The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America - Walter R. Borneman (2006)

BOOK TWO. Mr. Pitt’s Global War (1757–1760)

12. FALLING DOMINOES

Major General Jeffery Amherst and several British regiments arrived in Boston from Louisbourg on September 13, 1758, to much pomp and ceremony. If anything, Abercromby’s defeat at Ticonderoga had only heightened the public’s desire to embrace the conqueror of Louisbourg, and “the whole town turned out.” For his part, the young general was anxious to continue west and see firsthand how bad the situation was north of Albany. Residents of Massachusetts had a different idea. As his regiments camped on Boston Common, their colonial hosts—in a celebratory mood and despite Amherst’s wishes to the contrary—“would give them liquor and make the men drunk in spite of all that could be done.”1

After laying over in Boston for an extra day to let his troops sober up, Amherst marched west across Massachusetts and then northward to Abercromby’s camp at Fort Edward. The scene he found was far from encouraging. Abercromby was content to do nothing. Morale among the regular troops was dismal. The provincials and Indian allies were largely gone for the year, the former to bring in what harvest they still could, the latter to return to their villages and hunt for the winter. Any hopes that Amherst held for a strike against Ticonderoga that autumn quickly evaporated. “We have certain advice from Albany, by the courier,” the Boston Gazette reported on October 16, “that the expedition against Ticonderoga was laid aside for the season; and that General Amherst was upon the road for this place, and is soon expected in.”2

Indeed, the only good news was that Montcalm and the bulk of his forces had also retired for the winter and posed no threat to Albany. So Amherst sailed down the Hudson to New York City and then went by ship to Boston, hoping to find orders that would permit him to return to England for a winter’s respite. None awaited him there, and he sailed on to Halifax to establish winter quarters for some of his troops.

In Halifax on November 9, 1758, Jeffery Amherst received the orders he had been awaiting, but they proved a two-edged sword. The victor of Louisbourg could not return to his beloved England for the winter because Pitt had named him commander in chief of all British forces in North America in place of the plodding Abercromby. Amherst’s brother, William, was en route from England with the original dispatches and Pitt’s personal assurances that while he regretted denying the young general a return to England, “the King’s dependence is entirely upon him to repair the losses we have sustained.”

With this news in hand, Amherst elected to return to Boston and then go by road to New York City and establish his winter quarters there. Along the way, he got a sense of how unimpressed some colonials were with his new royal powers as commander in chief. At Branford, Connecticut, he was required to obtain an order from the local justice of the peace to permit his wagon to travel because it was Sunday. “At Norwalk he met Governor [Thomas] Fitch, whose principal interest in meeting Amherst appeared to be to protest against the request to supply wood for a regimental guard stationed there. ‘I never heard any petty fogging attorney more equivocating or half so silly on any subject as he was on this,’ Amherst noted in his journal, ‘but I persuaded him at last to order the delivery of the wood.’”

These experiences to the contrary not withstanding, Amherst did note Connecticut’s more redeeming features: “New Haven has a college built with brick and another building of wood that make a fine appearance.” Soon, though, Amherst would have much more to worry about than the accoutrements of Yale.3

Even as he embarked for Louisbourg the previous spring, Jeffery Amherst had in his possession a secret intelligence report describing much of New France as “ripe for revolt.” Its inhabitants, the theory ran, were so tired of war and the continuing famine that many wished for the British to simply deliver them from their “misery.” Despite the hardships, however, the Canadians had shown no sign of cracking in the face of the campaigns of 1758, and Amherst now had little reason to think that 1759 would be much different.4

That is not to say that New France was not eager for peace. In fact, this was about the only thing that Montcalm and the governor general, Vaudreuil, could be said to agree on. “Without the peace we need, Canada is lost,” Montcalm wrote just before he departed Ticonderoga in September 1758. “Peace appears to me an absolute necessity,” the governor wrote, quite independently, more than 100 miles away in Montreal the following day.

But peace was something that had to be determined between London and Paris and dictated worldwide—not just along the waterways of the Saint Lawrence. Until those in power took that action, there was nothing for Montcalm and Vaudreuil to do during the winter of 1758–1759 but count the declining rations and debate their diverging views. Montcalm favored incorporating Canadian militia into the regular French units and concentrating Canada’s defense along the Saint Lawrence. Vaudreuil was determined to reoccupy Fort Frontenac and reinforce the links to the western posts, particularly Fort Niagara.

