Sir William Johnson
An Irishman by birth, William Johnson had held an extensive domain on the banks of the Mohawk River for a score of years, and grown powerful and rich by trading with the Indians of the Five Nations who found him far more honest and reliable than his Dutch rivals in the business, and over whom he came to acquire so profound an influence that the Government made him Indian Superintendent
The British now decided to focus on the Champlain Valley in Iroquois country. Command of this was given to the colonial leader William Johnson, who had been ordered by Braddock to attack Fort Saint-Frédéric . William Johnson was the most successful trader in the Mohawk region and had a great understanding of the Iroquois and was even married to a Mohawk woman, named Molly Brant ( c.1736 - 1796 ).
He was named superintendent of Indian affairs in 1755 and in charge of defense of the Champlain Valley . Johnson was to erect forts to counterbalance the two French forts on Lake Champlain, Fort St.Frederic, built in 1731 and Fort Carillon, still under construction at Ticonderoga .
Maps of the Lake Champlain Valley
Johnson rushed to build a small fort at the southern end of Lake George, Fort Edward. The battle of the forts in the Champlain Valley depended more on hit and run wilderness fighting and knowledge of the terrain . For this, ranger forces, such as 'Rogers' Rangers' led by Robert Rodgers (1731-95) of New Hampshire were important to report on French activity .They frequently undertook winter raids against French towns and military emplacements, traveling on crude snowshoes and across frozen rivers. He also trained British officers in irregular tactics.
A provocative look at an often overlooked figure in American history focuses on William Johnson, a soldier who forged a vital alliance with the Iroquois Confederacy and trained American troops to fight like Indians
Short film about Robert Rogers during the French and Indian War
The theory and technique of "Indian fighting," detailed by Rogers in his Journals, is now so widely accepted that Ranger companies are an integral part of modern military tactics. These were written down by Rogers in his "Rogers' Rules of Ranging" that are still quoted on the last page of the U.S. Army's Ranger handbook. The outbreak of the French and Indian war brought a call from New Hampshire early in 1755 for volunteers to drive the French from Grown Point The unemployed Rogers recruited more than fifty men and was made a captain. He was thrown into debtors prison in 1772.
During the American Revolution as a pensioned British officer Rogers was suspect. He made a secret application to Congress for a commission, but was rejected and even thought to be a spy. His wife cast him out He then fled to the British lines and was commissioned a lieutenant colonel to raise a battalion, known as the Queen's Rangers, In 1782 he returned to England and soon was back in debtor's prison. He died in miserable exile on May 18, 1795. Rogers was forgotten until Francis Parkman retold the exploits of Rogers' Rangers in his popular Montcdm and Wolfe, 1884.
Roger's Rangers, led by Major Robert Rogers
In North America's first major conflict, known today as the French and Indian War, France and England-both in alliance with Native American tribes-fought each other in a series of bloody battles and terrifying raids. No confrontation was more brutal and notorious than the massacre of the British garrison of Fort William Henry-an incident memorably depicted in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. That atrocity stoked calls for revenge, and the tough young Major Robert Rogers and his "Rangers" were ordered north into enemy territory to take it
The Battle of Lake George Sept 8, 1755
French Governor Vaudreuil was eager to take advantage of his knowledge of the British plans . French reinforcements were sent to Crown Point under Baron Dieskau, totaling 1,500 men with the hopes of ambushing the colonial and Mohawk Indian forces William Johnson was assembling as Gen Braddock was ambushed . The French suddenly attacked, but were unable to take Johnson's small fort, manned by 1,500 men.
Johnson convinced the French Mohawks not to join the attack, and the battle was fought to a standstill, with Dieskau being captured . Even though he had not captured the French fort at Crown Point, his defense against the surprise French attack made him a hero and Johnson was able to advance a considerable distance down the lake and consolidated his gains by building Fort William Henry. In the battle noted war chief, Hendrick Theyanoguin and English ally was killed . The commanding French general ,Baron Dieskau was captured and sent to England .
Short film about the Battle of Lake George created as part of the educational documentary project "Forgotten War: The Struggle for North America" www.forgottenwaronline.org.
