1757 - Operations on Lake George
The campaign lasted from January to March 1757
On January 3, the French sent 20 Canadiens and 40 Indian warriors (Iroquois and Potawatomis) under the command of M. De Langlade to reinforce the garrison of Fort Carillon (present-day Ticonderoga).
In the middle of January, a detachment of Rogers' Rangers (7 officers, 10 sergeants and 60 elite troopers) was sent out on a scouting party from Fort Edward towards Fort Saint-Frédéric (present-day Crown Point). They spent two days at Fort William Henry in preparation for their raid.
On January 17, Rogers' party set out, marching on the frozen Lake George. They encamped at the Narrows. Some men were sent back, thus reducing the party to 74 men.
On January 18, the party continued to advance towards Lake Champlain.
On January 19, Rogers' party reached the west shore of Lake Champlain, about 6 km south of Rogers Rock, they marched a further 13 km northwest and bivouacked among the mountains.
On January 20, the party marched northeast, passed Fort Carillon undiscovered and stopped at night some 8 km beyond it.
On January 21, Rogers' party marched 5 km eastward under a drizzling rain and reached the banks of Lake Champlain near Five Mile Point. They tried to ambush ten sledges ewscorted by 15 men under M. De Rouilly going from Fort Carillon to Fort Saint-Frédéric, capturing three of them along with seven men but letting the rest escape to Carillon. Alarm being now given in Carillon, M. de Lusignan commander of the fort, immediately sent out 100 regulars under the command of de Basserode and de Grandville along with some Indians and Canadians to attack this British party. Meanwhile, Rogers had ordered his men to return to their previous encampment and dry their guns. They then retreated but during their march, a French detachment (89 French regulars and 90 Canadians and Indians) caught up with them. The rangers managed to retrace to the hill they had just descended. A firefight then lasted several hours till nightfall. Towards evening, Rogers was shot through the wrist but the remnants of his war-party (48 effective and 6 wounded men) were able to withdraw under cover of night, leaving 42 men on the field. The French captured 8 men and freed the 7 Frenchmen captured earlier. During this skirmish, the French lost 9 killed and 18 wounded (among which de Basserode).
In the morning of January 22, Rogers and his rangers finally reached Lake George. The wounded were sent to Fort William Henry on a sledge while the rest encamped at the Narrows.
On January 23, Rogers' party reached Fort William Henry.
Winter Raid against Fort William Henry
At the beginning of the winter, the French commanders had formed the plan to storm Fort William Henry with a force of some 1,500 men.
Accordingly in January, Vaudreuil, governor of Canada, ordered M. de Rigaud, governor of Trois-Rivières, to take command of the little force assembled at Fort Saint-Jean and to attack Fort William Henry. Rigaud had M. de Longueuil, as second in command and M. Dumas, captain of a Compagnie franche de la marine. His force numbered about 1,500 men and consisted of:
- French regulars (250 men) under M. de Poulariez, captain of the grenadiers of Royal Roussillon Infanterie
- Compagnies Franches de la Marine (300 men in 6 coys)
- Milices Canadiennes (16 coys for a total of 600 men)
- Montréal Volunteers (50 men) under M. Dufy de Sauniée, captain of the Milice du district de Montréal
- Resident Indians (350 men)
The expedition was supposed to leave in January but, Governor Vaudreuil being seriously sick, it was finally delayed to late February.
On February 20, the first column of Rigaud's forces left Saint-Jean under Saint-Martin, lieutenant of the colonial troops. It consisted of the six best companies (colonials and militias) and of Abenaki warriors from Saint-François. For this expedition, Rigaud de Vaudreuil had placed 2 officers and 1 cadet of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine and 1 militia officer at the head of each mixed company (35 militiamen, 15 soldiers of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine).
On February 21, the second division left under M. Duchat, captain in Languedoc Infanterie. It consisted of two pickets of regulars (from II./La Sarre Infanterie and II./ Languedoc Infanterie), three mixed companies, Abenaki warriors from Bécancour, Algonquin warriors and Nippising warriors.
On February 22, the third division left under M. Ducoin, captain in Royal Roussillon Infanterie. It consisted of two pickets of regulars (from II./Royal Roussillon Infanterie and II./ Béarn Infanterie), three mixed companies and Iroquois warriors from Sault-Saint-Louis. The same day, a quite exceptional thaw happened. On the river, ice patches broke away. M. de Rigaud was obliged to delay the departure of the fourth division.
On February 25, the fourth division finally left Saint-Jean. It consisted of the grenadier picket, the volunteer company, four mixed companies, Iroquois warriors of Deux-Montagnes Lake and Huron warriors from Lorette.
