Military history

CHAPTER 10

After Braddock WILLIAM SHIRLEY AND THE NORTHERN CAMPAIGNS

1755

BRADDOCK’S DEFEAT shocked all of British America, but the backwoods settlements of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia felt it like a blow to the solar plexus. Dunbar’s flight to Philadelphia left Braddock’s road as an undefended avenue of approach for raiders from Fort Duquesne. Only a small garrison of Virginia provincials and an independent company from South Carolina remained at Fort Cumberland—a force barely adequate to defend the fort itself, let alone 250 miles of discontinuous valley settlements stretching from the Susquehanna to the Shenandoah Valley. Pennsylvania had no militia to mobilize; the Quakers who dominated the assembly agreed to appropriate a thousand pounds that frontier settlers could use to buy weapons but otherwise left the westerners to shift for themselves. Maryland had a single company of soldiers under arms. Virginia had raised about eight hundred men to accompany Braddock; approximately a quarter of them, three companies of infantry and one of light horse, were with him on the Monongahela. Of these troops, who numbered twelve officers and more than two hundred men, perhaps thirty survived the battle. Among those who had not been in combat, desertion picked up sharply. 1

With so few soldiers to protect it, the frontier simply collapsed. Before the end of July, reports had already reached Williamsburg that Indian war parties had killed thirty-five Virginia backwoods settlers. In August, frontier inhabitants who could afford to abandon their homesteads were streaming back to more heavily settled regions in the east. By autumn over a hundred Virginians were known to have been slain or lost to captivity, and the flood of refugees had grown so heavy at Winchester that one could hardly cross the Blue Ridge to the west “for the Crowds of People who were flying, as if every moment was death.”2

Governor Dinwiddie shipped muskets to the frontier, called out the militia of three northwestern counties, and summoned the House of Burgesses into emergency session. Before the end of August, the Burgesses had voted to raise a thousand-man provincial regiment and appropriated forty thousand pounds to equip and pay it. Dinwiddie offered Washington the command, and—following negotiations to make sure he would have more control and better support than in 1754— Washington accepted. By the end of their session, the Burgesses had stiffened the penalties that backed the militia laws, authorized the payment of bounties on Indian scalps, and provided for the construction of forts as refuges for settlers and bases from which Washington’s troops could patrol the frontier. This arrangement would offer essentially all the security backwoods Virginians would know for the next three years. The redcoats would never return to the Old Dominion during the war.3

For the Ohio Indians as much as the white inhabitants of the Virginia-Pennsylvania backcountry, Braddock’s defeat marked a point of no return. The Shawnees in the valley had already accepted French control, but the Delawares and Mingos had held back. By the middle of July, however, they had little room left for maneuver. The French had demonstrated their ability to call large numbers of Wyandot, Ottawa, and other allies down to the valley, and the risk was steadily growing that they would punish the Delawares and Mingos for any further reluctance to take up the hatchet against the English. Still, the Delaware chiefs decided to make one last attempt to obtain English aid and sent emissaries (including Captain Jacobs, their greatest warrior) to Philadelphia. From August 16 through 22, the delegation met with Governor Morris and the Pennsylvania Council to ask for arms. Still conforming to the protocols of Iroquois diplomacy, Scarouady the half-king spoke on their behalf: “One word of Yours will bring the Delawares to join You; . . . any Message you have to send, or answer you have to give to them, I will deliver to them.” But Morris and the council had no message to send and answered only that the Ohio Indians should await further instructions from the League Council at Onondaga. No word would ever come from Onondaga, the ambassadors of which would soon be making their way to the mission of La Présentation to reassure the new French governor-general, Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, marquis de Vaudreuil, that the Iroquois intended to remain neutral in the fighting between the French and the English. Leaving Philadelphia “without meeting with the necessary Encouragement,” Captain Jacobs and his fellow delegates returned to Fort Duquesne and “agreed To Come out with the French and their Indians in Parties to Destroy the English Settlements.” That fall, Shingas and Captain Jacobs helped lead combined French and Indian war parties that took captives, plunder, and scalps throughout the Virginia-Pennsylvania backcountry.4

