History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.
By the end of June, all the forces destined for the reduction of Crown Point had assembled at Albany. They were composed chiefly of provincial militia from the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut. New York had contributed one regiment to the expedition, and New Hampshire had raised for the same object, five hundred sturdy mountaineers, and had placed them under the command of Colonel Joshua Blanchard.(1) The latter was first sent by Governor Wentworth to the Connecticut, river to erect a fort at Cohoes, under the impression that it was on his route to Crown Point. While on the way, however, advices being received from Governor Shirley, urging him to hasten to Albany, he marched forthwith for that city, where he arrived with his men, after a tiresome march through the woods by way of Number Four, in time to join the rest of the troops.(2)
In the beginning of August, General Lyman was sent forward with the greater part of the troops, to erect a fort on the east bank of the Hudson river, at the great carrying-place between that river and Lake George, and which afterward received from General Johnson the name of Fort Edward.(3) It was the intention of Johnson to have gone on at the same time, and he would have done so, had he not been detained by the leaky condition of the bateaux, and also by difficulties which arose at this time between himself and Governor Shirley. The author of A Letter to a Nobleman
(1) John Stark, the hero of Bennington, was, at this time, one of Blanchard's lieutenants.
(2) Manuscript letter: Governor Wentworth to Johnson. See also, Belknap.
(3) The fort was first named Fort Lyman after the builder.
"Governor Shirley, soon after his arrival at Albany, on his way to Oswego, grew dissatisfied with my proceedings, and employed one Lydius, of that place-a man whom he knew, and I told him was extremely obnoxious to me, and the very man whom the Indians had in their public meetings so warmly complained of, to oppose my interest and management with them. Under this man several others were employed. These persons went to the Indian castles, and by bribes, keeping them constantly feasting and drunk; calumniating my character; depreciating my commission, authority and management; in short, by the most licentious and abandoned proceedings, raised such a confusion amongst the Indians, particularly the two Mohawk castles, that their sachems were under the utmost consternation sent deputies down to me to know what was the occasion of all these surprising proceedings; that I had told them I was appointed sole superintendent of their affairs, which had given an universal satisfaction through all their nations, but that now every fellow pretended to be vested with commissions and authority. I sent several messages and the interpreters up to quiet their minds, for my military department would not suffer me to leave Albany, as I was about marching with the troops under my command, or I would have gone up and should have soon arrested all these violent measures.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"I shall only say, in general, that a complication of more scurrilous falsehoods; more base and insolent behavior; more base and destructive measures to overset that plan of general harmony, which I had with infinite pains, and at a great expense to the public, so lately established, could not have taken place, than did in the conduct of these agents of Governor Shirley. I spoke of it to Governor Shirley; I wrote to him of it, but without success. They pleaded his authority for all they did, and said they had: his commission ; and I can't but presume that it must have been done with his knowledge and consent, in which I am confirmed in his letter to me. * * *
"The reasons, or the pretended reasons which Governor Shirley gives for opposing my Indian management and employing these persons is, that I would not get him some Indians to escort him from Schenectady to Oswego. I had indeed mentioned it to some of the sachems, who told me that as his way to Oswego lay through their several countries,-and Oswego itself is in the Senecas country- they could not conceive there was any occasion for their escorting him, and that when he came to Oswego there was no fear but that many of the Six Nations would, according to my desire, meet him there and assist him. Numbers of the troops had gone up without any molestation ; not the least interruption had been given to any one, the traders to Oswego daily going and returning with single bateaux. Those who are acquainted with Indian affairs well know that it would have been the worst of policy for the French at that time to violate the tranquillity of the country of the Six Nations. It is true, some small parties of enemy Indians had been discovered between Schenectady and my house, but they are looked upon as a set of freebooters, and Governor Shirley's body guard would have been a full security to him against any such. Even his premier Lydius, when I talked to him on this head, told me he saw no want of Indians to escort him and that he would endeavor to dissuade him from it.
"It is with reluctance that I trouble your lordships with these matters, but as I have been honored with a station of great importance, and entrusted with money belonging to the crown, it behooves me on my account, not to be wholly silent; and I have said as little as I possibly could to give your lordships some idea of affairs, for which I apprehend myself accountable to your board.
"Governor Shirley's conduct not only shook the system of Indian affairs, and gave me fresh anxieties and perplexities, but occasioned considerable and additional expenses, which would otherwise have been saved; the profuse offers which his agents made to the Indians in order to debauch them from joining me, though it did not succeed with but a very few, yet gave to all such self-importance, that when I urged to any of them who made demands upon me, the unreasonableness of them, they reproached me that they had refused Governor Shirley's great offers, from whom they would have had anything they wanted. Under these circumstances and the account coming out at that time of our unhappy defeat on the Ohio, I was forced to make compliance, which otherwise they would not have expected nor I submitted to."
The truth is that Governor Shirley, who was an exceedingly consequential man, was piqued at the seeming neglect shown to his position. He had expected to find Johnson, like Lydius, a ready tool in his hands, and to be escorted through the Indian country, with all the ceremony of an Eastern prince. In this, Johnson, who had no time to give to anything that was not absolutely essential to the success of the expedition, could not further him, and hence Shirley's dissatisfaction. But even if Mr. Shirley did think that Johnson was not acting with judgment, his proper course would have been to lodge his complaints-if any he had-before the lords of trade, and not, for the sake of gratifying his animosity, to descend to these means. They could do no good; and to say the least, it was very ill-judged at this time,-when the utmost unanimity was necessary to further the expedition, then on the very eve of embarking,-to do anything which would create jealousies and dissensions among the Indians.
