Canadian History A Military Mission
Quebec was without a governor. Who should succeed Champlain...
There are antinomies in politics as in philosophy, problems w...
The Canadian Community
To understand the political evolution of Canada it is essenti...
British Opinion And Canadian Autonomy
While these great modifications were being made in the form a...
The Consequences Of Canadian Autonomy
A change so informally achieved, and yet so decisive, as the ...
Massachusetts Attacks Quebec
Like Montreal, Quebec transformed itself in time lost much ...
The Governors-general: Lord Metcalfe
A surrender of the official Imperial position so unexpected a...
A Winter Raid
While Johnson was building Fort William Henry at one end of...
The Governors-general: Lord Sydenham
Between 1839 and 1854, four governors-general exercised autho...
Discovery Of Lake Champlain
This beautiful lake owes its name to Samuel de Champlain, t...
Siege And Massacre Of Fort William Henry
Having failed to take Fort William Henry by surprise, the F...
Infancy Of Quebec
Champlain was the founder of this old capital of French Can...
Massacre Of The Devil's Hole
After the conquest of Canada, there was a general uprising ...
The Birth Of Montreal
We come now to an enterprise as singular in its character a...
Battle Of Lake George
For more than a century after the death of Jogues, Lakes Ge...
The Governors-general: Lord Elgin
The year which intervened between Metcalfe's departure and th...
Discovery Of Lake George
It was thirty-three years since Champlain had first attacke...
Siege Of Fort Niagara
The River Niagara was known to the Jesuits as early as 1640...
The Governors-general: Sir Charles Bagot
Sir Charles Bagot, the second governor-general of United Cana...
A Legend Of Ticonderoga
Mention has been made of the death of Major Duncan Campbell...
Battle Of Lake George
For more than a century after the death of Jogues, Lakes George and
Champlain were the great route of war parties between Canada and the
British Colonies. Courcelles came this way in 1666 to lay waste the
Mohawk towns; and Mantet and Sainte-Helene, in 1690, to destroy
Schenectady in the dead of winter; while, in the next year, Major
Schuyler took the same course as he advanced into Canada to retort the
blow. Whenever there was war between France and England, these two lakes
became the scene of partisan conflicts, in which the red men took part
with the white, some as allies of the English, and some as allies of the
French. When at length the final contest took place for the possession
of the continent, the rival nations fiercely disputed the mastery of
this great wilderness thoroughfare, and the borders of Lake George
became the scene of noteworthy conflicts. The first of these was in
1755, the year of Braddock's defeat, when Shirley, governor of
Massachusetts, set on foot an expedition for the capture of Crown Point,
a fort which the French had built on Lake Champlain more than twenty
In January, Shirley had proposed an attack on it to the Ministry; and in
February, without waiting their reply, he laid the plan before his
Assembly. They accepted it, and voted money for the pay and maintenance
of twelve hundred men, provided the adjacent colonies would contribute
in due proportion. Massachusetts showed a military activity worthy of
the reputation she had won. Forty-five hundred of her men, or one in
eight of her adult males, volunteered to fight the French, and enlisted
for the various expeditions, some in the pay of the province, and some
in that of the King. It remained to name a commander for the Crown Point
enterprise. Nobody had power to do so, for Braddock, the
commander-in-chief, was not yet come; but that time might not be lost,
Shirley, at the request of his Assembly, took the responsibility on
himself. If he had named a Massachusetts officer, it would have roused
the jealousy of the other New England colonies; and he therefore
appointed William Johnson, of New York, thus gratifying that important
province and pleasing the Five Nations, who at this time looked on
Johnson with even more than usual favor. Hereupon, in reply to his
request, Connecticut voted twelve hundred men, New Hampshire five
hundred, and Rhode Island four hundred, all at their own charge; while
New York, a little later, promised eight hundred more. When, in April,
Braddock and the Council at Alexandria approved the plan and the
commander, Shirley gave Johnson the commission of major-general of the
levies of Massachusetts; and the governors of the other provinces
contributing to the expedition gave him similar commissions for their
respective contingents. Never did general take the field with authority
He had never seen service, and knew nothing of war. By birth he was
Irish, of good family, being nephew of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, who,
owning extensive wild lands on the Mohawk, had placed the young man in
charge of them nearly twenty years before. Johnson was born to prosper.
