1757 - French expedition against Fort William Henry
From Project SYW
The campaign lasted from July to August 1757
The French expedition of the previous winter against Fort William Henry had deprived the British from all the flotilla which they intended to use to invade Canada. The French could now consider an offensive action in the area of Lake Saint-Sacrement (present-day Lake George) at the beginning of the Spring.
Since May, Bourlamaque with the battalions of Béarn and Royal Roussillon, was finishing Fort Carillon, sending out war-parties and trying to discover the force and designs of the British at Fort William Henry.
By June, the best British and colonial troops had been drawn from the frontier to take part to Loudoun's expedition against Louisbourg. However, unknown to the British, a huge expedition was being prepared by the French against Fort William Henry. Despite the food shortage in Nouvelle-France, the French had gathered enough provisions in Montréal and along the Richelieu River to feed 8,000 men for 40 days. Nearly 1,000 Indians were already encamped in Montréal. About 800 Mission Indians from Deux-Montagnes, Caughnawaga and Sault-Saint-Louis were also being been mustered.
On July 3, the Chevalier de Lévis left Montréal for Saint-Jean on the Richelieu where the French army was assembling. Meanwhile, Canadians and Indians were moving by detachments up Lake Champlain. Daily, fleets of bateaux and canoes brought these forces to Fort Carillon.
On July 4, Lévis left Saint-Jean for Carillon with 4 battalions.
On July 7, Lévis' force arrived at Carillon where Lévis then assumed command.
On July 8, Lévis' force (4 bns) encamped at the fall near Carillon while Bourlamaque's Corps (2 bns) remained at Carillon.
On July 9, Lévis' 4 battalions opened a portage road for the passage of artillery and bateaux between the fall and Lake Saint-Sacrement.
On July 10, Lévis sent a party of 100 Canadians and Indians under Langy to reconnoitre the north shore of Lake Saint-Sacrement.
Since the Canadian had to return home for the harvests and Indian of the West had to return to their villages before winter, the entire expedition had to be completed by the end of August. Therefore, preparations of the French army were urged on with the utmost energy.
On July 12, the portage road was completed. Provisions, camp equipage, ammunition, cannon, and bateaux were dragged by gangs of men up the road from the camp of Lévis to the head of the rapids. Troops were transferred to Lake Saint-Sacrement at night so that the portage road could be used freely during the day for the transportation of material and equipment. The same day, M. Marin arrived with 400 Indians.
On July 15, Lévis sent out Marin with his 400 Indians, 150 Canadians and 300 other men to reconnoitre Fort Edward and to screen the French manoeuvres at the portage to Lake Saint-Sacrement. Marin met a British detachment of some 100 men about 1 km from the fort. The Indians put them to flight, killed some of them and took 4 prisoners. Marin then advanced up to Fort Edward and fusilladed for half an hour before retiring to his bateaux on the Chicot River. In this affair, Marin lost only 1 Canadian killed and 5 Indians wounded.
On July 18, the Marquis de Montcalm and Governor Vaudreuil arrived at Carillon with more Indians and the rest of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine were converged into a single battalion for the purpose of this campaign. Militia were also organised into brigades. Additional war-parties were sent out to screen the French army.