The character of Governor Shirley, which Mr. Bancroft very justly describes as artful, favors the representation this transaction as given by Johnson. The Six Nations, moreover, required peculiar management, which Johnson, after years of study and observation, alone was qualified to undertake. If he, likewise, was to have the entire control of the Indians and was alone responsible to the crown, it was natural, as well as perfectly right and just, that he should resent any interference, especially by one who residing in New England, could not properly appreciate the exigencies which were continually arising among the Indians in the province of New York. The remarks of the author of a Letter to a Nobleman are as unjust to General Johnson, as his eulogy of Governor Shirley is gross and fulsome. General Johnson very properly, therefore, tells the ministry, in the letter which we have quoted, that the management of Indian affairs had not been sought by him ; and that if he continued in it, he must be allowed to have it under his own control, untrammeled by the interference of the Massachusetts governor.
Before the general could join his army the dissensions sown among the Indians by Lydius must be healed. This caused a delay of several days; and even then, just as he had arranged everything, as he supposed, to the satisfaction of the Indians, a deputation came to him on the eve of his departure, refusing to proceed with him farther, until matters had been explained to them more clearly.(1)
These difficulties having been finally adjusted, the general upon the eighth of August, set out from Albany with the stores and artillery, and with the exception of the New York and Rhode Island militia, which were still behind-with the rest of the troops. He was also accompanied by King Hendrik with fifty Mohawk warriors, and also by Joseph Brant, then a mere lad of thirteen years.(2) Upon his arrival at the great carrying place, on the fourteenth, he was joined by two hundred more braves, thus increasing
(1) Manuscript letter : Johnson to De Lancey, 8th August, 1755.
(2) Christian Register.the number of his Indian allies to about two hundred and fifty.
The general found the New England troops burning -with ardor and impatient of delay. The news of Braddock's defeat far from disheartening, only made them more desirous to he led against Crown Point. To them this expedition was for the defense of their firesides. "I endeavor to keep myself calm and quiet under our slow progress, and, to wait God's time," wrote one of the provincials at this time, to his wife in Massachusetts.(l )But to them the advance was slow. General Lyman felt equally restive under the delay. So much so, indeed, that before Johnson's arrival, he had set three hundred of his men to work cutting a road to Fort Ann, supposing that the army would proceed against Crown Point by way of Wood creek and Lake Champlain. Johnson, however, in view of a council of war, which he proposed to call for the purpose of deciding upon the best route, countermanded the order, and sent out a scouting party of forty soldiers and three Indians to reconnoiter the whole country in that vicinity.(2) The scouts having returned, a council was called on the twenty-second, in which the officers, upon hearing their report, unanimously gave it as their opinion, "that the road to Lake St. Sacrament appeared to them the most eligible, and that it ought to he immediately set about.'' It was also determined to send forward two thousand men to cut a road through the woods to the head of the lake, and erect suitable buildings in which to store arms and other munitions of war when they should arrive.
Leaving General Lyman to await the arrival of the rest of the troops, and the New Hampshire men to complete and garrison the fort, Johnson set out on the twenty-sixth,
(1) Manuscript letter: Thomas Williams to his wife. Thomas Williams, who accompanied this expedition as a surgeon, was a brother to Colonel Ephraim Williams, and the same one who was dispatched from Fort Massachusetts to Albany for supplies, when that post was attacked by De Vaudreuil.
(2) Manuscript, letter: Thomas Williams to his wife.
with thirty-four hundred men, for the lake-a distance of fourteen and a half miles-reaching it at dusk of the twenty-eighth.
The position which he selected for his camp was a strong one, being protected on the rear by the lake, and on both flanks by a thickly wooded swamp. His first act on his arrival was to change the name of the lake from St. Sacrament to Lake George, "not only," as he loyally writes, "in honor of his majesty, but to ascertain his undoubted dominion here."(l) Although for many years previously this lake had been used as a means of communication both for warlike and commercial purposes between, Canada and Albany, yet Johnson found a primeval forest, where "no house was ever before built, nor a spot of land cleared." The soldiers were immediately set to work clearing a place for a camp of five thousand men, and providing shelter for the military stores. Meanwhile General Lyman, having left at the carrying place two hundred and fifty New England troops, and five companies from New York which had finally arrived, joined the camp at Lake George on the third of September, bringing with him all the heavy artillery.
All now was activity in the provincial camp. Wagons laden with munitions of war, came and went across the
(1) Manuscript letter: Johnson to De Lancey. Also Johnson to the lords of trade.
The ancient Iroquois name of this lake is Andiatarocte-" there the lake shuts itself." The French missionary, Father Jogues, named it St. Sacrament; not, as some suppose-Mr. Cooper among them-on account of the purity of its waters, but because he arrived at the lake upon the eve of the festival day of that name.(1a) The early Roman Catholic discoverers, says the Rev. Mr. Van Rensselaer, "frequently connect the discovery of places with the festival name, on the calendar." Mr. Cooper, in his Last of the Mohicans suggests the name of Horicon, for this lake. This, though quite poetical, is merely fanciful, as indeed he claims, and has not the merit of historical truth.
(1a) Ils arriverant, la veins du S. Sacrament, au bout du lac qui est joint au grand lac de Champlain. Les Iroquoia le nomment Andiatarcete, comme qui disoit la ou le lac se ferme. Le Pere le nomma le lac du S. Sacrament."-Relations, 1645-46.portage. The wild flowers of the forest bent beneath the rude tread of armed men. The noise of a hundred hammers echoed through the mountain fastnesses; and keel after keel cut the crystal waters of the lake. By day, the French mountain frowned defiantly at those by whom its repose had first been broken; and at night, the panther, from the neighboring thicket, looked forth upon the stalwart forms reclining by the watch fires. " Prayers," wrote Johnson, "have a good effect, especially among the New England men;" and on the Sabbath, while the Indians were reclining at a distance under the forest shade, or skimming the waters in their birchen canoes, the New England troops had gathered around the man of God, to listen to his words of comfort, and to unite with him in Supplication at the throne of the most High.