He had ambition, energy, an active mind, a tall, strong person, a rough,
jovial temper, and a quick adaptation to his surroundings. He could
drink flip with Dutch boors, or Madeira with royal governors. He liked
the society of the great, would intrigue and flatter when he had an end
to gain, and foil a rival without looking too closely at the means; but
compared with the Indian traders who infested the border, he was a model
of uprightness. He lived by the Mohawk in a fortified house which was a
stronghold against foes and a scene of hospitality to friends, both
white and red. Here--for his tastes were not fastidious--presided for
many years a Dutch or German wench whom he finally married; and after
her death a young Mohawk squaw took her place. Over his neighbors, the
Indians of the Five Nations, and all others of their race with whom he
had to deal, he acquired a remarkable influence. He liked them, adopted
their ways, and treated them kindly or sternly as the case required, but
always with a justice and honesty in strong contrast with the
rascalities of the commission of Albany traders who had lately managed
their affairs, and whom they so detested that one of their chiefs called
them "not men, but devils." Hence, when Johnson was made Indian
superintendent there was joy through all the Iroquois confederacy. When,
in addition, he was made a general, he assembled the warriors in council
to engage them to aid the expedition.
This meeting took place at his own house, known as Fort Johnson; and as
more than eleven hundred Indians appeared at his call, his larder was
sorely taxed to entertain them. The speeches were interminable. Johnson,
a master of Indian rhetoric, knew his audience too well not to contest
with them the palm of insufferable prolixity. The climax was reached on
the fourth day, and he threw down the war-belt. An Oneida chief took it
up; Stevens, the interpreter, began the war-dance, and the assembled
warriors howled in chorus. Then a tub of punch was brought in, and they
all drank the King's health. They showed less alacrity, however, to
fight his battles, and scarcely three hundred of them would take the
war-path. Too many of their friends and relatives were enlisted for the
While the British colonists were preparing to attack Crown Point, the
French of Canada were preparing to defend it. Duquesne, recalled from
his post, had resigned the government to the Marquis de Vaudreuil, who
had at his disposal the battalions of regulars that had sailed in the
spring from Brest under Baron Dieskau. His first thought was to use them
for the capture of Oswego; but letters of Braddock, found on the
battle-field of the Monongahela, warned him of the design against Crown
Point; while a reconnoitring party which had gone as far as the Hudson
brought back news that Johnson's forces were already in the field.
Therefore the plan was changed, and Dieskau was ordered to lead the main
body of his troops, not to Lake Ontario, but to Lake Champlain. He
passed up the Richelieu, and embarked in boats and canoes for Crown
Point. The veteran knew that the foes with whom he had to deal were but
a mob of countrymen. He doubted not of putting them to rout, and meant
never to hold his hand till he had chased them back to Albany. "Make all
haste," Vaudreuil wrote to him; "for when you return we shall send you
to Oswego to execute our first design."
Johnson on his part was preparing to advance. In July about three
thousand provincials were encamped near Albany, some on the "Flats"
above the town, and some on the meadows below. Hither, too, came a swarm
of Johnson's Mohawks,--warriors, squaws, and children. They adorned the
General's face with war-paint, and he danced the war-dance; then with
his sword he cut the first slice from the ox that had been roasted whole
for their entertainment. "I shall be glad," wrote the surgeon of a New
England regiment, "if they fight as eagerly as they ate their ox and
drank their wine."
Above all things the expedition needed promptness; yet everything moved
slowly. Five popular legislatures controlled the troops and the
supplies. Connecticut had refused to send her men till Shirley promised
that her commanding officer should rank next to Johnson. The whole
movement was for some time at a deadlock because the five governments
could not agree about their contributions of artillery and stores. The
New Hampshire regiment had taken a short cut for Crown Point across the
wilderness of Vermont; but had been recalled in time to save them from
probable destruction. They were now with the rest in the camp at Albany,
in such distress for provisions that a private subscription was proposed
for their relief.
Johnson's army, crude as it was, had in it good material. Here was
Phineas Lyman, of Connecticut, second in command, once a tutor at Yale
College, and more recently a lawyer,--a raw soldier, but a vigorous and
brave one; Colonel Moses Titcomb, of Massachusetts, who had fought with
credit at Louisbourg; and Ephraim Williams, also colonel of a
Massachusetts regiment, a tall and portly man, who had been a captain in
the last war, member of the General Court, and deputy-sheriff. He made
his will in the camp at Albany, and left a legacy to found the school
which has since become Williams College. His relative, Stephen Williams,
was chaplain of his regiment, and his brother Thomas was its surgeon.
