Battle of Fort William Henry

Battle of Fort William Henry

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Fort William Henry
partof=the French and Indian War

caption=Plan of Fort William Henry and Camp at Lake George
date=August 3-9, 1757
place=Lake George, New York
result=French victory;
British surrender
combatant2=flagicon|United Kingdom|1606 Kingdom of Great Britain
commander1=Louis-Joseph de Montcalm
commander2=Lieutenant-Colonel George Monro
commander3=John Winslow
strength1=6,000 regulars and militia, 1,600 natives
strength2=2,500 regulars and militia
casualties2=297 dead or wounded, 2,308 captured|
The Battle of Fort William Henry was General Montcalm's siege and capture of the British held Fort William Henry in August 1757. Some of Montcalm's Native American allies violated his surrender terms and killed a column of British survivors (women and children as well as men), making it one of the notorious battles in the French and Indian War.

Lieutenant-Colonel George Monro's British 35th Regiment of Foot, elements of the 60th Foot and militia troops resisted a long siege and bombardment by the French, but surrendered after parlaying with Montcalm. Though stubborn and reluctant to surrender, Monro eventually gave in after being shown an intercepted message from general Daniel Webb, the commander of British forces in the New York colony, which said that he would be unable to send reinforcements to relieve the beleaguered garrison. Thus, with little hope of relief, Monro agreed to Montcalm's terms, which allowed the British to leave with their weapons and be allowed to retreat without being attacked. After the British withdrawal, French-aligned Native Americans attacked and killed a few hundred of the 3,000 troops and civilians in the column leaving the fort. Historians note that it is likely that Montcalm tried to prevent the attack, but probably lacked the political means to stop it by force - even though he commanded 6,000 regulars and militia compared to 1,600 natives.

General Webb did, in fact, send reinforcements to Fort William Henry, which arrived one day too late, and Webb was recalled to England for his failures. In addition, the loss of Fort William Henry was a severe blow to British war strategy and would preclude any attempt towards Montreal for the remainder of the year. Thus, by 1758, three years of bitter campaigning by the British had granted them almost no territorial gains against New France.

After the battle, the Indians deserted the French and Montcalm was not able to follow up from his victory.

A note on the "massacre"

Montcalm attempted to negotiate an honorable surrender for the British troops. From a Native American perspective, the only way to surrender honorably was, to die quietly without a fight, or when in captivity, to sing a death song to please their captors. In fact, the concept of surrender was considered out of the question to most Algonquin and Iroquoian tribes, because it nearly always elicited great pain and delusion in the form of needless torture. The Chiefs of the multiple Native tribes got a rough understanding of the "very" European military peace terms but did not successfully translate the terms to their more than 1000 men of multiple languages. In knowing there was anger and confusion over their peace terms, Montcalm and his men elected to quietly march the submitted British to Fort Edward, the closest British Fort early one morning. When some Natives saw the troops marching out they let out a war cry, alerting all the Natives. A few Natives ran in to the men looking for a war prize.

Many of the Natives were expected to bring home captives to work as slaves, replace dead family members, or sell to the French as servants. Scalping was also a popular way of acquiring war prize. Scalping took time and was most often done on the dead, but because of the panic for prizes during this event, some scalped men alive. Of the 2,308 soldiers, 2,000 ran, escaped or were returned. Many of them were returned through negotiations with the French. In some cases, the government in New France freed Americans and British by purchasing them from the Natives.

After the battle, native warriors disinterred, scalped, and robbed many corpses from the fort cemetery. Many of these had died of smallpox, so these natives carried the dreaded "spotted sickness" to their villages in the Great Lakes. A devastating outbreak of smallpox soon followed.

Reconstruction of Fort William Henry

The British did not try to build over the site of Fort William Henry. The fort lay in ruins for many years. In the 1950s, excavation of the site eventually led to the reconstruction of Fort William Henry as a tourist destination for the Town of Lake George.

External links

* [ An Account of the Two Attacks on Fort William Henry]
* [ History of the 35th Foot in the French and Indian War]
* [ The French Army 1600-1900]

Further reading

Steele, Ian K. (1990) "Betrayals: Fort William Henry & the 'Massacre"'. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505893-3

Bellico, Russel P. (1995) "Chronicles of Lake George: Journeys in War and Peace". Purple Mountain Press. ISBN 0-935796-62-2

In Fiction

The events of the battle and subsequent killings were depicted in the 1826 novel "The Last of the Mohicans" by James Fenimore Cooper and in its various film adaptations.

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