Johnson had expected to be joined at the lake by many more warriors of the Six Nations. In this he was disappointed. A few braves, it is true, dropped in at the camp, but by no means in the numbers which the Indians had assured him would come. The old Sachem Hendrik was mortified at the paucity of the number, and availed himself of a council, held on the fourth, to explain to Johnson and his officers why so few warriors had joined their standard:
"Sometime ago," said he, "we of the two Mohawk castles, were greatly alarmed and much concerned, and we take this opportunity of speaking our minds in the presence of many gentlemen concerning our brother, Governor Shirley, who is gone to Oswego ;-he told us that, though We thought you, our brother Warraghiyaghey, had the sole management of Indian affairs, yet that he was over all; that he could pull down and set up. He farther told us that he had always been this great man, and that you, our brother, was but an upstart of yesterday. These kind of discourses from him caused a great uneasiness and confusion amongst us, and he confirmed, these things by a large belt of wampum.
(1) Rev. Stephen Williams, of Longmeadow, Mass., chaplain of Williams's regiment.
"I just now said, these matters made our hearts ache and caused a great deal of confusion in our castles. Governor Shirley farther told us: you think your brother Warraghiyaghey has his commission for managing your affairs from the king our father-but you are mistaken- he has his commission and all the moneys for carrying on your affairs from me, and when I please I can take all his powers from him; it was I gave him all the presents and goods to fit out the Indians with.'
"He further told us when he came to our fort: 'This is my fort; it was built by my order and directions ; I am ruler and master here, and now brethren, I desire twenty of your young warriors from this castle to join me as your brother Warraghiyaghey promised me you would do, and be ready at a whistle. Brethren, you may see I have the chief command; here is money for you, my pockets are full; you shan't want; besides I have goods and arms ready for all that will go with me.' He said a great deal more of the like kind, which time will not permit us to repeat at present.
''He was two days pressing and working upon my brother Abraham to go with him as a minister for the Indians-he said to him: 'Warraghiyaghey gives you no wages, why should you go to Crown Point, you can do nothing there; but with me there will be something to do worth while.' These speeches made us quite ashamed, and the Six Nations hung down their heads and would make no answer.
"But brother, notwithstanding all these temptations and speeches, we that are come and now here, were determined to remain steadfast to you, and had it not been for Governor Shirley's money and speeches, you would have seen all the Six Nations here.
"Brother, we have taken this opportunity to give you this relation, that the gentlemen here present may know and testify what we have said, and hear the reasons why no more Indians have joined this army."(1)
Thus closed the last formal speech that the great Mohawk chieftain lived to make. True as tempered steel to the interests of the English, his last moments were in harmony with those of his life-spent in keeping the Six Nations steadfast to their ancient alliance. Although he was a rude brave of the forest, yet his noble appreciation of the exigencies of the public welfare, the more polished governor of Massachusetts might well have imitated.
General Johnson's plan of operations was to build a fort at the head of the lake, and to remain there until a sufficient number of bateaux could, be constructed in which to transport his stores and artillery. As soon as these were in readiness, he designed to proceed down the lake, with all his available forces, to Tieonderoga, and there remain until, strengthened by sufficient reinforcements, he could successfully attack Crown Point. Tieonderoga had long been considered by military men as a "very dangerous and important pass;" and it was his design to construct on that promontory a fort which would command the only two water passes to the lower settlements. This movement -was therefore well planned; for if it should not be deemed advisable to attack Crown Point, the French could at least be prevented from passing down either of the lakes. The general was also the more anxious to proceed, from intelligence received through scouts, that a small party of French had already occupied this important
(1) All these statements of Shirley, it is perhaps unnecessary to remind the reader, were false. 1st, Johnson acted at this time as superintendent of Indian affairs under a commission from General Braddock, and not from Shirley ; 2d, The money which he held for the Indians, was given to him by Braddock, and he was responsible for it to him alone ; and 3d, The fort was built-as stated in the last chapter-by the direction of Mr. De Lancey and his council, on the application of Johnson, with a portion of the "fund for contingencies," in the hands of the lieutenant-governor. Hendrik's well known character for strict integrity forbids us to doubt the correctness of the facts mentioned in his speech.
pass. Before, however, his arrangements could be completed, the rapid movements of the enemy foiled, his design.
Early in July, De Vaudreuil, who was informed, through papers taken from Braddock, of Shirley's proposed expedition against Niagara, arranged a well concerted attack upon Oswego. Learning, however, that the English were advancing by way of Saint Sacrament against Crown Point, he changed his purpose; and calling back the troops already on their march to Oswego, sent them, under Baron Dieskau, to meet the forces of General Johnson.(1) Leaving a large force at Crown Point, the baron took six hundred Indians, seven hundred Canadians, and two hundred regulars,(2) and proceeding up Lake Champlain, landed at the head of that lake. The intention of the French general was first to attack Fort Edward, and then cut off the retreat of Johnson and annihilate his army. -This accomplished, Albany and the lower settlements were to be destroyed. This plan was in harmony with the motto upon the baron's arms, "BOLDNESS WINS," and though it was brilliant, it was also rash.
On the evening of the fourth day after disembarking, the French army found itself, through the treachery of the Iroquois guides, on the road to Lake George, four miles distant from the fort.(4) Here the baron halted, and sent forward a party of Indians, under the direction of M. de St. Pierre, to reconnoiter. They soon returned, having killed a courier, whom General Johnson had sent to warn the garrison at the carrying-place of their danger. As it was evident from this, that the commander of the fort was now on the alert, Dieskau gave the Indians the choice
(1) M. de Lottiniere to Count d' Argenson, 24 Oct., 1755.
(2) Chevalier de Montreuil to the same, 14 Oct., 1755.
(3) "I avow that I had a recent presentiment that misfortune would overtake him, (Dieskau) because I knew him to be too great a stickler for the dangerous principle that intrepidity alone can accomplish the most difficult things."-Doreil to the Minister, 28 Oct., 1755.