Battle of Lake George Lake George NY September 1755
Bloody Morning Scout
Frederick Coffay Yohn (1875-1933)
The Battle in Detail
On the 12th of August, Johnson arrived with the rest of the militia and about 250 Mohawks out of the multitude who had been feasting and dancing at Colonial expense for a month at Albany. These were led by their principal sachem, Hendrick, commonly called King Hendrick, an aged chief of great renown both as warrior and orator, who had been to England twice, and wore a gorgeous uniform which had been presented to him by King George in person.
After consultation, it was decided not to approach Crown Point by way of Wood Creek but through Lake George; and to reach Lake George, fourteen miles distant, it was necessary to cut a road through the forest for the transportation of artillery, boats and stores. This task was accomplished in about a fortnight and on August 28, Johnson with 3,400 men, including Indians, arrived and encamped at the southern end of the lake. Six days later, September 3, Lyman joined him with 1,500 militiamen, 500 having been left to occupy Fort Lyman. Some of the cannon, bateaux and other war material had also reached the lake and the rest was slowly following in wagons along the newly-cut road. Not expecting any enemy, all these equipments and supplies as they arrived at Lake George were deposited along the shore of the lake in preparation for embarking them when everything needed should have come up. No action was taken to fortify the camp, though the erection of a permanent fort (afterwards called Fort Wil liam Henry) was begun with a view to establishing a future military post at that point. Meantime, the enemy in Canada had been neither asleep nor idle.
While Johnson s army had been slowly cutting their forest road to Lake George, Baron Dieskau, the commander-in- chief of all the French armies in America, a soldier of great distinction and activity, whose motto was "Audacity Wins," had advanced from Crown Point to Ticonderoga with a force of 1,500 men consisting of 1,200 Canadians and Indians and 300 French Regulars. On the 2d of September he had left Ticonderoga by way of Lake Champlain and Wood Creek, and was now (September 4th) on the other side of the ridge which separates Lake George from Wood Creek pushing his way southward up that stream, his objective point being Fort Lyman.
This post he expected to surprise and carry by assault, thus getting in the rear of Johnson, capturing the greater part of his stores and munitions and cutting him off from all future supplies and reinforcements. This he could easily have done, as Fort Lyman was held by only 500 raw militiamen and his approach was entirely unsuspected by the garrison as well as by Johnson himself. On the evening of September 7, Johnson -first learned from a scout that a large body of men had been discovered about four miles above Fort Lyman and marching toward it. He immediately dispatched a messenger with a letter warning the garrison of its danger and called a council of war to consider the situation. His own suggestion was to send 500 men the next morning to reinforce Fort Lyman, and 500 more across the country toward Wood Creek in order to seize Dieskau s boats and cut him off from a retreat. Old King Hendrick, however, repelled this proposal with an Indian s mode of argument by taking two sticks and showing that they could be more easily broken when separated than when combined.
Relinquishing this plan, therefore, Johnson decided to send 1,200 men the next morning in a single body to Fort Lyman to cooperate with the garrison in its defense. The old chief still demurred, declaring that if they were sent to be killed there would be too many, but if to fight there would be too few. Nevertheless, this plan was adhered to and an order was issued that 1,000 men from the Massachusetts and Connecticut regiments, under command of Col. Ephraim Williams and Lieut. Col. Nathan Whiting, and 200 Indians commanded by Hendrick, should march to the aid of Fort Lyman early next morning.
While these discussions were going on in Johnson s camp, his messenger to Fort Lyman had been killed by Dieskau s scouts and the letter of warning found in his pocket. about the same time, two of Johnson s wagoners had been cap tured on their way to Lake George, and from them it was learned that Fort Lyman was defended by cannon, while John son s camp was unprotected even by breastworks, and that his artillery was lying unmounted on the shore of the lake. No sooner were these facts known to the Canadians and Indians than they protested with one voice against Dieskau s plan of assaulting Fort Lyman the next morning and insisted on making the camp at Lake George the object of attack. The ground of this preference was the invincible repugnance of militiamen and Indians to face artillery, and they could neither be cajoled nor reasoned out of such an excusable prejudice. In vain did Dieskau argue, threaten and implore ; it was Lake George or nothing, and in the end he consented, with infinite disgust, to march against Johnson s camp in the morning.
