Before the American Revolution, the land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River was coveted by both the British and French. The area, known as the Ohio Country, was of great interest to the French, even though much of it had been claimed by the British. However, the boundary lines of what belonged to the French and what belonged to the British were vague.
In an effort to link their territory in the north, Canada, with their territory in the south, Louisiana, the French had built a network of forts, trading posts, and blockhouses throughout the Ohio Country. This included the fort at Crown Point, which had been built in 1721.
The Ohio Company was formed in 1749, with the intent to settle the land between the Monongahela River, on the western border of Pennsylvania, south to the Kanawha River, on the western frontier of Virginia. The French responded by sending a force of about 300 men into the Ohio Country, for the purpose of chasing out any British they found. This led to the Battle of Pickawillany in 1752, where the Miami Indians were chased from their town and British traders were taken captive. The British did nothing to retaliate, which led to the Miamis and other Indian tribes in the Ohio Valley to believe they should ally themselves with the French.
The following year, in 1753, the French sent a force of 1,200 men to occupy the Ohio Country. This time, the British responded. Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia sent George Washington to Fort Le Boeuf, near Lake Erie, with a message that told the French they needed to leave the area. The French refused, and Washington returned to Virginia.
Washington was sent back to the Ohio Country in 1754. This time, he was in command of a force that was tasked with completing the fort that was being built at the Forks of the Ohio. Washington’s expedition ended up in two engagements with the French.
First, there was the Battle of Jumonville Glen, in which Washington was victorious. Unfortunately, this engagement was highly controversial and marked the beginning of the French and Indian War in North America.
The second engagement, the Battle of Fort Necessity, resulted in a French victory, and Washington was forced to retreat from the Ohio Country, placing the entire territory in control of the French.
Carlyle House Congress
Although war had not yet been formally declared, England decided a show of force was necessary and sent General Edward Braddock to the colonies as commander-in-chief. He brought two regiments of British regulars with him. Braddock arrived at Alexandria, Virginia in the spring of 1755 and called a council of colonial governors from five colonies:
- Horatio Sharpe, Maryland
- William Shirley, Massachusetts
- James DeLancey, New York
- Robert Hunter Morris, Pennsylvania
- Robert Dinwiddie, Virginia
Sir William Johnson of New York also attended the meeting, which was held at the home of John Carlyle on April 15. Carlyle was a prominent member of the Ohio Company. Johnson was included because of his strong relationship with the Indians. Carlyle referred to the meeting as “the Grandest Congress,” which is why it is also known as the Congress of Alexandria.
Illustration of Sir William Johnson. See full image »
Braddock laid out the plan to the governors, which was designed by the Duke of Cumberland, the Captain-General of His Majesty’s Forces. The overall goal of the plan was to capture and hold French forts in New York, Nova Scotia, and Pennsylvania, using British regulars, provincial militia from the colonies, and Indian allies. Braddock also requested financial aid from the governors to help fund the operation, which they refused, but they did agree to provide forces to help attack the French on multiple fronts.
The plan included three major offensives on French positions for the summer of 1755.
The first was Braddock’s Expedition, which was to be led by Braddock with the purpose of capturing Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio. According to the plan, Braddock would march northeast after taking Fort Duquesne and meet up with the second force, under the command of Governor Shirley. Unfortunately, Braddock’s Expedition ended in disaster at the Battle of the Monongahela on July 9, 1755.
The second offensive, led by Shirley, was meant to go help reinforce and repair the garrison at Oswego. Once that was done, Shirley was supposed to lay siege to Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario. However, the offensive failed when Shirley abandoned the plan.
The third offensive was led by Sir William Johnson. He was tasked with capturing Fort St. Frederic, which was located at Crown Point on Lake Champlain, north of Ticonderoga. Although Johnson had no experience as a military leader, his strong relationship and influence with the Indian made him a viable candidate.
Johnson’s expedition consisted of roughly 3,000 provincials and 300 Mohawk Indians under the leadership of King Hendrick (Chief Hendrick Theyanoguin).
Illustration of King Hendrick. See full image »
Johnson’s officers included:
- Brigadier General Phineas Lyman
- Colonel Ephraim Williams
- Colonel Timothy Ruggles
- Colonel Moses Titcomb
- Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Whiting
- Lieutenant Colonel Seth Pomeroy
- Lieutenant John Stark
- Captain Philip Schuyler
- Captain Israel Putnam
The troops that made up Johnson’s expedition gathered in Albany and most were there by the end of June. Unfortunately, they were forced to wait for artillery, supplies, and other provisions. Brigadier General Lyman would take the men on short marches into the wilderness to keep them occupied. Once he advanced to the “Great Carrying Place” — a swampy area where troops would have to carry their boats and supplies — south of the lake, which the French called Lac Du Saint Sacrament. Soon after he arrived, he began the construction of what would initially be called Fort Lyman, on the east side of the Hudson River. Johnson would eventually rename the fortification Fort Edward, after the Duke of York.
