1755 - British expedition against Fort Saint-Frédéric
The campaign lasted from August to November 1755
Description of Events
The overall British strategic plan for 1755 called for an attack on Fort Saint-Frédéric (present-day Crown Point) on Lake Champlain. This endeavor was entrusted to William Johnson of New York with Phineas Lyman of Connecticut. Johnson, an Irish settler, had no military experience. However, his ascendancy over the Mohawk Indians explains why he was retained as commander of this expedition.
The expeditionary force consisted of more than 3,000 untrained provincial troops and 300 Indians (mostly Mohawks). Only one regiment wore uniforms (blue faced red). In July, the various units assembled at Albany. The breakdown was as follows:
- Massachusetts Provincials (about 900 men)
- Connecticut Provincials (about 1,200 men)
- New Hampshire Provincials (about 500 men)
- Rhode Island Provincials (about 400 men)
- New York Provincials (about 800 men)
- Mohawk Indians (about 300 men)
On August 8, General Johnson set out from Albany with the train of artillery for the Carrying Place (about 100 km from Albany), the location of the portage to Lake Saint-Sacrement (present-day Lake George). Meanwhile, Major-general Lyman, who been sent ahead at the Carrying Place, had begun a fort there on the east side of the Hudson. This fort was initially called Fort Lyman, a name that was later changed to Fort Edward.
On August 18, the rest of the expeditionary force advanced upstream on the Hudson.
On August 21, four Mohawk scouts came back from Lake Champlain, reporting that the French were preparing for the incoming British invasion.
On August 26, a detachment of 500 New Hampshire Provincials, under Colonel Blanchard was left at Fort Lyman while the rest of the expeditionary force (some 2,000 men) continued its advance towards Lake Saint-Sacrement. It reached the southern border of the lake during the afternoon and encamped there. Johnson's camp was surrounded by a breastwork of felled trees defended by a few guns.
Meanwhile, after the Combat of the Monongahela, the French had seized papers disclosing general British offensive plans. Vaudreuil, the governor of Canada, initially intended to attack and capture Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario but, when he heard of the British plans, he suspended his offensive and quickly redirected the force under Comte Dieskau, an experimented military, to reinforce Fort Saint-Frédéric (present-day Crown Point) on Lake Champlain. Dieskau had already sent forward II./Béarn Infanterie and II./Guyenne Infanterie to Fort Frontenac (present-day Kingston, ONT) but he still had a sizable force of 3,573 men assembled at Montréal. This force consisted of:
- Regulars (1,500 men):
- Troupes de la Marine (800 men)
- Canadian Militia (unspecified number)
- Indians (about 400 men)
After reaching Fort Saint-Frédéric, Dieskau waited for the British to attack but then decided to move closer to Johnson's camp.
By September 1, Dieskau's force was encamped on a promontory of Lake Champlain (future site of Fort Carillon), on the isthmus between the north end of Lake Saint-Sacrement and the south end of Lake Champlain. From this position it blocked Johnson's advance upon Fort Saint-Frédéric. Indian scouts soon reported Dieskau's new position to Johnson who now had the choice between two lines of advance: Lake Saint-Sacrement itself or the Wood Creek stream running parallel with it and flowing into Lake Champlain on its western side. Both ways led to the foot of the promontory where Dieskau was encamped. Johnson sent scouts to reconnoitre both ways. Supplies kept pouring into Johnson's camp from Fort Lyman.
On September 3, the French captured a British soldier who informed them that Fort Edward was not yet completed and that it was manned by only 500 men.
On September 4, Dieskau with some 1,500 men embarked in canoes to attack Fort Lyman. He left most of his regulars under Roquemaure, lieutenant-colonel of La Reine Infanterie, at Deux-Rochers (near the present-day town of Whitehall) and resumed his advance on Fort Lyman. He then entered South Bay, left the canoes under a guard and continued his advance through the forest with 216 regulars from Languedoc and La Reine infantry regiments, 684 Canadians and about 400 Indians. Dieskau's force encamped for the night near a brook.
On Sunday September 7, 200 wagons loaded with bateaux arrived from Fort Lyman. The same day in the evening, after two days marching through the forest, Dieskau's force finally reached the Hudson some 3 km from Fort Lyman. Johnson was informed of the presence of the French by his scouts and sent a messenger to Fort Lyman to prevent Blanchard. However, the British messenger was intercepted and killed. Furthermore a convoy of 12 wagons returning from Johnson's camp was captured and Dieskau learned that the main British force was still encamped on the shore of Lake Saint-Sacrement. Meanwhile, Fort Lyman was garrisoned by 250 men from the New Hampshire Provincials and 5 companies from the New York Provincials under Colonel Blanchard. Dieskau resolved to attack Johnson's camp instead of Fort Lyman.
On September 8, the French force resumed its advance after hearing Mass. Meanwhile Johnson, after a council of war, decided to detach 500 men (Hutchinson mentions 1,000 Provincials accompanied by 200 Mohawks) under Ephraim Williams to cut off Dieskau's retreat but they fell into an ambush, were badly mauled and routed towards Johnson's camp. Dieskau continued his advance towards the camp and fought the Combat of Lake George. The Provincial troops defended their camp very efficiently and Dieskau's force was repulsed while Dieskau himself was wounded and captured. After the engagement, the various French bands rejoined each other towards night and encamped in the forest.
On September 9, the defeated French force reached its original landing place where it made a junction with the battalions of La Reine and Languedoc which had been left behind. The Sieur de Roquemaure then assumed overall command since Dieskau had been taken prisoner. The French force reembarked in its canoes and retreated to Fort Saint-Frédéric.
As soon as his wounds would permit, Dieskau was carried on a litter to Fort Lyman, then to Albany and finally to New York.
Despite Shirley's repeated orders, Johnson did not organize any counteroffensive. He waited a full week before sending out scouts to learn the strength of the French at Carillon (present-day Fort Ticonderoga). Meanwhile Johnson concentrated his efforts in the building of Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George.
At the beginning of October, Roquemaure marched to Carillon to build a fort on this emplacement.
Johnson steadily received reinforcements till, in October, his force amounted to 3,600 men.
On November 27, Johnson retreated to the Hudson with 3,000 men, leaving contingents from each province to garrison Fort William Henry during the winter.
At the beginning of December, the French took their winter-quarters, leaving strong garrisons on Lake Champlain but also at Fort Frontenac and Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario.
This article incorporates texts from the three following books which are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761
- Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, p. 282-284.
- Hutchinson, Thomas: The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, London: John Murray, 1828, pp. 31-36
- Lévis, chevalier de: Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, p. 38, 40-42
- Parkman, Francis: Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 180-184
Castex, Jean-Claude: Dictionnaire des batailles terrestres franco-anglaises de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Presse de l'université Laval, Québec: 2006, pp. 308-315
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online - Article on Jean-Armand Dieskau