By July 20, the whole French force was gathered at Carillon. It totalled about 8,000 men and consisted of:
- Regular Troops
- Artillery (6 officers and 120 men) under Le Mercier
- Engineers (M. de Fontbrune and M. de Lotbinière)
- Militia under Rigaud de Vaudreuil
- La Corne (1 bn)
- ???Vassan??? (1 bn)
- Repentigny (1 bn)
- Courtemanche (1 bn)
- Saint-Ours (1 bn)
- Gaspé (1 bn)
- Volontaires de Villiers (about 300 men)
- Indian Allies (1,796 men) under Saint-Luc de la Corne assisted by French or Canadian officers
- Laplante's brigade
- Second in command: Lorimier
- Interprets: Saint-Jean and Guillory
- Sauteux aka Ojibways from Lake Superior (166 men)
- Mississaugas from the region of Lakes Erie and Huron (157 men)
- Marin's brigade
- Second in command: Levreau-Langy
- Interprets: Réaume and Detailly
- Renards aka Fox from Wisconsin (20 men)
- Sakis aka Sauks from Wisconsin (33 men)
- Puants aka Winnebagos from Wisconsin (44 men)
- Ayowois aka Iowas from the banks of the Des Moines River (10 men)
- Folles-Avoines aka Menominees from Lake Michigan (129 men)
- Potawatomis from Lake Michigan (90 men)
- Langlade's brigade
- Second in command: Florimond and Herbin
- Interprets: Farly and La Déroute
- Ottawas of 7 distinct bands (283 men) under Chief Pennahouel
- Longueil's brigade
- Second in command: Sabrevoix
- Interprets: Perthuis
- Hurons of Lorette (26 men)
- Hurons of Détroit (26 men)
- Iroquois from Sault-Saint-Louis (258 men)
- Iroquois from Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (81 men)
- Chevalier de Niverville's brigade
- Second in command: n/a
- Interprets: Chatavieux
- Abenakis of Saint-François, Bécancour and Missisiquoi (245 men)
- Malecite from Acadia (56 men)
- Langy de Montégron's brigade (93 men)
- Second in command: n/a
- Interprets: Joson Saint-Germain
- Nippisings of Lake Nipissing under Chief Kikensick
- Algonquins of Trois-Rivières and Deux-Montagnes
- Belaitre's brigade
- Second in command: n/a
- Interprets: Roys and Constant
- Kikapoos (17 men)
- Maskoutins (12 men)
- Ouyattanons (15 men)
- Illinois (25 men)
Skirmishes between scouting parties
On July 23, 15 grenadiers of Guyenne Infanterie were surprised at the fall near Carillon by a party of Indian allied to the British. Two grenadiers were killed and scalped and 2 wounded. Lévis ordered M. de Rigaud to send out 2 parties to try to cut the retreat to the enemies. One of these parties was under the command of M. de Villiers, the other under M. de Corbières. At nightfall, the latter party spotted several bateaux on Lake Saint-Sacrement. Seeing this, Corbières sent Indian messengers to the camp at the portage. Some 450 Indians and 50 Canadians immediately left the camp and joined Corbières on the shores of Lake Saint-Sacrement.
In the night of July 23 to 24, Corbières hid the canoes on the shore and prepared an ambush.
On July 24 at daybreak, the British party (a detachment of 300 Provincials, chiefly New Jersey men under command of Colonel Parker) reembarked and resumed its advance to reconnoitre the French position at the fall, totally unaware of the concentration of French troops at the camp near this same fall. The Indians, without waiting for orders, embarked in their canoes and attacked them. The surprise was complete and the British did not resist much. The Indians captured or drowned most of them. Parker along with the 100 men in the trailing bateaux escaped the ambush. The French had only 3 Indians and a cadet wounded.
On July 25, General Webb, who had his headquarters at Fort Edward some 22 km further south, made a visit to Fort William Henry, examined the place, gave some orders, and on July 29 returned to Fort Edward where he had some 2,600 men, mostly Provincials.
On July 26, a large band of Indians, led by the French partisan Corbière, ambushed the detachment of New Jersey Provincials not far from Sabbath Day Point on the western shore of Lac Saint-Sacrement. Parker had divided his force and at daybreak three of his boats fell into the snare and were captured without a shot. Three others followed and shared the fate of the first. When the rest drew near, they were greeted by a deadly volley from the thickets, and a swarm of canoes darted out upon them. The men were seized with such a panic that some of them jumped into the water to escape, while the Indians leaped after them and speared them with their lances. Only some 100 men and 3 boats made their escape.
On July 27, Montcalm held a great council and gave a necklace of 6,000 beads to seal his alliance with all Indian nations who agreed not to separate nor to leave the expedition before the end of it.
