Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Bloody Morning Scout

Battle of Lake George, September 8, 1755.
Death of Colonel Ephraim Williams, by Frederick Coffay Yohn.

Sergeant Major Edward Jacobs of the 3rd Company of the New Hampshire Provincial Regiment looked down the length of the column, the twenty men of the New York Provincial regiment attached to his company who were bringing up the rear were doing a fine job of keeping the column closed up. Although Jacobs regretted the fact that his old commander had left the regiment, he understood.

That old commander, Captain Edward Rutland, had mustered out of the New Hampshire service and was attempting to gain a commission in a British regiment. He had heard from his elder brother, now in Parliament, that the Crown was considering raising a regiment in the colonies. A regiment which would utilize the lessons of King George's War for fighting in the wilderness. Officers were being sought, his brother indicated that the Crown was even considering opening Royal commissions up to foreigners with experience of irregular warfare.

Jacobs rather hoped that Rutland got what he desired, the man was a fine soldier. Jacobs thought to himself that that would be his last campaign. He was getting too old for this traipsing about the wilderness chasing the Frenchies and their native allies.

Little did Jacobs know that his old commander wasn't as far away as he had presumed.

"So tell me Rutland, what makes you think the Crown will offer you a commission in this new regiment?" Sir William Johnson studied the terrain as they rode along, hoping that Colonel Ephraim Williams' party would be able to return from Fort Edward in time so that they could continue on to scout the French strength at the fort on Lake George (which he had renamed for his King, the French, no doubt, still referred to it as "Lac du Saint Sacrement").

"Well, Sir William. I commanded a company on the frontier, prior to that I served in the ranks of the New Hampshire Provincials. We had to fight our way to Number Five. Damned dicey that was." Mr. Edward Rutland was accompanying Johnson's expedition to clear the French from the area around Lakes George and Champlain as part of Edward Braddock's overall strategy of clearing the French from the Ohio Country and the lands south of the St. Lawrence.

"Well good luck to you Rutland. Now if you'll excuse me, something is afoot." Rutland also heard the sound of musketry in the distance, apparently Colonel Williams had made contact with the French.

Sergeant Major Jacobs was well aware of their mission, the French were advancing on Fort Edward, it was vital that this column reached there to reinforce the garrison, thus preventing the French from taking that position. The loss of Fort Edward would pose a serious threat to Johnson's advance on Lake Champlain, placing a large French fort in their rear.


Jacobs wasn't far from Colonel Williams when he heard musket fire to the front. What on earth was happening, he wondered, the musket fire seemed to be going straight up into the air and Jacobs could also hear heard two parties of Indians shouting at each other. One group seemed to be off on the flank, looking in that direction Jacobs saw Indians, a lot of Indians. Things quickly devolved into absolute confusion.

It was only later that men in Williams' detachment learned that the French had Mohawks with their force in the region. Catholic Mohawks who had moved to Canada and allied with the French. Those Mohawk had tried to warn the Mohawk with the English, not wanting to shed the blood of their compatriots. The remainder of the French force, including a sizeable contingent of Abenaki, had no compunction against shedding Mohawk blood and had opened a galling fire upon Williams' column.

Though the Colonel was an experienced frontier fighter he had blundered into an ambush skillfully laid by the French commander Dieskau. Dieskau had abandoned his assault on Fort Edward when his Indian allies had refused to assault the battlements of the fort. His scouts had warned him though of the approach of Williams' column, so he resolved to ambush them then chase the survivors back to Johnson's main body, encamped further north.

Colonel Williams was killed almost immediately as he tried to assault into the ambush, going down with a ball to the head. The majority of the New Englanders (mostly militia) under his command broke when a company of French grenadiers positioned barring the road began to pour volley after volley into the head of the English column.

Though wounded, Jacobs joined a group of a hundred men who were returning the French fire while slowly withdrawing. The surviving Mohawk warriors also fought back skillfully, covering the flanks of this party as they withdrew.

Calmly firing, reloading, stepping back a few paces, then repeating the process, Jacobs felt a raging thirst, it had been years since he had stood in the firing line. He was far more used to controlling the fire of the men, not firing himself. But fire he did, he had had the wit to grab a firelock and a cartridge box from one of the dead. He knew it was a question of fight or die.

Rutland watched as the men in camp formed up in their defensive positions. He could see a ragged horde of defeated men running and staggering towards them. Evidently Colonel Williams had suffered a defeat. As the disorganized mob entered the camp, officers and sergeants immediately worked to rally them.

