Canadian History The Governors-general: Lord Sydenham
Between 1839 and 1854, four governors-general exercised autho...
Battle Of Lake George
For more than a century after the death of Jogues, Lakes Ge...
Siege Of Fort Niagara
The River Niagara was known to the Jesuits as early as 1640...
A Military Mission
Quebec was without a governor. Who should succeed Champlain...
Infancy Of Quebec
Champlain was the founder of this old capital of French Can...
A Legend Of Ticonderoga
Mention has been made of the death of Major Duncan Campbell...
Siege And Massacre Of Fort William Henry
Having failed to take Fort William Henry by surprise, the F...
The Heights Of Abraham
The early part of the Seven Years' War was disastrous to En...
Discovery Of Lake Champlain
This beautiful lake owes its name to Samuel de Champlain, t...
The Consequences Of Canadian Autonomy
A change so informally achieved, and yet so decisive, as the ...
Battle Of Ticonderoga
In 1758, the English commanders, incensed at the loss of Fo...
Massacre Of The Devil's Hole
After the conquest of Canada, there was a general uprising ...
The Governors-general: Lord Metcalfe
A surrender of the official Imperial position so unexpected a...
British Opinion And Canadian Autonomy
While these great modifications were being made in the form a...
Discovery Of Lake George
It was thirty-three years since Champlain had first attacke...
Massachusetts Attacks Quebec
Like Montreal, Quebec transformed itself in time lost much ...
The Governors-general: Sir Charles Bagot
Sir Charles Bagot, the second governor-general of United Cana...
A Winter Raid
While Johnson was building Fort William Henry at one end of...
The Canadian Community
To understand the political evolution of Canada it is essenti...
The Birth Of Montreal
We come now to an enterprise as singular in its character a...
A Winter Raid
While Johnson was building Fort William Henry at one end of Lake George,
the French began Fort Ticonderoga at the other, though they did not
finish it till the next year. In the winter of 1757, hearing that the
English were making great preparations at Fort William Henry to attack
them, they resolved to anticipate the blow and seize that post by
surprise. To this end, Vaudreuil, Governor of Canada, sent a large
detachment from Montreal, while the small body of troops and provincials
who occupied the English fort remained wholly ignorant of the movement.
On St. Patrick's Day, the seventeenth of March, the Irish soldiers who
formed a part of the garrison of Fort William Henry were paying homage
to their patron saint in libations of heretic rum, the product of New
England stills; and it is said that John Stark's rangers forgot
theological differences in their zeal to share the festivity. The story
adds that they were restrained by their commander, and that their
enforced sobriety proved the saving of the fort. This may be doubted;
for without counting the English soldiers of the garrison who had no
special call to be drunk that day, the fort was in no danger till
twenty-four hours after, when the revellers had had time to rally from
their pious carouse. Whether rangers or British soldiers, it is certain
that watchmen were on the alert during the night between the eighteenth
and nineteenth, and that towards one in the morning they heard a sound
of axes far down the lake, followed by the faint glow of a distant fire.
The inference was plain, that an enemy was there, and that the necessity
of warming himself had overcome his caution. Then all was still for some
two hours, when, listening in the pitchy darkness, the watchers heard
the footsteps of a great body of men approaching on the ice, which at
the time was bare of snow. The garrison were at their posts, and all the
cannon on the side towards the lake vomited grape and round-shot in the
direction of the sound, which thereafter was heard no more.
Those who made it were the detachment, called by Vaudreuil an army, sent
by him to seize the English fort. Shirley had planned a similar stroke
against Ticonderoga a year before; but the provincial levies had come in
so slowly, and the ice had broken up so soon, that the scheme was
abandoned. Vaudreuil was more fortunate. The whole force, regulars,
Canadians, and Indians, was ready to his hand. No pains were spared in
equipping them. Overcoats, blankets, bearskins to sleep on, tarpaulins
to sleep under, spare moccasins, spare mittens, kettles, axes, needles,
awls, flint and steel, and many miscellaneous articles were provided, to
be dragged by the men on light Indian sledges, along with provisions for
twelve days. The cost of the expedition is set at a million francs,
answering to more than as many dollars of the present time. To the
disgust of the officers from France, the Governor named his brother
Rigaud for the chief command; and before the end of February the whole
party was on its march along the ice of Lake Champlain. They rested
nearly a week at Ticonderoga, where no less than three hundred short
scaling-ladders, so constructed that two or more could be joined in one,
had been made for them; and here, too, they received a reinforcement,
which raised their number to sixteen hundred. Then, marching three days
along Lake George, they neared the fort on the evening of the
eighteenth, and prepared for a general assault before daybreak.