Seth Pomeroy, gunsmith at Northampton, who, like Titcomb, had seen
service at Louisbourg, was its lieutenant-colonel. He had left a wife at
home, an excellent matron, to whom he was continually writing
affectionate letters, mingling household cares with news of the camp,
and charging her to see that their eldest boy, Seth, then in college at
New Haven, did not run off to the army. Pomeroy had with him his brother
Daniel; and this he thought was enough. Here, too, was a man whose name
is still a household word in New England,--the sturdy Israel Putnam,
private in a Connecticut regiment; and another as bold as he, John
Stark, lieutenant in the New Hampshire levies, and the future victor of
The soldiers were no soldiers, but farmers and farmers' sons who had
volunteered for the summer campaign. One of the corps had a blue uniform
faced with red. The rest wore their daily clothing. Blankets had been
served out to them by the several provinces, but the greater part
brought their own guns; some under the penalty of a fine if they came
without them, and some under the inducement of a reward. They had no
bayonets, but carried hatchets in their belts as a sort of substitute.
At their sides were slung powder-horns, on which, in the leisure of the
camp, they carved quaint devices with the points of their jack-knives.
They came chiefly from plain New England homesteads,--rustic abodes,
unpainted and dingy, with long well-sweeps, capacious barns, rough
fields of pumpkins and corn, and vast kitchen chimneys, above which in
winter hung squashes to keep them from frost, and guns to keep them from
As to the manners and morals of the army there is conflict of evidence.
In some respects nothing could be more exemplary. "Not a chicken has
been stolen," says William Smith, of New York; while, on the other
hand, Colonel Ephraim Williams writes to Colonel Israel Williams, then
commanding on the Massachusetts frontier: "We are a wicked, profane
army, especially the New York and Rhode Island troops. Nothing to be
heard among a great part of them but the language of Hell. If Crown
Point is taken, it will not be for our sakes, but for those good people
left behind." There was edifying regularity in respect to form. Sermons
twice a week, daily prayers, and frequent psalm-singing alternated with
the much-needed military drill. "Prayers among us night and morning,"
writes Private Jonathan Caswell, of Massachusetts, to his father. "Here
we lie, knowing not when we shall march for Crown Point; but I hope not
long to tarry. Desiring your prayers to God for me as I am agoing to
war, I am Your Ever Dutiful Son."
To Pomeroy and some of his brothers in arms it seemed that they were
engaged in a kind of crusade against the myrmidons of Rome. "As you have
at heart the Protestant cause," he wrote to his friend Israel Williams,
"so I ask an interest in your prayers that the Lord of Hosts would go
forth with us and give us victory over our unreasonable, encroaching,
barbarous, murdering enemies."
Both Williams the surgeon and Williams the colonel chafed at the
incessant delays. "The expedition goes on very much as a snail runs,"
writes the former to his wife; "it seems we may possibly see Crown Point
this time twelve months." The Colonel was vexed because everything was
out of joint in the department of transportation: wagoners mutinous for
want of pay; ordnance stores, camp-kettles, and provisions left behind.
"As to rum," he complains, "it won't hold out nine weeks. Things appear
most melancholy to me." Even as he was writing, a report came of the
defeat of Braddock; and, shocked at the blow, his pen traced the words:
"The Lord have mercy on poor New England!"
Johnson had sent four Mohawk scouts to Canada. They returned on the
twenty-first of August with the report that the French were all astir
with preparation, and that eight thousand men were coming to defend
Crown Point. On this a council of war was called; and it was resolved to
send to the several colonies for reinforcements. Meanwhile the main body
had moved up the river to the spot called the Great Carrying Place,
where Lyman had begun a fortified storehouse, which his men called Fort
Lyman, but which was afterwards named Fort Edward. Two Indian trails led
from this point to the waters of Lake Champlain, one by way of Lake
George, and the other by way of Wood Creek. There was doubt which course
the army should take. A road was begun to Wood Creek; then it was
countermanded, and a party was sent to explore the path to Lake George.
"With submission to the general officers," Surgeon Williams again
writes, "I think it a very grand mistake that the business of
reconnoitring was not done months agone." It was resolved at last to
march for Lake George; gangs of axemen were sent to hew out the way; and
on the twenty-sixth two thousand men were ordered to the lake, while
Colonel Blanchard, of New Hampshire, remained with five hundred to
finish and defend Fort Lyman.
The train of Dutch wagons, guarded by the homely soldiery, jolted slowly
over the stumps and roots of the newly made road, and the regiments
followed at their leisure. The hardships of the way were not without
their consolations. The jovial Irishman who held the chief command made
himself very agreeable to the New England officers. "We went on about
four or five miles," says Pomeroy in his Journal, "then stopped, ate
pieces of broken bread and cheese, and drank some fresh lemon-punch and
the best of wine with General Johnson and some of the field-officers."
It was the same on the next day. "Stopped about noon and dined with
General Johnson by a small brook under a tree; ate a good dinner of cold
boiled and roast venison; drank good fresh lemon-punch and wine."
