Fort William Henry 1757 Part 1

December 5, 2010

It’s been two weeks since my last post. Sorry but I’ll probably be late again. December is a busy month with Christmas coming up fast and the other day we had a minor disaster here. The hose on the dishwasher broke and flooded the kitchen, down the hallway, two closets and part of the master bedroom. Everything is carpet but the kitchen. Oh well, it gives me incentive to redo the flooring anyway, something I was wanting to do for a while now.

When we last left our story Braddock was defeated, Dieskau was on his way from France with six battalions of French regulars and the Marquis de Vaudreuil the new governor. As soon as Vaudreuil replaced Duquesne as the governor-general he made a plan to attack Fort Oswego. This was a British trading post on the south shore of Lake Ontario in the midst of Iroquois territory.

However, he had to postpone that plan because Colonel William Johnson had been assigned by the British to attack Crown Point on Lake Champlain. Johnson had already started making preparations at the foot of Lac du S. Sacrament for his advance on Crown Point. He had widened the 15 mile portage from the Fort Lyman on the Hudson River to the lake. When he arrived he renamed it Lake George and immediately busied himself constructing a camp from which to launch his attack. Fort Lyman would later become Fort Edward and Johnson’s campsite is where the war’s most famous Fort would be built, Fort William Henry.

Johnson didn’t really concern himself with French movements to his north. Dieskau arrived at Crown Point in the fall to reinforce the French presence there with 3,573 men made up of French soldiers, Canadians and First Nations. Dieskau made the first move. His force moved down Lake Champlain to the headwaters of Wood Creek where a short portage brought them out at the midway point of the new road Johnson had just cut. He had a choice to make. He could either move south and take out Fort Lyman or north and take out Johnson’s campsite. First Nation warriors never like to attack a position that was fortified with heavy artillery so he chose to move north.

Dieskau didn’t realise that Johnson had moved three cannons to the lake and fortified his campsite with a breastwork made of logs. Dieskau attacked but was surprised by cannon fire. They were repelled time and time again. The two adversaries fought more or less to a draw but the Baron was wounded twice and taken prisoner by the Provincials. The French withdrew leaderless.

1755 had not been a good year for the British so although Lake George had not been a military victory the capture and imprisonment of Baron Dieskau gave the skirmish the air of one. Great celebrations were held in New York and Colonel Johnson was received as a great war hero. The British lavished the colonel with rewards including making him a baronet, 5,000 pounds stirling and installing him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Some good news at last for the English.

The following year Dieskau was replaced with a new general, the Marquis de Montcalm. He and Vaudreuil did not get along. However, they did agree on one thing. Fort Oswego should be the first campaign of 1756. Montcalm had brought two more crack regiments with him from France and he was anxious use them.

Fort Oswego was built at the mouth of the Chouagen River later to be renamed the Oswego River. It was fortified by a stockade and had two out buildings defended by earthen ramparts. It was really just a trading post so was no bastion of defence. Just as the attack started the post’s commandant Colonel Mercer was cut in half by a cannon ball. The British forces defending Oswego quickly became disheartened and surrendered. Casualties were light. The British reported 50 killed and the French even less. However, 1,600 prisoners of war were taken and the plunder was exceeding for the “Praying Indians” that were with Montcalm. The news of the French victory spread through First Nation territories like wildfire.

Montcalm, Vaudreuil and the Intendant Bigot received chief after chief representing some forty First Nations. All wanted to see the great French war chief who had the reputation of being so tall his head bumped the clouds. In actuality Montcalm was a relatively short man. This caused one great war chief to state that a man’s eminence is determined by his deeds not his physical stature.

Meanwhile the British had rebuilt Fort Lyman and renamed it Fort Edward. They also build Fort William Henry at the foot of Lake George. This was where British activity was the greatest. This was where the British presented the most danger. Montcalm prepared to move into the Lake Champlain area and meet the British head on.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort William Henry 1757 – Part 2