The rivalry between the two men was not softened when Bougainville returned to Montreal from France in the spring of 1759 and reported that Montcalm’s victory at Fort Carillon had made him the darling of the French court. Vaudreuil’s name was conspicuously absent in Louis XV’s praise, but the real blow to the governor’s prestige came when Bougainville delivered orders elevating Montcalm to commander in chief of all forces in Canada. Henceforth, Vaudreuil was to answer to Montcalm, not the other way around. “I may not look like the man of the hour in Canada,” Montcalm boasted in May 1759, “but that is what I look like in Paris.”5

But the clock would soon toll the fateful hour in Canada, not at Versailles. Unfortunately for both Montcalm and Vaudreuil, the same problem that had long vexed the French perspective in this war still persisted. The situation had always looked different to those ensconced at Versailles and to those charged with defending the wilderness of North America. For his part, Amherst was of a single mind as to his mission. Writing to Pitt about routes of advance for the campaigns of 1759, Great Britain’s new commander in chief in North America declared that “by whichsoever avenue we succeed, Quebec or Montreal, Canada must fall, and with it everything on this side of the River Saint Lawrence.”6

Amherst’s letter to Pitt crossed in the mail—if such a phrase can be used to describe the months-long delay in transatlantic communications—with Pitt’s own detailed expectations for the campaigns of 1759. Wolfe was off on his own to Quebec, ostensibly with an independent command, but he was expected to coordinate his efforts with Amherst’s nonetheless. Amherst was to send both regulars and provincial troops to assist him. In the west, Pitt ordered the rebuilding of Oswego and the pushing of offensive operations at least as far as Fort Niagara. Strengthening Fort Pitt was a given, but all these efforts left Amherst decidedly short of men and matériel to undertake the key campaign Pitt left “to be under your own immediate direction”—the long-awaited reduction of Ticonderoga and Crown Point (Fort Saint Frédéric) and the push northward from there to Montreal.

If Amherst foresaw more glory at Quebec or even Fort Niagara, Pitt tried to soften any blow to his ego by declaring that Amherst’s central location on the New York frontier was essential to his duties as commander in chief in cultivating the support of the various colonial governors. (Amherst had already had a taste of that during his first encounter with Connecticut’s governor Fitch.) Pitt’s concern was that most of the promises for aid and compensation that he had made to the colonials the year before had yet to be paid in pounds sterling. Now, almost as a bothersome afterthought, Pitt added to Amherst’s orders that “you will, in case of necessity,” draw bills for “any extraordinary expenses incurred for this service.”7

In other words, just as Forbes had had to be a diplomat to the Indians as well as a military commander the year before, now Amherst was called on to be both of these plus a procurer of funds for the operation of his armies. He would also be required to be a mediator not only between proper British regulars and their less disciplined provincial counterparts, but also among the colonial legislatures. In many respects, it was a thankless task, but he fell to it with decisiveness. His first step was “to pardon any deserter from a regiment in America who shall voluntarily join his colors on or before the 1st day of March.” Coming to terms with the colonial legislatures would be harder.8

Pitt’s government still owed the Pennsylvania legislature 180,000 pounds for supplies and services—including lost wagons and horses—related to Forbes’s advance. Only begrudgingly did the assembly advance another 50,000 pounds for the operations of 1759 along the Forbes road, and then only after attaching a string of conditions to the loan. Amherst did a little better in New York, where the assembly approved his request for a loan of 150,000 pounds and issued one-year bills of credit “to enable him to pursue his operations, and facilitate the success of His Majesty’s arms.”9

In early March of 1759 Amherst sent Robert Rogers with ninety of his rangers, 217 regulars from Gage’s light infantry, and fifty Mohawk allies to make a scouting expedition to Fort Ticonderoga and map in detail the state of its defenses. Any spring assault against this fortress, however, would have to be tempered by conditions on Forbes’s road to Fort Pitt. The garrison that Forbes had left there the previous December had managed to hold the forks, but its supply line to Fort Bedford and Raystown was tenuous at best. As the road dried out in the spring and became passable, French regulars, Canadian militia, and their remaining Indian allies engaged in a series of quick raids all along the 80 miles between Fort Pitt and Fort Bedford. “It is a thousand to one but this letter is intercepted by the enemy,” a correspondent wrote on April 17 from Fort Ligonier, smack in the middle, “as the road is waylaid from Pittsburg to Bedford.”10