Word of Braddock’s defeat reached William Shirley in early August at his headquarters in New York. There, at a portage between the upper Mohawk River and Wood Creek, he was supervising the transit of troops and provisions to Fort Oswego, the trading post on Lake Ontario that was to be the jumping-off point for his planned attack on Fort Niagara. Shirley was frustrated, his campaign weeks behind schedule. Both the Niagara and the Crown Point expeditions had been staged from Albany, which—predictably—had become the scene of fruitless, time-consuming competition between the supply officers of the two armies. A bitter dispute had erupted between Shirley and the De Lanceys, who had “thrown all imaginable obstructions in [his] way,” even denying him, on the flimsiest of pretexts, the use of New York cannon that were lying unused at Albany. His relations with William Johnson and the Indians had deteriorated into open hostility. Shirley had infuriated Johnson by shifting men from the Crown Point expedition to his own forces, and in retaliation Johnson had refused to provide him with any Mohawk scouts. Shirley had tried to obtain them on his own by employing the odious John Henry Lydius as a recruiter—a serious error, which had served only to offend the Mohawks and thus to render his situation even more difficult. Already the strain had begun to tell on the sixty-one-year-old governor: now the news of the disaster in Pennsylvania came as a stunning double blow. Shirley’s son William Jr., Braddock’s personal secretary, had been shot through the head and killed in the battle. This shock, coming in tandem with the realization that he was now commander in chief of His Majesty’s forces in North America, was almost more than Shirley could bear. The responsibilities he now assumed were ones for which his training as a lawyer and politician had done little to prepare him.5

Taking stock of the situation over the next weeks, Shirley saw little to hearten him. Reports arrived that Admiral Edward Boscawen, dispatched in April to patrol the Gulf of St. Lawrence and prevent French reinforcements from reaching Canada, had failed in his mission. Of a large convoy carrying six battalions of regular troops, Boscawen had intercepted only two ships and ten companies, or fewer than four hundred of the three thousand regular reinforcements; the remainder had reached safe harbor at Louisbourg and Québec. Their commander, Baron Jean-Armand de Dieskau, maréchal de camp, sent to assume overall direction of Canada’s defense, by now had had more than enough time to deploy them against the British. Colonel Dunbar, meanwhile, cringed at Philadelphia, awaiting orders and holding immobile the remnants of Braddock’s force. Johnson’s campaign against Crown Point was proceeding at a snail’s pace.6

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William Shirley (1694–1771). This nineteenth-century lithograph shows Shirley as a fashionable London portraitist, Thomas Hudson, depicted him, c. 1750. He appears as the selfconfident royal governor of Massachusetts, a post he occupied from 1741 to 1756. The architect of the Louisbourg expedition of 1745 and of the successful operations in Nova Scotia during 1755, Shirley’s broad strategic vision served him best before he became commander in chief; thereafter his lack of administrative and organizational skills would prove to be his downfall. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

Shirley’s own force, short on provisions, was looking less able to mount an assault on Niagara with every passing day. A lack of ready money hindered everything, for in the confusion that followed Braddock’s defeat, the deputy paymaster general was refusing to honor drafts that various military contractors were presenting for payment. Shirley still pressed forward with his men to Lake Ontario, but once he arrived at the shore it quickly became evident that he could proceed no further with the campaign. The old trading post, Fort Oswego, was virtually indefensible, and therefore unsuitable to serve as a supply base for the army’s advance by boat against Niagara. Shirley therefore ordered the decrepit structure repaired and fortified, arranged for supplies to be brought up, and sent his two regular regiments into winter quarters there. The next spring, he thought, they could attack Niagara. In the meantime they would have to make Oswego a suitable base of operations while he returned to New York City to sort out the muddle into which everything had fallen and lay plans to recover the initiative the next year.7

