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Chapter 23

WASHINGTON RECOVERS HIS HEALTH--AGAIN IN COMMAND AT FORT LOUDOUN-- ADMINISTRATION OF PITT--LOUDOUN SUCCEEDED BY GENERAL ABERCROMBIE-- MILITARY ARRANGEMENTS--WASHINGTON COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE VIRGINIA FORCES--AMHERST AGAINST LOUISBURG--GENERAL WOLFE--MONTGOMERY--CAPTURE OF LOUISBURG--ABERCROMBIE ON LAKE GEORGE--DEATH OF LORD HOWE--REPULSE OF ABERCROMBIE--SUCCESS OF BRADSTREET AT OSWEGO.


For several months Washington was afflicted by returns of his malady, accompanied by symptoms indicative, as he thought, of a decline. "My constitution," writes he to his friend Colonel Stanwix, "is much impaired, and nothing can retrieve it but the greatest care and the most circumspect course of life. This being the case, as I have now no prospect left of preferment in the military way, and despair of rendering that immediate service which my country may require from the person commanding its troops, I have thoughts of quitting my command and retiring from all public business, leaving my post to be filled by some other person more capable of the task, and who may, perhaps, have his endeavors crowned with better success than mine have been."

A gradual improvement in his health, and a change in his prospects, encouraged him to continue in what really was his favorite career, and at the beginning of April he was again in command at Fort Loudoun. Mr. Francis Fauquier had been appointed successor to Dinwiddie, and, until he should arrive, Mr. John Blair, president of the council, had, from his office, charge of the government. In the latter Washington had a friend who appreciated his character and services, and was disposed to carry out his plans.

The general aspect of affairs, also, was more animating. Under the able and intrepid administration of William Pitt, who had control of the British cabinet, an effort was made to retrieve the disgraces of the late American campaign, and to carry on the war with greater vigor. The instructions for a common fund were discontinued; there was no more talk of taxation by Parliament. Lord Loudoun, from whom so much had been anticipated, had disappointed by his inactivity, and been relieved from a command in which he had attempted much and done so little. His friends alleged that his inactivity was owing to a want of unanimity and co-operation in the colonial governments, which paralyzed all his well meant efforts. Franklin, it is probable, probed the matter with his usual sagacity when he characterized him as a man "entirely made up of indecision."--"Like St. George on the signs, he was always on horseback, but never rode on."

On the return of his lordship to England, the general command in America devolved on Major-general Abercrombie, and the forces were divided into three detached bodies; one, under Major-general Amherst, was to operate in the north with the fleet under Boscawen, for the reduction of Louisburg and the island of Cape Breton; another, under Abercrombie himself, was to proceed against Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain; and the third, under Brigadier-general Forbes, who had the charge of the middle and southern colonies, was to undertake the reduction of Fort Duquesne. The colonial troops were to be supplied, like the regulars, with arms, ammunition, tents, and provisions, at the expense of government, but clothed and paid by the colonies; for which the king would recommend to Parliament a proper compensation. The provincial officers appointed by the governors, and of no higher rank than colonel, were to be equal in command, when united in service with those who held direct from the king, according to the date of their commissions. By these wise provisions of Mr. Pitt a fertile cause of heartburnings and dissensions was removed.

It was with the greatest satisfaction Washington saw his favorite measure at last adopted, the reduction of Fort Duquesne; and he resolved to continue in the service until that object was accomplished. In a letter to Stanwix, who was now a brigadier-general, he modestly requested to be mentioned in favorable terms to General Forbes, "not," said he, "as a person who would depend upon him for further recommendation to military preferment (for I have long conquered all such inclinations, and shall serve this campaign merely for the purpose of affording my best endeavors to bring matters to a conclusion), but as a person who would gladly be distinguished in some measure from the common run of provincial officers, as I understand there will be a motley herd of us." He had the satisfaction subsequently of enjoying the fullest confidence of General Forbes, who knew too well the sound judgment and practical ability evinced by him in the unfortunate campaign of Braddock not to be desirous of availing himself of his counsels.

Washington still was commander-in-chief of the Virginia troops, now augmented, by an act of the Assembly, to two regiments of one thousand men each; one led by himself, the other by Colonel Byrd; the whole destined to make a part of the army of General Forbes in the expedition against Fort Duquesne.

Of the animation which he felt at the prospect of serving in this long-desired campaign, and revisiting with an effective force the scene of past disasters, we have a proof in a short letter, written during the excitement of the moment, to Major Francis Halket, his former companion in arms.

"My dear Halket:--Are we to have you once more among us? And shall we revisit together a hapless spot, that proved so fatal to many of our former brave companions? Yes; and I rejoice at it, hoping it will now be in our power to testify a just abhorrence of the cruel butcheries exercised on our friends in the unfortunate day of General Braddock's defeat; and, moreover, to show our enemies, that we can practise all that lenity of which they only boast, without affording any adequate proof."

Before we proceed to narrate the expedition against Fort Duquesne, however, we will briefly notice the conduct of the two other expeditions, which formed important parts in the plan of military operations for the year. And first, of that against Louisburg and the Island of Cape Breton.

