Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 1

February 2, 2011

After the fall of Fort William Henry Montcalm did not advance on Fort Edward. His forces had been severely reduced by the abandonment of his First Nation allies and the Canadians who had returned to their provincial farms. He would have had to use too many of  his regulars just to drag his heavy artillery down the fourteen mile portage. In short, he no longer had the resources.  After burning the conquered fort and levelling the ground it stood on he retreated to winter at Fort Carillon or, as the English called it, Ticonderoga.

In 1758 the British went on the offensive. After a failed attempt the previous year to take Fort Louisburg the British fleet arrived with Generals Wolfe Amherst, Lawrence and 12,000 men. The fleet of thirty-nine ships doubled the number of fighting men.

The French stronghold was garrisoned with 3,000 regulars plus a few hundred armed citizens. First Nation support waned after Fort William Henry. The warriors that filled the Acadian forests stayed home. All that could be raised was a small band of Micmac. In the harbour there were five ships, seven frigates and another 3,000 men. The fort held out for nearly two months until it fell July 27, 1758.

In the meantime General Abercrombie with an army of 15,000 arrived at Lake George intent on taking Ticonderoga. Abercrombie was a general only because of his connections. As a military strategist he was un-inventive and single-minded. However, he plodded forward toward Ticonderoga and Montcalm.

The French fort was under garrisoned and under supplied. Vaudreuil was slow to fulfill Montcalm’s requests. He had not quite 3,500 regulars, no Canadians, no warriors and only ten days worth of supplies. But he did have his extraordinary military prowess.

After a series of military blunders by the British over two days Abercrombie lost 2,000 men trying to breach Montcalm’s improvised barricades in front of the fort. Montcalm on the other hand lost only a little more than 300.

The next night the French general sent out a sortie to reconnoiter and they attacked the main British force in the dark of night. Not knowing the strength of the French attack they panicked. As they fled through the bogs the soft mud pulled the shoes right off their feet. It was a spectacular victory for Montcalm and a bitter defeat for Abercrombie.

Colonel Bradstreet who was with Abercrombie begged him for 2,000 of the 13,000 troops he had left to move north and take Fort Frontenac. It was on the north shore of Lake Ontario a French stronghold that kept the great lake under French control. Abercrombie, anxious for some semblance of a victory granted him his request. 

But again Vaudreuil was lax. He had let the garrison fall to below 100 men. The fort’s commandant received word of Bradstreet’s advancement so he sent word to the governor to send reinforcements as quickly as possible. Vaudreuil sent one man to survey the situation and report back. Not only did he just send one man it was a one-armed man!

The woods of Eastern-Ontario was filled with Mississauga villages but they stood idly by and watched events unfold. Normally their warriors were quick to come to the aid of their French “father” Onontio but after Montcalm’s betrayal at Fort William Henry they were strangely disinterested.

Bradstreet arrived to take the fort without a shot. The commandant was waiting for him with a white flag. This unbelievable victory not only gave the British command of the lake but effectively cut the French colony in two.

The previous year the British colony’s frontier was racked with raiding parties by the Ohio First Nations. Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa and Wyandotte warriors attacked settlers along the frontier with impunity. They burned farmsteads while killing or capturing pioneers. All that year they looted and ravished the countryside from Pennsylvania to Virginia. The provincials were terror-stricken.

 William Pit, the new British Secretary of State, could see the source of all the First Nation malice, Fort Duquesne, should be put out of commission. In the spring of 1758 plans were being drawn up to do just that!

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 2

Fort William Henry 1757 Part 4

January 23, 2011

General Montcalm had advised Colonel Munro to dispose of the fort’s supply of rum to keep it away from the warriors. But some of his men couldn’t see all that good liquor going to waste. So they only broke open most of the barrels spilling the highly prized plunder on the ground.

The warriors were in a foul mood. The English were being allowed to walk away carrying their belongings including unloaded firearms. There would be no scalps nor prisoners which the French were only to happy to turn into cash and trade goods. There would be no loot to keep for themselves. Was this was their reward for fighting for their French allies? The First Nations felt betrayed!

The British prisoners were held in an entrenched camp just outside the fort. They were preparing for the march to Fort Edward the next day. Those who had kept back a good portion of the store’s rum barrels decided to sample their wares. All this was a very bad idea but the worst was yet to come.

