Expeditions of Shirley and Johnson
The third campaign planned was to be conducted by Governor Shirley, of Massachusetts. the expedition was to proceed from Albany to Oswego, and thence by water to the mouth of the Niagara. It was known that Fort Niagara was an insignificant post, depending for its defense upon a small ditch, a rotten palisade, and a feeble garrison. To capture this place, to obtain command of the river, and to cut off the communications of the French by way of the lakes, were the objects of the campaign. "Fort de Quesne can hardly detain me more than three or four days," said Braddock to Shirley, "and then I will meet you at Niagara."
In the early part of August, Shirley set out at the head of nearly two thousand men. It was the last of the month before he reached Oswego. Here the provincial forces had been ordered to assemble. Four weeks were spent in preparing boats for embarkation. When everything was in readiness, a storm arose; and when the storm abated, the winds blew in the wrong direction. Then came another tempest and another delay; then sickness prevailed in the camp. With the beginning of October, Shirley declared the lake to be dangerous for navigation. The Indian allies deserted the standard of a leader whose skill in war consisted in framing excuses. the fact was that the general, while on the march to Oswego, had learned of the destruction of Braddock's army, and feared that a similar fate might overtake his own. October 24th the greater part of the provincial forces, led by Shirley, marched homeward. Only one result of any importance followed from the campaign--the fort at Oswego was well rebuilt and garrisoned with seven hundred men.
Far more important was the expedition intrusted to General William Johnson. The object had in view was to capture the enemy's fortress at Crown Point, and to drive the French from the shores of Lake Champlain. Johnson's army numbered nearly four thousand men, including a body of friendly Mohawks. The active work of the campaign began early in August, when New England troops built Fort Edward, above Albany. The watershed between the Hudson and Lake George is only twelve miles wide. Johnson's army marched across to the head of the lake and laid out a commodious camp. A week was spent in bringing forward the artillery and stores. The soldiers were busy preparing boats for embarkation, and the important matter of fortifying the camp was wholly neglected.
In the meantime, Dieskau, the daring commandant at Crown Point, determined to anticipate the movements of the English. With a force of fourteen hundred French, Canadians, and Indians he sailed up Lake Champlain to South Bay. From this point he intended to strike to the south, pass the English army, and capture Fort Edward before the alarm could be given. But the news was carried to General Johnson; and a force of a thousand men under command of Colonel Williams, accompanied by Hendrick, the gray-haired chieftain of the Mohawks, with two hundred warriors, was sent to the relief of the endangered fort. On the previous night Dieskau's guides had led him out of his course. On the morning of the 8th of September the French general found himself and his army about four miles north of Fort Edward, on the main road from the Hudson to Lake George. Just at this time Colonel William's regiment and the Mohawks came in sight, marching toward the fort. Dieskau quickly formed an ambush, and the English were entrapped. The Canadians and the French poured in a deadly volley; both Williams and Hendrick fell dead, and the English were thrown into confusion. But Colonel Whiting rallied the troops, returned the enemy's fire, and retreated toward the lake.
The noise of battle was heard in Johnson's camp, and preparations were made for a general engagement. There were no intrenchments, but trees were hastily felled for breastworks, and the cannons were brought into position. It was Dieskau's plan to rush into the English camp along with the fugitives whom he was driving before him; but the Indians, afraid of Johnson's guns, would not join in the assault; the Red men retired to a hill at a safe distance. The Canadians were disheartened; and the handful of French regulars made the onset almost unsupported. It was the fiercest battle which had yet been fought on American soil. For five hours the conflict was incessant. In the beginning of the engagement Johnson received a slight wound and left the field; but the troops of New England fought on without a commander. Nearly all of Dieskau's regulars were killed. At last the English troops leaped over the fallen trees, charged across the field, and completed the rout. Three times Dieskau was wounded, but he would not retire. His aids came to bear him off; one was shot dead, and he forbade the others. He ordered his servants to bring him his military dress, and then seated himself on the stump of a tree. A renegade Frenchman belonging to the English army rushed up to make him a prisoner. The wounded general felt for his watch to tender it in token of surrender. The Frenchman, thinking that Dieskau was searching for a pistol, fired, and the brave commander fell, mortally wounded.
The victory, though complete, was dearly purchased. Two hundred and sixteen of the English were illed, and many others wounded. General Johnson, who had done but little, was greatly praised; Parliament made him a baronet for gaining a victory which the provincials gained for him. Made wiser by the battle, he now constructed on the site of his camp a substantial fort, and named it William Henry. The defenses of Fort Edward were strengthened with an additional garrison, and the remainder of the troops returned to their homes. Meanwhile, the French had re-enforced Crown Point, and had seized and fortified Ticonderoga. Such was the condition of affairs at the close of 1755.
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