Siege Of Fort Niagara





The River Niagara was known to the Jesuits as early as 1640. The Falls

are indicated on Champlain's map of 1632, and in 1648 the Jesuit

Rugueneau speaks of them as a "cataract of frightful height."



In 1678, the Falls were visited by the friar Louis Hennepin, who gives

an exaggerated description of them, and illustrates it by a curious

picture. The name Niagara is of Iroquois origin, and in the Mohawk

dialect is pronounced Nyagarah.



In the year of Hennepin's visit, the followers of Cavelier de la Salle

began a fortified storehouse where Lewiston now stands, and on Cayuga

Creek, a few miles above the Falls, La Salle built the "Griffin," the

first vessel that ever sailed on the Upper Lakes. At the same time he

began a fort at the mouth of the river. La Salle's fort fell to ruin,

and another was built in its place a few years after. This, too, was

abandoned to be again rebuilt, and the post remained in French hands

more than half a century. It was of the greatest importance, since it

commanded the chief route from Canada to the interior of the continent.

At length, in 1759, the year of Wolfe's famous victory at Quebec,

General Prideaux was sent to reduce it.



Prideaux safely reached Niagara, and laid siege to it. Fort Niagara was

a strong work, lately rebuilt in regular form by an excellent officer,

Captain Pouchot, of the battalion of Bearn, who commanded it. It stood

where the present fort stands, in the angle formed by the junction of

the River Niagara with Lake Ontario, and was held by about six hundred

men, well supplied with provisions and munitions of war. Higher up the

river, a mile and a half above the cataract, there was another fort,

called Little Niagara, built of wood, and commanded by the half-breed

officer, Joncaire-Chabert, who with his brother, Joncaire-Clauzonne, and

a numerous clan of Indian relatives, had long thwarted the efforts of

Sir William Johnson to engage the Five Nations in the English cause. But

recent English successes had had their effect. Joncaire's influence was

waning, and Johnson was now in Prideaux's camp with nine hundred Five

Nation warriors pledged to fight the French. Joncaire, finding his fort

untenable, burned it, and came with his garrison and his Indian friends

to reinforce Niagara.



Pouchot had another resource, on which he confidently relied. In

obedience to an order from Vaudreuil, the French population of the

Illinois, Detroit, and other distant posts, joined with troops of

Western Indians, had come down the Lakes to restore French ascendency on

the Ohio. These mixed bands of white men and red, bushrangers and

savages, were now gathered, partly at Le Boeuf and Venango, but chiefly

at Presquisle, under command of Aubry, Ligneris, Marin, and other

partisan chiefs, the best in Canada. No sooner did Pouchot learn that

the English were coming to attack him than he sent a messenger to summon

them all to his aid.



The siege was begun in form, though the English engineers were so

incompetent that the trenches, as first laid out, were scoured by the

fire of the place, and had to be made anew. At last the batteries opened

fire. A shell from a cochorn burst prematurely, just as it left the

mouth of the piece, and a fragment striking Prideaux on the head, killed

him instantly. Johnson took command in his place, and made up in energy

what he lacked in skill. In two or three weeks the fort was in

extremity. The rampart was breached, more than a hundred of the garrison

were killed or disabled, and the rest were exhausted with want of sleep.

Pouchot watched anxiously for the promised succors; and on the morning

of the twenty-fourth of July a distant firing told him that they were at

hand.



Aubry and Ligneris, with their motley following, had left Presquisle a

few days before, to the number, according to Vaudreuil, of eleven

hundred French and two hundred Indians. Among them was a body of colony

troops; but the Frenchmen of the party were chiefly traders and

bushrangers from the West, connecting links between civilization and

savagery; some of them indeed were mere white Indians, imbued with the

ideas and morals of the wigwam, wearing hunting-shirts of smoked

deer-skin embroidered with quills of the Canada porcupine, painting

their faces black and red, tying eagle feathers in their long hair, or

plastering it on their temples with a compound of vermilion and glue.

They were excellent woodsmen, skilful hunters, and perhaps the best

bushfighters in all Canada.



When Pouchot heard the firing, he went with a wounded artillery officer

to the bastion next the river; and as the forest had been cut away for a

great distance, they could see more than a mile and a half along the

shore. There, by glimpses among trees and bushes, they descried bodies

of men, now advancing, and now retreating; Indians in rapid movement,

and the smoke of guns, the sound of which reached their ears in heavy

volleys, or a sharp and angry rattle. Meanwhile the English cannon had

ceased their fire, and the silent trenches seemed deserted, as if their

occupants were gone to meet the advancing foe. There was a call in the

fort for volunteers to sally and destroy the works; but no sooner did

they show themselves along the covered way than the seemingly abandoned

trenches were thronged with men and bayonets, and the attempt was given

up. The distant firing lasted half an hour, then ceased, and Pouchot

remained in suspense; till, at two in the afternoon, a friendly

Onondaga, who had passed unnoticed through the English lines, came to

him with the announcement that the French and their allies had been

routed and cut to pieces. Pouchot would not believe him.



Nevertheless his tale was true. Johnson, besides his Indians, had with

him about twenty-three hundred men, whom he was forced to divide into

three separate bodies,--one to guard the bateaux, one to guard the

trenches, and one to fight Aubry and his band. This last body consisted

of the provincial light infantry and the pickets, two companies of

grenadiers, and a hundred and fifty men of the forty-sixth regiment, all

under command of Colonel Massey. They took post behind an abatis at a

place called La Belle Famille, and the Five Nation warriors placed

themselves on their flanks. These savages had shown signs of

disaffection; and when the enemy approached, they opened a parley with

the French Indians, which, however, soon ended, and both sides raised

the war-whoop. The fight was brisk for a while; but at last Aubry's men

broke away in a panic. The French officers seem to have made desperate

efforts to retrieve the day, for nearly all of them were killed or

captured; while their followers, after heavy loss, fled to their canoes

and boats above the cataract, hastened back to Lake Erie, burned

Presquisle, Le Boeuf, and Venango, and, joined by the garrisons of those

forts, retreated to Detroit, leaving the whole region of the upper Ohio

in undisputed possession of the English.



At four o'clock on the day of the battle, after a furious cannonade on

both sides, a trumpet sounded from the trenches, and an officer

approached the fort with a summons to surrender. He brought also a paper

containing the names of the captive French officers, though some of them

were spelled in a way that defied recognition. Pouchot, feigning

incredulity, sent an officer of his own to the English camp, who soon

saw unanswerable proof of the disaster; for here, under a shelter of

leaves and boughs near the tent of Johnson, sat Ligneris, severely

wounded, with Aubry, Villiers, Montigny, Marin, and their companions in

misfortune,--in all, sixteen officers, four cadets, and a surgeon.



Pouchot had now no choice but surrender. By the terms of the

capitulation, the garrison were to be sent prisoners to New York, though

honors of war were granted them in acknowledgment of their courageous

conduct. There was a special stipulation that they should be protected

from the Indians, of whom they stood in the greatest terror, lest the

massacre of Fort William Henry should be avenged upon them. Johnson

restrained his dangerous allies, and, though the fort was pillaged, no

blood was shed.



The capture of Niagara was an important stroke. Thenceforth Detroit,

Michillimackinac, the Illinois, and all the other French interior posts

were severed from Canada and left in helpless isolation. The conquest of

the whole interior became only a question of time.





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