LE MARQUIS DE MONTCALM ... Lac du St. Sacrement
"Pour moi qui ay quitte le sejour de Quebec, Je me couchai de bonne heure."
By the close of 1756, French Canada had thus far dominated in the struggle for North America. The army of New France had successfully cleared the English from the trans-Appalachian region, thereby containing the enemy to the east. Fort Necessity had been captured and Fort Granville had been destroyed. Additionally, the forts at Oswego had been seized, the number of English prisoners had soared, and France claimed the 'devoted friendship' of over 20 great Indian nations. Bolstering this Canadian-Franco sense of confidence was the promise of 2,400 of the "finest" regulars from France. The combined force of the French regulars, the Canadian troops, the colonial militia, the numerous Indian allies, and the French officers was formidable; and thus far seemingly omnipotent. The Marquis de Montcalm optimistically awaited the arrival of 1757. Having assessed the strength of both the English and the French in the valley of Lac Champlain and Lac du St. Sacrement, Montcalm departed Fort Carillon for Montreal. Despite the favorable tide of war, very much on the General's mind as he headed north was the English "dagger" pointed directly at Fort Carillon; Fort William Henry.
A French/Indian connection was on the horizon of 1757, as both the Cherokee and the Iroquois were now posturing towards an alliance with New France. A delegation of 180 Iroquois representing five of the Six Nations arrived in Montreal in November 1756. (The Mohawks were not present as they had already cast their lot with the English.) Governor-general Vaudreuil and General Marquis de Montcalm were both on hand to receive the Iroquoian emissaries. On December 13, in the presence of the two commanders, as well as the Caughnawaga, Ottawa, Potowatomi, Nipissings, and Algonkins, the Iroquois asked forgiveness for their "past offenses" and sought to make peace. To demonstrate their sincerity, many of the Iroquois trampled English medals. The Oneida presented the Cayuga with a wampum belt on which was hung a symbol of their declaration of alliance to Canada, an English scalp. This very dramatic presentation was received and accepted with a warning, however. In successive speeches, the Nipissing, Ottawa, and Potawatomi cautioned the Iroquois that if they proved insincere, bloodshed would follow. Permission was then asked to wage war against the Chickasaw and the Cherokee. While giving his approval to strike the Chickasaw, Vaudreuil informed the Iroquois of New France's negotiations with the Cherokee and his desire that they refrain from such an undertaking. The 'Five Nations' representatives then spoke of the discord between the Palatine Germans living along the Mohawk River and the English. Vaudreuil asked the Iroquois to demonstrate their sincerity by destroying English posts in Iroquoia and bringing the Mohawks into accord. The delegates from the Confederacy were impressed with French military prowess and particularly, Montcalm. The Iroquois proposal of French allegiance was, according to the Marquis, the most important development "that had occurred in a long time," The significance of these shifting Indian alliances can not be overstated. France was on the verge of securing near total Indian support deep within and along the entire colonial frontier. Against this, England had only tenuous Mohawk support, the alliances of the Chickasaw and Catawba, and the sporadic aid of various individual Indians. It would have appeared as if the whole world had enjoined in a common war against England. These then, were the times that tried men's allegiances, and it would no longer do to claim neutrality.
"Qui etes vous?"
1757; all was well with New France. This was to be the year the French, under the skilled leadership of Montcalm, would finally crush English arrogance. Yet there remained that potentially troublesome little fort, defiantly guarding Lac du St. Sacrement. It took little time to be reminded of William Henry's disagreeable location. In mid January, Major Robert Rogers and approximately 80 rangers successfully breached the defensive barrier of Fort Carillon. As if from nowhere, Rogers and his company suddenly appeared along the shore of Lac Champlain, midway between Fort Carillon and Crown Point. A party of French were attacked, prisoners taken, and the two forts reconnoitered. The French speaking Rogers was able to ascertain the strength of the garrisons. There was little doubt now for the French commanders that the English were planning to strike against the southernmost forts of New France.