The only bright spot visible in the campaigns of 1755, from Shirley’s perspective, was the New England expedition against French military posts in Nova Scotia. He had promoted this campaign as a means of resolving longstanding difficulties in British control over the region, which had remained unstable since the end of King George’s War. One of the earl of Halifax’s pet projects had been to Anglicize Nova Scotia and make it a bastion of defense against New France. To that end he had ordered Halifax built in 1749, as a counterweight to Louisbourg, and he had promoted immigration by New Englanders and other Protestants. This worried the French—in part because the French-speaking Acadian majority in the region would be swallowed up in a tide of Anglophone newcomers, and in part because the Acadians would be unable to continue, as they had for years, to sell provisions covertly to the fortress of Louisbourg. The English worried, in turn, that the French were intriguing among the Acadians and the local Abenaki and Micmac Indians, seeking to stir up rebellion. And, in fact, they were: a French missionary priest among the Micmacs, Abbé Jean Louis de Le Loutre, openly agitated for an insurrection to return Acadia to French control and ultimately offered to buy the scalps of English settlers for a hundred livres each. Early in 1750, affairs had reached a crisis when the French erected a substantial pentagonal fort, Beauséjour, on the narrow isthmus of Chignecto, which connected the peninsula of Nova Scotia to the Canadian mainland. This had moved the British to construct a countervailing post, Fort Lawrence, on the opposite side of the Missaguash River. Between these two forts, bristling with cannon, an uneasy balance of power had rested until the beginning of 1755. Then the ministry had adopted Shirley’s plan to send two New England battalions and a detachment of regulars from the Halifax garrison against Beauséjour.8

Shirley, as usual, had had practical reasons for promoting this expedition—it promised a harvest of patronage that would increase his influence over Massachusetts politics—but he had also realized that it would be popular among New England colonists interested in finding lands to colonize outside their own increasingly crowded region. Recruitment had gone well. Since the Crown had agreed to pay the wages of the troops, no political objections had been raised in the New England assemblies, and as Shirley had guessed, popular enthusiasm for the expedition quickly filled the ranks. And for once, at least, everything went according to schedule. While Braddock was still fuming at Fort Cumberland and waiting for his horses to arrive, the New England regiment was sailing for the Bay of Fundy. On June 2, when Braddock’s engineers were blasting rocks out of the road less than twenty-five miles from Wills Creek, the New Englanders were off-loading cannon and provisions at Fort Lawrence, a half-day’s march from Fort Beauséjour. Ten days later they were digging trenches before the French fort; in two more they were bombarding it. On June 16—after “one of our Large Shell[s] had Fell threw what they Called thare Bum Proof & Brok in one of thare Cazments whare a Number of thare officers ware Seting [and] Killed 6 of them Dead”—the French garrison capitulated. While the New Englanders were gawking at the guns in the fort that their commander had just renamed Fort Cumberland, Braddock had moved less than fifty miles and in frustration was preparing to detach a flying column to speed the march toward his objective.9

With the conquest so easily completed, the New England regiment had only one task remaining: to disarm, detain, and deport the indigenous Acadians to the mainland colonies. This extraordinary move— perhaps the first time in modern history a civilian population was forcibly removed as a security risk—ostensibly came as a consequence of the Acadians’ unwillingness to declare unqualified allegiance to George II. For the previous forty years the Acadians, under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, had practiced their Catholic faith and retained possession of their lands in return for swearing only a highly limited loyalty oath that promised neutrality in all disputes between the Crowns of England and France. Now, worried about their potential for rebellion, Nova Scotia’s governor and provincial council tried to force the Acadians to take an oath of submission that would revoke their religious privileges and make them ordinary subjects of the British Crown. Thinking that this was just one more attempt to deprive them of their treaty rights by trickery—a tactic the English had tried before—the Acadians refused.

They had no way of knowing that the governor and council intended to use any resistance as an excuse to get rid of them, and they were dumbfounded when the governor and council responded to their recalcitrance by imprisoning householders, declaring all their lands and cattle forfeit, and ordering them and their families deported from the province. In October the “Grand Dérangement” began. Most of the Acadians from the settlements along the Bay of Fundy were caught in the British trap and shipped out to England and the mainland colonies, where their families were scattered among the colonial population. Perhaps 5,400 were herded aboard ships and sent off with what few possessions they could carry. Those who could escape—perhaps seven to ten thousand—fled to the mainland or to the Île-St.-Jean (now Prince Edward Island), allied themselves with the Abenakis and Micmacs, and fought back as best they could, in the hope of regaining their homeland.10

By the close of the campaign, the combination of deportations and flight had effectively depopulated Acadian Nova Scotia. The entire scheme, so chillingly reminiscent of modern “ethnic cleansing” operations, was executed with a coldness and calculation—and indeed an efficiency—rarely seen in other wartime operations. There are strong indications that William Shirley himself was the architect of deportation, and that his real intention was less to take Beauséjour and neutralize any Acadian military threat than to make the farms of the Acadians available to recolonization by New Englanders and other Protestant immigrants. There can at any rate be no doubt that New Englanders were the principal beneficiaries of the deportation. Even before the New England troops returned home, some had begun to contemplate returning to settle; beginning in 1760, they did. Before the end of 1763, no fewer than five thousand Yankee farmers and fishermen would move to Nova Scotia, taking over Acadian farmsteads and rechristening Acadian towns with English names.11

