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French & Indian War: Battle of Lake George

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Battle of Lake George - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Lake George took place September 8, 1755, during the French & Indian War (1754-1763) fought between the French and British.

Armies & Commanders:

British

  • Sir William Johnson
  • 1,500 men, 200 Mohawk Indians

French

  • Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau
  • 1,500 men

Battle of Lake George - Background:

With the outbreak of the French & Indian War, the governors of the British colonies in North America convened in April 1755, to discuss strategies for defeating the French. Meeting in Virginia, they decided to launch three campaigns that year against the enemy. In the north, the British effort would be led by Sir William Johnson who was ordered to move north through Lakes George and Champlain. Departing Fort Lyman (re-named Fort Edward in 1756) with 1,500 men and 200 Mohawks in August 1755, Johnson moved north and reached Lac Saint Sacrement on the 28th.

Renaming the lake after King George II, Johnson pushed on with the goal of capturing Fort St. Frédéric. Located on Crown Point, the fort controlled part of Lake Champlain. To the north, the French commander, Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, learned of Johnson's intention and assembled a force of 2,800 men and 700 allied Indians. Moving south to Carillon (Ticonderoga), Dieskau made camp and planned an attack on Johnson's supply lines and Fort Lyman. Leaving half of his men at Carillon as a blocking force, Dieskau moved down Lake Champlain to South Bay and marched to within four miles of Fort Lyman.

Scouting the fort on September 7, Dieskau found it heavily defended and elected not to attack. As a result, he began moving back towards South Bay. Fourteen miles to the north, Johnson received word from his scouts that the French were operating in his rear. Halting his advance, Johnson began fortifying his camp and dispatched 800 Massachusetts and New Hampshire militia, under Colonel Ephraim Williams, and 200 Mohawks, under King Hendrick, south to reinforce Fort Lyman. Departing at 9:00 AM on September 8, they moved down the Lake George-Fort Lyman Road.

Battle of Lake George - Setting an Ambush:

While moving his men back towards South Bay, Dieskau was alerted to Williams' movement. Seeing an opportunity, he reversed his march and set an ambush along the road about three miles south of Lake George. Placing his grenadiers across the road, he aligned his militia and Indians in cover along the sides of the road. Unaware of the danger, Williams' men marched directly into the French trap. In an action later referred to as the "Bloody Morning Scout," the French caught the British by surprise and inflicted heavy casualties.

Among those killed were King Hendrick and Williams who was shot in the head. With Williams dead, Colonel Nathan Whiting assumed command. Trapped in a crossfire, the majority of the British began fleeing back towards Johnson's camp. Their retreat was covered by around 100 men led by Whiting and Lieutenant Colonel Seth Pomeroy. Fighting a determined rearguard action, Whiting was able to inflict substancial casualties on their pursuers, including killing the leader of the French Indians, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. Pleased with his victory, Dieskau followed the fleeing British back to their camp.

Battle of Lake George - The Grenadiers Attack:

Arriving, he found Johnson's command fortified behind a barrier of trees, wagons, and boats. Immediately ordering an attack, he found that his Indians refused to go forward. Shaken by the loss of Saint-Pierre, they did not wish to assault a fortified position. In an effort to shame his allies into attacking, Dieskau formed his 222 grenadiers into an attack column and personally led them forward around noon. Charging into heavy musket fire and grape shot from Johnson's three cannon, Dieskau's attack bogged down. In the fighting, Johnson was shot in the leg and command devolved to Colonel Phineas Lyman.

By late afternoon, the French broke off the attack after Dieskau was badly wounded. Storming over the barricade, the British drove the French from the field, capturing the wounded French commander. To the south, Colonel Joseph Blanchard, commanding Fort Lyman, saw the smoke from the battle and dispatched 120 men under Captain Nathaniel Folsom to investigate. Moving north, they encountered the French baggage train approximately two miles south of Lake George. Taking a position in the trees, they were able to ambush around 300 French soldiers near Bloody Pond and succeeded in driving them from the area. After recovering his wounded and taking several prisoners, Folsom returned to Fort Lyman. A second force was sent out the next day to recover the French baggage train. Lacking supplies and with their leader gone, the French retreated north.

Battle of Lake George - Aftermath

Precise casualties for the Battle of Lake George are not known. Sources indicate that the British suffered between 262 and 331 killed, wounded, and missing, while the French incurred between 228 and 600. The victory at the Battle of Lake George marked one the first victories for American provincial troops over the French and their allies. In addition, though fighting around Lake Champlain would continue to rage, the battle effectively secured the Hudson Valley for the British.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1601-1800
  6. French & Indian War
  7. Battle of Lake George - French and Indian War Battle of Lake George

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