IT was a beautiful evening--the 7th of September, 1755--when an Indian scout came to Johnson's camp, at Lake George, with the startling news that a French army had been seen landing at the head of Lake Champlain, near the site of the village of White Hall. This messenger was followed by another at midnight, with the more alarming news that French and Indians were making a rapid march toward Fort Edward. Early in the morning a council was held, and it was proposed to send out a small party in three divisions to meet the foe. The shrewd Mohawk sachem and chief, King Hendrick, said: "If they are to fight, they are too few; if they are to be killed, they are too many." Then taking in his hands three strong sticks, he said: "Put them and you cannot break them; take them separately and you can break them easily." His logic was apparent, and it was approved by the general, who ordered twelve hundred men in one body to hasten to the relief of Fort Edward. Colonel Ephraim Williams, of Massachusetts, was the chosen commander of the expedition, and with him went Hendrick and two hundred warriors of the Six Nations. Before their departure the white-haired chief, whose snowy locks covered his shoulders, mounted a gun-carriage and harangued his braves with his powerful voice, in eloquent words, exhorting them to be strong and true to their allies. A provincial officer, Lieutenant-Colonel (afterward General) Pomeroy, who was present, declared that while he could not understand a word of the old warrior's language, such was the power of his voice, his gestures and his whole manner, that his speech affected him more deeply than any other he had ever heard.
The detachment had marched in fancied security to a defile at Rocky Brook, about four miles from camp, when they were assailed in front and flank by musketry and arrows. The French and Indians, who had been misled toward Johnson's camp, apprised by scouts of the march of the English, had formed an ambush in semi-circular shape, the centre cut by the path along which Williams' detachment was moving. The latter had fallen into the fatal trap. The attack was sharp and destructive. Williams and Hendrick were the only mounted men, and both were killed at the first volley. Williams fell dead, and Hendrick died soon afterward. The smitten detachment fled back to camp in a quick but orderly retreat conducted by Nathan Whitney, of New Haven, Connecticut. Colonel Williams was then about forty years of age. While he was passing through Albany on his way to join Johnson, he had made a will, by which he bequeathed his moderate estate to found and maintain a free school in Western Massachusetts. Such was the foundation of Williams' College, at Williamstown. When Hendrick's son heard of the death of his father, he placed his hand over his heart and said: "My father still lives here. The son is now the father, and stands here ready to fight." The travelers on the highway between Glenn's Falls and Lake George may see a monument near the road, erected to the memory of Colonel Williams, not far from the spot where he fell.
With strange apathy Johnson had made no preparations for the defence of his camp. It was not until Williams had marched on the morning of the 8th, that he began to construct some breast-works of felled trees, and placed two or three cannons upon them. The firing at the ambush had been heard at the camp, and three hundred men were sent to the relief of the first detachment. These met the flying provincials, and joining in the retreat, they all rushed pell-mell into the camp, pursued by the French and Indians, who had cast many of their slain foes into a slimy pool which is still known as "Bloody Pond."
Dieskau intended to rush into the camp with the fugitives and capture it, but his Indians, fearing cannon, halted on the crest of a hill from which they could see the dreaded great guns. So likewise did the intimidated Canadians. Dieskau, whose armorial legend was, "Boldness wins," pressed forward with his regulars, and at near noon a battle began. The French had no artillery, and their musket-balls had no effect upon the breastworks. The Canadians and Indians tardily took positions in sheltered places on the flanks, and did little service. The New Englanders had only their fowling pieces. There was not a bayonet among them. They were good marksmen, and kept their enemies at bay during a conflict of more than four hours. Fortunately for the provincials, Johnson was slightly wounded in the thigh at the beginning of the action, and retired to his tent. He was not a skillful and experienced soldier like General Lyman who had just joined him, and into whose hands the conduct of the battle now fell. Lyman directed it with skill and bravery, until a greater portion of the French regulars were killed or wounded. A bomb-shell thrown by a howitzer from the provincial camp among the Canadians and Indians had made them fly in terror to the woods, when the provincials, leaping over their breastworks, and clubbing their muskets, scattered the living remnants of the assailants. Dieskau, who had been three times wounded, would not retire, but sat upon a stump of a tree, with his saddle by his side, faint from loss of blood, when, from a musket discharged by a renegade Frenchman, he received an incurable wound. He was carried into the camp, where he was tenderly treated by General Johnson and his family. This kindness inspired the warmest gratitude in the breast of the baron, who, before he left America for France, presented an elegant sword to Johnson in token of that sentiment. The baron died in France, from the effect of his wounds in 1757.
This repulse was lauded in England as a great victory. Johnson had very little to do with it, personally. It was the work of General Lyman and his New England troops. Yet the services of Lyman were overlooked. Johnson did not even mention him in connection with the battle, in his despatch. The king created Johnson a baronet, and parliament voted him thanks and the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars wherewith to support the dignity of the title. The recipient being a nephew of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, the influential friends of that officer, at court, secured the honor for Johnson.
For reasons inexplicable just now, the provincial commander remained at the head of Lake George, instead of pursing the shattered remnant of Dieskau's army and driving the French from Ticonderoga, which they were fortifying. It was possible also, immediately after the panic produced by the repulse at Lake George, to drive them from Crown Point, the ultimate object of the expedition. General Lyman and others urged Johnson to pursue. The Mohawks were burning with a desire to be revenged for the loss of their beloved chief; and the Oneidas were willing to join them if immediate pursuit should be made. But Johnson refused to move. The Oneidas, three days after the battle, left him and returned home; and the only harm which the French and their allies experienced after leaving the lost battle-field was a severe smiting by some New Hampshire militia under Captain McGinnes, and a small body of New York militia under Captain Folsom, who were making their way to the Lake from Fort Edward. They compelled the French to leave all their baggage and fly for their lives. In the affray McGinnes was mortally wounded, and his name was added to the list of the provincials, more than two hundred in number, who were killed that day. There were almost a hundred wounded. Among the four hundred lost by the French was M. de St. Pierre, the Knight of St. Louis, and the commander to whom Washington was sent on a mission at the close of 1753.
Johnson lingered at the head of Lake George all the autumn, and employed his men in the construction of a fort which he named William Henry. When the breath of approaching winter came from the north, he dismissed the New England militia to their homes, and leaving garrisons at Forts Edward and William Henry, he retired to his fortified stone mansion on the banks of the lower Mohawk, which he called "Fort Johnson." It is yet standing not far from the village of Amsterdam. So ended military operations in America in the year 1755.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I