I have finally arrived at the point in Fred Anderson's account of the French and Indian War where the Battle of Fort Carillon occurs. This is the 1758 skirmish in which the English attempted to overcome Fort Carillon (called by the British, Ticonderoga); it is also the battle that will be reenacted at the fort when I arrive later this summer. Anderson explains some of the different tactics that have evolved in the strategies and fighting methods implemented in this part of the war:
By 1758 regular infantrymen were being trained in "bush fighting" tactics, learning how to move through the woods in single file, fight in a spread-out single rank or in loose order as skirmishers, avoid bunching up when attacked, and take cover when the command "Tree all!" rang out on the march...As the campaigns of 1758 began, troops lopped the long tails off their coats to keep them from tangling in brush; discarded regimental lace; carried spar powder in cow horns to supplement the cartridges in their cartouche boxes; trimmed back the brims on their hats and wore them slouched rather than wearing it in queues.
So here's what happened. That big fortress kept a pretty good watch on the situation, but it sits lower than Mount Defiance. The English were mounting an attack, but it would be crucial to begin by taking artillery up the mountain and blasting the French in the fort. That would then signal the rest of the soldiers to march through and take command of the fort.
By noon on Thursday eight regular battalions - about seven thousand men - drawn up opposite the breastwork in battle order and readied for a frontal assault. Six thousand provincials formed the reserve. The army's heavy siege artillery...remained parked near the landing place, four miles away...Four field guns - three six-pounders and a howitzer - were loaded on rafts and towed down the Rivière de la Chûte, to be landed near the base of Mount Defiance. These wer to be dragged up the hill, from which they could fire down on the rear of the French lines. The British infantry would attack when the battery opened fire.
Unfortunately for the men drawn up to make the attack, the planned cannonade never began. The towboat crews overshot the place where they should have landed, and drifted within range of the cannon on the southwest bastion of Fort Carillon. The fort's gunners, noticing what was afoot, fired on the British boats.
The shots fired at the cannon-bearing boats probably signaled the English foot soldiers to charge the French fortifications.
In all likelihood it was the sound of French cannon shelling the rafts that caused the British troops to advance...According to a lieutenant in the Highland..."The abatis...was what gave them the fatal advantage over us." The entangled branches of its "monstrous large fir and oak trees...not only broke our ranks, and made it impossible to us to keep our order, but...put it entirely out of our power to advance briskly; which gave the enemy abundance of time to mow us down like a field of corn, with their wall pieces and small arms, before we fired a single shot."
...At least 551 redcoats and provincials died and more than thirteen hundred were wounded trying to come to grips with the thirty-six hundred well-protected French and Canadian troops who methodically cut them to shreds. The Battle of Ticonderoga, as the Anglo-Americans called it, was the heaviest loss of life that His Majesty's forces sustained during the whole American war. It was, in fact, the bloodiest day the British army would see in North America until the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The French, by contrast, suffered a total of 377 casualties.
Montcalm expected that the British would renew the attack the next morning, and was surprised when they did not...[H]e waited until Saturday before sending out a reconnaissance party to see what had become of the enemy. What they found - "wounded [men], provisions, abandoned equipment, shoes left in miry places, remains of barges and burned pontoons" - was evidence of the panic that had gripped Abercromby's defeated force...By dawn the greatest army Britain had ever assembled in North America was rowing frantically for the other end of Lake George, fleeing an enemy that it still outnumbered by more than three to one...
I am reading this volume to help me prepare for a week-long Teacher Institution at Fort Ticonderoga,
on the east bank of Lake Champlain in upstate New York, this summer.