1759 - British expedition against Carillon
The campaign lasted from June to October 1759
For the campaign of 1759, the British secretary of state William Pitt had directed that, while Québec was attacked, an attempt should be made to penetrate into Canada by way of Carillon (actual Ticonderoga) and Fort Saint-Frédéric (actual Crown Point), following the waterway of Lake Champlain and Richelieu river. Thus the two British armies might unite in the heart of the French colony, or, at least, a powerful diversion might be made in behalf of major-general James Wolfe. At the same time Oswego was to be re-established on the shores of Lake Ontario, and the possession of Pittsburgh (former Fort Duquesne), secured by reinforcements and supplies.
Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the commander-in-chief in North America, sent brigadier-general John Stanwix to conduct the operations for the relief of Pittsburgh. Amherst himself prepared to lead the grand central advance by Lake Champlain against Carillon, Fort Saint-Frédéric and Montréal.
In January, the marquis de Vaudreuil, governor of Canada, sent about 200 Indians to winter at Carillon (actual Ticonderoga) where M. d'Hébecourt assumed command.
In the first days of February, M. du Fay, ensign in La Reine Infanterie was detached by M. d'Hébecourt with 30 Indians to operate against British convoys between Fort Edward and Fort Sarosto (unidentified location). Du Fay attacked and put to flight a detachment of 40 men, killing 6 of them and capturing one. The prisoner confirmed that the British were not planning any winter expedition in this area.
In March, a detachment of 30 Rogers Rangers and some Indians reconnoitred French positions around Carillon and attacked a party of carpenters. D'Hébecourt immediately sent a party of 30 French and some Indians to succour the carpenters. In this skirmish, 5 carpenters were killed and 6 wounded while 1 Indian and 3 French soldiers were wounded. The rangers had a few men wounded and 1 sergeant captured. From this prisoner, the French learned that an engineer was with the British detachment to draw a plan of the fortifications and that the British planned to attack Carillon in the spring.
During winter, d'Hébecourt had lost about 20 men from sickness. In preparation for the coming campaign, xebecs (galleys) were built at Saint-Jean on the Richelieu river for the defence of Lake Champlain.
Preparations for the campaign
In late April and early May, brigadier-general François-Charles de Bourlamaque was sent forward to assume command at Fort Carillon.
In May, the French commanders while preparing their plan for the coming campaign, decided to give priority to the defence of Québec. It was also resolved that the army of Lake Champlain (about 2,500 men) would retire from Carillon and Fort Saint-Frédéric, after destroying the fortifications, as soon as the British would arrive in the region and concentrate on Île-aux-Noix which was currently being fortified. Indeed, since the beginning of May, British troops had begun to assemble at Albany.
On May 12, Amherst himself arrived at Albany.
At the end of May, M. de la Pause was sent to the Île-aux-Noix to work at the fortifications.
On June 3, Amherst set out for Fort Edward, leaving brigadier-general Thomas Gage at Albany to bring up the rear.
On June 12, Amherst arrived at Fort Edward with his main force. During his march through the woods, he had continually dispatched parties to prevent a surprise.
On June 21, Amherst and Gage left Fort Edward with a large part of the army and marched towards the head of Lake Saint-Sacrement (actual Lake George).
At the end of June, Amherst had assembled his army at the usual rendezvous by the head of Lake Saint-Sacrement. His force consisted of about 11,500 men, 5,000 of them Provincials and the remainder British. These British regulars consisted of:
- 1st Brigade under colonel Forster
- 2nd Brigade under colonel Grant
The grenadiers of the army were grouped into a single corps and a light infantry unit brought together detachments of various regiments. Yet, Amherst's army should have included a great number of ship's carpenters and quantities of supplies for the creation of a naval force on Lake Champlain. This provision was, however, overlooked.
The rear of the army was well protected: fortified posts were built at intervals of 6 km along the road to Fort Edward and especially at the station called Half-way Brook (actual Glens Falls NY); for the whole distance, a broad belt of wood on both sides was cut down and burned to deprive a skulking enemy of cover. Amherst began a fort on the flat rocky hill where stood the British entrenched camp during the siege of Fort William Henry. However, only one bastion of it was ever finished.
By degree, the bateaux and other vessels were embarked on the lake. It took general Amherst a considerable time to get up his artillery, ammunition, stores and provisions, and to embark them on the lake.
The campaign begins
On Saturday July 21, after a long delay, British troops embarked and the important flotilla set sail over Lake Saint-Sacrement. This flotilla was drawn up in four columns, the light troops and Provincials on either flank, the regular troops in the right centre and the artillery and baggage in the left centre. An advanced and a rear-guard in line covered the head and tail of the columns, and an armed sloop followed in rear of all. The flotilla reached the Narrows at the outlet of the lake before nightfall.