In February 1757, Francois-Pierre Rigaud, Governor of Trois Rivieres and brother of Vaudreuil was commissioned to head an expedition against Fort William Henry. Rigaud's appointment was yet another chink in the armor of New France and the French officers reacted to it with undisguised disdain. Montcalm reviewed the detachment before they left "under the banners of brother Rigaud." In March the Canadian expedition reached William Henry. Commanding was the fort's engineer, Lieutenant Colonel William Eyre. Though Rigaud's party of 1600 was equipped with plenty of artillery as well as scaling ladders, and Fort William Henry's defenders numbered only 346 (including rangers), in the end not much came of it other than the burning of sloops, bateaux, store-houses, and various other buildings. On the fourth day, Rigaud and his snow-shoe clad group retreated across the frozen lake having accomplished near to nothing. Perhaps such a campaign would require the leadership of one more expertise in the art of war.
Vie en Montreal; Guerre en Montreal
Montcalm was still in Montreal the spring of 1757. It was here he was introduced to the lavish lifestyles of wealthy Canadians; a lifestyle he himself was expected to live, and to some degree did. Montreal! At once the base of military operations for the army of New France, while also the heart of decadence in New France. A city ablaze with strife and competition, gaiety and corruption; military strategy by day, dinner parties and whore houses at night. Here is where Old France and New France mingled, however superficially, and the Canadian upper echelon honed its corruptive influence. It was here in Montreal le Marquis de Montcalm was beginning to realize the degree of severity of Vaudreuil's resentment. While publicly Montcalm diplomatically spoke graciously of the General-governor, always civil and polite, ever careful not to incite Vaudreuil's hypersensitivities, privately his letters were increasingly filled with references to his frustration over the lack of communication and initiative on the part of Vaudreuil. Said Montcalm to the Minister of War on the Governor-general, "...mild, with no character of his own, surrounded by people who try to destroy all his confidence in the general of the troops from France. I am praised excessively, in order to make him jealous, excite his Canadian prejudices, and prevent him from dealing with me frankly, or adopting my views when he can help it." Regarding Oswego, when afterwards Montcalm was obliged to punish some of the Canadians for their part in the plundering and killing of the English, Montcalm contradicted Vaudreuil's assertions that he abused the Canadians by stating, "I must do Monsieur de Vaudreuil the justice to say that he approved my proceedings." Perhaps Montcalm's aide-de-camp, Louis Antoine de Bougainville best summed up Vaudreuil's reptilian nature when he recorded in his journal, "The Marquis de Montcalm has not the honor of being consulted; and it is generally through public rumor that he first hears of Monsieur de Vaudreuil's military plans..., a timid man, who can neither make a resolution nor keep one;...When V. produces an idea he falls in love with it, as Pygmalion did with his statue. I can forgive Pygmalion, for what he produced was a masterpiece."
Lettres de Montcalm
Montcalm's lengthy stay in Montreal had afforded him a lesson in corrupt human nature. (Though his references to "les trois dames en le Rue du Parloir" in communiques to the Chevalier de Bourlamaque would suggest it was not altogether unpleasant.) He expressed his preference for Quebec to his wife, "... it is as good as the best cities of France, except ten or so." The General's home bound letters were frequent and lengthy. In them he described for Angelique vivid accounts of Montreal life; the excessiveness, the high cost of maintaining the social status expected of him, the corruptive environment, and other criticisms. "Pshaw! I must live!" He asked Angelique to send food items and small gifts to Canada, talked of his daughters, his mother, his prized olive oil mill, and his desire to return to Candiac. Always he ended with affectionate closings, "Adieu, my heart; I adore and love you!" His letters also now reflected a growing awareness of how others saw him, including the jealous Vaudreuil. In one letter to his mother, he says, "The part I have to play is unique: I am a general-in-chief subordinated; sometimes with everything to do, and sometimes nothing; I am esteemed, respected, beloved, envied, hated; I pass for proud, supple, stiff, yielding, polite, devout, gallant, etc, ; and I long for peace." He speaks of his impressions and relationship with the Indians, as well as theirs for him. "The affection of the Indians for me is so strong that there are moments when it astonishes the Governor. " In another, "The Indians are delighted with me,..." He calls them "my friends" and excitedly declares that were he not a general he would "gossip" with them about military plans, though he sometimes found them "unbearable", and grew weary of attending so many long ceremonies. Still wearier he must have been of the increasing hostility of his Canadian foe, Governor Vaudreuil.