Soon after eight o clock, therefore, on the morning of Sep tember 8, two hostile armies were marching towards each other, one south, the other north, along Johnson s road. As the Cana dian force was the first to start, we will follow their movement first. Moving from a point near Glens Falls, three or four miles north of Fort Lyman, they had advanced about five miles when they reached a narrow ravine between two steep, wood-covered heights, at the bottom of which ran the road and alongside of it a little trickling brook. The general appear ance of the locality is almost unchanged to-day, though a railroad now runs through the bottom of the ravine and a high way and trolley track skirt its western side. At this point the Indian scouts announced that a large force was approach ing from the direction of Johnson s camp and Dieskau immediately prepared an ambuscade to receive it. The Indians and Canadians were distributed for half a mile among the woods on the two sides of the ravine and the Regulars were posted across it at the lower end; thus forming a cul-de-sac of savages and militiamen, who then in complete concealment and perfect silence awaited the approach of their unsuspecting enemy. Strict orders had been given not to fire a gun until the English should become completely enveloped in the trap.
The party from the camp had started a little after eight o clock, the Mohawks being in front, headed by Old Hendrick, who was so heavy and infirm that he chose to ride a horse which had been lent to him by Johnson. Then followed Colonel Williams with the Massachusetts men; and Colonel Whiting with the Connecticut Militia brought up the rear. The whole column, however, was somewhat promiscuously intermingled and proceeded with surprising recklessness in a helter-skelter fashion without the usual precaution of sending scouts at least a mile in advance. Thus proceeding, the head of the column reached the ravine and had advanced some distance into it when Old Hendrick s olfactories recognized a familiar odor and he called out "I smell Indians !
Just then came the crack of a gun from among the bushes and in an instant the air was alive with horrible yells, as if ten thousand devils had broken loose mingled with the din of musketry, which flashed and smoked and rained deadly bullets on the bewildered, staggering and falling provincials. As Dieskau described it later in his official report, "the head of the column was doubled up like a pack of cards." At the first fire Old Hendrick fell dead from his horse, and the Mohawks fled howling to the rear, spreading confusion and panic through the whole body. Colonel Williams sprang to the top of a large boulder to rally his men and was immediately shot through the head. And now the French regulars advanced, pouring murderous volleys into the huddled mass of militiamen, who crowded on each other in frantic efforts to escape the withering fire. To most of the Yankee boys it was their first experience of war,
The situation is thus described by Parkman: "There was a panic ; some fled outright and the whole column recoiled. The van now became the rear and all the force of the enemy rushed upon it, shouting and screeching. There was a moment of total confusion, but a part of Williams regiment rallied under command of Whiting and covered the retreat, fighting behind trees like Indians and firing and falling back by turns, bravely aided by some Indians and by a detachment which Johnson sent to their aid." As this detachment was not sent out until after the firing had been for some time heard at the camp to be approaching, thus giving notice of a defeat, and then had two or three miles to cover before it reached the scene of action, it is evident that Whiting must have had the matter well in hand before it came up. A New York historian says : "After the death of Colonel Williams the command devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Whiting of Connecticut, who, with signal ability, conducted a most successful retreat. On account of the spirited resistance made by Colonel Whiting the enemy were an hour and a half driving the fugitives before them.*
Baron Dieskau, after his capture, expressed his admiration of Whiting s achievement, declaring that a retreat was never better managed; and Vaudreuil, the French Gov ernor General of Canada, in a communication to his own government, admits that Whiting baffled an essential part of Dieskau s plan.
This was to drive the routed provincials in confusion back upon an unprotected camp, and to rush in with them, spreading the panic, in which case he felt sure that his disciplined regulars, supporting the wild onslaught of his Canadian and Indian allies, would make victory certain. That this plan, but for Whiting s leadership, would have been realized and would have succeeded, there can be little doubt.
It was not until the firing was heard to be approach ing the camp, thus evincing that "the bloody morning scout" (as it was long afterwards called) had been defeated, that any vigorous preparation was made for protection by any kind of barricade. The time was short, indeed, less than an hour and a half, for getting ready, but life and death were at stake, and in those few minutes the men worked in a frenzy. Trees were felled and laid end to end, bateaux, wagons, and other materials brought up from the lake and piled in heaps, and three or four heavy cannon dragged behind the barrier, where they were hurriedly mounted and placed in position. The fugitives were already swarming in. The more orderly bodies followed quickly after, and were rapidly assigned places among those who had been previously disposed at different points for the defense.