Major-general Amherst, who conducted this expedition, embarked with between ten and twelve thousand men, in the fleet of Admiral Boscawen, and set sail about the end of May, from Halifax, in Nova Scotia. Along with him went Brigadier-general James Wolfe, an officer young in years, but a veteran, in military experience, and destined to gain, an almost romantic celebrity. He may almost be said to have been born in the camp, for he was the son of Major-general Wolfe, a veteran officer of merit, and when a lad had witnessed the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy. While a mere youth he had distinguished himself at the battle of Laffeldt, in the Netherlands; and now, after having been eighteen years in the service, he was but thirty-one years of age. In America, however, he was to win his lasting laurels.

On the 2d of June, the fleet arrived at the Bay of Gabarus, about seven miles to the west of Louisburg. The latter place was garrisoned by two thousand five hundred regulars, and three hundred militia, and subsequently reinforced by upwards of four hundred Canadians and Indians. In the harbor were six ships-of-the-line, and five frigates; three of which were sunk across the mouth. For several days the troops were prevented from landing by boisterous weather, and a heavy surf. The French improved that time to strengthen a chain of forts along the shore, deepening trenches, and constructing batteries.

On the 8th of June, preparations for landing were made before daybreak. The troops were embarked in boats in three divisions, under Brigadiers Wolfe, Whetmore, and Laurens. The landing was to be attempted west of the harbor, at a place feebly secured. Several frigates and sloops previously scoured the beach with their shot, after which Wolfe pulled for shore with his divisions; the other two divisions distracting the attention of the enemy, by making a show of landing in other parts. The surf still ran high, the enemy opened a fire of cannon and musketry from their batteries, many boats were upset, many men slain, but Wolfe pushed forward, sprang into the water when the boats grounded, dashed through the surf with his men, stormed the enemy's breastworks and batteries, and drove them from the shore. Among the subalterns who stood by Wolfe on this occasion, was an Irish youth, twenty-one years of age, named Richard Montgomery, whom, for his gallantry, Wolfe promoted to a lieutenancy, and who was destined, in after years, to gain an imperishable renown. The other divisions effected a landing after a severe conflict; artillery and stores were brought on shore, and Louisburg was formally invested.

The weather continued boisterous; the heavy cannon, and the various munitions necessary for a siege, were landed with difficulty. Amherst, moreover, was a cautious man, and made his approaches slowly, securing his camp by redoubts and epaulements. The Chevalier Drucour, who commanded at Louisburg, called in his outposts, and prepared for a desperate defence; keeping up a heavy fire from his batteries, and from the ships in the harbor.

Wolfe, with a strong detachment, surprised at night, and took possession of Light House Point, on the north-east side of the entrance to the harbor. Here he threw up batteries in addition to those already there, from which he was enabled greatly to annoy both town and shipping, as well as to aid Amherst in his slow, but regular and sure approaches.

On the 21st of July, the three largest of the enemy's ships were set on fire by a bombshell. On the night of the 25th two other of the ships were boarded, sword in hand, from boats of the squadron; one being aground, was burnt, the other was towed out of the harbor in triumph. The brave Drucour kept up the defence until all the ships were either taken or destroyed; forty, out of fifty-two pieces of cannon dismounted, and his works mere heaps of ruins. When driven to capitulate, he refused the terms proposed, as being too severe, and, when threatened with a general assault, by sea and land, determined to abide it, rather than submit to what he considered a humiliation. The prayers and petitions of the inhabitants, however, overcame his obstinacy. The place was surrendered, and he and his garrison became prisoners of war. Captain Amherst, brother to the general, carried home the news to England, with eleven pair of colors, taken at Louisburg. There were rejoicings throughout the kingdom. The colors were borne in triumph through the streets of London, with a parade of horse and foot, kettle drums and trumpets, and the thunder of artillery, and were put up as trophies in St. Paul's Cathedral.

Boscawen, who was a member of Parliament, received a unanimous vote of praise from the House of Commons, and the youthful Wolfe, who returned shortly after the victory to England, was hailed as the hero of the enterprise.

We have disposed of one of the three great expeditions contemplated in the plan of the year's campaign. The second was that against the French forts on Lakes George and Champlain. At the beginning of July, Abercrombie was encamped on the borders of Lake George, with between six and seven thousand regulars, and upwards of nine thousand provincials, from New England, New York, and New Jersey. Major Israel Putnam, of Connecticut, who had served on this lake, under Sir William Johnson, in the campaign in which Dieskau was defeated and slain, had been detached with a scouting party to reconnoitre the neighborhood. After his return and report, Abercrombie prepared to proceed against Ticonderoga, situated on a tongue of land in Lake Champlain, at the mouth of the strait communicating with Lake George.

On the 5th of July, the forces were embarked in one hundred and twenty-five whale-boats, and nine hundred batteaux, with the artillery on rafts. The vast flotilla proceeded slowly down the lake, with banners and pennons fluttering in the summer breeze; arms glittering in the sunshine, and martial music echoing along the wood-clad mountains. With Abercrombie went Lord Howe, a young nobleman brave and enterprising, full of martial enthusiasm, and endeared to the soldiery by the generosity of his disposition, and the sweetness of his manners.