Some rallied, a number kept running. Some of the Mohawk were angry and ashamed that their sachem, the great Theyanoguin, had been shot from his horse then bayoneted to death by the French. From what Rutland could tell, many Mohawk warriors had been lost as well as a large number of English.

Rutland saw that a well-formed party, perhaps two companies in strength, were falling back in the near distance. He could tell that they were English, mostly Provincial troops. He was stunned when they reached the camp and he saw his old sergeant major among them. His face blackened, his uniform torn, his left arm oozing blood.

"Sarn't Major Jacobs!" He called out.

Jacobs turned, he looked puzzled for a moment, then he managed a wry smile, "Mr. Rutland, what brings you out here to the lake country? Still looking for that Royal commission?"

"My father knows Sir William, he thought it might be a good idea for me to accompany this expedition. So far, I see nothing new, though I never thought I'd see Englishmen run from the French."

A dark look passed over Jacobs' face, "It ain't like it was in New Hampshire Mr. Rutland. The French are very strong in this area. So are their allies, Huron, Abenaki, even renegade Mohawks."


"Well, not exactly, the French gave them popery, which the Crown didn't like. So that lot went off to Canada to be with their French masters. Canawaughga Mohawks they calls 'em. One of the Indians I know told me that the French Mohawks opened fire prematurely, tried to warn their southern kin I guess. Didn't stop the Abenaki and the Frenchies from cutting us up pretty badly. If you'll excuse me Sir, I need to get this wound treated. If I were you I'd find myself a firelock and some powder and shot, the Frenchies are headed this way."

Edward Rutland began to do just that.

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  1. What an utterly confusing situation. The regional loyalties conflated things as well, Mohawks on both sides and warning each other.

    Eerily reminiscent of the ambush scene in The Last Of The Mohicans.

    1. That ambush in The Last of the Mohicans of the defeated English withdrawing from Fort William Henry actually happened.

      At the Monongahela the French weren't really ready to ambush the English, but it felt like an ambush. At the Bloody Morning Scout the French laid a very effective ambush. The French and Indians knew that to try and go toe to toe with the English was too fraught with peril. Why do that when the English will march into your ambush?

      I didn't know of the Canawaughga Mohawks until I began researching this post. An interesting story there.

    2. Trying to follow the shifting alliances and changing sides of the various tribes will drive you crazy. Factions within factions. Followers of this strong man or that.

      Worse than pre-1120's Ireland or, well, Scotland until the 1740's or most of the Middle East until Churchill drew all the pretty lines in the desert... and after, too!

      And, of course, any generalized statement like what I just made is so fraught with inaccuracy and generalization as to... prove the statement, sort of.

      Yes, some tribes and factions stuck with treaties and pacts. Until...

    3. Sometimes it all boiled down to who could give them the better deal.

  2. Which fort is that in the header picture?

    1. Ticonderoga in New York, which the French called Carillon.

    2. I thought it looked familiar, Ticonderoga was the only fort we looked at up in that part of the world.

    3. I've been there a few times myself.

  3. Well, "hoping that Colonel Ephraim Williams party..." poses an interesting question. I know what you're thinking. Did he apostrophe or not? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being as this is The Chant, the most powerful Blog in the world, and Buck would chew your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, OAFS?”

    Other than that, damned fine story. The interweaving of historical fact into the historical fiction is what makes it especially spicy good. Looking forward to the mini-series, but do make sure you have creative control over the costuming, maybe get some costume nerd to do it correctly (including hair, makeup and such. No 90's Beach Wave hair!)

    Nothing is like fighting in closed woods. Where one minute you don't hear anything and the next you can hear noises from miles away. Did that in the SCA the first time we had the (Florida vs Texas) war in Mississippi, in June, and it was hot. And the boundary markers for the Woods Battle (fighting in a woods, seriously) were, hrmmmm... sparse. Story to follow, POCIR...

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    When do you ship out and posts from you become scarce?

    1. Apostrophes, bah, humbug.

      I will be wheels up this Sunday. No book stuff, just vignettes from my trip out to occupied California. The plan is to try and get the final edits into the WWII book. If I can find time from working 60 hours a week!

  4. Good one again, Sarge, and good stopping point--always leave 'em (us) wanting more!
    As for humbug, gently, if you choose to use them:
    " William's detachment..." and "upon William's column": in both cases, it should be "Williams'". James owns James' possessions.
    My name is Budd, and I'm a pedant. (is there a Pedants Anonymous?)
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. I've done horrible things with apostrophes...

      Typos, mere typos. I know how to use 'em, apparently I also know how to abuse them.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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