Johnson’s forces left Albany on August 8 and reached Fort Lyman on August 14. Like many expeditions during those times, Johnson planned to carve a road through the wilderness as his men made their way through it.
He called a council of war on August 22 to determine the best route to Crown Point. The council agreed the best route was to head to Lac Du Saint Sacrament and then to cross the lake and head north to Lake Champlain and Crown Point. It was also agreed to send an advance force to cut the road between Fort Lyman and Lac Du Saint Sacrament. When Johnson reached the southern tip of the lake on August 28, he renamed it Lake George, in honor of King George II.
As Johnson’s army moved ahead, it carved a road through the wilderness between Fort Lyman and Lake George.
Lyman’s forces followed the crude road and met up with Johnson’s on September 3. Lyman brought roughly 1,500 militiamen with him and left around 500 behind to defend Fort Lyman. Supplies, artillery, and other equipment were also being sent from Fort Lyman to Lake George, but progress was slow. Johnson did not expect an attack, so he had the supplies laid out along the shore. This would make it easier to load everything on boats when it came time for the expedition to head north across the water toward Crown Point. Although Johnson did not fortify the camp against an attack at that time, he did begin the construction of Fort William Henry, which was named after the grandsons of the King. Johnson sent the Indians out into the wilderness to scout the area.
After Braddock was defeated at the Monongahela, his papers were captured by the French. Those papers included the plans for Johnson’s offensive. When the commander of the French forces, Baron Dieskau, discovered the British were headed north, he pulled together a force of French regulars, Canadian militia, and Indian allies. He moved them from Crown Point to Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain and camped there. Dieskau made plans to attack Johnson’s supply lines and Fort Lyman, to be followed by an attack on Johnson’s camp on the shores of Lake George. Dieskau believed Fort Lyman was not well defended, so he took half of his men and marched toward the fort, which was south of Ticonderoga. The other half of his men stayed at Ticonderoga.
On the morning of September 7, Indian scouts returned to Johnson’s camp and informed him they had discovered a road that had been cut leading away from South Bay, which was east of Lake George. They were confident the road had been made by the French and they were headed to the “Great Carrying Place” to attack Fort Lyman. If true, this would put the French at Johnson’s rear, between him and Fort Lyman, which would disrupt his supply lines.
Johnson called for a council of war. His first objective was to send a letter to the fort, warning for Brigadier General Lyman that a French attack was imminent. Jacob Adams, a militiaman from New York, volunteered to deliver the message.
Johnson also proposed sending 500 men to South Bay to take the French boats, and another 500 to aid in the defense of Fort Lyman. King Hendrick and the other Indian leaders did not agree with the plan, primarily because they did not like the idea of dividing their forces between two locations. The Indians threatened to leave unless Johnson sent everyone to help defend the fort. Johnson agreed to send 800-1,000 militiamen from Massachusetts and New Hampshire and 200 Mohawk Indians to reinforce Fort Lyman.
Adams took Johnson’s horse and headed towards Fort Lyman, but was stopped by the French just two miles from his destination. The French found the letters intended for Brigadier General Lyman at the fort, which informed Dieskau that Johnson was prepared to send reinforcements.
Dieskau’s scouts also told him that Fort Lyman was fortified with cannon, and Johnson’s camp was not fortified against an attack. Dieskau called for a council of war. The Indians and Canadian militia refused to attack Fort Lyman, and insisted on attacking Johnson’s camp on the shores of Lake George, which was what Dieskau decided would be his course of action. Johnson had no idea that Dieskau had changed his plan and was headed towards his position on the shores of Lake George.
The Bloody Morning Scout
Johnson’s reinforcements, under the command of Colonel Ephraim Williams, left for Fort Lyman around 8:00 in the morning of September 8. They headed south on the road that had been carved through the wilderness. King Hendrick and his Mohawks were at the head of the column.
Earlier that morning, Dieskau’s French forces headed north on the same road. Around the time the French reached a narrow ravine in the road, Indian scouts informed Dieskau the British were marching south, directly towards him. Dieskau set up an ambush along a half-mile stretch of the road, positioning the Canadian militia and Indians on both sides of the ravine above the road. He placed his French regulars on the road at the south end of the ravine.
Illustration showing the position of the French forces at the Bloody Morning Scout.
When the British marched into the part of the road where the French and their allies were waiting, some frightened deer rushed out of the wilderness, north along the road. King Hendrick was apparently alarmed, and supposedly said, “I smell Indians.” to Williams. Moments later, some of the French Indians showed themselves and appealed to King Hendrick to withdraw and leave the fight to the French and English. After a brief conversation, someone fired a shot, and the fighting began.
