The Battle of Lake George
EARLY in 1755, the British and colonial authorities, without a declaration of war, attempted a series of combined operations to repel what were regarded as encroachments of the French. One of these movements was directed against Fort Duquesne, and resulted in the defeat of Braddock ; another against the French in Acadia, ending in the removal of the inhabitants of that country. The third, against Niagara, was never completed ; while the fourth, that against Crown Point, led to a curious and noteworthy passage-of-arms on the banks of Lake George.
Crown Point was a dangerous neighbor which, for a quarter of a century, had threatened the Northern colonies. Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts, had proposed an attack on it to the ministry, in January; and in February, without waiting their reply, he laid the plan before his assembly. They accepted it, and voted money for the pay and maintenance of twelve hundred men, provided the adjacent colonies would contribute in due proportion. Massachusetts showed a military activity worthy of the reputation she had won. Forty-five hundred of her men, or one in eight of her adult males, volunteered to fight the French, and enlisted for the various ex-peditions; some in the pay of the province, and some in that of the king. It remained to name a commander for the Crown Point enterprise. Nobody had power to do so, for Braddock was not yet come ; but that time might not be lost, Shirley, at the request of his assembly, took the responsibility on himself. If he had named a Massachusetts officer, it would have roused the jealousy of the other New England colonies ; and he therefore appointed William Johnson, of New York, thus gratifying that important province and pleasing the Five Nations, who at this time looked on Johnson with even more than usual favor. Hereupon, in reply to his request, Connecticut voted twelve hundred men. New Hampshire five hundred, and Rhode Island four hundred, all at their own charge ; while New York, a little later, promised eight hundred more. When, in April, Braddock and the council at Alexandria approved the plan and the commander, Shirley gave Johnson the commission of major - general of the levies of Massachusetts ; and the governors of the other provinces contributing to the expedition gave him similar commissions for their respective contingents. Never did general take the field with authority so heterogeneous.
He had never seen service, and knew nothing of war. By birth he was Irish, of good family, being nephew of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, who, owning extensive wild lands on the Mohawk, had placed the young man in charge of them nearly twenty years before. Johnson was born to prosper. He had ambition, energy, an active mind, a tall, strong person, a rough, jovial temper, and a quick adaptation to his surroundings. He could drink flip with Dutch boors, or madeira with royal governors. He liked the society of the great, would intrigue and flatter when he had an end to gain, and foil a rival without looking too closely at the means ; but compared with the Indian traders who infested the border, he was a model of uprightness. He lived by the Mohawk in a fortified house, which was a stronghold against foes and a scene of hospitality to friends, both white and red. Here — for his tastes were not fastidious — presided for many years a Dutch or German wench, whom he finally married ; and after her death a young Mohawk squaw took her place. Over his neighbors, the Indians of the Five Nations, and all others of their race with whom he had to deal, he acquired a remarkable influence. He liked them, adopted their ways, and treated them kindly or sternly as the case required, but always with a justice and honesty in strong contrast with the rascalities of the commission of Albany traders who had lately managed their affairs, and whom they so detested that one of their chiefs called them “ not men, but devils.” Hence, when Johnson was made Indian superintendent there was joy through all the Iroquois confederacy. When, in addition, he was made a general, he assembled the warriors in council to engage them to aid the expedition.
This meeting took place at his own house, known as Fort Johnson ; and as more than eleven hundred Indians appeared at his call, his larder was sorely taxed to entertain them. The speeches were interminable. Johnson, a master of Indian rhetoric, knew his audience too well not to contest with them the palm of insufferable prolixity. The climax was reached on the fourth day, and he threw down the war-belt. An Oneida chief took it up ; Stevens, the interpreter, began the war-dance, and the assembled warriors howled in chorus. Then a tub of punch was brought in, and they all drank the king’s health. They showed less alacrity, however, to fight his battles, and scarcely three hundred of them would take the war-path. Too many of their friends and relatives were enlisted for the French.
While the British colonists were preparing to attack Crown Point, the French of Canada were preparing to defend it. Duquesne, recalled from his post, had resigned the government to the Marquis de Vaudreuil, who had at his disposal the battalions of regulars that had sailed in the spring from Brest under Baron Dieskau. His first thought was to use them for the capture of Oswego ; but the letters of Braddock, found on the battle-field, warned him of the design against Crown Point; while a reconnoitring party which had gone as far as the Hudson brought back news that Johnson’s forces were already in the field. Therefore the plan was changed, and Dieskau was ordered to lead the main body of his troops, not to Lake Ontario, but to Lake Champlain. He passed up the Richelieu, and embarked in boats and canoes for Crown Point. The veteran knew that the foes with whom he had to deal were but a mob of countrymen. He doubted not of putting them to rout, and meant never to hold his hand till he had chased them back to Albany. “ Make all haste,” Vaudreuil wrote to him ; “ for when you return we shall send you to Oswego to execute our first design.”