That afternoon they reached their destination, fourteen miles from Fort
Lyman. The most beautiful lake in America lay before them; then more
beautiful than now, in the wild charm of untrodden mountains and virgin
forests. "I have given it the name of Lake George," wrote Johnson to the
Lords of Trade, "not only in honor of His Majesty, but to ascertain his
undoubted dominion here." His men made their camp on a piece of rough
ground by the edge of the water, pitching their tents among the stumps
of the newly felled trees. In their front was a forest of pitch-pine; on
their right, a marsh, choked with alders and swamp-maples; on their
left, the low hill where Fort George was afterwards built; and at their
rear, the lake. Little was done to clear the forest in front, though it
would give excellent cover to an enemy. Nor did Johnson take much pains
to learn the movements of the French in the direction of Crown Point,
though he sent scouts towards South Bay and Wood Creek. Every day stores
and bateaux, or flat boats, came on wagons from Fort Lyman; and
preparation moved on with the leisure that had marked it from the first.
About three hundred Mohawks came to the camp, and were regarded by the
New England men as nuisances. On Sunday the gray-haired Stephen
Williams preached to these savage allies a long Calvinistic sermon,
which must have sorely perplexed the interpreter whose business it was
to turn it into Mohawk; and in the afternoon young Chaplain Newell, of
Rhode Island, expounded to the New England men the somewhat untimely
text, "Love your enemies." On the next Sunday, September seventh,
Williams preached again, this time to the whites from a text in Isaiah.
It was a peaceful day, fair and warm, with a few light showers; yet not
wholly a day of rest, for two hundred wagons came up from Fort Lyman,
loaded with bateaux. After the sermon there was an alarm. An Indian
scout came in about sunset, and reported that he had found the trail of
a body of men moving from South Bay towards Fort Lyman. Johnson called
for a volunteer to carry a letter of warning to Colonel Blanchard, the
commander. A wagoner named Adams offered himself for the perilous
service, mounted, and galloped along the road with the letter. Sentries
were posted, and the camp fell asleep.
While Johnson lay at Lake George, Dieskau prepared a surprise for him.
The German Baron had reached Crown Point at the head of three thousand
five hundred and seventy-three men, regulars, Canadians, and Indians. He
had no thought of waiting there to be attacked. The troops were told to
hold themselves ready to move at a moment's notice. Officers--so ran the
order--will take nothing with them but one spare shirt, one spare pair
of shoes, a blanket, a bearskin, and provisions for twelve days; Indians
are not to amuse themselves by taking scalps till the enemy is entirely
defeated, since they can kill ten men in the time required to scalp one.
Then Dieskau moved on, with nearly all his force, to Carillon, or
Ticonderoga, a promontory commanding both the routes by which alone
Johnson could advance, that of Wood Creek and that of Lake George.
The Indian allies were commanded by Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. These
unmanageable warriors were a constant annoyance to Dieskau, being a
species of humanity quite new to him. "They drive us crazy," he says,
"from morning till night. There is no end to their demands. They have
already eaten five oxen and as many hogs, without counting the kegs of
brandy they have drunk. In short, one needs the patience of an angel to
get on with these devils; and yet one must always force himself to seem
pleased with them."
They would scarcely even go out as scouts. At last, however, on the
fourth of September, a reconnoitring party came in with a scalp and an
English prisoner caught near Fort Lyman. He was questioned under the
threat of being given to the Indians for torture if he did not tell the
truth; but, nothing daunted, he invented a patriotic falsehood; and
thinking to lure his captors into a trap, told them that the English
army had fallen back to Albany, leaving five hundred men at Fort Lyman,
which he represented as indefensible. Dieskau resolved on a rapid
movement to seize the place. At noon of the same day, leaving a part of
his force at Ticonderoga, he embarked the rest in canoes and advanced
along the narrow prolongation of Lake Champlain that stretched southward
through the wilderness to where the town of Whitehall now stands. He
soon came to a point where the lake dwindled to a mere canal, while two
mighty rocks, capped with stunted forests, faced each other from the
opposing banks. Here he left an officer named Roquemaure with a
detachment of troops, and again advanced along a belt of quiet water
traced through the midst of a deep marsh, green at that season with
sedge and water-weeds, and known to the English as the Drowned Lands.