The French expedition begins
On July 29, the division destined to the land expedition was assembled at the old camp of M. de Contrecoeur. This division (about 2,070 men) was placed under the command of Lévis seconded by M. de Sénézergue, Lieutenant-colonel of La Sarre Infanterie, and consisted of:
- French regulars
- Grenadiers (6 coys of 45 men each for a total of 270 men)
- Piquets (6 piquets for a total of 300 men)
- Troupes de la Marine (2 piquets for a total of 100 men)
- Canadian militia (3 brigades of 400 men each for a total of 1,200 men)
- Volontaires de Villiers (300 men)
- Indians (800 men)
On July 30 at 4:00 am, the Chevalier de Lévis left with his corps for Ganaouské Bay (near present-day Hague) which is located at some 22 km from Fort William Henry. The corps marched southward by the side of Lake Champlain, guided by the Iroquois Kanectagon, the most famous hunter of this nation. Lévis sent the Indians and Villiers' volunteers in the vanguard. They were followed by his grenadiers and piquets. The 3 Canadian brigades formed the rearguard. At 10:00 am, Lévis halted after crossing the steep gorge of Montagne Pelée (present-day Rogers Rock). The country being now more opened, he reformed his detachment into 3 columns always preceded by the Indians and Villiers’ volunteers. The right column consisted of the piquets and 2 Canadian brigades, the central column of the grenadiers and the leftmost of 2 Canadian brigades. Lévis then resumed his march until 4:00 pm and encamped by a stream after advancing some 18 km during the day.
On July 31, Lévis sent M. Wolf (a Canadian partisan, not to be confused with the British General James Wolfe) with 19 Canadians to inform Montcalm of his movements. At 4:00 am, Lévis resumed his advance in the same order as the previous day. At 3:00 pm, Lévis reached his assigned post after a march of 18 km that excessive heat, mountainous country, fallen trees and the necessity to carry everything, had made tiresome even for the Indians. Lévis' Corps then encamped by a stream flowing into Ganaouské Bay while Lévis sent scout to reconnoitre the way for the next day. The same evening, the Indians accompanying Montcalm's Corps had advanced 12 km ahead on Lake Saint-Sacrement where they waited for Montcalm.
During the night of July 31 to August 1, the artillery along with 250 small boats and 200 canoes were portaged from Carillon to Lake George.
On August 1, Lévis' detachment departed at 4:00 am as usual, first fording the stream then climbing two mountains before arriving on the shores of Ganaouské Bay at 10:00 am where it halted. March resumed at 12:00 am until 2:00 pm when the whole detachment encamped at the entry of the bay, its assigned point of rendezvous some 15 km from Fort William Henry. The same day, Webb wrote to the governor of New York, telling him that the French were certainly coming and begging him to send up the militia. He then sent up a detachment of 200 regulars under Lieutenant-colonel Young and 800 Massachusetts Provincials under Colonel Frye to reinforce Fort William Henry. This raised the force at the lake to 2,200 men, including sailors and mechanics, and reduced that of Webb to 1,600, besides half as many more distributed at Albany and the intervening forts. Indeed, still the same day at 2:00 pm, leaving a detachment of about 400 men to hold Fort Carillon, Montcalm embarked on Lake Saint-Sacrement at the Burned Camp with all his remaining force. At 5:00 pm, they reached their rendezvous with the Indians who embarked in their canoes and joined the French flotilla. A multitude of canoes led the way while 250 bateaux followed with the La Reine and Languedoc battalions first, then the colony regulars, then La Sarre and Guyenne, then the Canadian brigade of Courtemanche, then the guns and mortars escorted by the militia of Saint-Ours, then the battalions of Béarn and Royal Roussillon, then the Canadians of Gaspé with the provision-bateaux and the field-hospital, and a rear guard of regulars. They passed the Narrows in mist and darkness. At 10:00 pm, Lévis ordered to kindle 3 fires on the bank of the river as a signal to Montcalm.