If by the middle of August 1755 the Nova Scotia campaign seemed to the new commander in chief to be well on the way to unqualified success, Johnson’s expedition against Crown Point looked unlikely to get under way at all. By then Shirley knew that Braddock’s papers, which contained the complete plan of the campaigns, had been abandoned on the Monongahela battlefield. Thus there was at least a strong likelihood that the French knew all about Johnson’s intended attack on Fort St. Frédéric, and that Dieskau would send reinforcements to aid in its defense. Shirley had warned Johnson that, should strong French opposition appear, he was to be prepared to go on the defensive and protect Albany from possible attack. A quick strike toward Crown Point might still forestall French countermeasures, but it would not be until the beginning of September that Johnson’s forces would be encamped at the south end of Lac St. Sacrement, from which they were to embark by boat for Crown Point.12

There had been many causes for delay, beginning with the competition for supplies that had hindered Shirley’s own departure from Albany. Hundreds of shallow-draft boats, or bateaux, had to be constructed to carry men and supplies from Albany northward to the Great Carrying Place beyond Saratoga (the site of Lydius’s old smuggling post); a new fort, called Fort Edward in honor of the duke of York, had to be built there as a base for supply; a portage road had to be cut from Fort Edward to Lac St. Sacrement, a distance of about sixteen miles; the boats and cannon and gear of the expedition had to be dragged from Fort Edward to the lake; and the troops themselves—about 3,500 men from the New England provinces and New York—had to receive at least some degree of training. Finally, although Shirley did not yet know it, Johnson was also distracted from preparing his army for movement by his demanding duties as a conspirator, for he was busy scheming with De Lancey and Pownall to have Shirley removed from command. On September 3, for example, shortly after joining his forces at the lake, Johnson spent a good deal of his day writing one letter to the earl of Halifax denouncing Shirley as a bad influence on Indian affairs, and another to Pownall denouncing him as “a bad Man abandoned to Passion & enslaved by resentment”—sentiments that he knew Pownall would pass along discreetly to his English contacts. 13

As September began, then, Johnson’s provincials were still hauling bateaux, supplies, and munitions to the lake. Johnson’s Mohawk allies, led by Chief Hendrick, were just arriving in camp. Johnson himself had decided that it would be necessary to build an armed galley and erect one or perhaps two more forts before he could proceed safely against Crown Point. The weather was already turning cold and the campaigning season was fast slipping away, but his only lasting achievement to date had been the gesture—not unlike Céloron’s burials of the lead plates—of giving Lac St. Sacrement the new name of Lake George, as a means of claiming it for the English king. Never eager to seek combat and doubting his skills as a general, Johnson expected to go into winter quarters without facing the disagreeable prospect of battle.14

The baron de Dieskau, however, had other plans. He had arrived at Québec on June 23 along with his troops and the marquis de Vaudreuil, the new governor-general of New France. Dieskau and Vaudreuil took stock of the situation that confronted them at the beginning of July— Braddock marching on Fort Duquesne, New Englanders driving the defenders from Fort Beauséjour, Shirley advancing toward Niagara, and Johnson preparing to proceed against Fort St. Frédéric—and saw that the greatest threat was the Niagara campaign, which if successful would destroy Canada’s ability to maintain its links to the western forts. Dieskau therefore assembled about four thousand French regulars, Canadians, and domiciled Indians at Montréal and by early August was ready to ascend the St. Lawrence and reinforce Fort Niagara. 15 At that point, however, Vaudreuil began receiving urgent, exaggerated reports of Johnson’s strength and movements and decided that he would have to divert Dieskau and about three thousand of his men to defend Fort St. Frédéric—the walls of which were in such bad repair that they would be unable to withstand even a brief cannonade. Thus just as the heartening news of Braddock’s defeat arrived at Montréal, Dieskau and his men set out for Lake Champlain and Crown Point, to mount a similar spoiling campaign against Johnson’s expedition.