In April came news that England was outfitting ships bound for Canada. All plans to campaign in the heart of the English colonies were suspended as Vaudreuil and Montcalm attempted to anticipate where the enemy was focusing her attack. There were two probabilities, Louisbourg and Quebec. If it was to be Louisbourg, the great fortress of New France, the Canadians would not be able to send reinforcements to the garrison. The French crown would have to dispatch a fleet to aid the defense of the coastal town. On the other hand, if Quebec was the target of the English assault every available troop would be needed to defend against the invasion into the heart of Canada. Dangling for some time in suspenseful ignorance, the French-Canadian generals began a frantic probe for intelligence. After much consternation, it was correctly guessed that the target was Louisbourg.
Through a series of delays and poor judgments by Lord Loudoun, further aggravated by inclement weather, the Louisbourg campaign was abandoned in early August; but not before Montcalm had begun his move south. (It should be noted that much of the delay was the fault of the colonials. Loudoun's war ships were tied up in New York Harbor because of massive desertions. The ships were not re-manned until Loudoun threatened to surround the city with three battalions while a door-to-door search was conducted.) Loudoun drew off and thinned the ranks of troops in the Hudson Valley. The Earl of was seriously flirting with disaster. In stark, yet predictable contrast to England's tardiness, Montcalm swiftly seized the opportunity and headed for Lac Champlain.
By the end of July, Montcalm's force of French regulars, Canadian regulars, militia, and Indian warriors were gathered at Fort Carillon. England's day of reckoning was at hand. The contemporary descriptions of Fort Carillon with its m�lange of characters sound surreal at times, often reading like fiction. The fort was situated at the southern end of Lac Champlain, one of the most beautiful regions in the Hudson Valley. Pristine waters, densely-forested wilderness, cascading streams; all bordered by game-laden wooded mountains. Amidst this scenic paradise was the French fortress, guarding the serenity of the valley with her imposing presence. The surrounding woods had been cleared, encampments made, portage roads cut, and an abatis constructed. The placidity of the waters was complimented by the pageantry of birch canoes, bateaux fleets, platforms ferrying cannon and mortars guided along by yet more bateaux. French officers and regulars in white uniforms, Canadian regulars, colonial militia in frontier garb, and waves of painted, ornamented Indian warriors; all gliding across the lake as if their combined presence was an everyday affair.
The garrison of Fort William Henry can not be accused of cowardice, despite the timidity of their general. On the 27th of July, Colonel Parker and his regiment of New Jersey Blues and New York provincials, a total of 350 men, moved up Lac du St. Sacrement in twenty-two barges. Their objective was to attack the French outposts and burn the recently constructed saw-mill at the falls, an approximate distance of two miles from the fort. Brave though they were, the flotilla floated directly into an ambush.
The falls and the site of the saw-mill today.
Charles Langlade, officer of the Ottawas, led a group of Ottawa, Saulters, and Abenaki along the western shore of Lac du St. Sacrement. At Sabbath Day Point, a portion of the party crossed over and lay in ambush on both sides of the lake. When Parker's regiment reached this point, the Canadian Indians opened fire, turned over barges, and gave canoe chase to those fleeing. Colonel Parker and about 100 men escaped, many others drowned, the rest were taken captive.
The unfortunate captives were taken to the French camp where they were to witness a gruesome scene. Three of the English prisoners were killed, boiled in a pot, and eaten. The effect of this terror upon the comrades of the dead men must have been unimaginable. It was no less so for the Jesuit missionary, Father Pere Roubaud, who pleaded frantically against the horrific deed. Bougainville pragmatically noted that the event could not be helped for if force had been used to stop the 'feast' the Indians would have angrily left.