Fort Bedford and Raystown were not safe either. “This morning an express arrived here from Raystown,” came a report from Winchester six weeks later, “that as thirty of our wagons were coming up with provisions, under an escort of a hundred men, [they] were attacked by 150 French and Indians, who killed and wounded thirty of our people, destroyed all the wagons, and carried off most of the provisions on their horses.” It was no wonder that the Maryland Gazette of Annapolis reported on June 14 that “we cannot find that the report lately spread of the French having retaken Pittsburg has any truth in it; but have the strongest reason to hope that it was altogether without foundation.”11

The dubiousness of the report was certainly not because the French hadn’t tried to recapture Fort Pitt. After blowing up Fort Duquesne, Commandant Lignery had retreated only as far as Fort Machault at Venango, about 100 miles up the Allegheny from the forks, and spent the winter there. While French elements were harassing Forbes’s road the following spring, Lignery was busy gathering forces at Venango for what he hoped would be a lightning descent of the Allegheny to recapture Pitt before spring reinforcements could reach it.

Among those French troops assembling at Venango were units from the garrison at Fort Niagara. Thinking Niagara well to the rear of any frontline action—and evidently discounting any repeat of Bradstreet’s foray against Fort Frontenac the previous summer—Commandant Pierre Pouchet had been only too glad to provide support for Lignery’s counteroffensive. Meanwhile, of course, in part to take pressure off this anticipated threat to Fort Pitt and to secure Forbes’s road, Amherst acted quickly and quietly to undertake Pitt’s directed strike west against Fort Niagara itself.

To lead this western incursion, Amherst chose John Prideaux, who had become colonel of the Fifty-fifth Regiment on the death of Lord Howe and who now with this new command assumed the rank of brigadier general in North America. If Prideaux needed any recommendation, there was none better than Lord Ligonier’s assertion to Amherst that he was “a very active, diligent officer.” He was also discreet. As Prideaux assembled some 3,000 regulars, including the Forty-fourth and Forty-sixth regiments, a battalion of Royal Americans, and a company of Royal Artillery, and led them west up the Mohawk, secrecy was Amherst’s sternest charge. “I kept my intended operations secret,” wrote the commander in chief. “If the Indians know them the French will have it.”12

Indians, however, were to be an important part of Prideaux’s force—thanks in some measure to Sir William Johnson. Part of Pitt’s charge to Amherst as commander in chief had been to recruit Indian allies to the British cause and counter their long use by the French. Now, that finally appeared to be happening. Although Johnson was always inclined to overstate his personal value in a situation, he now reported that he had been “able to prevail upon the greater part if not the whole of [the Iroquois] to join His Majesty’s Arms.”13

The sudden inclusion of 1,000 Iroquois warriors in a British command en route to attack the French on their own ground showed just how much had changed in the year since the Iroquois had failed to support Bradstreet’s attack against Fort Frontenac. In actual fact, this turnaround had very little to do with Johnson’s sway over the Iroquois. He held little unless it suited their purposes, and now it did.

Leery of the increasing flow into their territory of western Indians from beyond the Great Lakes disgusted by the inability of the French to supply high-quality trade goods at competitive prices, and impressed by the recent capture of Fort Duquesne, the Iroquois at last allied themselves with the British. Or so they said. A year before, Sir William Johnson had the goal of maintaining the Iroquois’s neutrality and preventing them from joining the French. Now, he was leading them against Fort Niagara, which was held by the French.14

Brigadier Prideaux’s force moved up the Mohawk and rendezvoused with Johnson’s Iroquois at the ruins of Oswego on June 27, 1759. Prideaux delegated Colonel Frederick Haldimand to remain at Oswego with half of the Royal Americans and over 500 New York provincials and begin the task of rebuilding Fort Oswego, effectively adopting Forbes’s strategy of establishing strong outposts on his line of advance. Then, with 2,000 troops and 1,000 Iroquois, his force rowed west in whaleboats and bateaux along the southern shore of Lake Ontario. On July 6, they landed unopposed at the mouth of the Little Swamp River about three miles to the east of Fort Niagara and the mouth of the Niagara River. The surprise was complete. Commandant Pouchot, who had dispatched troops to aid Lignery’s effort to recapture Fort Duquesne, suddenly had his own problems.