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Fort Edward, New York. Shown here as it appeared in a collection of plans of North American forts published in London after the end of the war, Fort Edward evolved from a trading post on the upper Hudson into a substantial (if awkwardly sited) fort defended by nearly thirty cannon. Here it appears as what it became, the main supply base for staging operations on the Lake George–Lake Champlain corridor. From Mary Ann Rocque, A Set of Plans and Forts in America, Reduced from Actual Surveys (London, 1765). Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

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Fort St. Frédéric, 1737–59. A formidable fort used as a base for raids by the French and their Indian allies against the New York and New England frontiers, this post at Crown Point was one of the most imposing elements in the defensive network of New France. The bombproof tower, or redoubt, shown here both from within the fort and from the lake, dominated the narrows of Lake Champlain, while the fort as a whole mounted forty cannon. By 1755, however, the structure was in such bad repair that the French knew it would have to be abandoned in the event of siege; hence the urgent construction of Fort Carillon on the Ticonderoga peninsula, at the head of the lake. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

Arriving at Fort St. Frédéric, Dieskau sent out scouts to assess the situation of Johnson’s unsuspecting provincials. Their reports made him decide to mount a raid on the partially completed and lightly defended Fort Edward, destroying the boats, cannon, and supplies stored there before they could be used to stage an advance down the lake. Such a blow would be even more disabling than the one that Contrecoeur had recently dealt Braddock, for it would not only forestall any further threat to Crown Point, but would roll back New York’s and New England’s defenses to Albany itself. After consulting with the commander of his mixed contingent of Abenaki and Caughnawaga warriors—Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, the same rugged officer who had brushed Washington off at Fort LeBoeuf in the winter of 1753—Dieskau determined to leave most of his regulars behind to defend Fort St. Frédéric and to make his raid with a force composed primarily of Canadians and Indians. This was, to say the least, a highly unconventional move for a European regular officer to make; it would never have occurred, for example, to Braddock. But Dieskau, who had once been an aide-de-camp to the great maréchal Arminius Maurice, comte de Saxe, had acquired from him a respect for the use of irregulars in Europe, and he seems to have accepted the similarity of Indians and Canadians to the partisans Saxe had used against the British army in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession.16 By September 4, he and fifteen hundred picked men—about two hundred regular grenadiers, six hundred Canadian militiamen, and seven hundred Abenakis and Caughnawaga Mohawks—had advanced to the confluence of Lake George and Lake Champlain, a strategic spot called Carillon by the French and Ticonderoga by the English. From there they paddled quietly southward to the end of South Bay, cached their canoes, and struck off through the woods toward Fort Edward.

Late in the day on September 7, Dieskau and his men emerged from the forest on the portage road, three miles north of Fort Edward. There the Indians informed him that they would not attack a fort, no matter how poorly defended, but that they were willing to proceed against Johnson’s men at Lake George, who had not yet begun to fortify their camp. Dieskau, a flexible officer who had little choice in the matter anyway, changed his plans. The next morning, with his two companies of grenadiers marching up the road and Canadians and Indians flanking them in the woods, Dieskau turned north, toward Johnson’s camp.

That same evening Mohawk scouts brought Johnson the news that a substantial body of the enemy was lurking near Fort Edward. Men were set to improving the camp’s defenses—a breastwork reinforced with trees that had been felled to clear a field of fire around the lines—and the next morning Johnson, on the recommendation of his regimental commanders, sent a thousand provincials under Colonel Ephraim Williams of Massachusetts, along with a covering force of about two hundred Mohawk warriors, to reinforce Fort Edward. At about nine o’clock the column, with Chief Hendrick in the lead on horseback, marched out of the camp—toward Dieskau and his fifteen hundred raiders.17

Dieskau knew they were coming, for a deserter whom his men had captured on the road earlier that morning had told them of the column’s advance. Now he blocked the road with his grenadier companies and positioned his Canadians and Indians in ambush ahead of them, choosing a spot about four miles south of the lake where the road dipped to pass along the floor of a ravine. Moving hurriedly, without flanking parties deployed because they did not expect to meet enemies until they neared Fort Edward, Hendrick’s Mohawks and Williams’s provincials blundered into the trap a few minutes after ten. Old Hendrick, at seventy-five the veteran of more than a half century of warfare and diplomacy, stopped when someone called out from the trees. Since the Canadian Mohawks and their New York kin generally refused to shed one another’s blood, it seems likely that a Caughnawaga warrior was trying to warn him of his peril. But Hendrick’s reply was cut short when from another quarter a shot rang out, triggering a general exchange of fire in which he and about thirty other Mohawks were killed. Within the jaws of the ambush and exposed to musketry on both flanks, Colonel Williams tried to lead an assault up a bank of the ravine; he too was killed together with about fifty of his men. Thus began the first skirmish of the Battle of Lake George, an episode New Englanders would come to call the “Bloody Morning Scout.”18