At daybreak on Sunday July 22, the force disembarked, beat back a French detachment and marched by the portage road to the saw-mill at the waterfall. This was the route of Abercromby's second advance to Fort Carillon. They occupied the heights, and then advanced to the famous line of entrenchment of Carillon. These works had been completely reconstructed since the battle of the previous year. Amherst's force was less numerous than Abercromby's force in 1758, while the French commander, Bourlamaque, had a force nearly equal to that of the marquis de Montcalm in the summer before. Yet Bourlamaque made no attempt to defend the entrenchment. He had withdrawn his garrison, some 3,500 men, into the fort. The British, encamping along the front of these entrenchments, found them an excellent shelter from the cannon of the fort beyond. Amherst brought up his artillery and began approaches in form.
On the night of July 23, it was found that Bourlamaque had retired down Lake Champlain, leaving 400 men under Hébecourt to defend the place as long as possible. This was in obedience to an order from Vaudreuil, requiring him on the approach of the British to abandon both Carillon and Fort St-Frédéric, retreat to the outlet of Lake Champlain, take post at Île-aux-Noix, and there defend himself to the last extremity. The fort fired briskly. A cannon-shot killed colonel Townshend and a few soldiers were killed and wounded by grape and bursting shells.
At dusk on the evening of July 26, an unusual movement was seen among the French garrison. About 10:00 PM, 3 deserters came in great excitement to the British camp, reporting that Hébecourt and his soldiers were escaping in their boats, and that a match was burning in the magazine to blow Fort Carillon to atoms. Amherst offered 100 guineas to any one of them who would point out the match, that it might be cut but they shrank from the perilous venture. All was silent till 11:00 PM, when a broad, fierce glare burst on the night, and a roaring explosion shook the promontory; then came a few breathless moments, and then the fragments of Fort Carillon fell with clatter and splash on the water and the land. It was but one bastion, however, that had been thus hurled skyward. The rest of the fort was little hurt, though the barracks and other combustible parts were set on fire.
Amherst repaired the damage and prepared for advance on Fort Saint-Frédéric (actual Crown Point). Meanwhile, the boats and rafts had been laboriously transferred into Lake Champlain.
On August 1, Amherst's scouts told him that the French had abandoned Fort Saint-Frédéric after destroying most of it and had fallen back to the strong position of Île aux Noix at the northern outlet of Lake Champlain. Amherst immediately took possession of the deserted fort.
On August 4, Amherst himself marched into the fort and began its reconstruction. He had left colonel James Montresor at Fort Carillon to finish it. Montresor was also in command of all troops posted from Carillon to Albany.
The campaign comes to a halt
During this time, major-general James Wolfe was battling with the impossible under the rocks of Québec and every motive impelled Amherst to push to his relief, not counting costs, or balancing risks too nicely. Nevertheless, Amherst set his army to building a new fort at Fort Saint-Frédéric. Then he began 3 small additional forts, as outworks to the first, sent 2 parties to explore the sources of the Hudson; one party to explore Otter Creek; another to explore South Bay, which was already well known; another to make a road from Fort Saint-Frédéric to Fort "Number Four" (actual Charlestown) on the Connecticut river; and another to widen and improve the old French road between Fort Saint-Frédéric and Carillon. However, the essential task of making a diversion to aid the army of Wolfe was needlessly postponed.
The French had 4 armed vessels on the lake:
- 1 schooner
- Vigilante (10): 6-pdrs or 4-pdrs
- 3 xebecs
- Maskinongé (8): 2 x brass 12-pdrs and 6 x iron 6-pdrs, about 45 men
- Brochet (8): 6-pdrs or 4-pdrs, about 45 men
- Esturgeon (8): 6-pdrs or 4-pdrs, about 45 men
This small French flotilla made it necessary to provide an equal or superior force to protect the British flotilla on its way to Île-aux-Noix. Captain Joshua Loring, the British naval commander, was therefore ordered to build a brigantine: the “Duke of Cumberland”. This being thought insufficient, he was directed to add a kind of floating battery, moved by sweeps.
At Île-aux-Noix, Bourlamaque now had with him 3,500 men and 100 cannon, in a position of great strength. The island was planted in mid-channel of the Richelieu river soon after it issues from Lake Champlain. On each side of it was an arm of the river, closed by chevaux-de-frise.
After the fall of Niagara, the chevalier de Lévis had been sent up from Québec with 800 men to command the whole department of Montréal. A body of troops and militia was encamped opposite that town, ready to march towards either quarter, as need might be, while the abundant crops of the neighbouring parishes were harvested by armed bands, ready at a word to drop the sickle for the gun.
On September 1, Amherst received intelligence that Bourlamaque had launched a new 16-guns vessel on the Richelieu river.
