1755 - British expedition against Fort Niagara
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The campaign lasted from July to October 1755
Among all the campaigns against French posts in North America in 1755, that he planned, William Shirley, the British governor of Massachusetts and Commander-in-Chief in North America, personally assumed command of the expedition against Fort Niagara. The fort, near present day Youngstown, New York, was situated on the eastern bank of the Niagara River at its mouth, on Lake Ontario.
In July, Major-General Shirley arrived at Albany, which had been chosen as the base camp for his expedition. His force numbered some 2,500 men and consisted of Shirley's 50th Regiment of Foot, Pepperrell's 51st Regiment of Foot, and one regiment of New Jersey Provincials (500 men), known as the Jersey Blues. The two newly raised regular foot regiments mostlt consisted of raw provincial recruits.
Departing from Albany, the expeditionary force used bateaux to advance upstream on the Mohawk.
Meanwhile, French reinforcements had arrived in Québec and several battalions had been sent upstream to Montréal. On July 18, the first division of Béarn Infanterie marched from Montréal to Lachine on its way to Fort Frontenac (present-day Kingston, Ontario). At noon, the division embarked at Lachine aboard 24 boats.
On July 23, Lieutenant-Colonel Ellison embarked from Schenectady for Oswego with part (5th division) of the 50th Foot.
On July 24, Shirley arrived at Schenectady where Lieutenant-Colonel Mercer was still waiting for bateaux with 5 companies of the 51st Foot and one of the 50th Foot.
On July 28, the first division of Béarn Infanterie reached Fort La Présentation (near present-day Ogdensburg, New York), a square fort flanked by four bastions linked by curtain walls and garrisoned by 30 men.
On July 29, Shirley embarked from Schenectady for Oswego. His force consisted of 97 bateaux loaded with military stores and provisions, 200 regulars, 150 bargemen and 40 Indians. Lieutenant-Colonel Mercer was left behind at Schenectady with orders to follow Shirley as soon as possible. Shirley followed the main force and ascended the Mohawk River. The expedition passed Fort Johnson, the two villages of the Mohawks, and the Palatine settlement of German Flats. Beyond this settlement, Shirley's force advanced about 100 km through wilderness and reached the "Great Carrying Place" (present-day Rome NY), which divided the waters that flow to the Hudson from those that flow to Lake Ontario. From this location, bateaux had to be carried overland for 2.7 km from the Mohawk River to Wood Creek (not to be confused with the Wood Creek of Lake Champlain). The force then reboarded the bateaux and advanced downstream to Lake Oneida, then along the Onondaga River.
On July 31, Nipissing warriors informed the commander of the first division of Béarn Infanterie of the French victory over a British force commanded by Braddock on the Monongahela.
On August 1, the first division of Béarn Infanterie finally reached Fort Frontenac on Lake Ontario.
On August 2, the second division of Béarn Infanterie arrived at Fort Frontenac.
On August 9, the first division of Guyenne Infanterie arrived at Fort Frontenac.
On August 11, the second division of Guyenne Infanterie arrived at Fort Frontenac.
On August 18, Shirley's force finally arrived at Fort Oswego, 20 days after its departure from Schenectady. Supplies could not keep up with the swift advance of the expeditionary force. Shirley had to stop at Oswego and put his force on short rations while waiting for his supplies to arrive.
Fort Oswego, located on the south shore of Lake Ontario, was in very bad condition. It consisted of a stone wall armed with 5 guns (3-pdrs and 4-pdrs). Shirley immediately ordered the construction of a strong log palisaded fort capable of mounting large guns and containing barracks for 300 men. Furthermore, to secure the place to the south of the old fort, Shirley ordered his men to build a small fort of earth and masonry with four bastions, a rampart, parapet and ditch.
Meanwhile, the French had sent more reinforcements to Forts Frontenac and Niagara. At the end of August, a force of 1,400 regulars and Canadiens, and 2 vessels was assembled at Fort Frontenac, while Niagara was garrisoned by 1,200 Canadiens and Indians sent from Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh). After the ambush on the Monongahela, the French had seized papers disclosing British plans for the capture of Fort Niagara. Seeing this, the commander at Fort Duquesne had immediately sent reinforcements there.
At Oswego, Shirley had a sloop, a schooner, some row-galleys and whaleboats, and about 1,500 effective men at his disposal. With both French forts reinforced, Shirley dared not advance directly on Fort Niagara (which lay at a distance of at least 4 days by boat) because of the risk of being cut off from his base of operation at Fort Oswego by the French garrison of Fort Frontenac, only 80 km north across the lake.
On August 22, the French started to build entrenchments around Fort Frontenac.
On September 3, the French started the construction of a 12-gun corvette at Fort Frontenac.
On September 12, Father Piquet arrived at Fort Frontenac at the head of 40 Indian warriors.
On September 18, the works on the new fort at Oswego were almost completed when Shirley received intelligence about Fort Niagara. He called a council of officers. He now had only 1,376 men fit for duty. Nevertheless, the council decided that Shirley should advance upon Niagara with 600 regulars, the Albany men, the Indians and a small train of artillery as soon as provisions could reach Oswego. However, bad weather persisted, delaying the advance.
On September 27, eight bateaux arrived at Oswego with 40 barrels of flour and 13 of bread, providing Shirley with enough provisions for his planned expedition against Niagara. He summoned a new council. The plan to attack Niagara was abandoned as impractical. It was rather resolved to strengthen Fort Oswego and to build additional vessels to renew the offensive the following year.
Using his influence, Shirley had assembled most of the available brass ordnance from New England and New York at Fort Oswego.
On October 1, the battalion of Guyenne Infanterie stationed at Fort Frontenac received orders to leave as soon as possible for Fort Niagara, to fortify the place and to build barracks for 300 men. Captain de Pouchot of Béarn Infanterie accompanied them to supervise the work.
On October 5, the battalion of Guyenne Infanterie embarked for Fort Niagara aboard 45 boats, leaving 60 men to guard the two schooners.
On October 7, two schooners sailed from Fort Frontenac for Fort Niagara.
On October 24, Shirley decided to retreat. He left Oswego, leaving orders with the commanding officer of the garrison (about 700 men) to finish the two forts.
On November 4, Shirley arrived at Albany.
In November, leaving 3 piquets at Fort Frontenac, the battalion of Béarn Infanterie returned to Montréal.
On November 21, the first elements of Béarn Infanterie arrived at Lachine from where they were redirected to their winter-quarters in Longueuil (3 coys), Boucherville (5 coys) and La Prairie (5 coys).
On December 2, Shirley arrived at New York.
On December 3, the battalion of Guyenne Infanterie arrived at Lachine from Fort Frontenac. It took its winter quarters on the Island of Montréal: at Longue-Pointe, Pointe-aux-Trembles and Pointe-aux-Prairies.
On December 12, Shirley held a council of war in New York. During this council, it was decided to build a snow (a type of brig), a brigantine and a sloop at Fort Oswego for operations on Lake Ontario the following year.
This description is a combination of abridged and adapted excerpts from the following books 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.
- Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 284-285.
- Malartic, Comte de Maurès de: Journal des Campagnes au Canada de 1755 à 1760, Dijon: Damidot, 1890, pp. 13-44.
- Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 186-191.