On August 2 at 0:30 am, Montcalm's flotilla rounded the high promontory of Tongue Mountain. They saw, the fires kindled by Lévis far on the right. Montcalm’s army immediately started disembarkation at Lévis' camp, Montcalm himself arriving at 3:00 am. The same day, Lévis supplied his detachment for 4 days and left the camp at 11:00 am. His detachment marched along the shore of Lake Saint-Sacrement. At noon, Montcalm’s Army re-embarked and the flotilla coasted the western shore, remaining at the height of Lévis’ detachment. Lévis marched till 5:00 pm before encamping in a good position 4 km from the fort. Lévis then reconnoitred the fort, the British positions and the landings that could be used for the artillery; and informed Montcalm that he could safely disembark his force. Towards 11:00 pm, Montcalm arrived at this same bay with the army. Canoes and bateaux were drawn up on the beach and the united forces bivouacked together. About 10:00 pm, two boats set out from the British fort to reconnoitre.
On August 3, shortly after midnight, the two British boats spotted the bateaux carrying Roubaud and his brother missionaries. The rash British oarsmen immediately turned and pulled for their lives. A large party of Indians immediately embarked into their canoes and pursued these boats. The British managed to reach the eastern shore but the Indians were now upon them. Several oarsmen were killed, three were taken and the rest escaped in the woods. During this skirmish, one Nipissing Indian was killed and 2 wounded. The British prisoners were brought before Montcalm. They informed him that the British had spotted the French flotilla and that a reinforcement of 1,000 men, 4 guns and 50 supply wagons had arrived at the fort at 6:00 pm the previous day, bringing the British force to some 3,000 men of which 500 were in the fort and the rest in the entrenched camp located on the heights about 350 m. from the fort and within reach to refresh its garrison daily. They also told him that an attack was planned on the French camp at daybreak. Consequently, Montcalm ordered his troops to be under arms at daybreak. Lévis' detachment along with all the Indians formed the vanguard, followed by Montcalm’s force in columns. A guard of 500 regulars along with the Saint-Ours Brigade were left behind for the artillery and bateaux. Montcalm's plan was to advance against this presumed British force and, if not encountering any opposition, to resume his advance and to lay siege to Fort William Henry.
Siege of Fort William Henry
On August 3 at dawn, the French camp was all astir. The column of Lévis, with all Indians and part of the Canadians to lead the way, moved through the forest towards the fort and Montcalm followed with the main body in three columns: Rigaud on the right, Bourlamaque on the left and Montcalm in the centre. Then, the artillery boats preceded by Indian canoes rounded the point that had hid them from the sight of the British.
At 9:00 am, Monro, who was in command at the fort, sent Webb a hasty note, telling him that the French were in sight on the lake. Skirmishes broke out between Lévis' Indians and British parties sent out to save the cattle roaming in the neighbourhood and to burn some out-buildings that would have favoured the besiegers. Meanwhile, other British detachments were taking down the tents that stood on a plateau to the south-west of the fort and moving them to the entrenchment on the hill. To support these detachments, the garrison sallied from the fort. Lévis' vanguard only met a few outpost which were soon abandoned. It then took position on the road to Fort Edward. By noon, the investment of the fort was entirely formed.
During the night of August 4 to 5, the French opened the trenches at more than 600 m. from the fort. The siege of Fort William Henry lasted from August 4 to August 9 when the unsupported British garrison finally surrendered with the honours of war. The French captured 23 guns, 3 mortars, 17 pierriers, 1 howitzer, a large quantity of powder and 4 months supplies.
The British lost 100 men killed and 150 wounded; the French, 20 killed and 40 wounded.
Indian attack on the retiring British column
A guard of French troops were sent to the entrenchment as required by the British and Montcalm ordered the officers and interpreters attached to the Indians to remain there till the departure of the British. Despite all these precautions, Indians immediately began to plunder the fort. They killed the sick men remaining in the fort. They then turned their attention to the entrenched camp guarded by French regulars. Those could not or would not keep out the Indians. They roamed among the tents. The confusion in the camp lasted through the afternoon. Montcalm ran to the entrenched camp and tried to restore order and discipline. At last, around 9:00 pm, order seemed restored. Montcalm made arrangements for two chiefs of each nation to accompany British troops to Fort Edward. At 10:00 pm, Bougainville left for Montréal to carry news of the victory.
