French and Indian War: Failure of a Strategy
French and Indian War: Failure of a Strategy
Fort Beauséjour. Less than a month before Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock’s disaster, the colonials had experienced success in implementing another part of the four-pronged strategy to deal with the French. An expedition of colonials, stiffened by a few British regulars, had landed at the top of the Bay of Fundy to deal with Fort Beauséjour. This fortress protected the lines of communication between Canada and the great fort at Louisbourg. A small British stronghold, Fort Lawrence, within sight of Beauséjour, was the only bar to any French attack on Nova Scotia. In May 1755 two thousand colonials landed near Fort Lawrence and set about capturing Beauséjour. Forcing their way across a river and pushing aside French defenders, the colonials occupied the hills behind the fort. With two small mortars, they began a harassing fire while waiting for the cannon to be brought up. Three days later, one of the mortar bombs burst in what the French defenders had thought was a bombproof shelter, killing six French officers and a captive. The commander of the fort, not a soldier but a corrupt profiteer, quickly surrendered the fort. The big guns brought for the siege, the kind the fort had been built to withstand, were not even in position.
DEATH IN THE FOREST
Nine days after Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock’s army was cut to pieces near Fort Duquesne, Col. George Washington wrote his account of the battle in a letter to his mother:
As I doubt not but you have heard of our defeat, and perhaps have it represented in a worse light (if possible) than it deserves. I have taken this earliest opportunity to give you some account of the engagement as it happened, within seven miles of the French fort, on Wednesday, the 9th inst.
We marched on to that place without any considerable loss, having only now and then a straggler picked up by the Indian scouts of the French. When we came there, we were attacked by a body of French and Indians, whose number (I am certain) did not exceed 300 men. Ours consisted of about 1,300 well-armed troops, chiefly of the English soldiers, who were struck with such a panic that they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive. The officers behaved gallantly in order to encourage their men, for which they suffered greatly, there being near 60 killed and wounded—a large proportion out of the number we had!
The Virginia troops showed a good deal of bravery, and were near all killed; for I believe out of three companies that were there, there are scarce 30 men left alive. Captain Peyrouny and all his officers, down to a corporal, were killed; Captain Poison shared near as hard a fate, for only one of his was left. In short, the dastardly behavior of those they call regulars exposed all others to almost certain death; and, at last, in despite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they broke and ran as sheep pursued by dogs; and it was impossible to rally them.
The general was wounded; of which he died three days after. Sir Peter Halket was killed in the field, where died many other brave officers. I luckily escaped without a wound, though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me. Captains Orme and Morris, two of the general’s aides de camp, were wounded early in the engagement, which rendered the duty hard upon me, as I was the only person then left to distribute the general’s orders; which I was scarcely able to do as I was not half recovered from a violent illness that confined me to my bed and a wagon for above ten days.
I am still in a weak and feeble condition; which induces me to halt here two or three days in hope of recovering a little strength to enable me to proceed homeward. . . .
P.S. We had about 300 men killed and as many, and more, wounded.
Source: John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, 39 volumes (Washington; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931-1944), volume 1, pp. 150-152.
Shirley’s Failure. The third part of the plan was undertaken by Gov. William Shirley of Massachusetts. When Braddock’s army was destroyed, Shirley was leading 1,500 men up the Mohawk River to capture the French fort at Niagara. As enthusiastic as he was, Shirley was baffled by the logistical problems of moving an army. By the beginning of September, he had made it only as far as Oswego. There he got unwelcome news. The French had not only reinforced Fort Niagara but had gathered a force at Fort Frontenac across Lake Ontario, intending to capture Oswego. If Shirley went forward, hed’ be caught between the French at Niagara and the French at Frontenac. The French saw an opportunity and diverted Baron Ludwig Dieskau from marching to Niagara and sent him down Lake Champlain to attack Albany and New York City. Abandoning his plan, Shirley left two regiments to hold Oswego and returned to New England.
A Missed Opportunity. The last prong of the strategy developed by Braddock and the provincial governors was the reduction of Crown Point on Lake Champlain. In August an army made up of thirty-five hundred troops from five different colonies and about three hundred allied Indians started toward Crown Point from Albany under the command of Sir William Johnson. A man of great political power who was known as a friend of the Indians, Johnson had no military background. On the way north he built Fort Edward on the Hudson River; he then moved further north with two thousand of his men and built Fort William Henry on Lake George. At the same time Dieskau was marching from Canada with four thousand men. After reinforcing the garrison at Crown Point, Dieskau built Fort Ticonderoga at a strategic spot fifteen miles down Lake Champlain. He was heading for the Hudson River with nine hundred French troops and six hundred Indians when he blundered into Johnson on 8 September. In the ensuing battle the French troops met a fate similar to Braddock’s while Dieskau was wounded and captured. With reinforcements coming in, Johnson was well poised to push on and reduce Ticonderoga and Crown Point, but he feared that his militia were not up to the task and settled down to hold Fort William Henry. The grand design for depriving the French of their forts had failed miserably, and the English settlers of the Ohio valley and western Pennsylvania were paying the price, being slaughtered by the Indian allies of the French.
Howard H. Peckham, The Colonial Wars, 1689-1762 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964).