Some of them thought if they shared some of the rum with the warriors it would put them on their good side, just in case there was trouble ahead. Over the course of the night some of the warriors helped themselves to the liquor and they weren’t shy about it. By dawn’s first light they were in a state of inebriation and highly agitated over Montcalm’s betrayal. The ones who didn’t participate in the intoxicating spirits were just as angry and tumultuous as the ones who did. The old chiefs such as Pennahouel lost control of their young men.

The British spent an uneasy night listening to the pounding of war drums and shouting of war cries coming from the darkness that surrounded them. They became extremely nervous and at dawn gathered together anxious to move out. 

Not all were ready to march. Seventeen soldiers were recuperating in the surgeon’s tents too wounded to travel. The French surgeon had left them in the protection of a French guard with La Corne and other Canadian officers within sight of the tents.

For the warriors this battle was not over. They began the day by attacking the medical tents. They dragged the wounded out of their beds and killed and scalped them on the spot. The French guards looked the other way while the Canadians look on with seemingly disinterest.

The escort of 300 French regulars finally arrived and Munro complained that the terms of capitulation had been broken. They were advised to give the warriors their baggage in order to try to appease them. This turned out to be bad advice as it only served to agitate their antagonizers all the more. The warriors demanded rum and some of the British regulars in fear for their lives gave them some from their canteens. Another bad mistake!

The long procession of 2,200 prisoners finally got underway. Down the narrow road they trudged in an even narrower column stretched out too far for any kind of safety. The French escort lead the way followed by British red coats, then the women and children. The colonial militia brought up the rear.

The English being harassed all the while by individual warriors who, one at a time would grab some prized item be it a hat or canteen or unloaded musket from an unresisting soldier. If there was resistance the unfortunate one would be tomahawked on the spot and relieved of his scalp as well. The French escort did nothing to curb the harassment.

Suddenly the loud screech of an Abenaki war cry signalled an attack. The “Praying Indians” from the mission of Panaouski led the escalation in violence. They rushed upon the New Hampshire militia at the rear of the column. The militia suffered 80 killed or captured. The rear of the column pressed in on those in front. Panicked by the escalation general confusion presided and the rest of the First Nation warriors joined in attacking the long procession from all sides. The British prisoners of war were stripped to their breeches and relieved of all their possessions. Some were killed, some were taken prisoner and some were left dazed in the middle of the road. Many others escaped into the woods to make their own way to the safety of Fort Edward. 

Montcalm was advised of the turmoil and he and Levis and other French officers rushed to the scene. They did try to restore order by inserting themselves in the melee calling for peace. Although brave it did little to quell the frenzied warriors.

When things did settle down the survivors were escorted back to the entrenched camp and put under extra guard until the next day. They were then marched under a stronger guard to Fort Edward where cannon fire could be heard at intervals as a signal to stragglers coming in from the previous day. Meanwhile Montcalm tried to retrieve the 200 prisoners being held in First Nations camps but it was to no avail.

The same day the survivors were marched to Fort Edward the First Nations broke camp and with prisoners in tow headed to Montreal. They were still highly agitated, upset at Montcalm’s betrayal. They were determined to receive their remuneration if not from the battle then from the governor.

Governor Vaudreuil rebuked them when they arrived for breaking the terms of surrender but this was just for show. Bougainville, who was in Montreal when the First Nations arrived, thought the British prisoners should be taken from them and they should be sent home in disgrace. But Vaudreuil thought better being confronted by more than 1,000 angry warriors. Intendent Bigot wrote in report that the warriors should be sent home satisfied at all costs.

To this end the First Nations received a ransom of two kegs of brandy for each prisoner, guns, canoes and other payment for services. They left Montreal for their homelands so distrustful of their French allies that most would not fight in their service again.

During the battle of Fort William Henry Montcalm’s officers did try to alleviate the attacks of the warriors after the capitulation, but not the regulars and certainly not the Canadians. Afterall, they understood the time-tested arrangement for payment for First Nations support and they knew Montcalm had foolishly broken it. The French may have won the battle but it was at Fort Henry they lost the war. The First Nations held the balance of power at this time and it was here that he lost them as trusted allies.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758

Fort William Henry 1757 Part 3

January 16, 2011

Fort William Henry was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Munro, a brave Scottish veteran in charge of 2,200 fighting men. His superior, General Webb, was in command of Fort Edward some 14 miles to the south-west. He had charge of 1,600 soldiers. The colonies were raising more men but this would take more time than needed to counter Montcalm’s army of 8,000.

