5. 1758 & 1759: England’s Triumphant Years

After his brutal victory, General Montcalm burned to the ground the already pillaged  Fort William Henry.  His former Indian allies, surfeited with their ill-gotten booty and scalps,  returned to Canada.  Unable to move his heavy artillery through the swampy trails of the Great Carrying Place, he was in no condition to march on to Fort Edward, and so decided to retire to Fort Carillon (not yet called Ticonderoga) at the foot of Lake George. Perhaps Montcalm should have advanced further south, and by not doing so he lost what might have been a decisive opportunity. In any case, by the following year, the tide would turn dramatically against the French. Fort William Henry in recent years, by the way, has been rebuilt as a tourist attraction in Battleground Park along the beautiful southern Lake George beachfront.

But back to Great Britain in the year 1758.  King George II and his able new prime minister, William Pitt, did act decisively. Some twenty-thousand more troops were dispatched to the Colonies, new commanders  named, and a precise plan prepared.  The strategy was to open a three-pronged attack against the strongest forts that anchored the major access routes to New France: from the west, Fort Duquesne at the juncture of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers where now is the city of Pittsburgh, PA, from the south Fort Carillon at the north tip of Lake George, and from the east Fort Louisbourg at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence Waterway above Quebec. Amazingly, by the end of 1758, Fort Duquesne (renamed Fort Pitt) and Fortress Louisbourg had both fallen to the English, but the assault on Fort Carillon was a humiliating failure. Captain Rogers himself was almost captured when his Rangers were ambushed on the west bank of Lake Champlain in snowy March of that year.  Nonetheless, with his usual derring-do, he made his escape (it is said) by donning snow- shoes and slaloming down a steep slope from where he was able to swim to safety. That bare stone bluff  has ever since been called “Rogers’ Rock.”

After the setback at Fort Carillon, Pitt appointed Lord Jeffery Amherst as commander of the attacking forces on Lake George. The latter was a well-tested and popular leader, responsible for the great victory at Fort Louisbourg the year before. Unfortunately he is remembered unfavorably today for his early attempt at “germ warfare” by deliberately giving to the Indians blankets from the beds of small pox victims.  In any case, in the summer of 1759, Amherst assembled a large army at newly built Fort George near the ruins of old Fort William Henry, and carefully planned his transport by boats down the lake again to assault the French bastion. Rogers’ Rangers should go before and break through the log boom the French had erected across the water to halt the English flotilla. That the Rangers did with stunning success. The outnumbered French quickly fell back in face of the oncoming red-coats. Fort Carillon was abandoned and the French retreated northward, trying to burn everything left behind. This too was aborted by Rogers’ Rangers who captured much of their stores intact. Meanwhile, Amherst continued attacking north. By early August he took Crown Point at the lower end of  Lake Champlain, thus finally closing off that avenue by which for years the French and their Indian allies had threatened the settlements in New York and New England.

By whom Fort Carillon came to be called Fort Ticonderoga is still something of a mystery. At the time, apocryphally or not, it was believed that the renaming had to do with the mysterious appearance of a ghost.  A certain Major Duncan Campbell back in Scotland claimed that a stranger had come to him one day begging to be protected from arrest for having just killed a man. Campbell felt sympathy for the pitiful fugitive and granted him sanctuary, only to discover that the man who was murdered was his own cousin.  As he tossed and turned  in bed that night,  torn between his promise of sanctuary and loyalty to his family, he was suddenly visited by the ghost of his murdered cousin who demanded revenge and that the culprit not be shielded. Campbell remonstrated: he could not go back on an oath once given, no matter the crime of him whom he sheltered.  The angered ghost appeared twice more, each time with the same message, and which each time was rejected. On the third and last visit, the spirit departed with this curious farewell, “‘Till we meet again at Ticonderoga!”

Campbell had no idea what that message meant, and had never before heard the word “Ticonderoga.” Within a few days, his regiment was ordered to America to join the other British troops in the assault against Fort Carillon. On the eve of the battle, Campbell was again confronted once more by his cousin’s ghost who whispered these words, “This is Ticonderoga,” and, more ominously, “ You shall fall with the first.” The next day, Campbell was mortally wounded in the initial attack.

Robert Louis Stevenson later immortalized the tale in a long ballad. For poetic reasons, he changed Campbell’s family name to Cameron, “Painted face” refers to the Indian interlocutor, and “Saulte-Marie” to Fort Carillon.

Here are some sample verses:

Thrice in the time of midnight,
When the fox barked in the den,
And the plaids were over the faces
In all the houses of men,
Thrice as the living Cameron
Lay sleepless on his bed,
Out of the night and the other world
Came in to him the dead,
And cried to him for vengeance
On the man that laid him low;
And thrice the living Cameron
Told the dead Cameron, no.
“Thrice have you seen me, brother,
But now shall see me no more,
Till you meet your angry fathers
Upon the farther shore.
Thrice have I spoken, and now,
Before the cock be heard,
I take my leave for ever
With the naming of a word.

It shall sing in your sleeping ears,
It shall hum in your waking head,

The name –Ticonderoga

And the warning of the dead.”

This is  my weird,” he said,

And now I ken the  worst

For many shall fall the morn,
But I shall fall with the first.
O, you of the outland tongue,
You of the painted face,
This is the place of my death;
Can you tell me the name of the place?”
“Since the Frenchmen have been here
They have called it Sault-Marie;
But that is a name for priests,
And not for you and me.
It went by another word,”
Quoth he of the shaven head:
“It was called Ticonderoga

In the days of the great dead.”
And it fell on the morrow’s morning,
In the fiercest of the fight,
That the Cameron bit the dust
As he foretold at night;
And far from the hills of heather,
Far from the isles of the sea,
He sleeps in the place of the name
As it was doomed to be.

Whether you believe this story or not, Campbell was a real person and a real casualty of the battle at Fort Ticonderoga. His remains are actually buried in a cemetery near Fort Edward, the same where is also the grave of Jane McCrea whose similar tragic death-and equally dramatic story- will be revealed in Installment 12.

Next installment: 1753: BIRTH OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

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