Beyond, on either hand, crags feathered with birch and fir, or hills
mantled with woods, looked down on the long procession of canoes. As
they neared the site of Whitehall, a passage opened on the right, the
entrance to a sheet of lonely water slumbering in the shadow of woody
mountains, and forming the lake then, as now, called South Bay. They
advanced to its head, landed where a small stream enters it, left the
canoes under a guard, and began their march through the forest. They
counted in all two hundred and sixteen regulars of the battalions of
Languedoc and La Reine, six hundred and eighty-four Canadians, and about
six hundred Indians. Every officer and man carried provisions for eight
days in his knapsack. They encamped at night by a brook, and in the
morning, after hearing Mass, marched again. The evening of the next day
brought them near the road that led to Lake George. Fort Lyman was but
three miles distant. A man on horseback galloped by; it was Adams,
Johnson's unfortunate messenger. The Indians shot him, and found the
letter in his pocket. Soon after, ten or twelve wagons appeared in
charge of mutinous drivers, who had left the English camp without
orders. Several of them were shot, two were taken, and the rest ran off.
The two captives declared that, contrary to the assertion of the
prisoner at Ticonderoga, a large force lay encamped at the lake. The
Indians now held a council, and presently gave out that they would not
attack the fort, which they thought well supplied with cannon, but that
they were willing to attack the camp at Lake George. Remonstrance was
lost upon them. Dieskau was not young, but he was daring to rashness,
and inflamed to emulation by the victory over Braddock. The enemy were
reported greatly to outnumber him; but his Canadian advisers had assured
him that the English colony militia were the worst troops on the face of
the earth. "The more there are," he said to the Canadians and Indians,
"the more we shall kill;" and in the morning the order was given to
march for the lake.
They moved rapidly on through the waste of pines, and soon entered the
rugged valley that led to Johnson's camp. On their right was a gorge
where, shadowed in bushes, gurgled a gloomy brook; and beyond rose the
cliffs that buttressed the rocky heights of French Mountain, seen by
glimpses between the boughs. On their left rose gradually the lower
slopes of West Mountain. All was rock, thicket, and forest; there was no
open space but the road along which the regulars marched, while the
Canadians and Indians pushed their way through the woods in such order
as the broken ground would permit.
They were three miles from the lake, when their scouts brought in a
prisoner who told them that a column of English troops was approaching.
Dieskau's preparations were quickly made. While the regulars halted on
the road, the Canadians and Indians moved to the front, where most of
them hid in the forest along the slopes of West Mountain, and the rest
lay close among the thickets on the other side. Thus, when the English
advanced to attack the regulars in front, they would find themselves
caught in a double ambush. No sight or sound betrayed the snare; but
behind every bush crouched a Canadian or a savage, with gun cocked and
ears intent, listening for the tramp of the approaching column.
The wagoners who escaped the evening before had reached the camp about
midnight, and reported that there was a war-party on the road near Fort
Lyman. Johnson had at this time twenty-two hundred effective men,
besides his three hundred Indians. He called a council of war in the
morning, and a resolution was taken which can only be explained by a
complete misconception as to the force of the French. It was determined
to send out two detachments of five hundred men each, one towards Fort
Lyman, and the other towards South Bay, the object being, according to
Johnson, "to catch the enemy in their retreat." Hendrick, chief of the
Mohawks, a brave and sagacious warrior, expressed his dissent after a
fashion of his own. He picked up a stick and broke it; then he picked up
several sticks, and showed that together they could not be broken. The
hint was taken, and the two detachments were joined in one. Still the
old savage shook his head. "If they are to be killed," he said, "they
are too many; if they are to fight, they are too few." Nevertheless, he
resolved to share their fortunes; and mounting on a gun-carriage, he
harangued his warriors with a voice so animated, and gestures so
expressive, that the New England officers listened in admiration, though
they understood not a word. One difficulty remained. He was too old and
fat to go afoot; but Johnson lent him a horse, which he bestrode, and
trotted to the head of the column, followed by two hundred of his
warriors as fast as they could grease, paint, and befeather themselves.
Captain Elisha Hawley was in his tent, finishing a letter which he had
just written to his brother Joseph; and these were the last words: "I am
this minute agoing out in company with five hundred men to see if we can
intercept 'em in their retreat, or find their canoes in the Drowned
Lands; and therefore must conclude this letter." He closed and directed
it; and in an hour received his death-wound.
It was soon after eight o'clock when Ephraim Williams left the camp with
his regiment, marched a little distance, and then waited for the rest of
the detachment under Lieutenant-Colonel Whiting. Thus Dieskau had full
time to lay his ambush. When Whiting came up, the whole moved on
together, so little conscious of danger that no scouts were thrown out
in front or flank; and, in full security, they entered the fatal snare.