The French army had moved through the narrows on Lake George and spread themselves along the shoreline of the picturesque lake. Duc Francois de Levis was Montcalm’s second in command and had moved out the day before with the First Nation warriors. They were waiting for the rest of the army at a small cove that was formed by a point of land which protected them from the line of sight of the British fort.

That night Munro sent out a small party in two boats to reconnoiter. As they passed the point they noticed something unusual on the shore of the cove. They drew near it in order to identify the object. It was an awning the Fathers had stretched over their bateaux. Sensing danger they turned and began to row as hard as they were able but it wasn’t enough. Many of the warriors rushed to their canoes threw them into the water and vigorously pursued the frightened Englishmen.

Wild eyed with excitement the warriors quickly overtook them all the time shouting their terrifying war whoops. The din of a thousand shouts echoed across the placid lake magnifying the uproar ten fold. It was as if the French had unleashed an army of windigo to devour them.

Just as the spies made the eastern shore the warriors were upon them. They opened fire killing a Nipissing war chief. The fighting ceased immediately after the stand had begun. Some escaped into the blackness of the Appalachian woods, some were killed but three were taken prisoner ending up before Montcalm where he was able to extract some valuable information on the  strength and position of the enemy.

The following morning Munro sent a message to Fort Edward saying the French were in sight of the lake. Nine hours later he sent another informing the General that the firing had begun. He implored Webb to send reinforcements. Webb’s response was to send couriers to New England to ask for more militia. He waited out the battle fourteen miles away in the safety of Fort Edward. 

At the same time Munro sent his first communique the French army moved out. Levis left first with a contingent of chiefs and warriors leading the way. They made their way around the fort and positioned themselves behind it. La Corne took up a position behind Levis and the war chiefs spread their warriors across the road leading to Fort Edward.

The main body of warriors spread their canoes in a line across the lake covering it from shore to shore. They slowly moved toward the fort with slow, deliberate stroke all the while shouting war cries. Then they broke for the east and west shorelines just out of range of British cannon fire.

After the skirmishing around the fort was over Montcalm moved forward along the western shore of Lake George with five battalions. He stopped just short of the fort where he proceeded to set up siege works. He then moved in his heavy artillery and began to put Fort William Henry under siege. Munro sent a final courier to advise Webb the fort was under attack and to send reinforcements with all haste.

For several days the French inched forward all the time bombarding the fort with salvos of cannon fire. At night they laboriously dug new trenches in front of their siege works methodically plodding their artillery ever closer. Munro kept returning fire with his heavy artillery while sending out sorties to skirmish with the enemy. They were less than successful.

Finally Webb answered Munro’s calls for help. He sent a courier with a message informing him that he could send no reinforcements and that he should surrender and get the best terms possible. The message never got through. A party of warriors intercepted the courier along the road, killed him and took the paper he was carrying to Montcalm. The General read it and thought it might be useful in encouraging Munro to surrender sooner so he had Bougainville deliver it personally to its intended recipient. 

Fort William Henry was in deplorable condition. More than 300 had been killed or wounded. Its ramparts were blown to splinters. The walls were breached. Its artillery had been knocked out of commission except for a few small field pieces and smallpox was raging inside its walls.

Munro conferred with his officers about the dire situation. They decided to sue for peace if they could get honorable terms. Lieutenant-Colonel Young with a small escort was sent out under a white flag to Montcalm’s quarters.

Montcalm’s terms were more than generous. The British would be allowed to march out with the honors of war. They could carry their colors and their personal belongings under French escort to Fort Edward. In return they had to promise not serve in the military for eighteen months and all French prisoners of war held since the war began would be released. The victors would take possession of the stores, munitions and artillery.

Montcalm called the chiefs to council. He reiterated the terms of surrender and they agreed to hold their warriors back thinking the stores, munitions and artillery would be enough payment for their services. But the thinking of the warriors was that it fell far short. Dark ominous clouds hung over an otherwise sparkling victory and that could only spell disaster upon the whole enterprise!

NEXT WEEK:  Fort William Henry 1757 Part 4

Fort Willaim Henry 1757 Part 2

January 9, 2011

Well, the holiday season is over and it was busier than usual this year. I hope everyone had a joyous Noel. I seemed to be running all day, every day! But things are settling down now and I can get back to writing. I don’t know if I stated in a previous post or not but I am also writing a historical fiction to be published this year.