The British forces received heavy casualties, including King Hendrick and Ephraim Williams. Williams was killed by a gunshot when he jumped on top of a large rock and attempted to rally his men. When Williams fell, Colonel Nathan Whiting took command. King Hendrick was killed when he was stabbed with a bayonet by one of the French Indians.
The British retreated four miles to Johnson’s camp, and Dieskau’s forces followed them. The British set up a rear guard to protect the retreat. The rear guard was commanded by Whiting and Lt. Col. Seth Pomeroy. The rear guard protected the British as they fled, firing at their enemies from behind trees and rocks, and inflicted losses on the French. The leader of the French Indian allies, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre was killed during the British withdrawal.
This engagement became known as the “Bloody Morning Scout.” This was the first battle of the day and would be followed by two more.
Dieskau Captured During French Assault on Johnson’s Camp
When Johnson’s camp heard the shots of the first battle, Johnson ordered his men to fortify their positions. Barricades were built from trees, wagons, and anything else they could find. As the survivors made their way into Johnson’s camp, they joined the effort.
When Dieskau reached Johnson’s camp about an hour and a half later, he found it well fortified. He halted his march about 150 yards from Johnson’s camp, for roughly 15 minutes. This gave the British forces extra time to get organized before the French finally attacked.
The initial charge on Johnson’s camp was led by the Indians and Canadians, but they were repelled and scattered through the woods. The Indians and Canadians continued to fight, but were disorganized and out of control. Realizing he had lost control over the Canadians and Indians, Dieskau charged the camp with his French regulars over and over.
Johnson was wounded early in the assault and turned command over to Colonel Lyman. The fighting continued throughout the afternoon. The tide turned in favor of the British forces early in the evening, around 5:00 or 6:00. The Canadians and Indians were low on ammunition and decided to withdraw. The French regulars were also exhausted and had lost half their number, which led to a lull in the fighting. When the provincials realized what was happening, they rushed out from behind their barricades and charged the French positions.
Dieskau, who was wounded, was captured during the attack. Chevalier Montreuil took command of the French contingent, and led the retreat to the south, away from the lake.
The British found Dieskau lying next to a tree, and took him to Johnson’s tent, where he was given care for his wounds by the medical staff. However, Johnson’s Indian allies wanted to kill him, because of how many Indians had been killed during the Bloody Morning Scout. Johnson had Lieutenant Daniel Claus place himself at the door of the tent Dieskau was in to keep the Frenchman safe.
Brigadier General Lyman believed the British forces should pursue the French and cut them off from escaping to Canada. However, Johnson refused to allow it. What Johnson was not aware of was that British forces from Fort Lyman were headed towards his camp, and would attack the French survivors
Battle of Bloody Pond
Colonel Joseph Blanchard was in command of Fort Lyman, south of Johnson’s camp. When he saw smoke from the battle, he sent men under the command of Captain Nathan Folsom and Captain William McGinnis to scout the battle. As they moved north, they came across the French baggage train and approximately 300 Canadian soldiers and Indians. The train was stopped at a pool of water to rest. This was roughly two miles south of Lake George. The British ambushed them around 7:00, and most of the French forces were killed. The bodies of the dead were thrown into the pond, which became known from that point forward as Bloody Pond.
The Battle of Bloody Pond was the third and final engagement of the day and cemented the British victory.
Illustration of Bloody Pond. See full image »
An American Victory
The victory in the Battle of Lake George was one of the first victories for American provincial forces over the French and Indians and helped secure British control of the Hudson Valley.
Due to Johnson’s victory over the French, he was recognized as an early hero of the war by the British, and soon after became a Baron because of it, even though Lyman and Whiting commanded the British forces most of the day. Johnson also failed to continue on to Crown Point and make an attempt to capture Fort Frederick.
The few survivors of Dieskau’s French forces made their way back to their boats and returned to Crown Point.
After the Battle of Lake George, the French decided to fortify Ticonderoga by building a new fort, which they called Fort Carillon. Carillon would eventually be captured by the British and renamed Fort Ticonderoga.
Fort Ticonderoga would play a pivotal role in the early days of the Revolutionary War when it was captured by colonial militia led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. The cannon and artillery from the fort would eventually be transported by an expedition led by Henry Knox to Boston, where it was used to drive the British out of the city and bring an end to the Siege of Boston.
Key Facts About the Battle of Lake George
- The battle was part of the British campaign of 1755.
- The first battle of the day was the Bloody Morning Scout.
- The final battle of the day was the Battle of Bloody Pond.
- The British victory gave them control of the Hudson River Valley.
- The French responded by fortifying Ticonderoga, where they built Fort Carillon.