On the evening of July 28th, Montcalm called a council of the Indians. He was anxious about disharmony and riotous behavior. According to Bougainville's journal, there were a total of 1799 Indians present (though he adds "some two score Ottawas or Missaugas who left five or six days ago," and the "Miamis, to the number of eight, left without telling anyone" were to be deducted from this total). Among the officers of the Indians was the "general", the famed St. Luc de la Corne. The list of the various tribes is extensive (See the journal of Bougainville, Adventure in the Wilderness, for a full account), representing 41 tribes and "sub-tribes". Montcalm had previously discussed his plans for the campaign with the chiefs so Pennahouel, an Ottawa chief, opened the council with an address to Montcalm. One after another, the chiefs took their turn orating before the assembly. Many boasted of their bravery, and all pledged to destroy the "Corlaer". When it was Montcalm's turn he spoke of the need for unity. "So long as you remain one, the English cannot resist you...Take this sacred pledge of his (the King) word. The union of the beads of which it is made is the sign of your united strength. By it I bind you all together, so that none of you can separate from the rest till the English are defeated and their fort destroyed."
Beginning the following morning, detachments started towards the southern end of Lac du St. Sacrement and Fort George (William Henry). Montcalm departed from Fort Carillon on August 1, 1757 to lead an expedition of 7,600 men against the English garrison.
There is no doubt concerning Montcalm's expectations of victory. With the summer arrival of French troops, Lord Loudoun and General Abercromby both floundering on the north Atlantic, Fort George and Fort Lydius (Willam Henry and Edward) weakly garrisoned, and the New York frontier's defense in the hands of the hypochondriac General Webb; what other conclusion could Montcalm have drawn? From the vantage point of the Marquis, the end of the war in North America was close at hand. As late as July 11, 1757, in a letter to the Minister of War, Montcalm expressed his desire to return home as soon as possible... He added that should there be a delay in his departure for France, he would like to explore the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley "...with military and political views" as his purpose. A further reason may have been his growing admiration (or curiosity) for North America's Indians, of whom he writes, " Last month a thousand Indians arrived from the upper country; many of them came from 4 to 500 leagues,...Our Indians are equally capable of determining in a quarter of an hour the gain or loss of an affair." Thus the confident, homesick general set out to purchase his ticket to France courtesy of the English forts.
By ten o'clock on the morning of August 3, 1757, Fort William Henry was entombed by an army of 7,600. It was the beginning of the end, which would come in less than a week's time. French brigades quickly began making fascines (bundles of sticks, twigs, etc, used for fuel) and gabions (bottomless baskets that were set in the ground and filled with dirt); Montcalm was preparing for a siege. At three o'clock, a parley was held at which time Montcalm advised Monro to surrender, adding that he would be unable to restrain the Indians once his batteries were in place. While the parley was in progress, a great crowd of Indians gathered in a clearing near the fort. An Abenaki "speaking bad French" called out to the English defenders, "Ah, you won't surrender; well, fire first; my father will then fire his great guns; then take care to defend yourself, for if I capture you, you will get no quarter." An 18th century school ground style 'triple dare' ! (Comedy appears in the most unexpected places.)
Marquis de Montcalm's letter to Col. Monro read, "I owe it to humanity to summon you to surrender. At present I can restrain the savages, and make them observe the terms of a capitulation, as I might not have power to do under other circumstances; and an obstinate defence on your part could only retard the capture of the place a few days, and endanger an unfortunate garrison which cannot be relieved, in consequence of the dispositions I have made. I demand a decisive answer within an hour." Confident, intimidating, threatening; and well could the "little general" afford such boldness. He was in command, and he was right. Colonel Monro declined the invitation with a declaration of his resolve to defend the fort to the end. For the next three days, an almost continual cannonade was kept up by both sides. Much of the French artillery now turned against the garrison had once been English guns; lost to the French at Monengahela and Oswego.