Johnson on his part was preparing to advance. In July about three thousand provincials were encamped near Albany : some on the “ Flats” above the town, and some on the meadows below. Hither, too, came a swarm of Johnson’s Mohawks, — warriors, squaws, and children. They adorned the general’s face with war-paint, and he danced the war-dance ; then with his sword he cut the first slice from the ox that had been roasted whole for their entertainment. “ I shall be glad,” wrote the surgeon of a New England regiment, “ if they fight as eagerly as they ate their ox and drank their wine.”
Above all things the expedition needed promptness; yet everything moved slowly. Five popular legislatures controlled the troops and the supplies. Connecticut had refused to send her men till Shirley promised that her commanding officer should rank next to Johnson. The whole movement was for some time at a deadlock because the five governments could not agree about their contributions of artillery and stores. The New Hampshire regiment had taken a short cut for Crown Point across the wilderness of Vermont, but had been recalled in time to save them from probable destruction. They were now with the rest in the camp at Albany, in such distress for provisions that a private subscription was proposed for their relief.
Johnson’s army, crude as it was, had in it good material. Here was Phineas Lyman, of Connecticut, second in command, once a tutor at Yale College, and more recently a lawyer, — a raw soldier, but a vigorous and brave one ; Colonel Moses Titcomb, of Massachusetts, who had fought with credit at Louisbourg ; and Ephraim Williams, also colonel of a Massachusetts regiment, a tall and portly man, who had been a captain in the last war, member of the General Court, and deputy-sheriff. He made his will in the camp at Albany, and left a legacy to found the school which has since become Williams College. His relative, Stephen Williams, was chaplain of his regiment, and his brother Thomas was its surgeon. Seth Pomeroy, gunsmith at Northampton, who, like Titcomb, had seen service at Louisbourg, was its lieutenant-colonel. He had left a wife at home, an excellent matron, to whom he was continually writing affectionate letters; mingling household cares with news of the camp, and charging her to see that their eldest boy, Seth, then in college at New Haven, did not run off to the army. Pomeroy had with him his brother Daniel ; and this he thought was enough. Here, too, was a man whose name is still a household word in New England, — the sturdy Israel Putnam, private in a Connecticut regiment ; and another as bold as he, John Stark, lieutenant in the New Hampshire levies, and the future victor of Bennington.
The soldiers were no soldiers, but farmers and farmers’ sons who had volunteered for the summer campaign. One of the corps had a blue uniform faced with red. The rest wore their daily clothing. Blankets had been served out to them by the several provinces, but the greater part brought their own guns : some under the penalty of a fine if they came without them, and some under the inducement of a reward. They had no bayonets, but carried hatchets in their belts as a sort of substitute. At their sides were slung powder-horns, on which, in the leisure of the camp, they carved quaint devices with the points of their jackknives. They came chiefly from plain New England homesteads, — rustic abodes, unpainted and dingy, with long well-sweeps, capacious barns, rough fields of pumpkins and corn, and vast kitchen chimneys, above which in winter hung squashes to keep them from frost, and guns to keep them from rust.
As to the manners and morals of the army there is conflict of evidence. In some respects nothing could be more exemplary. “ Not a chicken has been stolen,” says William Smith, of New York; while, on the other hand, Colonel Ephraim Williams writes to Colonel Israel Williams, then commanding on the Massachusetts frontier, “ We are a wicked, profane army, especially the New York and Rhode Island troops. Nothing to be heard among a great part of them but the language of hell. If Crown Point is taken, it will not be for our sakes, but for those good people left behind.” There was edifying regularity in respect to form. Sermons twice a week, daily prayers, and frequent psalmsinging alternated with the much-needed military drill. “ Prayers among us night and morning,” writes Private Jonathan Caswell, of Massachusetts, to his father. “ Here we lie, knowing not when we shall march for Crown Point; but I hope not long to tarry. Desiring your prayers to God for me as I am agoing to war, I am Your Ever Dutiful Son.”
To Pomeroy and some of his brothers in arms it seemed that they were engaged in a kind of crusade against the myrmidons of Rome. “ As you have at heart the Protestant cause,” he wrote to his friend Israel Williams, “ so I ask an interest in your prayers that the Lord of Hosts would go forth with us and give us victory over our unreasonable, encroaching, barbarous, murdering enemies.”