Thaw had also stopped the three preceding divisions. They had wetted their supplies on the very first day and new supplies had to be forwarded to them. M. de Longueuil with the Hurons of Lorette was detached from the last division to join the first division under M. de Saint-Martin. Upon arrival at Fort Saint-Frédéric, this division prepared everything for the arrival of the other divisions. After a march often interrupted by bad weather, each division successively arrived at Fort Saint-Frédéric.
By March 5, the four columns had made their junction at Fort Saint-Frédéric. the Chevalier Lemercier, captain commanding the artillery, had been detached a few days earlier by the Marquis de Vaudreuil to Fort Carillon. Where he had to make all preparations for the planned operations, repairing muskets and making some 300 short scaling-ladders. Continual thaws delayed the expedition once more.
On March 15, the expedition reached Fort Carillon where it took possession of the scaling-ladders.
On March 16, 100 Indians left at daybreak for reconnoitring. Meanwhile, the little French army crossed the portage to reach Lake Saint-Sacrement (present-day Lake George) from Lake Champlain. M. de Longueuil and his son covered the right and left flanks with the Indians that they had divided into two groups. The company of volunteer from Montréal was in the vanguard, a role that it kept for the rest of the march. Scouts had reconnoitred the mountains in front of the army and had found no sign of the enemy.
On March 17, the scouts left early and the army followed on at 3:00 p.m. to approach Fort William Henry at night.
At 7:00 a.m. on March 18, the army was at 6 km from Fort William Henry, covered by a mountain. In the evening, the French party neared Fort William Henry, The instructions received from Vaudreuil were essentially to burn the sloops and bateaux that the enemy had built under the protection of the guns of Fort William Henry and to burn also the magazines. The garrison of Fort William Henry, including rangers, consisted of 346 effective men (4 or 5 coys of the 44th Foot). Rigaud detached MM. Poulariez, Dumas and Lemercier with French and Indians to reconnoitre the fort from a height towering above it at 2 km. Rigaud planned to climb the walls with ladders if the British were surprised. Otherwise, his little army would only blockade the fort to carry on its original instructions: the destruction of the magazines, sloops and bateaux.
However, during the night of March 18 to 19, British scouts detected a French war-party near Fort William Henry. When Rigaud realized that he had lost any chance of surprise, he made an attempt to burn the largest sloops and several bateaux but fire from the fort prevented this scheme.
Rigaud then withdrew and came back a few hours later to surround the fort, on which his force kept up a brisk but harmless fire of musketry.
During the night of March 19 to 20, the French were heard again on the ice, approaching as if for an assault. The British fired their guns towards the sound, driving them back again. The French then tried to set fire to two sloops and a large number of bateaux on the shore but their faggots had been made with wet wood and they burnt only a few bateaux. A party sallied from the fort to save them but it was too late.
At noon on Sunday March 20, the French filed out of the woods and marched across the ice in procession, carrying their scaling-ladders. A detachment of Indians was also sent to block the road to Fort Edward. The French army made other faggots with dryer wood. Some French then advanced, waving a red flag. A British officer with a few men went to meet them and returned bringing Le Mercier, chief of the Canadian artillery, blindfolded into the fort with a message from Rigaud. Le Mercier invited Major Eyre to give up the place peaceably, promising the most favourable terms, and threatening a general assault and massacre in case of refusal. Eyre said that he should defend himself to the last; and the envoy, again blindfolded, was led back to whence he came. Rigaud used these negotiations as a diversion while he was looking for a proper landing place to use in the coming campaign. The whole French force now advanced, as if to storm the works, and the garrison prepared to receive them. Nothing came of it but a fusillade, to which the British made no reply.
During the night of March 20 to 21, the French were able to ignite several fires. The company of volunteers burnt more than 200 bateaux and one of the large sloops that night. The British answered with only a few cannonballs and bombs. A shed full of clothes, arms and equipment along with more than 300 cords of firewood for the garrison was also burnt. Before morning, all around Fort William Henry was in a blaze. If there had been any wind, the fort itself could have been put on fire but there was no wind that night nor the following ones.
At 10:00 a.m. on March 21, the fires had subsided and a thick fall of snow began which lasted all day and all the next night, till the ground and the ice were covered to a depth of one meter and more.
During the night from March 21 to 22, operations continued under very bad weather. Melted snow and a bad storm made it impossible to light any fire. One sloop was still on its construction stocks and had its bowsprit touching one of the fort's bastions but it was so far missed. Since it was the largest sloop and almost ready to be launched, the French commander attached much importance to its destruction. He renewed his attempts in spite of the menacing thaw and of the repeated advices of the Indians.
