Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

BRANT AND RED JACKET
by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

BRANT'S FIRST BATTLE.

KING HENDRICK, the Mohawk chief, led the Indian force of about two hundred and fifty braves in this expedition against Crown Point in 1755. Among these warriors was Brant, a boy of thirteen, and two of his brothers, doubtless older than himself. Johnson's forces consisted chiefly of Massachusetts and Connecticut militia. There was one New York regiment, and five hundred mountaineers were on their way from New Hampshire. They had been ordered by the governor of that State to build a fort on the Connecticut River, which he supposed to be on the route to Crown Point. This order was countermanded, and after a toilsome march through the wilderness to Albany, the New Englanders doubtless realized that Crown Point was farther distant than they had supposed. Here the army was organized. Part of the troops were sent ahead to build Fort Edward on the upper Hudson, and Johnson marched to the head of the lake which Father Jogues had discovered, and which still bore the name of St. Sacrement. " Never was house or fort erected here before," said he. The first thing that Johnson did was to name the beautiful sheet of water Lake George, in honor of his king, and in defiance of the French. The water route from the St. Lawrence, up the river Richelieu, through Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga, thence through Lake George to the head of the lake, and from there by a carry of a few miles to the Hudson, had been, perhaps for centuries, the great war-path of the savage nations, and was destined still to be the warpath of the white people. It was of the first importance to secure this road by which the French and their Indians might any day descend upon the defenceless settlements of New York.

A great clearing was made for a camp, and on Sunday white men and Indians assembled under the trees to listen to a sermon. While General Johnson was planning to build a fort at the head of the lake and another at Ticonderoga, before he struck a blow at Crown Point, the French took the aggressive. Baron Dieskau, whose motto was " Boldness wins," had taken two hundred regulars, seven hundred Canadians, and six hundred Indians, and pushed to the head of Lake Champlain, where he landed, designing to march from there to Fort Edward, take that fort, and, having cut off Johnson's retreat, attack that general's forces. This was certainly a very bold plan. The baron's guides, however, led him astray, and he was within a few miles of Lake George before the mistake was discovered. A council of war was called. The Indians always insist on acting according to their own ideas in spite of the commanding officer. They were unwilling to attack the fort on account of their dread of artillery, but understanding the camp at the lake to be without cannons, they were ready to fall upon that. The baron encamped for the night on Long Pond, about four miles from Johnson's forces.

Meantime a council of war was held at the camp on the lake shore. It was known that the French marching upon Fort Edward were within a few miles of the English, and it was agreed by the officers that a detachment of a thousand should be sent out to meet the enemy. Chief Hendrick, however, opposed the details of the plan.

" If," said the wise old man, " they are to fight, they are too few; if they are to be killed, they are too many."

But the chief was overruled. It was next proposed to send out the detachment in three divisions.

"Put these together," said Hendrick, holding up three sticks, " and you cannot break them; take them one by one and you will do it easily," and he snapped them in pieces.

He nevertheless bravely led his Indians out in the detachment commanded by Colonel Ephraim Williams, a brave young man who had made his will when he passed through Albany, leaving his property to found a school, greatly needed in that day, and which afterwards became Williams College, Perfectly unsuspicious of the neighborhood of the enemy, Colonel Williams marched his column right into the arms of a crescent-shaped ambuscade formed at a rocky defile by Baron Dieskau. Ahead of the line rode the white-haired Hendrick, the only man on horseback. The baron had ordered his men not to fire until the English were all within their clutches, but a gun went off, and in an instant the Indian yells rose on all sides, and volley after volley was poured in upon the English. Hendrick fell dead at the first fire. Colonel Williams jumped upon a rock to direct the movements of his troops. He was soon killed with a shot in the head. Had his troops been regulars they would have been cut to pieces, but being backwoodsmen they retreated slowly through the woods, fighting from behind trees. Colonel Whiting, upon whom the command devolved, rallied some of his men behind a gloomy little pond covered with lily-pads, which has ever since been called Bloody Pond. There is a local tradition that it was filled with the bodies of the slain, which is hardly warranted by the facts of history. Here the little band fought, and the pursuit of the enemy was checked until the arrival of a detachment sent out by General Johnson to cover the retreat.

Baron Dieskau, according to his favorite motto, desired to follow up the retreating soldiers into their very camp, and make his attack with the advantage which the confusion of the moment would give. But as he neared the edge of the woods the Indians discovered that here, too, was artillery. They refused to move farther, and the courage of the Canadians also wavered ; for both Indians and Canadians, well educated in their own kind of warfare, were unaccustomed to attacking a forewarned enemy face to face. Their motto was " Stratagem wins." Much to the baron's disgust, they refused to join the assault, but, dispersing through the woods, fired upon the English army from behind trees, leaving the regulars to take the brunt of the battle.

Meanwhile there was time for the English to add something to the mere barricade behind which they lay down to aim at the enemy. Rough backwoodsmen that they were, it was strange to them to see first through the trees the glittering bayonets-" like a row of icicles on a January morning," said one of them-and then the white uniforms of the Frenchmen. It was a discouraging moment for the English colonists; they answered rather faintly the shout of the enemy. Upon three sides a fire was poured upon them from a distance, but the Frenchmen attempted no assault. Soon Johnson's men took heart again. They were good marksmen, and with their fowling-pieces they greatly thinned the ranks of the regulars. Their artillery was not much to be dreaded, however. With the two cannons which were in position they fired into the woods where the Indians and Canadians were fighting from behind trees. The cannons were ill managed and aimed entirely too high, but the crashing of the branches overhead was enough to terrify the savages. Deserted by Indian and Canadian forces, brave Baron Dieskau still stood his ground. He was dangerously wounded, but he supported himself against a stump and directed his men. Two Canadians came up to carry him off. One was shot down at his side, and he ordered the other one away. The battle was continued for nearly five hours, and the French were badly cut to pieces. They began to waver, and the English with triumphant shouts sprang over their barricade and rushed upon them, striking them down with the butts of their guns, and pursuing them through the woods. The English forces were recalled, however, from the pursuit. But the poor Frenchmen fell into an ambuscade at the very spot where in the morning they had entrapped the English. It was dusk when they reached the defile, and here they were attacked by a scouting party of New York and New Hampshire rangers, and completely routed. Baron Dieskau himself was captured, still leaning against the stump. General Johnson had received a wound early in the day, in consequence of which he had retired from the field, Many years after, when his coffin was taken up, the bullet which he received in this battle was found among his bones.

As for young Brant, he was probably with King Hendrick in the first battle of the day. He confessed afterwards that he was seized with trembling at the first firing, and was obliged to take hold of a small sapling, but he soon recovered his courage and fought bravely during the rest the day, seeking to win the reputation of a brave man, so highly prized by every ambitious Indian. This was the year of Braddock's disastrous defeat. The force sent against Niagara had failed to do anything, and the expedition in Nova Scotia had come off successful, but with little honor. In the battle at Lake George the rustic American colonists first opposed the trained soldiers of Europe. General Johnson did not accomplish the main purpose of the expedition, but the victory over French arms was cheering after the failures of the year. Johnson was doubtless better in Indian diplomacy than in generalship, but he was rewarded for this success with a baronetcy and five thousand pounds.

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