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Abercrombie's Expedition and the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga, July 1758

Abercrombie's Expedition and the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga, July 1758

Before the advent of civilization Lake George was the water-way of war and continued so for nearly one hundred and fifty years after. Following the fierce forays of the Iroquois and their savage enemies came the French and Indian War; the long and bloody strife between England and France for the sovereignty of the New World, and the way of American Independence. Lake George was a strategic link in the water route between New York and Quebec.

In 1758 the French held Ticonderoga, by them called Carillon, at the foot of the Lake, and the territory north, while the English held the head of the Lake and the territory south. Beside a multitude of marauding expeditions and lesser conflicts along the shores of Lake George – on the part of regular soldiers, provincials, partisans, rangers, scouts and Indian allies of either side – there had occurred "The Bloody Morning Scout," with the death of Colonel Williams and King Hendrick, the Mohawk Sachem, in September 1755; the Battle of Lake George and its defeat of Baron Dieskau on the same day: the winter attack on Fort William Henry in 1757, and the siege and capture, by Montcalm, of Fort William Henry, with its following massacre, in August of that year.

So far the French had been the most enterprising, aggressive and successful, and England and France alike comprehended that the deciding crisis was approaching. Pitt was the influential spirit of the British Ministry, and proposed this year (1758) energetic operations against Canada. The possession of Ticonderoga was of prime importance, for it commanded both Lake George and Champlain.

In June, 1758, an army of over 6000 English regulars and nearly 10,000 Provincials we gathered at the head of Lake George for the capture of Ticonderoga. General Abercrombie, a creature of the English Court, without antecedents or native ability for so exacting a position – was entrusted with the command. Pitt, however, in the selection of Lord Howe-a young nobleman, esteemed "the noblest Englishman of his time," –
as second in command, sought to supply the deficiencies of Abercrombie. Howe was indeed the controlling spirit, and had willingly learned from such men as Stark, Putnam, Lyman, Rogers "the Ranger," and others with him, something of woods and frontier fighting, which the French already better understood than did the English. With the difficulties and labor incident to bad roads and primitive conditions hardly to be now comprehended, this large army with its munitions, provisions and transportation were gathered, and on the night of the 4th of July,1758 – a day which was to have significance in the calendars of future years, all except the troops were loaded, and early in the morning of the 5th the largest army Lake George has known was afloat upon its bosom.

The flotilla consisted of nine hundred bateaux, one hundred and thirty whaleboats, and rafts, or floats, for artillery. The grand and brilliant pageant which Abercrombie looked out upon that bright and beautiful midsummer morning had had no parallel on this continent, and seldom, if ever, surpassed since in some of its features.

The lithographic illustration above is an excellent reduced reproduction of Mr. Yohn's painting-owned by the
Glens Falls Insurance Company – representing Abercrombie looking out upon his embarked command just before embarking himself.

The scarlet coats and trappings of the British regulars and the parti-colored plaids of the Scotch Highlanders, flanked by the sober homespun of the Provincials, with flags and banners everywhere, gave
abundance of brilliant color, while music of bands and bagpipes and the blare of trumpets and bugles sounded over the placid lake and echoed among its hills and mountains.

The impressive and gorgeous spectacle moved between the primeval shores like a splendid illusion of fancy: but it was, in fact, an actual martial aggregation abounding in the spirit of bright and reasonable expectation of victory. For miles the lake was covered with the flotilla, and entering the Narrows stretched out to six miles in length.

Reaching a pleasant point below the Narrows late Saturday evening, the troops disembarked and rested until after midnight, when they re-embarked and thus gave the ever-since name to Sabbath-day Point.

With muffled oars, silently in the darkness, Lord Howe leading in a whaleboat, they moved down the lake and were first discovered by the French outposts on Rogers' Rock. By noon of Sunday an undisputed landing was effected, and Howe, advancing with rangers under Putnam and Rogers, soon encountered a French detachment, when an irregular skirmish ensued, and Lord Howe fell at the first fire. With him expired the spirit and confidence of the expedition, for all afterwards was indecision and folly.

The next day a single barge bore Lord Howe's body up the lake, escorted by Philip,then entering upon his distinguished career.

Montcalm, commanding nearly 4,000 French at Ticonderoga, hastened to improve the entrapments across the neck of the peninsula on which Fort Carillon was situated. Time was what he mast desired, and the indecision of Abercrombie favored him. Earth-filled log-barricades were thrown up, and forest trees felled outward with their branches sharpened made a difficult abatis along their front.

On the 8th, Sir William Johnson having arrived with three or four hundred Mohawks, Abercrombie decided upon assault instead of the slower and surer process of a siege, and hurled his solid columns against the entrenched Montcalm. They could not advance in force beyond the terrible abatis, and no command to retreat came. For six hours they fought with unsurpassed valor, but against hope.

While these sanguinary scenes were in progress Abercrombie reposed in inglorious security well in the rear, but Montcalm, without coat that hot afternoon, was everywhere present, meeting every peril and animating his troops by voice and example.

The English loss was about 2,000 and that of the French was less than 500. Seldom has human life and courage been more shamefully wasted. In one of the assaults the Highland regiment lost twenty-five of its officers, killed or wounded.

With all his artillery and a still sufficiently superior farce for a successful siege, Abercrombie, to the astonishment of Montcalm, was soon in full retreat up the lake with his burden of wounded, but leaving behind him baggage and provisions.

Compared with the splendor of Abercrombie's advance, his retreat was an ignominious flight.

The full story of this really great expedition and bloody battle is full of interest and interesting incident, and is commended to those who may read this very brief mention.

Ticonderoga was held by the French until July, 1759 when General Amherst, with a less imposing force and display, advanced through Lake George and began siege operations, and after a few days Ticonderoga was evacuated and blown up by the French officer Burlamaque, then in command.

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