Before they were completely involved in it, the sharp eye of old
Hendrick detected some sign of an enemy. At that instant, whether by
accident or design, a gun was fired from the bushes. It is said that
Dieskau's Iroquois, seeing Mohawks, their relatives, in the van, wished
to warn them of danger. If so, the warning came too late. The thickets
on the left blazed out a deadly fire, and the men fell by scores. In the
words of Dieskau, the head of the column "was doubled up like a pack of
cards." Hendrick's horse was shot down, and the chief was killed with a
bayonet as he tried to rise. Williams, seeing a rising ground on his
right, made for it, calling on his men to follow; but as he climbed the
slope, guns flashed from the bushes, and a shot through the brain laid
him dead. The men in the rear pressed forward to support their comrades,
when a hot fire was suddenly opened on them from the forest along their
right flank. Then there was a panic: some fled outright, and the whole
column recoiled. The van now became the rear, and all the force of the
enemy rushed upon it, shouting and screeching. There was a moment of
total confusion; but a part of Williams's regiment rallied under command
of Whiting, and covered the retreat, fighting behind trees like
Indians, and firing and falling back by turns, bravely aided by some of
the Mohawks and by a detachment which Johnson sent to their aid. "And a
very handsome retreat they made," writes Pomeroy; "and so continued till
they came within about three quarters of a mile of our camp. This was
the last fire our men gave our enemies, which killed great numbers of
them; they were seen to drop as pigeons." So ended the fray long known
in New England fireside story as the "bloody morning scout." Dieskau now
ordered a halt, and sounded his trumpets to collect his scattered men.
His Indians, however, were sullen and unmanageable, and the Canadians
also showed signs of wavering. The veteran who commanded them all,
Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, had been killed. At length they were
persuaded to move again, the regulars leading the way.
About an hour after Williams and his men had begun their march, a
distant rattle of musketry was heard at the camp; and as it grew nearer
and louder, the listeners knew that their comrades were on the retreat.
Then, at the eleventh hour, preparations were begun for defence. A sort
of barricade was made along the front of the camp, partly of wagons, and
partly of inverted bateaux, but chiefly of the trunks of trees hastily
hewn down in the neighboring forest and laid end to end in a single row.
The line extended from the southern slopes of the hill on the left
across a tract of rough ground to the marshes on the right. The forest,
choked with bushes and clumps of rank ferns, was within a few yards of
the barricade, and there was scarcely time to hack away the intervening
thickets. Three cannon were planted to sweep the road that descended
through the pines, and another was dragged up to the ridge of the hill.
The defeated party began to come in; first, scared fugitives both white
and red; then, gangs of men bringing the wounded; and at last, an hour
and a half after the first fire was heard, the main detachment was seen
marching in compact bodies down the road.
Five hundred men were detailed to guard the flanks of the camp. The rest
stood behind the wagons or lay flat behind the logs and inverted
bateaux, the Massachusetts men on the right, and the Connecticut men on
the left. Besides Indians, this actual fighting force was between
sixteen and seventeen hundred rustics, very few of whom had been under
fire before that morning. They were hardly at their posts when they saw
ranks of white-coated soldiers moving down the road, and bayonets that
to them seemed innumerable glittering between the boughs. At the same
time a terrific burst of war-whoops rose along the front; and, in the
words of Pomeroy, "the Canadians and Indians, helter-skelter, the woods
full of them, came running with undaunted courage right down the hill
upon us, expecting to make us flee." Some of the men grew uneasy; while
the chief officers, sword in hand, threatened instant death to any who
should stir from their posts. If Dieskau had made an assault at that
instant, there could be little doubt of the result.
This he well knew; but he was powerless. He had his small force of
regulars well in hand; but the rest, red and white, were beyond control,
scattering through the woods and swamps, shouting, yelling, and firing
from behind trees. The regulars advanced with intrepidity towards the
camp where the trees were thin, deployed, and fired by platoons, till
Captain Eyre, who commanded the artillery, opened on them with grape,
broke their ranks, and compelled them to take to cover. The fusillade
was now general on both sides, and soon grew furious. "Perhaps," Seth
Pomeroy wrote to his wife, two days after, "the hailstones from heaven
were never much thicker than their bullets came; but, blessed be God!
that did not in the least daunt or disturb us." Johnson received a
flesh-wound in the thigh, and spent the rest of the day in his tent.
