The Battle of Fort Bull
Following the British defeats at Monongahela and Lake George, the British responded by garrisoning a chain of forts built between Lake Ontario and the headwaters of the Mohawk River. The largest garrison was left at Fort Oswego, at the end of the chain. Fort Oswego depended on the other forts for supplies. The two forts built on either side of the Oneida Carry, near Rome, New York, represented a key link in Fort Oswego’s supply chain. The Oneida Carry was a portage route between Wood Creek and the Mohawk River. In 1755, the British built Fort William, Fort Newport and Fort Bull to defend this key transportation route between Lake Ontario and the Mohawk River against French raiding parties.
Fort Bull and The Oneida Carry
Located on the Mohawk River, Fort William was the largest fort in the area. Fort Bull, which had been built to defend the Oneida Carry, along with Fort William, was little more than a fortified warehouse surrounded by a wooden palisade. The fort was garrisoned by a small number of men from Shirley’s Regiment which was commanded by William Bull. Within the fort were large quantities of food, ammunition and other supplies intended for use in the campaigning season of 1756.
Early in 1756, the Governor of New France, in conjunction with the Marquis de Montcalm, the colony’s senior field commander, decided to send a raiding party to attack Fort Oswego’s supply lines. On March 12, 1756, a company under the command of Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery set off for the Oneida Carry. Born in 1721, de Lery was a prominent Seigneur, military engineer and politician in New France. Under De Lery’s command were 85 Troupes de la Marine, 111 Canadian militia and 110 First Nations allies. De Lery’s men arrived in the vicinity of the Oneida Carry on March 24, 1756.
Early on March 25, De Lery’s men captured 12 British soldiers near Fort Bull. It was at this point that De Lery learned of the fort’s minimal defences and decided to attack right away. However, De Lery did not have any field artillery and was forced to attempt to take the fort by surprise. In the meantime, Bull had received intelligence that the French were in the area and closed the fort’s main gate. The French distracted the British by firing their muskets through loopholes and gaps in the fort’s palisade wall. The British tried to deter the French by throwing rocks and grenades over the wall. After Bull refused to surrender, the French cut down the fort’s gate with axes, killing and scalping virtually the entire garrison. The French also set fire to the supplies and munitions found in the fort’s storehouses, including more that 45,000 pounds of gunpowder. Fort Bull was burned to the ground.
Aftermath of the Battle
Between May and August, 1756, the British rebuilt Fort Bull as Fort Wood Creek. However, the British burned Fort Wood Creek when they learned of another French force in the area. Following the French victory at Fort Bull, De Lery was promoted to the rank of Captain. At the same time, the loss of the supplies at Fort Bull ruined any British plans for campaigns against the French forts around Lake Ontario. It also led the capture of Fort Oswego by the French in August, 1756.
Hagerty, Gilbert (1971), Massacre at Fort Bull: The De Léry Expedition Against Oneida Carry, 1756, Providence, RI: Mowbray Company
Parkman, Francis (1962), Montcalm and Wolfe, New York: Collier Books.
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