Both Williams the surgeon and Williams the colonel chafed at the incessant delays. “ The expedition goes on very much as a snail runs,” writes the former to his wife; “ it seems we may possibly see Crown Point this time twelve months.” The colonel was vexed because everything was out of joint in the department of transportation : wagoners mutinous for want of pay; ordnance stores, camp-kettles, and provisions left behind. “ As to rum,” he complains, “ it won’t hold out nine weeks. Things appear most melancholy to me.” Even as he was writing a report came of the defeat of Braddock ; and, shocked at the blow, his pen traced the words, “ The Lord have mercy on poor New England ! ”
Johnson had sent four Mohawk scouts to Canada. They returned on the 21st of August with the report that the French were all astir with preparation, and that eight thousand men were coming to defend Crown Point. On this a council of war was called ; and it was resolved to send to the several colonies for reinforcements. Meanwhile, the main body had moved up the river to the spot called the Great Carrying Place, where Lyman had begun a fortified storehouse, which his men called Fort Lyman, but which was afterwards named Fort Edward. Two Indian trails led from this point to the waters of Lake Champlain, one by way of Lake George, and the other by way of Wood Creek. There was doubt which course the army should take. A road was begun to Wood Creek; then it was countermanded, and a party was sent to explore the path to Lake George. “ With submission to the general officers,” Surgeon Williams again writes, “ I think it a very grand mistake that the business of reconnoitring was not done months agone.” It was resolved at last to march for Lake George : gangs of axemen were sent to hew out the way ; and on the 26th two thousand men were ordered to the lake, while Colonel Blanchard, of New Hampshire, remained with five hundred to finish and defend Fort Lyman.
The train of Dutch wagons, guarded by the homely soldiery, jolted slowly over the stumps and roots of the newly made road, and the regiments followed at their leisure. The hardships of the way were not without their consolations. The jovial Irishman who held the chief command made himself very agreeable to the New England officers. “ We went on about four or five miles,” says Pomeroy in his journal, “ then stopped, ate pieces of broken bread and cheese, and drank some fresh lemon-punch and the best of wine with General Johnson and some of the field officers.” It was the same on the next day : “ Stopped about noon, and dined with General Johnson by a small brook under a tree; ate a good dinner of cold boiled and roast venison ; drank good fresh lemonpunch and wine.”
That afternoon they reached their destination, fourteen miles from Fort Lyman. The most beautiful lake in America lay before them; then more beautiful than now, in the wild charm of untrodden mountains and virgin forests. “ I have given it the name of Lake George,” wrote Johnson to the Lords of Trade, “ not only in honor of his majesty, but to ascertain his undoubted dominion here.” His men made their camp on a piece of rough ground by the edge of the water, pitching their tents among the stumps of the newly felled trees. In their front was a forest of pitch-pine; on their right, a marsh, choked with alders and swamp-maples ; on their left, the low hill where Fort George was afterwards built; and at their rear, the lake. Little was done to clear the forest in front, though it would give excellent cover to an enemy. Nor did Johnson take much pains to learn the movements of the French in the direction of Crown Point, though he sent scouts towards South Bay and Wood Creek. Every day stores and bateaux, or flat boats, came on wagons from Fort Lyman, and preparation moved on with the leisure that had marked it from the first. About three hundred Mohawks came to the camp, and were regarded by the New England men as nuisances. On Sunday the gray-haired Stephen Williams preached to these savage allies a long Calvinistic sermon, which must have sorely perplexed the interpreter whose business it was to turn it into Mohawk; and in the afternoon young Chaplain Newell, of Rhode Island, expounded to the New England men the somewhat untimely text, “ Love your enemies.” On the next Sunday, September 7th, Williams preached again, this time to the whites, from a text in Isaiah. It was a peaceful day, fair and warm, with a few light showers ; yet not wholly a day of rest, for two hundred wagons came up from Fort Lyman, loaded with bateaux. After the sermon there was an alarm. An Indian scout came in about sunset, and reported that he had found the trail of a body of men moving from South Bay towards Fort Lyman. Johnson called for a volunteer to carry a letter of warning to Colonel Blanchard, the commander. A wagoner named Adams offered himself for the perilous service, mounted, and galloped along the road with the letter. Sentries were posted, and the camp fell asleep.
While Johnson lay at Lake George, Dieskau prepared a surprise for him. The German baron had reached Crown Point at the head of three thousand five hundred and seventy-three men, regulars, Canadians, and Indians. He had no thought of waiting there to be attacked. The troops were told to hold themselves ready to move at a moment’s notice. Officers — so ran the order — will take nothing with them but one spare shirt, one spare pair of shoes, a blanket, a bear-skin, and provisions for twelve days; Indians are not to amuse themselves by taking scalps till the enemy is entirely defeated, since they can kill ten men in the time required to scalp one. Then Dieskau moved on, with nearly all his force, to Carillon, or Ticonderoga, a promontory commanding both the routes by which alone Johnson could advance, that of Wood Creek and that of Lake George.