For all the strength of Montcalm's army, he felt compelled to bluff yet a greater presence. The French general was thorough, leaving no stone unturned nor road unguarded. Knowing it would be impossible to completely invest the outer perimeters, he wished to give the appearance of total occupation. He sent the Canadian St. Luc de la Corne and his Indians to guard the road to Fort Lydius (Edward) by establishing there a camp, and ordered continuous movements. By this action, the English defenders would be led to believe the enemy occupied the entire line of communication to Webb's headquarters. Apparently they held this line well enough; their ploy of greater presence was accepted by Webb.
August 5th brought good news. A party of three couriers were discovered by de la Corne's Indians attempting to bring a dispatch from Webb to Monro. One was killed, one escaped, and a third was captured. The dead ranger's jacket lining concealed the letter that sealed his fate. Webb was informing Monro of his inability to come to his aid at this time and advised him to make terms of surrender. Astonishingly, the inept general detailed the specifics of British intelligence! He wrote of the size of Montcalm's army, the depth of his lines, the amount of artillery, and exactly what Monro could expect in the way of reinforcements. Sensitive intelligence, however erroneous, itemized for the enemy.
A council was held that evening where Montcalm complained to the Indians of their waning focus and discipline. He cautioned them against exposing themselves unnecessarily to enemy fire as they had been (many were going into the cleared gardens around the fort and firing at the English), expressed his sadness over those killed, and the importance of continuing the scouting of the communications roads. He also thanked them for the oxen that had been brought to him as a replacement for others previously eaten. Then he told them the good news of Webb's letter and what he planned to do next. In a jubilant atmosphere, the Indians made promises to discipline themselves, stay united, and to follow the wishes of Montcalm. They also voiced their own complaints that they were no longer being informed of movements, their advice was being ignored, and they were given no reason for it. A speaker for them added, "We know more about fighting in the woods than you, ask our advice and you will be better for it." Montcalm replied with explanations and apologies, reiterated his gratefulness and awareness of their superb fighting skills, promised they would receive satisfaction, and told them of the big guns they would hear in the morning. (There was a great fascination with the cannons and at times, some of the Indians were allowed to "point" the guns at the fort.)
Montcalm ordered heavy cannon and mortars into action on the 6th of August. On the 7th, after having reduced the rampart by half, and firing a cannonade, Montcalm sent his aide-de-camp Bougainville to Monro. Blind-folded, he was led to the entrenched camp at the lake where he presented the letter. According to Bougainville, Monro graciously complimented Montcalm and his army, and "...protested his joy at having to do with so generous an enemy." Despite the deplorable conditions within the fort, Col. Monro declined once again. (The dreaded small pox was raging throughout the fort, the numbers of sick daily escalated; the disease would yet be deadlier. The Indians of Montcalm's army would become infected while scalping their victims, and even the buried dead. From there they would unknowingly carry it back to their villages, infecting many, many more. Ultimately, this was to be the greatest killer among them.) With the situation so grave, Monro's officers finally prevailed upon him to surrender.
A white flag was raised at 7:00 A.M. on the 9th of August. Lieutenant Colonel Young rode to Montcalm's tent. The terms of capitulation were proposed and accepted; honorable, generous terms. The standard promise to not take up arms for 18 months, permission to take baggage; the English departure with the honors of war; a promised escort towards Fort Lydius; and as a tribute to the fort's defenders and an expression of Montcalm's "esteem", one six pounder cannon was to be granted to Col. Monro. The remaining artillery, provisions, vessels, etc., were to become the property of France. Prior to signing the agreement, Montcalm summoned the chiefs of all Indian nations. He explained to them the terms and his motives, then asked for their consent. He spoke of his concerns of a repeated Oswego and was given the promise that there was to be no disorder and the young men would be kept restrained. Everything then, was in order. Order, however, quickly turned to disorder.
