortress on Cape Breton. Loudon returned to New York "to bluster and lie idle." New York and neighboring colonies were eager to furnish him with militia units, but "the royal commanders were shamefully incompetent and would not let the provincials take the necessary measures." From Crown Point and Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga the French seemed to be able to operate almost at will. In July a Canadian, with 200 men, came actually under the guns at Fort Edward. He departed, carrying away thirty-two scalps. Four days later, another Canadian with a small raiding force destroyed twenty boas on Lake George, and his Indian allies rejoiced in the possession of 160 scalps. By the end of July, Montcalm was investing Fort William Henry, on Lake George. This was a major operation, for his force was by far the largest that the French had yet gathered. He had with him 8,000 French and Canadian soldiers, and 2,000 Indians, some coming from as far west was Iowa. They represented forty tribes, a savage uncontrollable horde looking only for scalps. Fort William Henry was soon isolated from Fort Edward, where lay General Webb with 4,000 men. The Lake George garrison was in sore straits, yet General Webb would not make an effort to relieve them. He even ordered back the militia and Indian forces of Sir William Johnson, who was advanced beyond Fort Edward to the relief of Monroe. To the latter, Webb sent a letter, advising him to surrender. This was intercepted by Montcalm, but at once forwarded on to Monroe. Knowing that he need fear no danger from Fort Edward, Montcalm concentrated his whole force upon Fort William Henry. After eight days of siege, Monroe surrendered. He had had no option, his ammunition having become almost spent. Moreover, the terms of capitulation were honorable, Monroe was to march out with the honors of war, but disarmed, and be escorted to Fort Edward, his whole force to be under parole for eighteen months, the surrender had no sooner been made, however, then the hordes of Indians swarmed into the fort looking for scalps. They murdered the sick, became crazed with drink, and terrorized the women and children, the disarmed British soldiery having to stand helplessly by. Little seems to have been done by Montcalm to check the savages. He added to the militia to the neglect next morning by assigning only 300 regulars and some Canadian militia to escort the helpless British troops to Fort Edward, notwithstanding that the Indians had become more menacing. It is said that Montcalm then "begged the infuriated Indians to kill him and spare the English, who were under his protection"; yet, it seems that he either underestimated the power of his 8,000 whites to control 2,000 Indians or considered that he had no right to jeopardize the interests of France by clashing with bloodthirsty Indians, merely to save the lives of a few hundred Englishmen. French histories pass over the incident with little comment, some Canadian annalists would like to exonerate Montcalm, knowing his difficulties; yet these atrocities of 1757 mar Montcalm's otherwise glorious record in some American records. One Canadian historian #5 writes as follows: ". . . . Montcalm was unable to bind his savage allies, and, to his lasting sorrow, the glades of the forest suddenly rang with the Indian war whoops, and the soil soon ran with the blood of the English men, women and children. short of calling out his own troops to shot down the Indians, Montcalm and his officers did everything that men could do to check the slaughter, but the Commander's failure to defend his helpless prisoners with his whole force remains a stain upon an otherwise noble character and career."

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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