Then and before the arrangements were fully completed, the savage pursuers came whooping and yelling through the forest, brandishing their weapons and making straight for the slight barricade, already exulting in an assured victory and massacre. They were checked for a moment by a volley of musketry, and immediately after the unexpected roar of artillery and the crashing of cannon balls and grapeshot through the trees around them sent them scattering in consternation through the forest, where behind such shelter as they could get they pushed as near to the barricade as they dared and shot at the defenders as they could get opportunity.
And now the French regulars were quickly seen advancing in solid columns down the road, their white uniforms and glittering bayonets showing through the trees in what seemed to be an interminable array. The inexperienced militia behind the barricade grew uneasy, but the officers, sword in hand, threatened to cut down any man who should desert his post. Dieskau felt sure that if he could hold his forces together for a combined assault he could carry the breastwork; but the Canadians and Indians were scattered through the woods, each man fighting on his own account and could not be collected or controlled.
With his regulars, therefore, and such few others as he could gather, he made charge after charge against the defenses, now upon this side and now upon that but only to be repulsed at every point. The fighting spirit had begun to be developed in the defenders and the battle became one of promiscuous musketry for the most part, though the artillery was also vigorously served, now scattering a band of Indians who had collected in an exposed position, and now pouring balls and grapeshot at random through the forest, the crashing of which among the trees effectually encouraged the savages to keep at a respectful distance.
In the very beginning of the fight Johnson had been hit by a musket ball in the fleshy part of his thigh, but was able to walk to his tent, where he remained throughout the day, taking no further part in the action. General Lyman being thus left in command directed practically the entire course of the battle, and in the words of Dr. Holden of the York Historical Society "conducted what is considered by all experts to be one of the most important Indian fights in history to a successful termination." To quote again from Parkman: "General Lyman took command, and it is a marvel that he escaped alive, for he was for four hours in the heat of the fire, directing and animating his men." "It was the most awful day my eyes ever beheld," wrote Surgeon Williams to his wife ; "there seemed to be nothing but thunder and lightning and pillars of smoke."
Towards five o clock in the afternoon the fight began to slacken. The Canadians and Indians had lost their interest, as well as most of their ammunition, and were generally acting on an informal vote to adjourn. The regulars had been half annihilated ; their ammunition also was exhausted and further efforts were hopeless. The provincials quickly perceived the situation and jumping over the breastwork with shouts pur sued the retreating enemy. Dieskau was found on the ground partly resting against a tree, having been three times shot through the legs and body and left on the field by his own positive order, declaring that that was as good, a place to die as anywhere. He was carried to Johnson s tent, where he was courteously received and his wounds attended to by the surgeons. It was with some difficulty that he was prevented from being murdered by the Mohawks, who were enraged at the losses they had suffered in the morning s scout, and especially by the death of Hendrick. As soon as his wounds would permit he was sent to Albany, and thence to New York, and afterwards to England, where he remained on parole to the end of the war. He then returned to France and died there in 1767.
General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from a North American Indian
Benjamin West, 1764
Benjamin West's depiction of William Johnson sparing Baron Dieskau's life after the Battle of Lake George .
The enemy having been routed it only remained to complete the victory by a vigorous pursuit in force, in order to cut them off from their boats and thus prevent their escape back to Canada. This course was, however, forbidden by Johnson, though urged by Lyman with unusual warmth, and for his refusal he was censured by his contemporaries as well as since by all later critics. But what he disallowed to Lyman Avas partially accomplished without his knowledge on the same day by a party from the garrison at Fort Lyman.
These having heard the firing in the direction of the lake had sallied out to discover the cause of it, and proceeding cautiously through the forest late in the afternoon had come upon some 300 Canadians and Indians, skulkers and fugitives from Dieskau s army, near a small pond by the side of the road and just beyond the scene of the morning s ambush. These they suddenly attacked, though themselves much inferior in number, and defeated them with great loss after a stubborn resistance. The bodies of the slain were afterwards thrown into the pond and it bears the appellation of "Bloody Pond" to this day. The scattered fugitives from this and the preceding conflicts of the day made their way as hest they could to the boats which they had left at Wood Creek and returned through Lake Champlain, a worn-out and half-starved remnant, to Crown Point. source :
Blake, Henry Taylor, 1828-1922