(4) Dieskau to Count d'Argenson, 14 Sept., 1755.
of either attacking the fort or marching against the camp at the lake.(1) The Indians, who had a peculiar horror of artillery, having learned through a prisoner, that the camp at the lake was destitute of cannon, positively refused to attack the fort, hut expressed their willingness to be led against the latter. Having thus ascertained the disposition of the Indians, Dieskau gave up for the present his former design, and marching through the forest in the northerly part of the present towns of Kingsbury and Queensbury, encamped on the margin of a small pond, on the east of the Lake George road, and near the southern spur of the French Mountain.
On the evening of the seventh of September, Johnson was apprised, through his scouts, that a road had been cut from South hay, and that a large body of men were marching to the Hudson. The general immediately sent expresses to New York and New England for reinforcements, and at the same time dispatched two messengers to Fort Edward to warn Colonel Blanchard of the advance of the French army. One of these couriers was, as has been stated, intercepted and killed, hut the other returned at midnight, bringing the startling intelligence that the enemy were only four miles from the fort. A council of war was called early the next morning, in which it was the general opinion of both officers and Indians that a detachment of one thousand troops, and two hundred Indians should be sent out in aid of Fort Edward "to catch the enemy in their retreat, either as victors or as defeated in their design.'' Hendrik alone disapproved of the number. 'If," said that sage counselor, "they are to fight they are too few ; if they are to be killed they are too many;" and again, when it was proposed to send out the detachment in three parties, the Mohawk, picking up three sticks from the ground, said, "Put these together and you cannot break them; take them one by one, and you will do
(1) An account of what has occurred this year in Canada."-Department de la Guerre, Paris.
it easily." His advice, however, on both these points disregarded, and the Provincials, under the gallant Colonel Ephraim Williams, and the Confederate warriors, led by the venerable Mohawk brave, set out without delay in three divisions, and marched toward the fort, where it was supposed the enemy would be found. As goon as they left the camp, Johnson had some trees felled to form, with the-wagons and bateaux, a rude breastwork; and at the same time, some heavy cannon, destined for the attack on Crown Point, were drawn up from the shore of the lake, and posted in advantageous positions.
Meanwhile, Dieskau, advised through his Indian scouts of the advance of Colonel Williams, arranged in a defile near at hand, an ambuscade in the shape of a crescent; the regulars being stationed in the center, and the Canadians and Indians on either side, where they were concealed on the right by thickets, and on the left by rocks and trees.
Colonel Williams advanced with his division to Rocky brook, about two miles from the camp, and halted until he should be overtaken by Lieutenant Whiting and Hendrik with the rest of the party. As soon as they came up, the colonel, singularly unsuspicious of danger, and neglecting his usual precaution of throwing ahead skirmishers, gave the order to advance; and the entire column, preceded by Hendrik and his warriors, marched briskly forward and entered the fatal defile. It had been the express orders of Dieskau, that his men should reserve their fire until the English were entirely within the half circle. Fortunately, however, before the detachment were entirely within the ambush, one of the enemy's muskets went off accidentally. Instantly, terrific yells and rattling of musketry filled the air, as volley after volley was poured with murderous effect upon the left of Williams's column, and upon the Indians in front. Hendrik, who was in advance of his braves, and who being corpulent and mounted on horseback, formed a conspicuous mark for the enemy's bullets, fell dead at the first fire. Colonel Williams was also killed in the early part of the action, being shot through the head as he was standing upon a rock which he had mounted, the better to direct the movements of his men.(1) A hurried retreat of the Provincials now followed, with the enemy close on their heels, alternately yelling and firing. Reaching a small pond neaf the road,(2) a portion of the Provincials rallied, and stationing themselves behind it, each man for himself, checked the pursuit, until the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Cole, whom Johnson, as soon as he heard the firing, had sent out with three hundred men to cover the retreat. Under the guidance of Whiting and Cole, this was successfully effected; and the party which a little before had gone forth confident in their strength, clambered over the barricades weary and dejected.
Had the French commander been able, as he intended, to have taken advantage of the confusion produced in Johnson's camp by the arrival of the panic stricken fugitives, and while his men were flushed with success, rushed forward and carrred the breast-works by storm, he would doubtless have been successful. But the Indians and Canadians, coming in sight of Johnson's cannon, halted, and finally skulked off to the edge of the woods, leaving the regulars to begin the attack. This delay lost the baron the victory, and gave the Provincials full fifteen minutes, in which to improve their defences, and recover from their previous trepidation.
The attack was begun by the regulars, who advanced in perfect order against the center, firing by platoons. As their polished arms were first descried advancing from the woods, a slight tremor seized the Provincials, but after the first few volleys they lost all fear and fought with
(1) For a sketch of Williams and Hendrik see Appendix No. Ill and IV of this volume.
(2) Since called Bloody pond, from the tradition that many of those slain in this skirmish were thrown into it.
coolness and desperation.(1) Finding that no impression could be made upon the center, Dieskau changed his attack to the left with no better effect. He next attemptwere stationed the regiments of Ruggles, Titcomb, and the late Colonel Williams. A terrific fight followed; both parties feeling that the issue of the struggle had now arrived. In the words of an officer present, "there seemed nothing but thunder and lightning and perpetual pillars of smoke, and the bullets flew like hail-stones." The Provincials, said Dieskau "fought like devils," and in some instances leaping the breast-works and clubbing their arms they fought hand to hand and face to face. Finally, the old fashioned musket, in the muscular arms of the New England farmers, proving superior to the glittering bayonet, the regulars were again driven back, leaving the ground covered with their dead and wounded. During this attack upon the right, a party of Abenakis and Canadians, posting themselves in a morass, for a time made considerable havoc, but a few shells thrown among them scattered them in the greatest confusion. Thus driven back at all points, the enemy began to waver, which was no sooner perceived by the Provincials, than leaping their defences with a loud shout, they fought them until the lake became red as the crimson flowers that blossom upon its margin.(3) This fierce onset decided the day ; and
(1) Joseph Brant, in relating the particulars of this bloody engagement to Dr. Stewart, acknowledged that this being the first action at which he was present, he was seized with such a tremor when the firing began that he was obliged to take hold of a small sapling to steady himself; but that after the discharge of a few volleys he recovered the use of his limbs and the composure of his mind so as to support the character of a brave man, of which he was exceedingly ambitious.