The Indian allies were commanded by Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, the officer who had received Washington on his embassy to Fort Le Bœuf. These unmanageable warriors were a constant annoyance to Dieskau, being a species of humanity quite new to him. “ They drive us crazy,” he says, “ from morning till night. There is no end to their demands. They have already eaten five oxen and as many hogs, without counting the kegs of brandy they have drunk. In short, one needs the patience of an angel to get on with these devils ; and yet one must always force himself to seem pleased with them.”
They would scarcely even go out as scouts. At last, however, on the 4th of September, a reconnoitring party came in with a scalp and an English prisoner caught near Fort Lyman. He was questioned under the threat of being given to the Indians for torture if he did not tell the truth; but, nothing daunted, he invented a patriotic falsehood, and, thinking to lure his captors into a trap, told them that the English army had fallen back to Albany, leaving five hundred men at Fort Lyman, which he represented as indefensible. Dieskau resolved on a rapid movement to seize the place. At noon of the same day, leaving a part of his force at Ticonderoga, he embarked the rest in canoes, and advanced along the narrow prolongation of Lake Champlain that stretched southward through the wilderness to where the town of Whitehall now stands. He soon came to a point where the lake dwindled to a mere canal, while two mighty rocks, capped with stunted forests, faced each other from the opposing banks. Here he left an officer named Roquemaure with a detachment of troops, and again advanced along a belt of quiet water traced through the midst of a deep marsh, green at that season with sedge and water-weeds, and known to the English as the Drowned Lands. Beyond, on either hand, crags feathered with birch and fir, or hills mantled with woods, looked down on the long procession of canoes.1 As they neared the site of Whitehall, a passage opened on the right, the entrance to a sheet of lonely water slumbering in the shadow of woody mountains, and forming the lake then, as now, called South Bay. They advanced to its head, landed where a small stream enters it, left the canoes under a guard, and began their march through the forest. They counted in all two hundred and sixteen regulars of the battalions of Languedoc and La Reine, six hundred and eighty-four Canadians, and about six hundred Indians. Every officer and man carried provisions for eight days in his knapsack. They encamped at night by a brook, and in the morning, after hearing mass, marched again. The evening of the next day brought them near the road that led to Lake George. Fort Lyman was but three miles distant. A man on horseback galloped by ; it was Adams, Johnson’s unfortunate messenger. The Indians shot him, and found the letter in his pocket. Soon after, ten or twelve wagons appeared, in charge of mutinous drivers, who had left the English camp without orders. Several of them were shot, two were taken, and the rest ran off. The two captives declared that, contrary to the assertion of the prisoner at Ticonderoga, a large force lay encamped at the lake. The Indians now held a council, and presently gave out that they would not attack the fort, which they thought well supplied with cannon, but that they were willing to attack the camp at Lake George. Remonstrance was lost upon them.
Dieskau was not young, but he was daring to rashness, and inflamed to emulation by the victory over Braddock. The enemy were reported greatly to outnumber him ; but his Canadian advisers had assured him that the English colony militia were the worst troops on the face of the earth. “ The more there are,” he said to the Canadians and Indians, “ the more we shall kill; ” and in the morning the order was given to march for the lake.
They moved rapidly on through the waste of pines, and soon entered the rugged valley that led to Johnson’s camp. On their right was a gorge where, shadowed in bushes, gurgled a gloomy brook; and beyond rose the cliffs that buttressed the rocky heights of French Mountain, seen by glimpses between the boughs. On their left rose gradually the lower slopes of West Mountain. All was rock, thicket, and forest; there was no open space but the road along which the regulars marched, while the Canadians and Indians pushed their way through the woods in such order as the broken ground would permit.
They were three miles from the lake, when their scouts brought in a prisoner, who told them that a column of English troops was approaching. Dieskau’s preparations were quickly made. While the regulars halted on the road, the Canadians and Indians moved to the front, where most of them hid in the forest along the slopes of West Mountain, and the rest lay close among the thickets on the other side. Thus, when the English advanced to attack the regulars in front, they would find themselves caught in a double ambush. No sight or sound betrayed the snare ; but behind every hush crouched a Canadian or a savage, with gun cocked and ears intent, listening for the tramp of the approaching column.