In size and position, the forces engaged were similar to those at the Battle of the Monongahela, but the outcome was quite different. The Mohawks who had survived the first exchange of shots quickly began a measured retreat, fighting their way to the rear along with perhaps a hundred of Williams’s provincials. The rest of the column, provincials unencumbered by the discipline that had doomed Braddock’s regulars to stand their ground, ran for their lives. While there was nothing heroic about it, theirs was an eminently rational response and indeed one that saved the day. The sound of gunshots alerted the camp, and by the time the survivors came streaming back from the ambush, their compatriots had hastily reinforced the breastwork with bateaux and overturned supply wagons. The sole regular officer with the expedition, a captain of engineers named William Eyre, whom Braddock had assigned to supervise siege operations, quickly positioned four fieldpieces to cover the road. Dieskau’s men came on in hot pursuit, then pulled up short at the edge of the clearing. To one observer in Johnson’s camp, it seemed as if “the Enemy had been obliged to halt upon some Disputes among their Indians.”19

That was more or less accurate. The Caughnawagas had lost their leader, for Legardeur de Saint-Pierre had been killed at the ambush; now they did not wish to attack an entrenched camp, the defenders of which included hundreds of their Mohawk kinsmen. The Abenakis would not go forward without the Caughnawagas, and neither would the Canadians, who “in general regulated themselves by the Conduct of the Ind[ia]ns when upon War parties with them.” Dieskau seized control of this shaky situation by ordering his two grenadier companies to form a close-order column and charge the guns at the entrance of the camp. He intended to shame the wavering Indians and Canadians into attack; directing them to disperse around the perimeter of the camp and fire from the cover of logs and stumps, he gave orders to swarm over the breastwork whenever the opportunity presented itself.20

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The Battle of Lake George, 1755. The three panels of this engraving, published at Boston by Samuel Blodget in 1756, depict (from left to right) the location of the battle by a map of the Hudson Valley and the head of Lake George; the horseshoe ambush of the “Bloody Morning Scout”; and Dieskau’s attack on the fortified camp. Although obviously schematic, Blodget’s view was based on eyewitness accounts and shows the battle, and even individual behavior, with surprising accuracy. Chief Hendrick appears mounted on a horse in the center panel, while the other Mohawks are shown kneeling and firing individually, from cover; the provincials either stand in ranks or fire by platoons. On the right, provincial troops under attack fire prone from behind the breastwork or stand upright within the camp; the Indians crouch in postures that grow lower to the ground the nearer they approach the firing line. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

From the edge of the clearing to the mouth of Captain Eyre’s battery was perhaps 150 yards. Dieskau’s grenadiers—the biggest, most imposing men of the Languedoc and La Reine Regiments, among the best soldiers in the French army—charged along the road across the clearing with bayonets fixed, six abreast, in a column 100 yards long. Magnificent in white uniforms and disciplined as only the cream of Europe’s proudest army could be, they were not halfway to their goal when the grapeshot charges of the English guns cut “Lanes, Streets, and Alleys” through them, annihilating their order and forcing them back. From cover at the edge of the woods, the Indians and Canadians fired steadily at the defenders through much of the afternoon, but with little real effect. Dieskau, who sustained a crippling wound, remained on the field, but the failure of the charge and the loss of Legardeur had doomed the attack. After four or five hours of increasingly uncoordinated firing his men began to retreat without order. 21

The provincials from the camp made little effort to pursue them beyond the clearing. As one witness explained, “The Day was declining—The Rout of the Enemy not certain,—The Country all a Wood,— our Men greatly fatigued, provided neither with Bayonets or Swords, undisciplined, & not very high spirited.” A sortie onto the battlefield, however, recovered the disconsolate Dieskau, “wounded in his Bladder,” along with about twenty other wounded men. The remainder of the attackers vanished into the forest’s lengthening shadows, making off for Fort St. Frédéric or returning to the site of the ambush to recover the captives they had left tied to trees.22

