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