“Last of the Mohicans”

Louis-Joseph de Montcalm trying to stop Native...
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm trying to stop Native Americans from attacking British soldiers and civilians as they leave Fort William Henry at the Battle of Fort William Henry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On July 5, (A Cup of Hot Blood) the story was told how General Montcalm defeated the British at Ticonderoga, New York, in 1758.  The next step was to attack Fort William Henry at the end of Lake George.  The fort was commanded by a tough Scottish soldier, Colonel Munro, who had 2,500 troops.  Montcalm, however, had 8,000 men, whom he started moving towards Fort William Henry on August 3.  Brigadier Lévis, with Indians leading the way, approached the rear of the fort while Montcalm’s main force made a frontal attack.

When Munro heard that Montcalm was coming, he sent an urgent message to General Webb at nearby Fort Edward to send reinforcements.  Webb in turn was pleading with Governor Loudon of Massachusetts, to send reinforcements to him and did nothing to help Fort William Henry.  A message was sent to Munro saying that Webb did not think it was “prudent” to send help until he was reinforced.  The messenger was killed and scalped by Indians who brought the message to Montcalm.  Montcalm in turn relayed it to Munro and urged him to surrender.

On August 9, after several days of bombardment, Munro had to  surrender.  Montcalm agreed to allow the British troops to march to Fort Edward provided they undertook not to fight again for 18 months.  They were allowed to take one cannon with them in recognition of their gallant defence.

Montcalm has often been blamed unjustly for a great tragedy which then occurred.  He warned the British to get rid of all their liquor so that it would not be consumed by the Indians.  This was not done and the Indians invaded the hospital where they scalped the patients, many of whom were suffering from smallpox.  The infected scalps later spread the disease through Indian villages, resulting in many deaths.

The march to Fort Edward began early the next morning.  Montcalm posted a number of French regulars along the route to protect the British from the Indians, should they go on the rampage.  Some of the British had filled their canteens with rum instead of water, and gave drinks to the Indians, hoping to make friends with them.  The rum had the opposite effect.  Many of the soldiers were ill and could not keep up with the rest.  They were killed.  Men, women, and children were attacked and taken prisoner.  Of the 2,200 who began the march from Fort William Henry, only 1,400 reached Fort Edward.

Many of the French soldiers did not care if the Indians killed the British and did nothing to stop the slaughter.  However, Montcalm, Lévis, Bourlamaque and other French officers did their best.  At one point Montcalm shouted: “Kill me, but spare the English who are under my protection.”  This helped to bring some order out of chaos.

The episode was dramatized years later in the book The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, who once acted as an American spy  in Canada. More on that on my July 12, 2013 post:  James Fenimore Cooper.

To read more about the siege at Fort .William Henry, I have a few suggestions: the Fort Ticonderoga.org, and the Independence Trail.org. There’s also a very good article written on About.com, written by Kennedy Hickman. As lastly, I suggest going to the National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.


    • You might enjoy reading “Rats, Lice and History”, by Hans Zinsser, published 1934. I read it years ago and have never forgotten it’s theme. It was also simply an amazing read. As I recall – there were extensive footnotes that sometimes took up 1/3 page, and … think I remember they weren’t all in English!

      Full title: “Rats, Lice, and History: Being a Study in Biography, Which, After Twelve Preliminary Chapters Indispensable for the Preparation of the Lay Reader, Deals With the Life History of Typhus Fever”

      (300 pgs). http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/371062.Rats_Lice_and_History


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