The wagoners who escaped the evening before had reached the camp about midnight, and reported that there was a war-party on the road near Fort Lyman. Johnson had at this time twenty-two hundred effective men, besides his three hundred Indians. He called a council of war in the morning, and a resolution was taken which can only be explained by a complete misconception as to the force of the French. It was determined to send out two detachments of five hundred men each, one towards Fort Lyman and the other towards South Bay ; the object being, according to Johnson, “ to catch the enemy in their retreat.” Hendrick, chief of the Mohawks, a brave and sagacious warrior, expressed his dissent after a fashion of his own. He picked up a stick and broke it; then he picked up several sticks, and showed that together they could not be broken. The hint was taken, and the two detachments were joined in one. Still the old savage shook his head. “ If they are to be killed,” he said, “ they are too many ; if they are to fight, they are too few.” Nevertheless, he resolved to share their fortunes ; and mounting on a gun-carriage, he harangued his warriors with a voice so animated and gestures so expressive that the New England officers listened in admiration, though they understood not a word. One difficulty remained. He was too old and fat to go afoot ; but Johnson lent him a horse, which he bestrode, and trotted to the head of the column, followed by two hundred of his warriors as fast as they could grease, paint, and befeather themselves.
Captain Elisha Hawley was in his tent, finishing a letter which he had just written to his brother Joseph ; and these were the last words : “ I am this minute agoing out in company with five hundred men to see if we can intercept ’em in their retreat, or find their canoes in the Drowned Lands ; and therefore must conclude this letter.” He closed and directed it, and in an hour received his death-wound.
It was soon after eight o’clock when Ephraim Williams left the camp with his regiment, marched a little distance, and then waited for the rest of the detachment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Whiting. Thus Dieskau had full time to lay his ambush. When Whiting came up, the whole moved on together, so little conscious of danger that no scouts were thrown out in front or flank ; and, in full security, they entered the fatal snare. Before they were completely involved in it, the sharp eye of old Hendrick detected some sign of an enemy. At that instant, whether by accident or design, a gun was fired from the bushes. It is said that Dieskau’s Iroquois, seeing Mohawks, their relatives, in the van, wished to warn them of danger. If so, the warning came too late. The thickets on the left blazed out a deadly fire, and the men fell by scores. In the words of Dieskau, the head of the column “ was doubled up like a pack of cards.” Hendrick’s horse was shot down, and the chief was killed with a bayonet as he tried to rise. Williams, seeing a rising ground on his right, made for it, calling on his men to follow ; but as he climbed the slope guns flashed from the bushes, and a shot through the brain laid him dead. The men in the rear pressed forward to support their comrades, when a hot fire was suddenly opened on them from the forest along their right flank. Then there was a panic ; some fled outright, and the whole column recoiled. The van now became the rear, and all the force of the enemy rushed upon it, shouting and screeching. There was a moment of total confusion; but a part of Williams’s regiment rallied under command of Whiting, and covered the retreat, fighting behind trees like Indians, and firing and falling back by turns, bravely aided by some of the Mohawks and by a detachment which Johnson sent to their aid. “ And a very handsome retreat they made,” writes Pomeroy, “ and so continued till they came within about three quarters of a mile of our camp. This was the last fire our men gave our enemies, which killed great numbers of them ; they were seen to drop as pigeons.” So ended the fray long known in New England fireside story as the “ bloody morning scout.” Dieskau now ordered a halt, and sounded his trumpets to collect his scattered men. His Indians, however, were sullen and unmanageable, and the Canadians also showed signs of wavering. The veteran who commanded them all, Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, had been killed. At length they were persuaded to move again, the regulars leading the way.
About an hour after Williams and his men had begun their march, a distant rattle of musketry was heard at the camp ; and as it grew nearer and louder, the listeners knew that their comrades were on the retreat. Then, at the eleventh hour, preparations were begun for defense. A sort of barricade was made along the front of the camp, partly of wagons and partly of inverted bateaux, but chiefly of the trunks of trees hastily hewn down in the neighboring forest, and laid end to end in a single row. The line extended from the southern slopes of the hill on the left across a tract of rough ground to the marshes on the right. The forest, choked with bushes and clumps of rank ferns, was within a few yards of the barricade, and there was scarcely time to hack away the intervening thickets. Three cannon were planted to sweep the road that descended through the pines, and another was dragged up to the ridge of the hill. The defeated party began to come in: first, scared fugitives, both white and red ; then, gangs of men bringing the wounded; and at last, an hour and a half after the first fire was heard, the main detachment was seen marching in compact bodies down the road.
