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