Lyman took command; and it is a marvel that he escaped alive, for he was
four hours in the heat of the fire, directing and animating the men. "It
was the most awful day my eyes ever beheld," wrote Surgeon Williams to
his wife; "there seemed to be nothing but thunder and lightning and
perpetual pillars of smoke." To him, his colleague Doctor Pynchon, one
assistant, and a young student called "Billy," fell the charge of the
wounded of his regiment. "The bullets flew about our ears all the time
of dressing them; so we thought best to leave our tent and retire a few
rods behind the shelter of a log-house." On the adjacent hill stood one
Blodget, who seems to have been a sutler, watching, as well as bushes,
trees, and smoke would let him, the progress of the fight, of which he
soon after made and published a curious bird's-eye view. As the wounded
men were carried to the rear, the wagoners about the camp took their
guns and powder-horns, and joined in the fray. A Mohawk, seeing one of
these men still unarmed, leaped over the barricade, tomahawked the
nearest Canadian, snatched his gun, and darted back unhurt. The brave
savage found no imitators among his tribesmen, most of whom did nothing
but utter a few war-whoops, saying that they had come to see their
English brothers fight. Some of the French Indians opened a distant
flank fire from the high ground beyond the swamp on the right, but were
driven off by a few shells dropped among them.
Dieskau had directed his first attack against the left and centre of
Johnson's position. Making no impression here, he tried to force the
right, where lay the regiments of Titcomb, Ruggles, and Williams. The
fire was hot for about an hour. Titcomb was shot dead, a rod in front of
the barricade, firing from behind a tree like a common soldier. At
length Dieskau, exposing himself within short range of the English line,
was hit in the leg. His adjutant, Montreuil, himself wounded, came to
his aid, and was washing the injured limb with brandy, when the
unfortunate commander was again hit in the knee and thigh. He seated
himself behind a tree, while the Adjutant called two Canadians to carry
him to the rear. One of them was instantly shot down. Montreuil took his
place; but Dieskau refused to be moved, bitterly denounced the Canadians
and Indians, and ordered the Adjutant to leave him and lead the regulars
in a last effort against the camp.
It was too late. Johnson's men, singly or in small squads, were already
crossing their row of logs; and in a few moments the whole dashed
forward with a shout, falling upon the enemy with hatchets and the butts
of their guns. The French and their allies fled. The wounded General
still sat helpless by the tree, when he saw a soldier aiming at him. He
signed to the man not to fire; but he pulled trigger, shot him across
the hips, leaped upon him, and ordered him in French to surrender. "I
said," writes Dieskau, "'You rascal, why did you fire? You see a man
lying in his blood on the ground, and you shoot him!' He answered: 'How
did I know that you had not got a pistol? I had rather kill the devil
than have the devil kill me.' 'You are a Frenchman?' I asked. 'Yes,' he
replied; 'it is more than ten years since I left Canada;' whereupon
several others fell on me and stripped me. I told them to carry me to
their general, which they did. On learning who I was, he sent for
surgeons, and, though wounded himself, refused all assistance till my
wounds were dressed."
It was near five o'clock when the final rout took place. Some time
before, several hundred of the Canadians and Indians had left the field
and returned to the scene of the morning fight, to plunder and scalp the
dead. They were resting themselves near a pool in the forest, close
beside the road, when their repose was interrupted by a volley of
bullets. It was fired by a scouting party from Fort Lyman, chiefly
backwoodsmen, under Captains Folsom and McGinnis. The assailants were
greatly outnumbered; but after a hard fight the Canadians and Indians
broke and fled. McGinnis was mortally wounded. He continued to give
orders till the firing was over; then fainted, and was carried, dying,
to the camp. The bodies of the slain, according to tradition, were
thrown into the pool, which bears to this day the name of Bloody Pond.
The various bands of fugitives rejoined each other towards night, and
encamped in the forest; then made their way round the southern shoulder
of French Mountain, till, in the next evening, they reached their
canoes. Their plight was deplorable; for they had left their knapsacks
behind, and were spent with fatigue and famine.
Meanwhile their captive general was not yet out of danger. The Mohawks
were furious at their losses in the ambush of the morning, and above all
at the death of Hendrick. Scarcely were Dieskau's wounds dressed, when
several of them came into the tent. There was a long and angry dispute
in their own language between them and Johnson, after which they went
out very sullenly. Dieskau asked what they wanted. "What do they want?"
returned Johnson. "To burn you, by God, eat you, and smoke you in their
pipes, in revenge for three or four of their chiefs that were killed.