The garrison, including rangers, consisted of three hundred and
forty-six effective men. The fort was not strong, and a resolute assault
by numbers so superior must, it seems, have overpowered the defenders;
but the Canadians and Indians who composed most of the attacking force
were not suited for such work; and, disappointed in his hope of a
surprise, Rigaud withdrew them at daybreak, after trying in vain to burn
the buildings outside. A few hours after, the whole body reappeared,
filing off to surround the fort, on which they kept up a brisk but
harmless fire of musketry. In the night they were heard again on the
ice, approaching as if for an assault; and the cannon, firing towards
the sound, again drove them back. There was silence for a while, till
tongues of flame lighted up the gloom, and two sloops, ice-bound in the
lake, and a large number of bateaux on the shore were seen to be on
fire. A party sallied to save them; but it was too late. In the morning
they were all consumed, and the enemy had vanished.
It was Sunday, the twentieth. Everything was quiet till noon, when the
French filed out of the woods and marched across the ice in procession,
ostentatiously carrying their scaling-ladders, and showing themselves to
the best effect. They stopped at a safe distance, fronting towards the
fort, and several of them advanced, waving a red flag. An officer with a
few men went to meet them, and returned bringing Le Mercier, chief of
the Canadian artillery, who, being led blindfold into the fort,
announced himself as bearer of a message from Rigaud. He was conducted
to the room of Major Eyre, where all the British officers were
assembled; and, after mutual compliments, he invited them to give up the
place peaceably, promising the most favorable terms, and threatening a
general assault and massacre in case of refusal. Eyre said that he
should defend himself to the last; and the envoy, again blindfolded, was
led back to whence he came.
The whole French force now advanced as if to storm the works, and the
garrison prepared to receive them. Nothing came of it but a fusillade,
to which the British made no reply. At night the French were heard
advancing again, and each man nerved himself for the crisis. The real
attack, however, was not against the fort, but against the buildings
outside, which consisted of several storehouses, a hospital, a saw-mill,
and the huts of the rangers, besides a sloop on the stocks and piles of
planks and cord-wood. Covered by the night, the assailants crept up with
fagots of resinous sticks, placed them against the farther side of the
buildings, kindled them, and escaped before the flame rose; while the
garrison, straining their ears in the thick darkness, fired wherever
they heard a sound. Before morning all around them was in a blaze, and
they had much ado to save the fort barracks from the shower of burning
cinders. At ten o'clock the fires had subsided, and a thick fall of snow
began, filling the air with a restless chaos of large moist flakes. This
lasted all day and all the next night, till the ground and the ice were
covered to a depth of three feet and more. The French lay close in their
camps till a little before dawn on Tuesday morning, when twenty
volunteers from the regulars made a bold attempt to burn the sloop on
the stocks, with several storehouses and other structures, and several
hundred scows and whaleboats which had thus far escaped. They were only
in part successful; but they fired the sloop and some buildings near it,
and stood far out on the ice watching the flaming vessel, a superb
bonfire amid the wilderness of snow. The spectacle cost the volunteers a
fourth of their number killed and wounded.
On Wednesday morning the sun rose bright on a scene of wintry splendor,
and the frozen lake was dotted with Rigaud's retreating followers
toiling towards Canada on snow-shoes. Before they reached it many of
them were blinded for a while by the insufferable glare, and their
comrades led them homewards by the hand.
Next: Siege And Massacre Of Fort William Henry
Previous: Battle Of Lake George