Governor Shirley was appointed Braddock's successor in the chief command of the British forces in America. The expedition led by him to operate against Forts Niagara and Frontenac was not exposed to great perils nor suffered serious disasters. Nor did it accomplish much. After a very fatiguing march through the wilderness from Albany to Oswego on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, he arrived at the latter place in August, his little army of fifteen hundred men reduced by sickness and dispirited by the news of Braddock's disaster. The Assembly of New York had freely voted men and money for the expedition, and the Six Nations had promised many warriors; but on the first of September, not more than twenty-five hundred able-bodied men were in camp at Oswego.
The energetic Shirley was not disheartened. There was a small, dilapidated fort at Oswego. He at once began to strengthen the post by erecting two stronger forts, one on each side of the Oswego River, which there enters the Lake between high banks. Fort Pepperell (afterward Fort Oswego), on the west side, had a strong stone wall, with square towers; Fort Ontario on the east was built of huge logs and earth. Shirley also constructed vessels to bear his troops over the bosom of the Lake to their future destination. But reinforcements did not come. He waited all through September. Storm after storm swept over the Lake, threatening any flotilla that he might launch upon it with great peril, if not actual disaster. The breath of approaching winter began to be keenly felt, and, disappointed, he was compelled to abandon the expedition for a season. Leaving seven hundred troops to garrison the fort, the general marched back to Albany with the remainder, where he arrived late in October. There he made vigorous preparations for reinforcing and supplying the garrison at Oswego, for the Marquis de Montcalm, a distinguished French soldier, was then governor of Canada, and would be likely to pursue aggressive measures the following spring. Colonel John Bradstreet was appointed commissary-general at Albany, with captain (afterward General) Philip Schuyler as his chief assistant. Then Shirley returned to Massachusetts, leaving William Alexander (Lord Stirling), his secretary, in New York.
In the meantime, the expedition entrusted to the leadership of William Johnson (then swaying immense influence over the Indians in the Mohawk Valley), and destined for wresting the strong post of Crown Point, on Lake Champlain, from the French, had been more successful than either that of Braddock or Shirley, although it did not achieve its intended object. His army consisted chiefly of New England militia and Indians-the former from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and the latter from the Mohawk Valley. These were assembled at Albany, the New England men having Phineas Lyman for their chief commander. There were also some New York and New Jersey militia, with the army, when, in July, it was at the head of small-boat navigation on the Hudson, fifty miles above Albany, and numbering about six thousand able-bodied men. Among them were Putnam and Stark, who afterward became famous leaders in the war for independence.
General Lyman was a graduate of Yale College, an acute statesman and brave soldier. While waiting on the banks of the upper Hudson for Johnson to join him, he employed his troops in the construction of a strong fort of logs and earth, which they insisted upon naming Fort Lyman, in honor of their beloved commander. When Johnson came in August, he deprived the general of that honor, and gave it the name of Fort Edward, in compliment to a royal scion. That act has been attributed to the jealousy of Johnson, who doubtless did not relish the popularity of his lieutenant; but it is more probable that it was done to gratify his passion for flattering royal persons. He took command of the troops on his arrival, and with the main body he marched to the head of a beautiful lake, more than a dozen miles distant, which the French had named Holy Sacrament, but which Johnson, in compliment to the king, named Lake George. There he formed a camp for five thousand men, protected on the north by the lake and on both flanks by impassable morasses and tangled forests. There the troops sat down in idleness waiting for the coming of wagons with stores and cannon for the expedition. It was a beautiful summer camp; but no trench was dug, no mound was raised, as a defence against an active and skillful foe. The three hundred Mohawk warriors, under "King Hendrick," were allowed to roam the forests at pleasure, for Johnson did not dream that a French army, like a wily serpent, was stealthily moving toward his camp.
While the English provincials were thus making feeble preparations for seizing Crown Point, the French had been busy in the execution of measures to defend that post. Vaudreuil, the governor of Canada, had called to arms every able-bodied man in the vicinity of Montreal, and invited laborers from below to come up and gather the harvests. With these recruits, sixteen hundred strong, seven hundred regulars and as many Indians (almost half of them emigrants from the Six Nations), the French were prepared to defend their fortress at Crown Point. A greater portion of them were placed under the command of the Baron Dieskau, who proceeded to the head of Lake Champlain, whence he intended to make a swift march upon Fort Edward, and capture it and its garrison by surprise. Four days, as secretly as possible, he traversed the woods, when it was found that his guides had lost their way, and that he was in the path to the head of Lake George, and four miles from Fort Edward. Indian scouts had told his Indian followers of the great guns at Fort Edward, and that there were more in the camp on the borders of the lake. The barbarians, afraid of cannon, refused to attack the fort, but were willing to fall upon the exposed camp at the head of the lake.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I