Accordingly, in the morning of Tuesday March 22, a party of 20 French volunteers under M. Wolf from the regulars made a bold attempt to burn the remaining sloop on the stocks, with several large sheds full of supply, the hospital, the old log fort containing 17 houses, a large magazine filled with building timbers, a sawmill and several houses grouped under the fort. All these things almost touched the fort. They had been disposed this way by the enemy to protect them with musket fire. However, the boldness of M. de Rigaud probably impressed the commander or he finally decided to sacrifice the outer works. Enemy fire was very sporadic and the French had only five soldiers killed and one officer and an Indian wounded.
There is considerable confusion concerning what ships and boats the French were actually able to burn. In this case, the French claims were somewhat excessive (reference several letters in Documents Vol. X). On August 20, the French burnt some 209 bateaux and the 30-ton sloop. In 1756, this sloop had been outfitted with two 6-pdrs, one 8-in mortar, and 8-swivel guns. There were two smaller sloops, each about 20-tons each. In 1756, these small sloops had been equipped with four and two swivel guns, not cannon. One of these smaller sloops was somewhat damaged in the fire, but the other was largely unharmed. On August 22, the nearly completed 40-ton sloop was burned; some sixteen cannon were planned for this ship. There were four unarmed scows (gundolas), these were not row galleys. These scows were intended to transport Winslow's artillery up Lake George to invest Carillon (Summer 1756). At least two of these scows survived, but all four might have escaped. A few whaleboats and bayboats escaped being burned. In June, Webb writes that only five whaleboats remain at Fort William Henry and that more were being sent north from Albany. Comparing inventories, the numbers suggest the French had managed to burn seven whaleboats. The French claims of what buildings were burned are much more accurate. Apparently, the ship rigging that was placed in storehouses along the lakefront was lost. In Summer 1757, the two small sloops were made fit, but they were both subsequently captured by the French in August 1757 and used to haul stores back to Carillon. In August 1757, the British were still building replacement vessels for the two larger sloops, but fail to complete either ship before the arrival of Montcalm (row galleys, each armed with a 9-pdr in the bow).
On March 23, thaw still continuing, the French army lifted camp to return to Carillon.
On March 24, the French army arrived at Carillon. As ordered by Vaudreuil, regular troops, safe the grenadiers, remained at Carillon as garrison while colonial troops remained at Fort Saint-Frédéric. Militiamen, after supplying both forts with firewood, took the road for Saint-Jean.
On March 26, militia arrived at Saint-Jean where Rigaud gave them their discharge.
The most important elements of the British fleet on Lake George had been destroyed along with its supplies. This jeopardized the long planned British offensive in this area.
The British dominance of Lake George was now ended. Going into 1757, Lord Loudoun had gambled that if a British fleet could control Lake George itself, Montcalm would be prevented from moving south against Fort William Henry. His assigning only two regiments to Webb was based on this assumption (35th Foot and III./60th Foot). Loudoun desired a quiet front in New York; all his efforts were focused on the Louisbourg Campaign (Nova Scotia). With the loss of the two large sloops, Fort William Henry was now vulnerable. Equally vulnerable was Fort Carillon. The advantage would go to whichever army moved first, British or French.
This article incorporates texts from the following books which arenow in the public domain:
- Service historique de l'armée de terre: Relation de la campagne sur le lac St Sacrement pendant l'hiver 1757 Archives du génie, article 15, section 1, §5, pièce 24
- Parkman, Francis: Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 257-276
- Lévis, chevalier de: Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, pp. 79-81
- Malartic, Comte de Maurès de: Journal des Campagnes au Canada de 1755 à 1760, Dijon: Damidot, 1890, pp. 92-99
- O'Callaghan, E. B.: Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York: Procured in Holland, England and France. Vol. X, Weed Parsons and Company, Printers, Albany. 1858.
Dechêne, Louise: Le Peuple, l’État et la Guerre au Canada sous le Régime français, Éditions du Boréal, 2008, p. 328
Dunne, Kenneth P.: The 35th Regiment of Foot and the British Artillery at the Siege of Fort William Henry and the Role of Lord Loudoun, James Campbell, August 1757."", p. 4
Evrard P.: Praetiriti Fides
Mitchell, James J.: The Battle on Snowshoes, Seven Years War Association Journal Vol. XI No. 1
Kenneth P. Dunne for additional information on the British fleet on Lake George