On September 3, in consequence of farther information concerning the force of the French vessels, Amherst ordered a 16-guns sloop, the “Boscawen”, to be put on the stocks. All of this involved a long delay. The saw-mill at Carillon was to furnish planks for the intended navy; but, being overtasked in sawing timber for the new works at Fort Saint-Frédéric, it was continually breaking down. Hence much time was lost, and autumn was well advanced before captain Loring could launch his vessels.
On September 8, Lévis left Montréal to inspect the French positions at Île-aux-Noix. He spent the night at Chambly.
On September 9, Lévis reached Saint-Jean on the Richelieu river.
On September 10, Lévis inspected the fortifications at Île-aux-Noix, then returned to Chambly.
Amherst makes another timid attempt
On September 29, Loring launched the Ligonier (a 84 ft by 20 ft radeau, armed with six 24-pdrs).
On October 10, the 18-guns brig “Duke of Cumberland” (6 x 6-pdrs, 12 x 4-pdrs, 20 swivels, 70 seamen and 60 marines) built at Ticonderoga (former Carillon) arrived at Crown Point (former Saint-Frédéric).
On October 11, the sloop “Boscawen” (4 x 6-pdrs, 12 x 4-pdrs, 22 swivels, 60 seamen, 50 marines) arrived at Crown Point. The miniature navy of captain Loring (the “Ligonier” radeau, the brig “Duke of Cumberland”, the sloop “Boscawen”, 2 small radeaux, 3 galleys and a large number of bateaux and canoes) was finally ready for service. The vessels sailed at once to look for the enemy. Meanwhile, Amherst, leaving the provincials to work at the fort, embarked with the regulars in bateaux, and proceeded on his northern way.
During the night of October 11 to 12, major John Reid with some bateaux of the 42nd Royal Highlands Foot lost their way in the night.
On October 12 at daybreak, major Reid's bateaux found themselves among the French xebecs at the Isle-aux-Quatre-Vents. The French fired several guns at the British bateaux and took one of them, capturing 1 lieutenant, 1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 28 men. In the evening, a head-wind began to blow and, rising to a storm, drove Amherst's bateaux for shelter into Ligonier Bay, on the west side of the lake. Around 5:00 PM, Loring's squadron caught up with the French flotilla near Îles-au-Bois-Blanc (actual Sisters Islands). Loring gave chase to bring them to action and drove them into Cumberland bay on the west shore and anchored so as to prevent their getting away. However, the schooner “Vigilante” had managed to escape and to take refuge near Isle la Motte.
On October 13, Loring went into the bay in search of the French xebecs and found that the “Brochet” and “Esturgeon” had been scuttled near Crab Island and the “Maskiningé” run aground. The crews had escaped to the shore. The same day, it blew a gale and the British bateaux, fit only for smooth water, remained on shore. Through all the next night the gale continued, with floods of driving rain.
On October 15, Amherst was still immobilized in Ligonier Bay by bad weather.
On October 16, it froze in the night and the wind did not abate.
On the morning of October 17, the wind shifted to the south but soon turned back with violence to the north. Amherst resolved to abandon his project against Île-aux-Noix and return to Crown Point (former Fort Saint-Frédéric) to complete the works there.
On October 18, the wind came to the southward again and Amherst immediately proceeded down the lake as far as the place where the French xebecs were. He repaired the “Maskinongé”, renamed her “Amherst”, and then resumed his retreat to Crown Point. The same day, news of the advance of Amherst's army on Lake Champlain reached Montréal.
On October 19, Lévis, who had taken position near Québec, was informed of Amherst's movements and immediately sent the mixed battalion of Montréal and some of the militia of Montréal to reinforce Île-aux-Noix.
On October 20, Lévis, uninformed that Amherst had already retired, sent another detachment of militia under the command of M. de Niverville to Île-aux-Noix. The same day, Bourlamaque, commanding at Île-aux-Noix, was informed that Amherst had probably retreated.
On October 21, Amhert's army arrived at Crown Point.
On October 27, the “Boscawen”, the “Amherst” and some bateaux were sent to Crab Island where they raised the “Brochet” and the “Esturgeon” from the depths. The 2 xebecs were then incorporated into the British flotilla.
Throughout October, work continued on the fortifications of Île-aux-Noix.
At the end of November, the French army of Île-aux-Noix retired into its winter quarters after completing the fortifications of the island. A detachment of 100 regulars and 300 men of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine garrisoned Île-aux-Noix under the command of M. de Lusignan. Another force of 150 regulars and 150 men of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine was stationed at Saint-Jean on the Richelieu river.
In fact, since the middle of August, the campaign of the armies of the south and west was virtually closed.
This article is essentially an abridged and adapted version of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 380-383, 445-448
- Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 204-205
- Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 370-371
- Lévis, chevalier de, Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, pp. 165, 169, 170, 175-177, 191, 202, 226-228, 231, 232, 235
- Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 442-456
French and British Military Conflict (1664-1763), Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
Incident at Cliff Haven: October 12, 1759, America's Historic Lakes