It was there, in the ravine, that perhaps four hundred Indians, Canadians, and Frenchmen were resting and trying to regroup under their surviving officers when they were surprised by a column of New Hampshire provincials. About two hundred men under Captain William McGinnis had begun to march to the aid of Johnson’s camp from Fort Edward when the sounds of the battle had first been heard. Now, in deep dusk, they attacked the disorganized enemy “& made a great Slaughter amongst them.” Most of the French and Indian casualties of the day occurred in this final phase of the disjointed battle, which also occasioned more English casualties: not only were Captain McGinnis and two of his men killed, but so were all the prisoners the Caughnawagas and Abenakis had come back to collect. Several would later be found dead and scalped, still bound hand and foot. Unable to retreat with the prisoners in hand and unwilling to abandon them, the Indians had taken trophies that, while less valuable than captives, still offered evidence of their participation in the battle.23

The fall of night ended both the Battle of Lake George and the Crown Point expedition of 1755. Johnson had taken a musket ball in one buttock and was in no shape to continue; nor were his men, who spent the next three days searching out and burying the dead, a gruesome and “most meloncoly Peace of busaness,” for the weather had turned fair and hot. Despite the fact that the battle could be regarded as a provincial victory— the French had been driven from the field, and the casualties on both sides were evenly balanced—demoralization beset the camp, and men began to sicken in large numbers. Although reinforcements soon arrived from Fort Edward, provisions remained short enough to forestall a new offensive; moreover, as soon as the plundering was done the Mohawks went home to conduct their condolence rituals, taking along prisoners to adopt—or torture and kill—as replacements for the dead.24

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Fort William Henry, New York. This view, from Rocque’s Set of Plans and Forts (1765), shows Captain Eyre’s design of a stout fort with four bastions, situated on a rise that falls steeply away, at the bottom (north) of the picture, to the lakeshore. A ditch, or dry moat, surrounds the fort on its other three sides. The cross-section view depicts, from the left, a two-story barracks with subterranean “bomb-proofs,” or casemates; the “curtain,” or wall, thirty feet thick and fifteen feet high, made of horizontally laid logs, infilled with earth and rubble; the “terre-plein,” or cannon platform, shielded by the parapet at the top of the wall; the “fraising,” a line of sharpened logs projecting horizontally from the parapet to discourage scaling parties; the ten-foot-deep ditch, along the bottom of which runs a palisade of sharpened logs eight or more feet in height; and, beyond the ditch, the fifty-yard-long, gently sloping “glacis,” an open field of fire that attackers would have to traverse before reaching the interior obstacles of ditch, stockade, and fraised wall. Cannon, sited along the wall in embrasures, were positioned both to fire at distant besiegers and to “enfilade,” or fire along the face of, the curtain. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

By late September, scouts sent down Lake George on reconnaissance missions were returning with reports that the French had begun to fortify Ticonderoga. At that point, even if Johnson and his officers had been eager to resume the expedition against Crown Point, they could not prudently have done so. As it happened, they were not eager. At a council of war on September 29, Johnson’s principal officers opted to build a fort sufficient to hold five hundred men in order to protect their position on the lake and prevent future attackers from gaining access to the road that now pointed like a gun barrel at Fort Edward, Saratoga, and Albany. The indispensable Captain Eyre accordingly began to lay out a substantial earth fort of four bastions, and the garrison undertook the huge tasks of excavation, woodcutting, and interior construction necessary to complete it. Fort William Henry—which Johnson named after the duke of Cumberland (William) and the duke of Gloucester (Henry), so as to honor as many princes of the blood royal as possible before the end of the campaign—would mark the limit of the Anglo-American advance for longer than anyone in England or its colonies could have expected. 25

All that fall, the French and the English matched ax blow for ax blow and shovelful for shovelful as they raced winter and each other to build their forts. By the next spring, the French defensive position would be anchored by Fort Carillon at the north end of Lake George and the English position would be similarly held at the south by Fort William Henry. The beautiful, island-studded lake and the steep, forested hills along its shores would become avenues for raiders and invading armies as the two sides contended for the advantage that, for a long time to come, neither would be able to retain.

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