(2) The Lobelia Cardinalis, commonly called the Indian Eye-Bright. The author has frequently seen large clusters of this beautiful blossom growing on the banks of the lake and upon the margin of Bloody pond. Alfred B. Street has embalmed this flower in a touching Indian legend, in his entertaining Woods and Waters.
the French, breaking their ranks, sought in wild disorder the cover of the woods.(1)
In this battle almost all the French regulars were killed. Dieskau, although he had received three balls in his legs and one across his knee while fighting close to the barricades, refused to leave the field; and supported by the stump of a tree, continued amid the whistling of bullets calmly to give his orders. Finally, as his troops were in full retreat, a renegade Frenchman maliciously discharged his musket through both of the general's hips, inflicting a very severe wound. Lieutenant Colonel Pomeroy coming up at this moment, the baron was conveyed to the tent of the American commander, where he received every attention due to a brave though unfortunate man- General Johnson refusing to have his own wounds dressed until those of the baron had been properly attended to. (2) Le Gardeur de St. Pierre, the same who had defeated Washington the previous year on the Ohio, received his death wound in the skirmish of the morning. His last words were, " fight on boys, this is Johnson not Braddock."
(1) The French suffered little in this action from the artillery, which, aimed generally too high, did but small execution-except, by the crashing of the balls in the treetops, to scare the Indians. All the credit is due to the personal valor of the soldiers and officers themselves.
(2) Account of the battle of Lake George ; (1755) written by Baron Dieskau, in a dialogue entitled, Dialogue between Marshal Saxe and Baron de Dieskau in the Elysian Fields ; also Dieskau's official account of the action- Department de la Guerre, Paris, published also in N. Y. Col. Doc. From these documents, it appears that, the generally received impression that Dieskau was shot while feeling for his watch, &c., is a pure fiction.
" I know not what at present will be my fate ; from M. de Johnson, the general of the English army, I am receiving all the attention possible to be expected from a brave man, full of honor and feeling." Baron de Dieskau to Count d' Argenson, Sept. 14, 1755.
Before the baron left, America, a warm friendship sprung up between himself and his conqueror ; and previously to his returning to France, he presented Johnson with a magnificent sword as a token of his regard. General Johnson acknowledged this gift in a feeling letter to the baron, which manuscript letter is in my possession. Dieskau died in 1767, of his wounds received in this action.
In the beginning of the action, General Johnson " displayed a firm and steady mind," and conducted himself with great bravery ; but soon receiving a painful wound in the hips, he was forced to retire, leaving the command to Major General Lyman. During all of the fight, which lasted from half past ten in the morning until four in the afternoon, Lyman behaved with distinguished bravery; repeatedly showing himself in front of the defences, in order to encourage his men.(1)
The misfortunes of the enemy were not, however, at an end. Toward evening of the same day, as the shattered remnants of the French army were seated near Rocky brook, refreshing themselves after the late exhausting battle, they were suddenly attacked by a party of two hundred New Hampshire men under Captain Maginnis, who were on their way to Lake George, and completely routed, leaving, in the words of an eyewitness, "their garments and weapons of war for miles together, like the Assyrians in their flight." The brave Maginnis, however, received a contusion on the head from a spent bullet, and died soon after reaching the camp.
The bodies of those slain in this skirmish, were buried in the bottom of the glen, beneath the shade of everlasting rocks. It is a sweet, wild haunt,-the sunbeam falls there with a softened radiance,-and the brook near by murmurs plaintively, as if mourning for the dead.
In the three actions of this day, about two hundred and twenty of the Provincials were killed, and ninety-one wounded. Their loss was greater than it might otherwise have been, from the fact that several were hit by poisoned bullets; thus mere flesh wounds soon mortified, some of the soldiers dying in convulsions.(2) Of the Six Nations
(1) For a map of this action see appendix No. v.
(2) "Mical Harrington died of the wound he received through the fleshy part of the thigh, the ball undoubtedly poisoned; as also one Jonathan Burt, of Brimfield, by a poisoned ball through the arm; and one Brisbee, by a slight shot in the leg which threw him into convulsions. The art of man could not stop the mortification which seized the wounded part, and presently a few hours shut up the scene. Oh cursed malice, that the fatal lead should not be thought sufficient without being rolled up with a solution of copper and yellow arsenic, as I am thoughtful was the case, by many of the poisoned balls which were brought in out of their bullet pouches, taken among the plunder."-Manuscript letter, Surgeon Thomas Williams to his wife. This is the only instance, that I recollect, of the use of poisoned bullets in battle.
nearly forty of their braves perished. The loss of the French was probably between three and four hundred.(1) General Johnson, under the direction of a council of war held immediately after the action, sent circular letters, containing an official account of the action of the eighth, to Boston, whence they were to be sent to the several colonial governors. His thus acting according to direction, is a sufficient answer to those who have censured him, for not advising Governor Shirley at Oswego of the result. It is true that he might have written him unofficially by a private express; but this was a mere matter of preference. That he did not prefer so to do, after the efforts of Shirley to weaken his influence, is not surprising.