But never fear; you shall be safe with me, or else they shall kill us
both." The Mohawks soon came back, and another talk ensued, excited at
first, and then more calm; till at length the visitors, seemingly
appeased, smiled, gave Dieskau their hands in sign of friendship, and
quietly went out again. Johnson warned him that he was not yet safe; and
when the prisoner, fearing that his presence might incommode his host,
asked to be removed to another tent, a captain and fifty men were
ordered to guard him. In the morning an Indian, alone and apparently
unarmed, loitered about the entrance, and the stupid sentinel let him
pass in. He immediately drew a sword from under a sort of cloak which he
wore, and tried to stab Dieskau; but was prevented by the colonel to
whom the tent belonged, who seized upon him, took away his sword, and
pushed him out. As soon as his wounds would permit, Dieskau was carried
on a litter, strongly escorted, to Fort Lyman, whence he was sent to
Albany, and afterwards to New York. He is profuse in expressions of
gratitude for the kindness shown him by the colonial officers, and
especially by Johnson. Of the provincial soldiers he remarked soon after
the battle that in the morning they fought like good boys, about noon
like men, and in the afternoon like devils. In the spring of 1757 he
sailed for England, and was for a time at Falmouth; whence Colonel
Matthew Sewell, fearing that he might see and learn too much, wrote to
the Earl of Holdernesse: "The Baron has great penetration and quickness
of apprehension. His long service under Marshal Saxe renders him a man
of real consequence, to be cautiously observed. His circumstances
deserve compassion, for indeed they are very melancholy, and I much
doubt of his being ever perfectly cured." He was afterwards a long time
at Bath, for the benefit of the waters. In 1760 the famous Diderot met
him at Paris, cheerful and full of anecdote, though wretchedly shattered
by his wounds. He died a few years later.
On the night after the battle the yeomen warriors felt the truth of the
saying that, next to defeat, the saddest thing is victory. Comrades and
friends by scores lay scattered through the forest. As soon as he could
snatch a moment's leisure, the overworked surgeon sent the dismal
tidings to his wife: "My dear brother Ephraim was killed by a ball
through his head; poor brother Josiah's wound I fear will prove mortal;
poor Captain Hawley is yet alive, though I did not think he would live
two hours after bringing him in." Daniel Pomeroy was shot dead; and his
brother Seth wrote the news to his wife Rachel, who was just delivered
of a child: "Dear Sister, this brings heavy tidings; but let not your
heart sink at the news, though it be your loss of a dear husband. Monday
the eighth instant was a memorable day; and truly you may say, had not
the Lord been on our side, we must all have been swallowed up. My
brother, being one that went out in the first engagement, received a
fatal shot through the middle of the head." Seth Pomeroy found a moment
to write also to his own wife, whom he tells that another attack is
expected; adding, in quaintly pious phrase: "But as God hath begun to
show mercy, I hope he will go on to be gracious." Pomeroy was employed
during the next few days with four hundred men in what he calls "the
melancholy piece of business" of burying the dead. A letter-writer of
the time does not approve what was done on this occasion. "Our people,"
he says, "not only buried the French dead, but buried as many of them
as might be without the knowledge of our Indians, to prevent their being
scalped. This I call an excess of civility;" his reason being that
Braddock's dead soldiers had been left to the wolves.
The English loss in killed, wounded, and missing was two hundred and
sixty-two; and that of the French, by their own account, two hundred and
twenty-eight,--a somewhat modest result of five hours' fighting. The
English loss was chiefly in the ambush of the morning, where the killed
greatly outnumbered the wounded, because those who fell and could not be
carried away were tomahawked by Dieskau's Indians. In the fight at the
camp, both Indians and Canadians kept themselves so well under cover
that it was very difficult for the New England men to pick them off,
while they on their part lay close behind their row of logs. On the
French side, the regular officers and troops bore the brunt of the
battle and suffered the chief loss, nearly all of the former and nearly
half of the latter being killed or wounded.
Johnson did not follow up his success. He says that his men were tired.
Yet five hundred of them had stood still all day, and boats enough for
their transportation were lying on the beach. Ten miles down the lake, a
path led over a gorge of the mountains to South Bay, where Dieskau had
left his canoes and provisions. It needed but a few hours to reach and
destroy them; but no such attempt was made. Nor, till a week after, did
Johnson send out scouts to learn the strength of the enemy at
Ticonderoga. Lyman strongly urged him to make an effort to seize that
important pass; but Johnson thought only of holding his own position. "I
think," he wrote, "we may expect very shortly a more formidable
attack." He made a solid breastwork to defend his camp; and as
reinforcements arrived, set them at building a fort, which he named Fort
William Henry, on a rising ground by the lake. It is true that just
after the battle he was deficient in stores, and had not bateaux enough
to move his whole force. It is true, also, that he was wounded, and that
he was too jealous of Lyman to delegate the command to him; and so the
days passed till, within a fortnight, his nimble enemy were intrenched
at Ticonderoga in force enough to defy him.
The Crown Point expedition was a failure disguised under an incidental
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