On August 10, in their haste to be gone, the British got together at daybreak before the escort of 300 regulars had arrived. They had their muskets, but no ammunition, and few or none of the provincials had bayonets. Early as it was, the Indians were on the alert. At about 5:00 am, the Indians entered a hut where 17 wounded men were attended to. They dragged out the inmates and tomahawked and scalped them all, in presence of La Corne and other Canadian officers, as well as of a French guard stationed within 12 meters of the spot. Plundering of the entrenched camp now began. The escort had by this time arrived and Monro complained to the officers that the capitulation was broken. However, they advised him to give up the baggage to the Indians in order to appease them. The British then gave their baggage and even rum to the Indians. After much difficulty, the column at last got out of the camp and began to move along the road that crossed the rough plain between the entrenchment and the forest. The Indians constantly harassed the column, tomahawking those that resisted. Some 80 New Hampshire men at the rear of the column were killed or dragged away. Montcalm, Lévis, Bourlamaque, and many other French officers, who had hastened from their camp on the first news of disturbance, threw themselves among the Indians, and by promises and threats tried to allay their frenzy. The broken British column straggled forward in wild disorder and the killing continued. Some 50 persons were killed while about 700 were carried off. Montcalm succeeded in recovering more than 400 of them in the course of the day. All the refugees and redeemed prisoners were afterwards conducted to the entrenched camp where food and shelter were provided for them and a strong guard set for their protection.
Demolition of Fort William Henry
On the morning of August 11, the Indians decamped in a body and set out for Montréal, carrying with them their plunder and some 200 prisoners. Meanwhile, the French troops were set to the work of demolishing and burning the British fort.
When the news of the capture of Fort William Henry spread, militia came pouring in from the neighbouring provinces. In a few days, thousands of them were bivouacked on the fields about Fort Edward.
On August 14, Webb wrote that most of the New York militia had deserted.
On August 15, the British kept in the entrenched camp were finally sent under escort to Fort Edward where Sir William Johnson had joined Webb with a band of Mohawks.
On August 16, part of the French army re-embarked.
On August 17, learning that the French were retiring, Webb sent the militia back to their homes.
On August 18, Canadian militia left Fort William Henry to return home for the harvest. When Montcalm quit Fort William Henry a few days later, Lévis assumed command of the remaining troops charged with the transportation of material through the portage near Carillon.
Loudoun was still at sea, off the coast of Nova Scotia on his way back from Halifax, when a despatch-boat from Governor Pownall of Massachusetts informed him that Fort William Henry was attacked. A few days later, he learned by another boat that the fort was taken.
On August 20, Loudoun ordered Webb to hold his position without risking a battle till he should himself arrive.
On August 31, Loudoun reached New York and heard that the French had withdrawn. He nevertheless sent his troops up the Hudson. Meanwhile, obeying orders, Webb had remained at Fort Edward.
Two weeks after their arrival at Montréal most British detained by the Indians had been bought back. But the Indians killed one prisoner and forced his countrymen to eat him.
By September 1, Lévis had completed the transportation of all captured material to Carillon. Meanwhile, he had sent a detachment under M. de Contrecoeur at the head of Lake Saint-Sacrement. He also sent a second party of grenadiers and piquets to the mouth of the Chicot River some 46 km from his position. This second party discovered an abandoned British camp near the fall of the Chicot River and destroyed it.
The French army returns to Canada
On September 3, Lévis was back to Carillon with his corps.
On September 4, Lévis marched from Carillon towards Saint-Jean with the battalions of La Reine, La Sarre, Languedoc and Guyenne along with 300 Troupes de la Marine. Bourlamaque remained at Carillon with the battalions of Royal Roussillon and Béarn along with 300 Troupes de la Marine to continue work on the fort.