First occupied by the French in 1725, Fort Niagara had been greatly strengthened during the course of the war and was in a much better state of military preparedness than Fort Frontenac had been the year before. It sat on a rocky promontory of land just east of the mouth of the Niagara River, with Lake Ontario to the north and the river curving around its western and southern sides. The fort’s principal defense was a 900-foot-long battlement anchored by three bastions extending along its entire eastern side. Other than the requisite barracks, armories, and support buildings, its principal interior structure was a three-story stone building that served as the commandant’s headquarters and was called the House of Peace, a designation deriving from its role as an Indian trading center. Outside the walls, there was a dock on the Niagara River, and there were various earthworks to the east

If there were weaknesses at Fort Niagara, they were twofold. First, as was usually the case by now, the French were lacking in troops. Having sent troops to Lignery, Pouchot had left fewer than 500 soldiers in his garrison: by one account 150 French regulars, twenty-three artillerymen, 180 colonial marines, and 133 Canadian militia, plus a few remaining Indian allies. The second weakness was that most of Niagara’s defenses presumed an attack from the east. The opposite promontory on the western side of the mouth of the Niagara River, Montreal Point, was undefended and offered a powerful artillery position should it be occupied by an attacker.15

Accordingly, as Prideaux landed his forces at the mouth of the Little Swamp River, he immediately ordered men to portage whaleboats loaded with three howitzers and ammunition through the woods and into a ravine south of the fort. Called La Belle Famille, the ravine led down to the Niagara River. Dodging French artillery fire, this little flotilla ferried the howitzers across the Niagara to its western bank early on the morning of July 7 and proceeded to erect an artillery battery opposite the fort.

The following day, having moved his forces to within 1,000 yards of Fort Niagara’s eastern side and begun to dig siege trenches, Prideaux sent a flag of truce to Pouchot and demanded his surrender. Pouchot made no reply, but he had already frantically sent messengers to warn a French outpost at the main portage around Niagara Falls and—more important—to beg Lignery to call off the expedition against Fort Pitt and rush to his aid.16

As Pouchot waited expectantly for some sign of relief, Prideaux’s men dug siege trenches closer and closer to the walls of Fort Niagara. Meanwhile, there now began a series of parleys between the 100 or so Seneca who were still on the French side inside Fort Niagara and the Iroquois who were among the attackers outside the fort. Kaendaé of the Niagara Seneca visited with Johnson’s Iroquois and tried to persuade them to withdraw together up the Niagara and leave the French and the British to fight between themselves. This plea to return to the time-honored neutrality that the Iroquois Confederation had long practiced failed only after Johnson promised “his” Iroquois “the first chance to plunder the fort after it fell.”17

While these negotiations dragged on, Pouchot acquiesced in the accompanying delays because they bought him time for Lignery’s hoped-for relief column to draw nearer. Prideaux was also content to tolerate the parleys, because he used the time to dig trenches even closer. Finally, Kaendaé’s Seneca were permitted to withdraw from Fort Niagara under a flag of truce. Pouchot may have realized that they were now reluctant warriors and was probably relieved to see them go. These Seneca, however, repaid their French hosts by attacking the French outpost at the Niagara Falls portage where Pouchot had sent his oxen and cows to keep them from falling into British hands. After butchering the livestock, the Seneca “actually carried the meat to the English camp.”

Meanwhile, Johnson’s Iroquois were in contact with the Indians accompanying Lignery’s approaching relief force. These Indians were doing their own parleying to dissuade the Iroquois from further participation in the campaign. The Iroquois permitted messages to Pouchot to get through the siege lines and in retrospect appear to have promised to sit this one out if the advancing Indians did the same.18

On July 17, the three British howitzers hauled to Montreal Point began shelling Fort Niagara’s dock and raining fire upon the House of Peace and other interior buildings. Two days later, one British battery was within eighty yards of the eastern wall. One account maintains that the French had fired 6,000 cannonballs at the attackers so far but managed to kill only three men and wound twenty more. The number seems highly inflated, but it may indeed be true because General Prideaux offered a bounty of sixpence in New York currency for every twelve- and nine-pound shot his troops recovered in good enough condition to be fired back.

But then on the evening of July 20, General Prideaux and his aide, Colonel John Johnstone, were making an inspection of the front trenches when a French musket ball killed the colonel on the spot. Prideaux helped remove Johnstone’s body to the rear and then resumed his own inspection at the front. The general had barely returned when he stopped to watch a crew fire a newly installed mortar. The artillery piece blew up with a roar and a hail of heavy shrapnel. A chunk of the exploding barrel blew away a sizable piece of Prideaux’s skull, killing him instantly.19