Three days after the battle, the Indians in council announced to Johnson and his officers, through Aguiotta, an Oneida sachem, their intention of returning forthwith to their homes. It was in vain that the general remonstrated, and told them that the object of the campaign was not yet accomplished,-that in fact he had "not yet got half way,"-they were determined in their purpose. While, however, they were not to be moved from their design, they assured their brother, "that their going home arose not from any coldness of heart, but was in accordance with their invariable custom of returning after an engagement, in which they had sustained loss, to cheer their people;" and they promised soon to return and use the hatch et with fresh vigor against the French. The Indians were also fearful that the Abenakis, in revenge for the loss of their braves, would fall upon their own castles left by their
(1) Dieskau estimated it at six hundred, and Johnson placed it in his first report of the action also at six hundred, but afterward at four hundred.
absence in a measure unprotected. It being useless to detain them against their inclination, the general, after consulting his officers, dismissed them to their castles, giving them some strouds, with which to cover the graves of their dead.(1)
The months of October and November were chiefly occupied in building a strong fort at the head of the lake.(2) A fortification at this point, was justly considered by Johnson extremely important, as it would thus command the pass into Canada by way of Lake George, in the same way as Fort Ann commanded the one by way of Wood creek. Its importance had also been seen by the lieutenant-governor of New York, who, in the previous year, had written the lords of trade, urging the erection of a fort at the "southern extremity of Lake St. Sacrament," on the ground that it would be a "defense against the French, and a protection for the Mohawks."(3) A council of war, held at the camp, on the seventh of September, had recommended the expediency of building a small picketed fort without delay. This was opposed by the general, who thought that a strong fortification should be constructed capable of holding, in an emergency, five hundred men. He, however, yielded to the will of the majority, and a small fort was begun, which went on so slowly, that by the last of September it was not nearly completed; only a dozen men at one time being found by Johnson engaged on the work.
On the twenty-ninth, advices were received from Sir Charles Hardy, the new governor of New York, stating that it was the wish of himself and his majesty's council, that a
(1) Minutes of council held at Lake George. N. Y. col. His.
(2) Mr. Bancroft, I think, is mistaken in calling this "a useless fort of wood." It was successfully defended in the spring of 1757, against a force of two thousand troops, supplied with three hundred scaling-ladders; and it was only surrendered the ensuing summer by the cowardice of General Webb. While it was not of course a fortification of the first class, nor its site well chosen, it was far from useless.
(3) De Lancey to the lords of trade, December, 1754,
durable and commodious fort should be constructed as soon as possible. Upon this wish of the governor being communicated to a council of war, it was immediately decided to erect a fort, which should meet his views. The general accordingly sent to Fort Edward for all the shovels and spades which the officer at that post could spare, and the fort was forthwith begun. The work, however, did not progress so rapidly as Johnson desired. "The fort," he writes on the seventh of October, "goes on, all things considered, pretty well." The New England men, impatient to proceed, and not seeing the necessity of a fort, did not enter into it with alacrity.(1) It was using their services, they selfishly thought, solely for the benefit of New York,-not perceiving that a fort at this place which would hold the French in check, was as much needed for the protection of their own frontiers as for those of- their sister province. The work therefore lingered along; and it was not until the middle of November that the fort was completed, receiving from Johnson the name of William Henry, in honor of two princes of the royal blood.(2)
The want of unanimity shown in the erection of the fort, was not the only symptom of the jealousy which, for so many years, had existed between the provinces of New England and New York. The troops from the latter colony were as much elated at the defeat of Dieskau, as those from New England were depressed at the abortive attempt of Shirley; and other signs of ill feeling were soon manifest, which threatened to impede seriously the operations of the campaign. General Johnson was indefatigable in his endeavors to allay all jealousies and promote harmony among his troops. How well he succeeded may be inferred from the following extract from a
(1) " It [the fort] has met with many obstructions, and the men have been very backward in working there, which has been partly owing to several of their officers." Letter from Johnson, Nov. 4th, 1755.
(2) For a plan of this fort originally carved on the powder horn of a provincial while doing garrison duty in 1756, gee Appendix vi.
letter written by a New England officer from the camp at Lake George, to his wife, in Deerfield, Maasachusetts:
" I must say, he (Johnson) is a complete gentleman, and willing to please and oblige all men; familiar and free of access to the lowest sentinel; a gentleman of uncommon smart sense and even temper; never saw him in a ruffle, or use any bad language-in short, I never was so disappointed in a person in the idea I had of him before I came from home, in my life; to sum up, he is almost universally beloved and esteemed by officers and soldiers as a second Marlborough for coolness of head and warmness of heart.(1)
This encomium, coming from a New England officer who, according to his own admission, joined Johnson's army prejudiced against him, is testimony which is deserving of the careful consideration of the candid reader.
But little more was accomplished during the remainder of the campaign. Scouting parties, it is true, under Captain Rogers, the famous ranger, amused themselves with surprises upon the enemy; executing them so adroitly, that many of the French, in the vicinity of Fort Frederick, bit the dust,-one Frenchman being killed and scalped by Rogers under the very walls of that fort. It was now, however, late in the autumn, and a council of war having decided on the twenty-eighth of November, that it was too late in the season to proceed farther with the expedition, General Johnson disbanded his army; and leaving six hundred men to garrison the fort, resigned his commission, and returned in the middle of December to his home at Mount Johnson.
In the conduct of this campaign, General Johnson has been severely censured in two particulars; first, in not following up the routed army of Dieskau, and thus preventing
(1) This manuscript letter is dated Oct. 8th, 1765. I have in my possession many manuscript letters testifying to the same thing. The one in the text is selected, that, coming from a New England man, it may have more weight. It is from Surgeon Williams to his wife.
its escape down Lake Champlain: and secondly, that instead of boldly advancing against Crown Point, he allowed the autumn to pass away in comparative inactivity, contenting himself with constructing a useless fort.(1)
Regarding the first of these charges, there can be no question, that in not following up the French army, the general allowed his caution to prevail over the better judgment of his officers. General Lyman begged that with his men flushed with their recent victory and anxious for the pursuit, he might be sent after the enemy. The reply given to him by the general-"that he had reason to expect a renewal of the attack, and that it would be dangerous to weaken the main body of the army by sending but detachments to scour the country," is not sufficient to justify his refusal of Lyman's request. Exhausted and dispirited as the enemy were, they were in no condition to have made a successful defense, much less to have resumed the aggressive; and the probability is, that if General Lyman's suggestion had been followed, the gates of Fort Frederick never would have opened to receive the broken ranks of Dieskau's army.