On the first night they bivouacked for some hours at Sabbath-day Point, but re-embarked before midnight. The next day they landed on a point on the western shore, just at the entrance of the strait leading to Lake Champlain. Here they were formed into three columns, and pushed forward.

They soon came upon the enemy's advanced guard, a battalion encamped behind a log breastwork. The French set fire to their camp, and retreated. The columns kept their form, and pressed forward, but, through ignorance of their guides, became bewildered in a dense forest, fell into confusion, and blundered upon each other.

Lord Howe urged on with the van of the right centre column. Putnam, who was with him, and more experienced in forest warfare, endeavored in vain to inspire him with caution. After a time they came upon a detachment of the retreating foe, who, like themselves, had lost their way. A severe conflict ensued. Lord Howe, who gallantly led the van, was killed at the onset. His fall gave new ardor to his troops. The enemy were routed, some slain, some drowned, about one hundred and fifty taken prisoners, including five officers. Nothing further was done that day. The death of Lord Howe more than counterbalanced the defeat of the enemy. His loss was bewailed not merely by the army, but by the American people; for it is singular how much this young nobleman, in a short time, had made himself beloved. The point near which the troops had landed still bears his name; the place where he fell is still pointed out; and Massachusetts voted him a monument in Westminster Abbey.

With Lord Howe expired the master spirit of the enterprise. Abercrombie fell back to the landing-place. The next day he sent out a strong detachment of regulars, royal provincials, and batteaux men, under Lieutenant-colonel Bradstreet, of New York, to secure a saw-mill, which the enemy had abandoned. This done, he followed on the same evening with the main forces, and took post at the mill, within two miles of the fort. Here he was joined by Sir William Johnson, with between four and five hundred savage warriors from the Mohawk River.

Montcalm had called in all his forces, between three and four thousand men, and was strongly posted behind deep intrenchments and breastworks eight feet high; with an abatis, or felled trees, in front of his lines, presenting a horrid barrier, with their jagged boughs pointing outward. Abercrombie was deceived as to the strength of the French works; his engineers persuaded him they were formidable only in appearance, but really weak and flimsy. Without waiting for the arrival of his cannon, and against the opinion of his most judicious officers, he gave orders to storm the works. Never were rash orders more gallantly obeyed. The men rushed forward with fixed bayonets, and attempted to force their way through, or scramble over the abatis, under a sheeted fire of swivels and musketry. In the desperation of the moment, the officers even tried to cut their way through with their swords. Some even reached the parapet, where they were shot down. The breastwork was too high to be surmounted, and gave a secure covert to the enemy. Repeated assaults were made, and as often repelled, with dreadful havoc. The Iroquois warriors, who had arrived with Sir William Johnson, took no part, it is said, in this fierce conflict, but stood aloof as unconcerned spectators of the bloody strife of white men.

After four hours of desperate and fruitless fighting, Abercrombie, who had all the time remained aloof at the saw-mills gave up the ill-judged attempt, and withdrew once more to the landing-place, with the loss of nearly two thousand in killed and wounded. Had not the vastly inferior force of Montcalm prevented him from sallying beyond his trenches, the retreat of the British might have been pushed to a headlong and disastrous flight.

Abercrombie had still nearly four times the number of the enemy, with cannon, and all the means of carrying on a siege, with every prospect of success; but the failure of this rash assault seems completely to have dismayed him. The next day he re-embarked all his troops, and returned across that lake where his disgraced banners had recently waved so proudly.

While the general was planning fortifications on Lake George, Colonel Bradstreet obtained permission to carry into effect an expedition which he had for some time meditated, and which had been a favored project with the lamented Howe. This was to reduce Fort Frontenac, the stronghold of the French on the north side of the entrance of Lake Ontario, commanding the mouth of the St. Lawrence. This post was a central point of Indian trade, where the tribes resorted from all parts of a vast interior; sometimes a distance of a thousand miles, to traffic away their peltries with the fur-traders. It was, moreover, a magazine for the more southern posts, among which was Fort Duquesne on the Ohio.

Bradstreet was an officer of spirit. Pushing his way along the valley of the Mohawk and by the Oneida, where he was joined by several warriors of the Six Nations, he arrived at Oswego in August, with nearly three thousand men; the greater part of them provincial troops of New York and Massachusetts. Embarking at Oswego in open boats, he crossed Lake Ontario, and landed within a mile of Frontenac. The fort mounted sixty guns, and several mortars, yet though a place of such importance, the garrison consisted of merely one hundred and ten men, and a few Indians. These either fled, or surrendered at discretion. In the fort was an immense amount of merchandise and military stores; part of the latter intended for the supply of Fort Duquesne. In the harbor were nine armed vessels, some of them carrying eighteen guns; the whole of the enemy's shipping on the lake. Two of these Colonel Bradstreet freighted with part of the spoils of the fort, the others he destroyed; then having dismantled the fortifications, and laid waste every thing which he could not carry away, he recrossed the lake to Oswego, and returned with his troops to the army on Lake George.


Washington Irving