Now there arose a question of command. The provincial colonel Sir William Johnson was only too happy to oblige, but Lieutenant Colonel Eyre Massey of the Forty-sixth Regiment contended that as a regular officer in the field he outranked Johnson. Before the dispute could be resolved, they received a report that Lignery’s relief force, augmented with troops from as far away as Detroit, was entering the upper Niagara River from Lake Erie. The 600 Frenchmen and a 1,000 Indians looked to one observer like a “floating island, so black was the river with bateaux and canoes.” What the two contenders to command said to each other at this point is unknown. Johnson’s supporters would long sing his praises, but it was Colonel Massey who marched out to oppose this force while Johnson was content to oversee the siege of the fort.20

Siege of Fort Niagara, 1759

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The good news for the besieged Pouchot was that help now appeared to be at hand. But as the French relief force made its way around Niagara Falls, the commandant at Fort Niagara was almost beside himself because of its choice of route. Come down the western bank, Pouchot had advised Lignery. Rid us of that deadly redoubt of British artillery at Montreal Point. It was still manned by no more than 200 men. Instead, Lignery chose to march down the east bank portage road straight into the waiting arms of a picket guard of some 100 provincials. Colonel Massey’s movement with about 450 regulars had just bolstered this little force near La Belle Famille and erected an abatis barrier to block the road. Six hundred Iroquois waited in the shadows to see what the Indians of the advancing French force would do.

The answer was not long in coming. As the French moved forward in column down the narrow road on the morning of July 24, it was clear that they were alone. Further entreaties between the two Indian groups had indeed resulted in a neutral standoff. The Indians marching with the French had returned to their canoes and were paddling back to Lake Erie. If ever there was a time when Lignery should have remembered Braddock’s advance on the Monongahela, it was now.

The mixed French force of regulars and militia came down the road with a great deal of élan. There was “a very great noise and shouting” and some troops began to discharge their muskets into the abatis ahead. For their part, the British troops stood silent behind their cover and waited until Lignery had unwittingly led the French tight inside the trap. When the French were within thirty yards of the abatis that now flanked them on either side of the road, Colonel Massey gave the order to fire. “The men,” Massey later reported, “received the enemy with vast resolution, and never fired one shot until we could almost reach them with our bayonets.”

The French tried desperately to deploy from a long column into line formations, but it was indeed the Monongahela all over again, though with opposite roles. The British poured seven deadly volleys at almost point-blank range into the French formation. Only when the French troops at last gave way under a British bayonet charge did the Iroquois join the fray and pursue their retreat. The result was unspeakable carnage.

Only about 100 of the French force—mostly the wounded and a handful of officers—survived to be taken prisoner. Massey did not restrain himself when he later wrote an account of the engagement to Pitt. “As I hear the Indians have got great credit by that day, in Europe,” wrote the colonel, “I think I would not do justice to the Regiment [the Forty-sixth]…if I would allow savages, who behaved dastardly, to take that honour, which is deservedly due, to such of His Majesty’s troops, as were in that action.”

Able to hear the sounds of the battle, but unsure of its results, Commandant Pouchot at Fort Niagara continued his daily artillery battle with the British positions. Now, he refused to believe either the report of a loyal Onondaga or that of a British officer who appeared before his gates with a white flag. Only after one of his own officers was conducted into the wounded Lignery’s presence in the British camp did Pouchot accept the inevitable. The following day he surrendered Fort Niagara to Sir William Johnson.

Despite his demands to march from the fort with full honors of war and be allowed to conduct his men to Montreal, Pouchot and his troops were instead sent to Albany as prisoners of war. The only saving grace was that Sir William Johnson managed to keep the Iroquois in check with only the material plunder of the fort. There would not be a reprisal for Fort William Henry. For Lignery’s part, he did not live long enough to suffer humiliation or to see the fleur-de-lis disappear from the Ohio Valley forever. 21

Meanwhile, General Amherst was trying to make his own progress against the French fortresses of Carillon (Ticonderoga) and Saint Frédéric (Crown Point). He was not a plodder like Abercromby, but neither was he one to dash off without thorough plans. In addition to the slow arrivals of provincial troops, one nagging problem was still a lack of provisions and a lack of adequate funding from the colonial legislatures. In late April, Pennsylvania came through with another loan—this one of 100,000 pounds—but Amherst was nonetheless reduced to pleas to the local populace to supply his troops with sustenance.