Respecting the second and more serious of these criticisms, however, General Johnson is not so culpable as may at first appear. It was well known to the general, both through the baron's papers, and through scouts which he had dispatched for that purpose, that Crown Point was heavily garrisoned, and that at Ticonderoga, strong breast works had been thrown up.(2) The experience of the last engagement had shown him how difficult it was for even thoroughly trained troops to capture rude and hastily constructed defences; and he therefore very wisely hesitated before attacking, with raw and undisciplined militia, breast works which had been carefully put up, and which were
(l) Vide : Review of military operations, in a Letter to a Nobleman. See also Bancroft, and Dr. Dwight's Travels, vol. iii.
(2) Major General Johnson to Lieutenant Charles Hardy, Sept. 16th, 1755. See also Capt. Roger's Journal.
defended by regulars, trained under the best generals of Europe.(1) In addition to this, the artillery of the enemy which on his first movement down the lake, could be easily transported from Crown Point to Ticonderoga, was such as to make an attack hazardous in the extreme, unless with a very strong army of disciplined troops, and with a sufficient, supply of heavy ordnance, neither of which Johnson possessed. That he was sadly deficient in the requisite artillery, is sufficiently evident from the following official correspondence between himself and Captain William Eyre, who was chief of the ordnance department, and considered a very accomplished and skillful officer:
General Johnson to Captain Eyre.
"CAMP AT LAKE GEORGE, Sept. 29th, 1755.
"Sir: I desire you will give me your opinion in writing whether the artillery and stores thereunto belonging at this camp, at Fort Edward, and left on the road between said fort and Albany, are, according to the late intelligence we have received relating to the enemy, sufficient for proceeding on the present expedition.
"I am, Sir, &c.,
Captain Eyre to General Johnson.
"LAKE GEORGE, Sept. 29th, 1755.
"Sir: Pursuant to your order of this day, to know my opinion whether the artillery and stores here, at Fort Edward, and on the road from Albany to the last mentioned place, are sufficient to proceed against Crown Point, I answer NO, upon the supposition that our accounts from the French are to be depended on; as this information acquaints, us that they have, (meaning the enemy,) thirty-three pieces of cannon, many of them 16 and 24 pdrs., equal or nearly
(1) The experience of Abercrombie, in 1758, in attacking the breastworks erected by Montcalm at Ticonderoga, shows that. Johnson did well to hesitate.
to our 24 and 32 pdrs., and also thirty-five mortars. Now our strength consists of four battering pieces, viz: two 32 pdrs., and two 18 pdrs., two 12 pdrs., and eight 6 pdrs., besides one 13 inch mortar, with four smaller ones from five inch and a half diameter to seven inches : and add to this a scarcity of 6 pd. ball. These are my reasons for determining me to think our present state of artillery not sufficient.
"I am, Sir, &c.,
" WILL. EYRE, Engineer.
"N. B. Our howitzers split during the late engagement."(1)
It was the duty of General Johnson to be guided by this advice ; and had he, with the knowledge of this state of facts, attempted an attack on Crown Point and failed, the caustic, but prejudiced and unreasonable pen of the author of A Letter to a Nobleman, would have been equally wielded in demonstrating its folly. It is reasonable, also, to presume that a general on the spot, with a knowledge of the means at his command, and whose bravery and skill never has been questioned, should have been better able to judge of the expediency of an attack, than a civilian, comfortably seated in his easy chair, far removed from the scene of operations.
Want of energy was not one of Johnson's faults. He was anxious to proceed, and felt annoyed at the delay. Even if everything otherwise had been favorable, the lack of suitable means for transporting his supplies was sufficient to retard the expedition until too late in the season to advance. " Our Expedition," he writes, "is like to be extremely distressed and I fear fatally retarded for the want of wagons. The people of the county of Albany and the adjacent counties, hide their wagons and drive away their horses; most of the wagoners taken into this service have deserted; some horses are quite jaded, and some few killed
(1) This official manuscript correspondence, which I have found among the Johnson manuscripts, has never before seen, the light.by the enemy, and several run away; Most of our provisions are at Albany; a great part of our ammunition at the lower camp, and all our bateaux except a hundred and twenty. To bring a sufficient quantity of provisions here, and all other necessaries for an embarkation upon the lake in due time, will require four or five hundred wagons at least. I have written to the mayor and magistrates of Albany, and sent them an impress warrant and called upon a special commission to an active officer to superintend and dispatch the wagons. I sent, some time ago, a positive order to all the commissaries at Albany to forward all the provisions and stores in their hands; since which we have only sixty wagons, none of which, as I can find, were dispatched by the New York commissaries, who being livers in Albany, and men in power there, might, I apprehend, if they had properly exerted themselves, have forwarded the common cause very much with regard to wagons. We had not above two days allowance of bread in camp, when these sixty wagons arrived, and I hear they are short at the other fort."(1)
Thus hampered by the remissness of contractors, whom no exertions on his part could stimulate into activity, all the general could do was to employ his men in erecting a fort, hoping by this course to prevent any insubordination that might arise through idleness. He was moreover, unwilling to have his retreat cut off by way of Wood creek, in case he was unsuccessful, by not having an open communication with Fort Edward and Albany. Boldness alone does not constitute a good soldier, and he who neglects to provide for every foreseen contingency, is deficient in the first requisite for a good general.
Although General Johnson, owing to causes over which he had no control, was unsuccessful in the original object of the expedition, yet his services were appreciated both by the crown and by the people of his own province; the former creating him in November a baronet of Great
(1) Gen. Johnson to Sir Charles Hardy, Sept. 16th, l755.