On September 7, Lévis arrived at Saint-Jean where he left the battalions of La Reine, La Sarre, and Languedoc, and M. de Désandrouin to continue the fortification of this fort. Meanwhile, Guyenne Infanterie was assigned to the works on the portage road at Chambly and the Troupes de la Marine were sent back to their garrisons at Montréal and Québec.
On September 8, Lévis was asked to take command in Montréal while Montcalm would travel to Québec to review the newly arrived Berry Infanterie Regiment.
On September 12, Montcalm left for Québec.
Famine in Canada
On September 28, the Marquis de Vaudreuil ordered Lévis to reduce the rations of the 4 French battalions stationed at Saint-Jean and Chambly. The order to be effective October 1.
In October similar supply restrictions were imposed to the garrisons of Québec and Montréal.
On October 6, Vaudreuil left Montréal for Québec, ordering Lévis to send a piquet from each of the 4 battalions (La Reine, La Sarre, Languedoc and Guyenne) at Saint-Jean and Chambly to garrison Fort Carillon.
On October 12, Lévis sent out from Saint-Jean the 4 aforementioned piquets under the command of M. d’Hébecourt.
On October 20, Bourlamaque lifted his camp at Carillon and retired towards Montréal with the battalions of Royal Roussillon and Béarn along with 300 Troupes de la Marine to take his winter-quarters. However, Bourlamaque left behind one piquet of each of his battalion along with 50 Troupes de la Marine to reinforce the garrison of Carillon. The same day, Vaudreuil assembled a detachment at Lachine under the command of M. de Bellêtre, a lieutenant of the Troupes de la Marine. This detachment consisted of 100 Canadians, cadets or Troupes de la Marine, 10 officers and 200 Indians. Its mission was to raid the British and Mohawk settlements on the Mohawk River.
On October 24, Bellêtre’s detachment left La Présentation (present-day Ogdensburg, New York) where it had been reinforced by the Indians of this village. The detachment operated on the Mohawk River in November and made the raid on German Flats.
On October 26, Languedoc Infanterie left Saint-Jean for its winter-quarters in Pointe-aux-Trembles.
On October 27, Bourlamaque arrived at Saint-Jean with his troops. Royal Roussillon took its winter-quarters at Boucherville and Béarn garrisoned Montréal. The same day, Lévis sent La Reine to Québec to garrison the town.
On October 28, La Sarre Infanterie left Saint-Jean for its winter-quarters on Ile-Jésus.
On October 29, Guyenne Infanterie took its winter-quarters on the Chambly River.
On November 1, Lévis was instructed to further reduce the rations of the troops cantoned in the Government of Montréal. The same measures had already been applied without difficulty in the Government of Québec. Lévis adressed personnaly the soldiers of Béarn Infanterie who accepted these measures. However, the Troupes de la Marine initially refused to comply and Lévis had to intervene to persuade them to obey.
On November 10, Vaudreuil arrived at Montréal from Québec.
On November 20, in the evening Lévis was informed that some soldiers from Béarn Infanterie and Troupes de la Marine were preparing to refuse their assigned rations. He met 4 grenadiers of Béarn Infanterie to discuss the situation with them and, once more, circumvented a potential mutiny.
On December 1, supplies distributed to the population were once more reduced and horse meat was introduce in the daily rations. In the afternoon, women started a riot in Montréal and 4 of them made representations to the Marquis de Vaudreuil. The latter tried to convince them and threatened to imprison and even hang some of them if another riot occurred.
On December 4, Vaudreuil ordered to introduce horse meat in the rations of the garrisons of Montréal and Québec.
On December 9, Béarn Infanterie accepted its first rations of horse meat after some argumentation with the Chevalier de Lévis.
Relation of the campaign by Louis Antoine de Bougainville aide-de-camp to Montcalm
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Bougainville, Louis Antoine de, Relation de l'expédition et de la prise du fort Guillaume Henry le 9 août 1757, Pièce A2-32s - Collection de pièces relatives à l'histoire de la guerre commencée entre la France et l'Angleterre en 1756, Service historique de la Défense
- Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 305-306
- Lévis, chevalier de, Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, pp. 81-112
- Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 276-306