Five hundred men were detailed to guard the flanks of the camp. The rest stood behind the wagons, or lay flat behind the logs and inverted bateaux : the Massachusetts men on the right, and the Connecticut men on the left. Besides Indians, this actual fighting force was between sixteen and seventeen hundred rustics, very few of whom had been under fire before that morning. They were hardly at their posts when they saw ranks of white-coated soldiers moving down the road, and bayonets that to them seemed innumerable glittering between the boughs. At the same time a terrific burst of war-whoops rose along the front; and, in the words of Pomeroy, “ the Canadians and Indians, helterskelter, the woods full of them, came running with undaunted courage right down the hill upon us, expecting to make us flee.” Some of the men grew uneasy, while the chief officers, sword in hand, threatened instant death to any who should stir from their posts. If Dieskau had made an assault at that instant, there could be little doubt of the result.
This he well knew ; but he was powerless. He had his small force of regulars well in hand ; but the rest, red and white, were beyond control, scattering through the woods and swamps, shouting, yelling, and firing from behind trees. The regulars advanced with intrepidity towards the camp where the trees were thin, deployed, and fired by platoons, till Captain Eyre, who commanded the artillery, opened on them with grape, broke their ranks, and compelled them to take to cover. The fusillade was now general on both sides, and soon grew furious. “ Perhaps,” Seth Pomeroy wrote to his wife, two days after, “ the hailstones from heaven were never much thicker than their bullets came ; but, blessed be God ! that did not in the least daunt or disturb us.” Johnson received a flesh-wound in the thigh, and spent the rest of the day in his tent. Lyman took command ; and it is a marvel that he escaped alive, for he was four hours in the heat of the fire, directing and animating the men. “It was the most awful day my eyes ever beheld,” wrote Surgeon Williams to his wife ; “ there seemed to be nothing but thunder and lightning and perpetual pillars of smoke.” To him, his colleague Dr. Pynchon, one assistant, and a young student called “Billy” fell the charge of the wounded of his regiment. “ The bullets flew about our ears all the time of dressing them ; so we thought best to leave our tent and retire a few rods behind the shelter of a log-house.” On the adjacent hill stood one Blodget, who seems to have been a sutler, watching, as well as bushes, trees, and smoke would let him, the progress of the fight, of which he soon after made and published a curious bird’s-eye view. As the wounded men were carried to the rear, the wagoners about the camp took their guns and powder-horns, and joined in the fray. A Mohawk, seeing one of these men still unarmed, leaped over the barricade, tomahawked the nearest Canadian, snatched his gun, and darted back unhurt. The brave savage found no imitators among his tribesmen, most of whom did nothing but utter a few war-whoops, saying that they had come to see their English brothers fight. Some of the French Indians opened a distant flank fire from the high ground beyond the swamp on the right, but were driven off by a few shells dropped among them.
Dieskau had directed his first attack against the left and centre of Johnson’s position. Making no impression here, he tried to force the right, where lay the regiments of Titcomb, Ruggles, and Williams. The fire was hot for about an hour. Titcomb was shot dead, a rod in front of the barricade, firing from behind a tree like a common soldier. At length Dieskau, exposing himself within short range of the English line, was hit in the leg. His adjutant, Montreuil, himself wounded, came to his aid, and was washing the injured limb with brandy, when the unfortunate commander was again hit in the knee and thigh. He seated himself behind a tree, while the adjutant called two Canadians to carry him to the rear. One of them was instantly shot down. Montreuil took his place ; but Dieskau refused to be moved, bitterly denounced the Canadians and Indians, and ordered the adjutant to leave him and lead the regulars in the last effort against the camp.
It was too late. Johnson’s men, singly or in small squads, were already crossing their row of logs; and in a few moments the whole dashed forward with a shout, falling upon the enemy with hatchets and the butts of their guns. The French and their allies fled. The wounded general still sat helpless by the tree, when he saw a soldier aiming at him. He signed to the man not to fire ; but he pulled trigger, shot him across the hips, leaped upon him, and ordered him in French to surrender. “I said,” writes Dieskau, “ ‘ You rascal, why did you fire ? You see a man lying in his blood on the ground, and you shoot him ! ’ He answered, ‘ How did I know that you had not got a pistol ? I had rather kill the devil than have the devil kill me.’ ‘ You are a Frenchman ? ’ I asked. ‘ Yes,’ he replied ; ‘ it is more than ten years since I left Canada ; ’ whereupon several others fell on me and stripped me. I told them to carry me to their general, which they did. On learning who I was, he sent for surgeons, and, though wounded himself, refused all assistance till my wounds were dressed.”
