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The Williams Monument- scene of the first engagement of the Battle of Lake George. Photos by Jim Millard.

By James P. Millard

The Battle of Lake George, not to be confused with The Battle of Fort William Henry, was fought on September 8, 1755 between French and Indian forces under the command of German Baron Ludwig August Dieskau and British and Colonial troops under Sir William Johnson.

On April 14, 1755, Governors of the British Provinces met in Virginia to determine a strategy to force the French from North America. It was determined that three separate campaigns would be undertaken against the enemy. One, under Sir William Johnson, would move against French interests in the Lake George/ Lake Champlain corridor.

The Battle of Lake George...
Sir William Johnson, together with his force of 1,500 troops and Indians reaches the southern shore of Lake Saint  Sacrement by August 28, 1755. He promptly renames the lake for his sovereign, King George II. Johnson starts work on another fortress, which he names William Henry after the son of George II.

One of the most experienced professional soldiers to arrive in North America, Baron de Dieskau, leaves for the frontier post of St. Frédéric. The French have learned of Johnson's planned attack on their outpost, and they quickly assemble an army of  3,500 to march south to meet this threat. This army, composed largely of Regulars and Militia, does consist of some 700 Indians.

Dieskau mounts an expedition to cut the supply lines of the attacking English forces. Leaving the majority of his men in the St. Frédéric/Carillon area, he sets out south with 220 regulars, 680 Canadians and 600 Indians. Believing there is only a token force at Fort Lyman (Ft. Edward), Dieskau hopes to effectively end the threat by cutting off the invaders supplies. Leaving 120 troops to guard the bateaus at South Bay, he marches to within 4 miles of the Fort. Learning his intelligence was faulty and that Fort Lyman was garrisoned by a large force, Dieskau withdraws back to South Bay. In the meantime, however, William Johnson at Lake George had learned of Dieskaus' presence and intentions. He sends Col. Ephraim Williams with 1,000 troops and 200 Indians to reinforce the British at the Hudson. The Indians are led by the famous Mohawk war chief, King Hendrick. Unknown Soldier marker at Lake George Battlefield Park. Here are buried four who fell during the "Bloody Morning Scout." Photo by the author. Copyright © 2003 America's Historic Lakes.

    September 8, 1755. The Bloody Morning Scout

The British force under Col. Williams, sets off down the Lake George-Ft. Edward road. They believe the French to still be in the vicinity of Ft. Lyman. In the meantime, Dieskau has learned from his scouts of Williams' advance south. He  hurries north along the road and deploys his forces in the shape of a hook along both sides of the rough road, hoping to ambush the British. The British force had barely set out from the Fort when they found themselves in a trap. It would have been much worse for the British had not the Indians started firing prematurely. Soon, King Hendrick was dead, followed by Col. Williams himself, who was shot in the head.

Unknown Soldier marker at Lake George Battlefield Park. Here are buried four who fell during the "Bloody Morning Scout." Photo by the author. Copyright © 2003 America's Historic Lakes.

Site of the First Engagement, Battle of Lake George
The Bloody Morning Scout

(click on thumbnails to see a larger photo)

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This site along abandoned railroad bed is very likely the ambush site.

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Road bed/Military road

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Williams Monument

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Road bed/Military road

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Close-up, Col. Williams Monument

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Monument marking site where Col. Ephraim Williams was killed.

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Marker at burial place of Col. Ephraim Williams

 

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Williams Monument

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Col. Ephraim Williams burial site

Note: This aging monument was replaced in June 2005 by Williams College with an exact replica.*

These photos show the likely site of the ambush along the road between Fort Edward and Fort William Henry. Dieskau's forces were hidden along each side of this stretch of the military road. In later years the Delaware and Hudson Company built a railroad along this path. Col. Williams, his horse shot out from underneath him, was shot in the head as he climbed this rock, seeking to rally his troops. Later, in an attempt to keep his body from being mutilated by the Indians, he was buried under the rock seen at right.

Upon the death of Col. Williams, Nathan Whiting assumes command.

The British panic, wildly retreating north to the lake. Hearing the gunfire only a short time after Williams' group had left, the garrison at the Fort goes on alert and immediately dispatches  Lt. Colonel Edward Cole with some 300 men to assist Williams. The retreating forces under Williams retreat to a small pond where they make another brief stand before continuing their retreat.  

By 10:00 am the majority of Whiting's troops have reached their colleagues at Lake George. The British, in the meantime, have prepared for the oncoming French force. They have several cannon and other field pieces in position. The French force appear in front of the British lines around Noon, marching directly into the center of the British position. A heated battle then ensues with the oncoming French being mowed down by the English. The momentum turns temporarily when a wave of Williams' retreating soldiers rush the lines, momentarily panicking the British forces. William Johnson himself takes a musket ball in the leg, and the shaken British are rallied by none other than Phineas Lyman, who ordered his officers to stop anyone from retreating.  

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Site of Second Engagement, Battle of Lake George
 

Second Engagement site

Statue of Sir William Johnson and King Hendrick

Second Engagement site

These photos, taken in Lake George Battlefield Park, show the approximate site of the second engagement. It was in this vicinity that the British, barricaded behind logs, stumps and wagons, held off the attack of French regulars, Canadians and Indians shortly after the ambush along the road.
 

The French advance is halted, Dieskau himself was shot three times. By 5:00 the British provincials rush over their barricades after the retreating French forces. Dieskau, desperately wounded, is left behind by his men. He is taken to the fort where a cot is set up for him in Johnson's own tent. Johnson, in keeping with the customs of the day, treats Dieskau with the utmost civility, even bringing him to his own home in Albany to convalesce. Several years later Baron Dieskau died in France from the effects of his wounds.  

Later that day, after the bulk of the fighting is over, some 300 New Hampshire and New York Bloody Pond, Lake George Colonials on their way to reinforce the British garrison ambush a group of French and Natives just south of the present day Village. A brief but deadly engagement takes place on the edge of a small pond. Here, at "Bloody Pond" the water is turned red with blood as the bodies of Canadian and Indians are thrown into the water by the Colonial troops.

The series of skirmishes and engagements known collectively as The Battle of Lake George, ended in the first significant win against the French forces by British Provincials. The number of casualties on each side is uncertain, however Peter Palmer states in his history that "the loss of the English this day was about two hundred and sixteen killed and ninety-six wounded; of the French the loss was much greater." He claims Johnson estimated the French losses at 500-600, while stating that another source noted it as "a little short of eight hundred."1

Sources/Notes:

1Peter S. Palmer,  "History of Lake Champlain, from its first exploration by the French in 1609 to the close of the year 1814.) (New York: Frank F. Lovell & Company 1886) 61

*Our thanks to Susan Dean for bringing this information to our attention.

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