James Smith was still with the Caughnawaga Mohawks in early June of 1757 when he wrote in his journal that all the Wyandotte, Ottawa and Potawatomi towns in Ohio country were preparing for war. He also wrote that the woods were full of ‘Jibewas’ who had come down from the upper lakes. These would have been Little Thunder’s warriors from the St. Clair and Langlade’s warriors from Michilimackinac. After the war songs were sung and the war dance danced they all left the territory singing the travelling song and firing their small arms. They were off to join Montcalm and the Praying Indians at Lake Champlain.

Montcalm had gone to the Lake of Two Mountains and Sault St. Louis to take part in the same war preparation ceremonies with the Christian Iroquois or Praying Indians. He brought with him great promises of gifts and prospects of much loot and plunder. His emissaries had done the same over the previous winter with the western nations all in order to raise a huge number of First Nation warriors to compliment his army. As he was moving detachments of French regulars, Canadians and Mission Indians up the Lake Champlain the Western Nations began joining them. By the end of July the whole force was gathered at Ticonderoga. A smaller force had been there since May finishing the fort and sending out war parties to set panic among the settlers along the frontier as well as to reconnoiter the strength and capacity of Fort William Henry.

While Montcalm waited for all intelligence to come in before mounting his attack upon the British fort his First Nation allies sent out sortie after sortie up and down the frontier. In the First Nation worldview war was no game to be played on open fields between soldiers only. The enemy included the old, women and children as well as soldiers. European allies paid for scalps and neither distinguished age or sex. The frontiers of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania were in a state of panic. Settlers didn’t know when their turn would come to be burned out and their families killed.

The French put some normally very able officers over various groups of warriors. But these warriors were no normal military men. They looked only to their war chiefs for guidance all but ignoring their French officers. Saint-Luc de la Corne was supposedly in charge and was called the ‘General of the Indians”. Several other officers had ‘charge’ of the various groups. All of these Frenchmen, including interpreters, had lived most of their lives among the nations. They were well acquainted with their culture and understood their real lack of authority over them.

The so-called ‘Mission Indians’ numbered some eight hundred chiefs and warriors and were made up of Iroquois from Caughnawaga, Two Mountains and Le Presentation as well as the Wyandotte of Detroit and Lorette. They also included Algonquin speaking nations; Nipissing from the lake by the same name, Abenaki from St. Francis, Becancour, Missisqui and Penobscot as well as Algonquin from Trois Riviere and Two Mountains. Finally there were Micmac and Malecites from Acadia. Three missionaries were assigned to the “Praying Indians”. They were Abbe Picquet to the Iroquois, Father Mathevet to the Nipissing and Father Roubaud to the Abenaki.

There were also among the throng 1,000 well armed warriors from the western nations all painted for war. There were Ottawa from Michillimackinac, Saginaw and Detroit; Saulteax Ojibwa from Lake Superior and St. Clair; Potawatomi from St. Joseph and Detroit as well as Delaware from Ohio. From further west came the Menominee, Sauk, Fox and Winnebago from Wisconsin. There were also Miami from Illinois and finally Iowa from the Des Moines. All were assigned interpreters except the Iowa because no Frenchmen spoke the language. 

The size of the force at Ticonderoga numbered 8,000 men of which nearly 2,000 were First Nation warriors. When the whole force was settled they gathered in one great assembly. Their war chiefs were distinguished by the gorget that they wore to protect their necks and their civil chiefs by the large King’s medal hung around them. Montcalm spoke first explaining his plan of attack upon the British fort. Colonel Louis Antoine de Bougainville recorded the proceeding in his journal.

Pennahouel of the Ottawa and a major chief rose to speak first for the whole assembly. Stating the fact that he was the elder of all in attendance he thanked Montcalm for his words. Kikensick, chief of the Nipissing, next rose speaking for the Christian nations. He addressed the western nations thanking them for coming to help defend their territories from English encroachment. He then thanked Montcalm for coming to join the battle from across the great sea. Then he assured them all the Master of Life was with them so that only honor and glory could follow.

Montcalm responded with a speech  encouraging unity followed by the presentation of a great wampum belt of 6,000 beads to seal this unity between the First Nations and the French. Pennahouel took the belt and held it up confirming the confederacy. The next day the great assembly of chiefs and warriors spread themselves out in camps along the lake and awaited the time to move on Fort William Henry.

NEXT WEEK: Fort William Henry 1757 Part 3

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