Britain,(1) and the latter greeting him with an illumination and a triumphal procession on his arrival at New York the last of December. Parliament, also, voted him its thanks for his victory, together with the handsome sum of five thousand pounds.(2)
The action of the eighth of September, so far as concerns the number of men engaged, was not a great battle; but, when viewed in its immediate strategical results, it well deserves a prominent place among the battles of American history. The Rev. Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, in his admirable discourse upon the battle of Lake George, thus sums up its results:
"I. The battle of Lake George is memorable in defeating a well laid, dangerous scheme of the enemy, and in saving the province from scenes of bloodshed and desolation. If Dieskau had succeeded in overthrowing Johnson in his entrenchments, his advance upon Fort Edward would have been easily successful, and thence his march to Albany would have been triumphant. Old Hendrik, at the convention of the preceding year, had warned the province of its danger. " You are without any fortifications," said he ; "It is but a step from Canada hither, and the French may easily come and turn you out of doors." The conflagration of our northern settlements would have been followed by the desolation of Albany and Schenectady; and although Dieskau must have soon been compelled to retreat, it is impossible to estimate the bloodshed, plunder, and general losses which might have taken place, had not God ordered it otherwise. His providence was on our side. The victory of Lake George undoubtedly rescued the province from injury and woe beyond computation; considered, therefore, in its immediate strategical results, the battle was one of the important engagements in American history.
(1) Johnson's baronetcy dates from Nov. 27th, 1755.
(2) For the manner in which Johnson invested the £5000, the curious reader is referred to manuscript letter in Appendix vii.
"II. The battle of Lake George is remarkable for its influence in rallying the spirit of the American colonies. Much had been expected from the three expeditions sent against the French; but disappointment and sorrow had already followed Braddock's terrible defeat. It was more than the moaning of the forest pine in the ears of the solitary traveler; -it was the blaze of lightning falling upon the mountain oak in his very path, followed by the crash-of thunder. All the provinces were amazed, awestruck, paralyzed for a time; but recovering from the first shock of the calamity, they were aroused to avenge their loss. Their hopes were turned to Lake George and Niagara, and not in vain. Johnson's victory was received as the precursor of a recovered military position and fame, and was hailed as the means of deliverance from a bold and cruel foe. Few battles ever produced more immediate results in rekindling military and martial enthusiasm. Congratulations poured in upon General Johnson from every quarter. Not only were the colonies filled with rejoicing, but the influence of the triumph went over to England, and the deeds of our fathers at the camp of Lake George became familiar to the ears of royalty, and were applauded by the eloquence of parliament. The moral effects of a battle in which the forces arrayed against each other were comparatively small have rarely been greater and more decided in the whole range of military annals.
" III. Viewed simply in a military aspect, the battle of Lake George was the only successful achievement within the thirteen colonies, during the campaign of 1755; which is another item of its various renown. Braddock's defeat on the Monongahela, and Shirley's retreat from Oswego, brought ruin upon the expeditions framed for the reduction of Forts Duquesne and Niagara. Although the northern expedition failed in its object of reducing Fort Frederick, it had a show of glory in the brilliant success of a hard fought battle. Success in one direction often overbalances disappointment in another. The victory of General Johnson was the great event of the campaign of 1755, solitary in the honors of its military triumph, and shining out, bright as Mars, from the clouds of night.
" IV. The victory of Lake George occurred in a series of campaigns that ended in the conquest of Canada and of the valley of the great west. Here, in the forest, was the base of a line of operations on which were wrought out great problems of war. The mountains of the lake were landmarks to conduct our armies from summit to summit of achievement, until, passing over all barriers, they found their resting place in the valleys of St. Lawrence and Mississippi. Unknown results of territorial acquisition, and of political and religious destiny, lay concealed in the expedition which started for the capture of a single fort on Lake Champlain and for the defence of the limited boundary line of a province. God disposes of man's proposals. The lucid purposes of an all-comprehensive providence, indiscernible by mortal eyes, are brought to pass by the majestic developments of events apparently remote in their relations as trivial in magnitude. The American victory of Lake George was not an isolated item of one campaign. It was more than a simple triumph in an unbroken wilderness,-a military achievement of the New England and New York yeomanry which saved themselves from destruction. Far higher its moral, political and warlike connections. It headed a series of successes that were followed by the gain of kingdoms. It animated the determination of the country to take decisive measures for deliverance from French aggressions and agitations. "Canada, my lord," wrote a distinguished New Yorker, in reviewing the operations of the campaign, "Canada must be demolished,-Delenda est Carthago,-or we are undone."(1) The result was not anticipated at the beginning, but the natural tendency of the contest was the overthrow of French dominion on the continent. Johnson's victory had a true influence of relation to this end. As the southern
(1) Review of military operations.
inlet near Fort George joins itself to the lake, whose waters flow to the north, and, tossed over cascades and waterfalls, pass into the St. Lawrence, so the expedition of 1755, identifying itself with a vast expanse of agencies, pressed forward the natural current of its direction, over the rocks and reverses of campaigns, into Canada. But Canada was only a part of the great acquisitions of the war. The whole northwest was wrested from France, together with the valley of the Mississippi lying easterly of that river, with the exception of the island of Orleans.
"V. The battle of Lake George was furthermore memorable in its suggestions of provincial prowess, and its lessons of warfare to the colonies preparatory to their INDEPENDENCE. The battle was fought by provincial troops, and chiefly by the hardy sons of glorious New England. The veteran regulars of Old England had been beaten in the forests of western Pennsylvania, or remained inactive in the Niagara expedition. Through some unaccountable cause, the expedition, which was on the direct line of Canada, and nearest to the French reinforcements, known to be at hand, was consigned to the exclusive care of native colonial soldiers; and bravely did they do their duty. On these shores provincial prowess signalized its self-relying and unaided capabilities; and in this battle and in this war the colonies practically learned the value of union and the unconquerable energies of a free people. Putnam and Stark, and Pomeroy, came here, as to a military academy, to acquire the art of warfare; and they all exercised their experience at Bunker Hill. George Washington himself, as a military man, was nurtured for America and the world amid the forests of the Alleghenies and the rifles and tomahawks of these French and Indian struggles. Lake George and Saratoga are contiguous not merely in territory, but in heroic association. Correlative ideas, evolved under varying circumstances, they are proofs the same spirit of liberty, the same strong energy of purpose."
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