“Whereas the army destined for Lake George and beyond it, cannot be too well supplied with all kinds of refreshments, which must greatly contribute towards the preservation of the health of the troops,” Amherst’s circular read, “these are therefore to make known to the people of the province, that such of them who shall be inclined to convey to the lake, live cattle, sheep, fouls, eggs, butter and cheese or any other refreshments or necessaries whatever (rum and spirituous liquors excepted),*…shall meet with all protection.”22

Now in June 1759, having sent support to Wolfe en route to Quebec and dispatched the efforts to reinforce Fort Pitt and reduce Fort Niagara, Amherst assembled his own forces on Lake George, which—in Parkman’s words—“for five years past had been the annual mustering-place of armies.” Here, Amherst paused to begin construction on a replacement for Fort William Henry that was to be called Fort George. By the time his army finally embarked in bateaux and rowed north down Lake George, it was July 21. This time, the advancing army numbered about 10,000 men, considerably less than Abercromby’s force. The slaughter of the previous year, however, meant that the troops advanced with far greater trepidation.23

But the result this year was to be decidedly anticlimactic. On the morning of July 23, as Amherst surveyed the French defenses above the field that Abercromby had never personally seen, the general detected a flurry of movement in the French trenches. It appeared that the French were pulling back. But to where? Into the fort, down Lake Champlain, or on some mission to outflank him?

Cautiously, Amherst avoided the open field in front of the defenses and ordered an advance along the thickly wooded lakeshore. As they reached the French entrenchment, the lead troops looked up to the stone walls of the fortress 800 yards away and expected to be met with a hail of artillery and musket fire. Instead, they were greeted only by silence. Then, their eyes were drawn down to the level of the abandoned breastworks. In the center of the trenches, the French had dug a large grave and placed a cross with an engraved copper plate at its head. “Bury their generals here, like Oreb and Zeeb, Zebah and Zalmunna,” it read, in a biblical reference to the enemies struck down by Gideon.24

The French army of some 3,000 under the command of Brigadier General François-Charles de Bourlamaque had retreated north to Fort Saint Frédéric, leaving only a garrison of 400 troops to hold Fort Carillon. The British occupied the French trenches, brought up six twenty-four-pound artillery pieces, and wondered what might happen next. The answer came with a gigantic explosion just before midnight on the evening of July 26. The French garrison had slipped away in boats down Lake Champlain and left a fuse burning to the fort’s well-stocked powder magazine. The conqueror of Louisbourg had become the conqueror of Carillon with the loss of only five dead and thirty-one wounded.

If not a plodder, Amherst was definitely a fort builder, and he set to work reconstructing the Carillon ruins as Fort Ticonderoga. If he was somewhat of a teacher on this expedition, Amherst had with him a host of willing pupils from among the colonial troops. Many of their names would be heard again along the waters of Lake Champlain.

With Amherst at Ticonderoga that summer—in addition, of course, to Robert Rogers—were Israel Putnam of Connecticut, Philip Schuyler of New York, and John Stark of Vermont. Also present was Ethan Allen of Vermont, who would pay his own nighttime call upon a British garrison at Ticonderoga sixteen years hence and demand its surrender “in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” Finally, there was a young lad from Connecticut who would stand beside Allen on that day and march on to Quebec in 1775. His name was Benedict Arnold.

With Carillon in hand, the next objective to be considered was Fort Saint Frédéric, but Amherst barely had time to send a scouting party of rangers to look at its situation before they reported back that the French had abandoned it, too, and also detonated its powder magazine. Arriving at Fort Saint Frédéric on the evening of August 4, Amherst looked toward the rise immediately west of the French ruins and pronounced it “the finest situation, I think, that I have seen in America.” Here, he would build Crown Point, a position that “will have all the advantages of the lake … that can be wished for.”25

As he surveyed this ground at Crown Point that evening, Jeffery Amherst received a message from Sir William Johnson announcing the capture of Fort Niagara. The French had attacked Oswego in Johnson’s absence, but Colonel Haldimand had beaten off the assault and sent those French troops scurrying for the Saint Lawrence. Meanwhile, Brigadier John Stanwix was marching north from Fort Pitt to occupy the French forts of Venango, Le Boeuf, and Presque Isle. The few French survivors who escaped the carnage at La Belle Famille fled west to Detroit and abandoned all claim to these Allegheny posts. Suddenly, it appeared that the fall of Fort Niagara had opened a vast void in New France from the forks of the Ohio almost to the gates of Montreal. Now, with the capture of Carillon and Saint Frédéric, Amherst was eyeing those very gates.

Venango, Le Boeuf, Presque Isle, Niagara, Carillon, and Saint Frédéric—they had all fallen like dominoes, far more easily than might have been surmised at the beginning of the summer. It only remained for Amherst to learn how Brigadier James Wolfe was faring in front of the biggest domino of them all—Quebec.