It was near five o’clock when the final rout took place. Some time before, several hundred of the Canadians and Indians had left the field and returned to the scene of the morning fight, to plunder and scalp the dead. They were resting themselves near a pool in the forest, close beside the road, when their repose was interrupted by a volley of bullets. It was fired by a scouting party from Fort Lyman, chiefly backwoodsmen, under Captains Folsom and McGinnis. The assailants were greatly outnumbered ; but after a hard fight the Canadians and Indians broke and fled. McGinnis was mortally wounded. He continued to give orders till the firing was over; then fainted, and was carried, dying, to the camp. The bodies of the slain, according to tradition, were thrown into the pool, which bears to this day the name of Bloody Pond.
The various bands of fugitives rejoined each other towards night, and encamped in the forest; then made their way round the southern shoulder of French Mountain, till, in the next evening, they reached their canoes. Their plight was deplorable ; for they had left their knapsacks behind, and were spent with fatigue and famine.
Meanwhile, their captive general was not yet out of danger. The Mohawks were furious at their losses in the ambush of the morning, and above all at the death of Hendrick. Scarcely were Dieskau’s wounds dressed, when several of them came into the tent. There was a long and angry dispute in their own language between them and Johnson, after which they went out very sullenly. Dieskau asked what they wanted. “ What do they want ? ” returned Johnson. “ To burn you, by God ! eat you and smoke you in their pipes, in revenge for three or four of their chiefs that were killed. But never fear ; you shall be safe with me, or else they shall kill us both.” The Mohawks soon came back, and another talk ensued, excited at first, and then more calm; till at length the visitors, seemingly appeased, smiled, gave Dieskau their hands in sign of friendship, and quietly went out again. Johnson warned him that he was not yet safe ; and when the prisoner, fearing that his presence might incommode his host, asked to be removed to another tent, a captain and fifty men were ordered to guard him. In the morning, an Indian, alone and apparently unarmed, loitered about the entrance, and the stupid sentinel let him pass in. He immediately drew a sword from under a sort of cloak which he wore, and tried to stab Dieskau, but was prevented by the colonel to whom the tent belonged, who seized upon him, took away his sword, and pushed him out. As soon as his wounds would permit Dieskau was carried on a litter, strongly escorted, to Fort Lyman, whence he was sent to Albany and afterwards to New York. He is profuse in expressions of gratitude for the kindness shown him by the colonial officers, and especially by Johnson. Of the provincial soldiers he remarked soon after the battle that in the morning they fought like good boys, about noon like men, and in the afternoon like devils. In the spring of 1757 he sailed for England, and was for a time at Falmouth, whence Colonel Matthew Sewell, fearing that he might see and learn too much, wrote to the Earl of Holdernesse, “ The baron has great penetration and quickness of apprehension. His long service under Marshal Saxe renders him a man of real consequence, to be cautiously observed. His circumstances deserve compassion, for indeed they are very melancholy, and I much doubt of his being ever perfectly cured.” He was afterwards a long time at Bath, for the benefit of the waters. In 1760 the famous Diderot met him at Paris, cheerful and full of anecdote, though wretchedly shattered by his wounds. He died a few years later.
On the night after the battle the yeoman warriors felt the truth of the saying that, next to defeat, the saddest thing is victory. Comrades and friends by scores lay scattered through the forest. As soon as he could snatch a moment’s leisure, the overworked surgeon sent the dismal tidings to his wife : “ My dear brother Ephraim was killed by a ball through his head; poor brother Josiah’s wound I fear will prove mortal; poor Captain Hawley is yet alive, though I did not think he would live two hours after bringing him in.” Daniel Pomeroy was shot dead, and his brother Seth wrote the news to his wife Rachel, who was just delivered of a child: “Dear sister, this brings heavy tidings, but let not your heart sink at the news, though it be your loss of a dear husband. Monday, the 8th instant, was a memorable day, and truly you may say, had not the Lord been on our side we must all have been swallowed up. My brother, being one that went out in the first engagement, received a fatal shot through the middle of the head.” Seth Pomeroy found time to write also to his own wife, whom he tells that another attack is expected ; adding, in quaintly pious phrase, “But as God hath begun to show mercy, I hope he will go on to be gracious.” He was employed during the next few days with four hundred men in what he calls “ the melancholy piece of business ” of burying the dead. A letter-writer of the time does not approve what was done on this occasion. “ Our people,” he says, “ not only buried the French dead, but buried as many of them as might be without the knowledge of our Indians, to prevent their being scalped. This I call an excess of civility;” his reason being that Braddock’s dead soldiers had been left to the wolves.