Le Massacre de l'Anglais; 10 Aout, 1757
Around noon, Fort William Henry was turned over to Montcalm. The English were to go with their baggage to the entrenched camp. They were to be escorted the following morning, leaving behind the wounded and sick to be cared for by the army of New France. The Indians and Canadians were allowed to enter the fort and pillage what they may, assumedly to honor promises already made of reward for service. Once again, as at Oswego, things began to get out of hand. Despite a guard at the English encampment, according to Bougainville, the Indians could not be stopped from entering. "Everything was done to stop them,...We will be most fortunate if we can avoid a massacre. Detestable position of which those who are not here can have no idea, and one which makes the victory painful to the conquerors. The Marquis de Montcalm went himself to the entrenched camp. He there made the greatest efforts to prevent the greed of the Indians and, I will say it here, of certain people attached to them from being the cause of misfortunes far greater than pillage. " By the evening, order was re-established; at ten o'clock, Bougainville was sent to Montreal to inform Vaudreuil of the victory. His journal no longer a first hand source, the capitaine would miss the following day's events.
"Vous avez du vous apercevoir...que nos sauvages, pour etre Chretiens, n'en sont pas plus irreprehensibles dans leur conduite."
Beginning around midnight, the French Indians began lurking about the perimeters of the English encampment. At 5:00 A.M. the guards that had been placed the previous day were removed. Likewise, the sentinels posted at the huts of the wounded English, also now gone. Though St. Luc de la Corne and other Canadian officers, as well as a French guard, stood not 40 feet away, a group of Indians came in, dragged the wounded from the huts, tomahawked, and then scalped their victims. De la Corne et al did nothing! According to Fort William Henry's surgeon, there were 30 sick and 57 wounded men in his care; "... there were also seventeen Men of the Massachusetts Regiment wounded unable to March under his immediate Care in the Intrenched Camp." In his affidavit he further stated, "...none, either officer or soldier, protected the said wounded men." The Indians now turned their attention to the others and began plundering. By this time, the French escort had arrived and Col. Monro complained that the terms of capitulation had been broken. He was advised to offer no resistance and give up the baggage. Rather than appease the Indians, English cooperation seemed to have had the opposite effect. A menacing hostility was growing and the Indians now demanded rum. Some of the English soldiers began handing over their canteens, too afraid to refuse.
Finally, the vanquished began to make their way out of the entrenched camp and onto the adjoining road. Moving southward on the road to Fort Lydius/Edward, they crossed an open area between the entrenchment and the woods. The French Indians began crowding the column, snatching away items of clothing, personal possessions, and weapons. Those who resisted were tomahawked. (Captain Pouchot accused the Canadian interpreters of encouraging the attack and harassment; Bougainville echoed the same charge.) The terrified, but as yet still formed column continued south, its rear occupied by troops from New Hampshire. Suddenly there rang out a "war whoop", which according to several accounts, was given by the Abenaki as a signal to attack. There was a sudden rush upon the New Hampshire men, with 80 of them killed or captured. It is at this point Montcalm and many other French officers arrived on the scene, having been informed of the melee.
A frenzied rescue followed; Montcalm and his officers are said to have pleaded, threatened, and physically intervened on behalf of the captives. He reportedly exclaimed, "Kill me, but spare the English who are under my protection." He then seized an officer held by one Indian, at which point several others immediately killed their prisoners. For the most part, the English did not resist (considering their lack of ammunition, what could they do?), but the now broken column moved towards the French advance guard. This unit was composed of not French, but Canadians, who rejected the demands for protection from the panic stricken English and instead advised them to take to the woods. Many did; there is no way of precisely accounting for them all.
The rest of the day was spent recovering as many captives as the French could. By day's end, 400 had been reclaimed by Montcalm, 200 more were not given up. Others fled to the fort and awaited their eventual escort to Fort Edward. The soldiers began the task of destroying the fort and its buildings. The bodies of the dead were added to the rubble; a funeral pyre burned throughout the night of the 15th. On the 16th of August, the army of New France headed north, the refugees went southeast to Fort Edward. The siege was over.