The Battle of Lake George
On August, 28, 1755, British Indian Agent William Johnson arrived at the south end of Lac Saint Sacrement, which he renamed Lake George in honour of King George II. Johnson’s orders were to advance to Crown Point and attack the French position at Fort St. Frederic, which was one of the cornerstones of the defence of New France.
Prelude to the Battle
At the same time, Jean Erdman, also known as the Baron Dieskau, had already left Crown Point for an encampment near the unfinished Fort Carillon, which was situated between Lake Champlain and Lake George. On September 4, Dieskau launched a raid on Johnson’s position, at Fort Lyman. Dieskau’s aim was to capture or destroy the boats, supplies and munitions Johnson needed for his campaign against the French. Dieskau left half of his force at Fort Carillon and set off with 222 French Regulars from the Regiment de la Reine and the Regiment Languedoc, in addition to 600 Canadian militia and 700 Abenaki and Mohawk allies. Dieskau arrived in the vicinity of Fort Lyman on September 7, 1755.
Concurrently with this, Johnson was camped 14 miles to the north of Lake George. He was alerted by scouts to the presence of the French to the south and dispatched a messenger to warn the garrison at Fort Lyman. However, both the messenger and a British supply train destined for Johnson’s camp fell into French hands. As a result, Dieskau knew the size and disposition of Johnson’s forces. Dieskau’s First Nations allies held a war council and decided against attacking Fort Lyman, believing it to be defended with cannons. On the following morning, September 8, Dieskau gave orders to march his men around to the far side of the lake.
At the same time that this was happening, Johnson sent Colonel Ephraim Williams along with a force of 1,000 men drawn from the Massachusetts and Connecticut Regiments under the command of Colonel Nathan Whiting, along with 200 Mohawk allies to reinforce Fort Lyman. However, unbeknownst to Williams or Johnston, Dieskau had received prior warning of the British approach from an American deserter.
Ambush at Lake George
Unaware of the French ambush, Williams marched his men straight into Dieskau’s trap. Williams and the Mohawk war chief Hendrick Theyanoguin were killed in the opening minutes of the battle. Most of the New Englanders, who lacked the training and discipline of the British Regulars, immediately fled back towards Johnson’s camp. However, 100 men under the command of Colonel Whiting and Lieutenant Colonel Seth Pomeroy stood their ground, and fought a rearguard action, allowing the others to disengage and withdraw. The American rearguard was successful in inflicting significant losses on the French. Pomeroy later wrote that his men “killed great numbers of them; they seemed to drop like pigeons.” Among the casualties of the battle was Jaqcues Lagardeu de Saint-Pierre. He was highly regarded by the First Nations and the Canadian militia and his death caused great dismay.
Meanwhile, Colonel Joseph Blanchard, the commander of Fort Lyman saw the smoke from the battle and sent troops from the New Hampshire Provincial Regiment and the New York Provincials under the command of Nathaniel Folson and Captain McGennis to investigate. By the time they arrived at the scene of the battle, the French had withdrawn. The Americans found 20 severely injured Frenchmen, including Dieskau, who had been struck in the abdomen with a musket ball.
Aftermath of the Battle
The Battle of Lake George was tactically inconclusive for both the British and the French and Johnson was unable to capture Fort St. Frederic. However, the battle did represent a significant strategic victory for the British in the French and Indian War. Johnson was able to consolidate his gains by completing the construction of Fort William Henry in November, 1755, at the southern end of Lake George.
Some modern historians have speculated that if the French had been successful in routing the British, not only would Dieskau have eliminated the British threat to Fort St. Frederic, but he may have been in a position to undermine the defences for all of New England.
Anderson, Fred, Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, Faber and Faber Limited, London, 2000
Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe (The French and English in North America, Part Seventh), Vol. I, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1942
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