The English loss in killed, wounded, and missing was two hundred and sixtytwo, and that of the French, by their own account, two hundred and twentyeight,— a somewhat modest result of five hours’ fighting. The English loss was chiefly in the ambush of the morning, where the killed greatly out-numbered the wounded, because those who fell and could not be carried away were tomahawked by Dieskau’s Indians. In the fight at the camp, both Indians and Canadians kept themselves so well under cover that it was very difficult for the New England men to pick them off, while they on their part lay close behind their row of logs. On the French side the regular officers and troops bore the brunt of the battle and suffered the chief loss, nearly all of the former and nearly half of the latter being killed or wounded.
Johnson did not follow up his success. He says that his men were tired. Yet five hundred of them had stood still all day, and boats enough for their transportation were lying on the beach. Ten miles down the lake a path led over a gorge of the mountains to South Bay, where Dieskau had left his canoes and provisions. It needed but a few hours to reach and destroy them, but no such attempt was made. Nor, till a week after, did Johnson send scouts to learn the strength of the enemy at Ticonderoga. Lyman strongly urged him to make an effort to seize that all-important pass, but Johnson thought only of holding his own position. “ I think,” he wrote,
“ we may expect very shortly a more formidable attack.” He made a solid breastwork to defend his camp, and, as reinforcements arrived, set them at building a fort on a rising ground by the lake. It is true that just after the battle he was deficient in stores, and had not bateaux enough to move his whole force. It is true, also, that he was wounded, and that he was too jealous of Lyman to delegate the command to him ; and so the days passed, till within a fortnight his nimble enemy were entrenched at Ticonderoga in force enough to defy him.
The Crown Point expedition was a failure disguised under an incidental success. The Northern provinces, especially Massachusetts and Connecticut, did what they could to forward it, and after the battle sent a herd of raw recruits to the scene of action. Shirley wrote to Johnson from Oswego, declared that his reasons for not advancing were insufficient, and urged him to push for Ticonderoga at once. Johnson replied that he had not wagons enough, and that his troops were ill-clothed, ill-fed, discon tented, insubordinate, and sickly. He complained that discipline was out of the question, because the officers were chosen by popular election ; that many of them were no better than the men, unfit for command, and like so many “ heads of a mob.” The reinforcements began to come in, till in October there were thirty-six hundred men in the camp ; and as most of them wore summer clothing and had but one thin domestic blanket, they were half frozen in the chill autumn nights.
Johnson called a council of war. He was suffering from inflamed eyes and his wound still kept him in his tent. He therefore asked Lyman to preside, not unwilling, perhaps, to shift the responsibility upon him. After several sessions and much debate, the assembled officers decided that it was inexpedient to proceed. Yet the army lay more than a month longer at the lake, while the disgust of the men increased daily under the rains, frosts, and snows of a dreary November. On the 22d, Chandler, chaplain of one of the Massachusetts regiments, wrote in the interleaved almanac that served him as a diary, “ The men just ready to mutiny. Some clubbed their firelocks and marched, but returned back. Very rainy night. Miry water standing in the tents. Very distressing time among the sick.” The men grew more and more unruly, and went off in squads without asking leave. A difficult question arose : Who should stay for the winter to garrison the new forts, and who should command them ? It was settled, at last, that a certain number of soldiers from each province should be assigned to this ungrateful service, and that Massachusetts should have the first officer, Connecticut the second, and New York the third. Then the camp broke up. “ Thursday, the 27th,” wrote the chaplain in his almanac, “ we set out about ten of the clock, marched in a body, about three thousand, the wagons and baggage in the centre, our colonel much insulted by the way.” The soldiers dispersed to their villages and farms, where, in blustering winter nights, by the blazing logs of New England hearthstones, they told their friends and neighbors the story of the campaign.
The profit of it fell to Johnson. If he did not gather the fruits of victory, at least he reaped its laurels. He was a courtier in his rough way. He had changed the name of Lac St. Sacrement to Lake George, in compliment to the king. He now changed that of Fort Lyman to Fort Edward, in compliment to one of the king’s grandsons; and, in compliment to another, called his new fort, at the lake, William Henry. Of General Lyman he made no mention in his report of the battle, and his partisans wrote letters traducing that brave officer, though Johnson is said to have confessed in private that he owed him the victory. He himself found no lack of eulogists, and, to quote the words of an able but somewhat caustic and prejudiced opponent, “ to the panegyrical pen of his secretary, Mr. Wraxall, and the sic volo sic jubeo of Lieutenant-Governor Delancey, is to be ascribed that mighty renown which echoed through the colonies, reverberated to Europe, and elevated a raw, inexperienced youth into a kind of second Marlborough.” Parliament gave him five thousand pounds, and the king made him a baronet.
- I passed this way three weeks before writing the above. There are some points where the scene is not much changed since Dieskau saw it.↩