« PreviousContinue »
having the courage of an Irishman, determined to resist to the last; and uncovering his cannon, effectually disturbed the repose of the enemy, and spread such consternation among the Canadian militia and the Indians, that they fled precipitately to the woods, leaving the ranks of Dieskau in more confusion than when pursuing the retreating foe. The French regulars, however, maintained their position, and opening a brisk fire upon the camp, continued the assault with spirit for several hours. Johnson being severely wounded, reluctantly resigned the command to General Lyman, who carried on the defence with such resolution and spirit that the French were finally obliged to retire with the loss of nearly a thousand men. Dieskau himself was mortally wounded, and made prisoner; and his retreating forces, rallying at some distance, and preparing to refresh themselves with food, were suddenly attacked by a small detachment of militia from New York, when they abandoned their baggage and ammunition, and fled in confusion.
Johnson did not follow up his victory, but spent the time in lingering and irresolute deliberations until October, when a council of war decided that it was inexpedient to attempt any further military operations in that quarter during that year. He built Fort William Henry at the southern extremity of Lake George, and leaving six hundred men to garrison it and Fort Edward, disbanded the remainder of his army. It was thought by many that if he had followed up his victory by an immediate attack on Crown Point, or even on Ticonderoga, he would have succeeded; but he did not choose to hazard his reputation, by exposing himself to the chance of defeat. For his services in this campaign, Johnson received from the king the dignity of a baronet, and from the parliament a grant of five thousand pounds.
Thus did the three main expeditions projected by the council of governors at Alexandria, in the beginning of the year, all signally fail; and at the end of 1755, the French were more firmly planted in their North American possessions than at its commencement. The brilliant engagement at Lake George produced no lasting good, because it was not followed up with alacrity; and the French gained time to strengthen and complete their fortifications. Besides, the fact that they still held all their works, and were hastening forward to construct others, and the great victory gained at the Monongahela, operated powerfully on the minds of the Indians, who began, in great numbers, to flock to their standard. Encouraged by this seeming willingness of the Indians to join
them, the French attempted, by bribes and promises, to allure to their side the powerful nation of Cherokees, who had hitherto been the firmest allies of Great Britain; but the attempt only caused these Indians to enter into a closer alliance with the English colonists; and by a treaty concluded with the governor of South Carolina, they voluntarily ceded to the king of Great Britain a large portion of their territory.
HE defeat of Braddock, and the flight of Dunbar, left the frontier of Virginia exposed to all the horrors of Indian warfare. The Assembly then in session saw the danger to which the colony was exposed, and the necessity of protecting it. For this purpose, they voted forty thousand pounds, and the governor ordered the regiment to be increased to sixteen companies. The courage and good conduct shown by Colonel Washington at the battle of the Monongahela, pointed him out as the only person in the colony who was capable of affording the desired protection, and he was accordingly appointed, on the 14th of August, 1755, commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces. This commission was accompanied by a letter from Governor Dinwiddie, giving him the unusual power of naming his fieldofficers, and appointing an aide-de-camp and secretary.
This command was cheerfully accepted by Washington, though well aware of the nature of the charge which it imposed upon him. With very few men, nominally one thousand, but seldom exceeding seven hundred, he was expected to defend a frontier of
upwards of three hundred miles in extent, against hordes of savages, who were instigated to the most barbarous murders by men calling themselves civilized, Christians, and subjects of his majesty, the king of the French.
Possessing a knowledge of the nature of his duties, Washington felt that there was no time to be lost, and accordingly after appointing as the next officers in rank under him, LieutenantColonel Adam Stephen, and Major Andrew Lewis, and issuing the necessary orders for the recruiting service, he proceeded personally to inspect the condition of the defences on the frontier. He fixed his head-quarters at Winchester, where he arrived on the 14th of September, and then visited and took the command of the principal forts. He found many posts, but few soldiers to garrison. Such as he found, however, he disposed in the most efficient manner, and then started for Williamsburg to arrange a plan of operations with the governor. He passed through Fredericksburg on the 5th of October, but he had not reached Williamsburg when he was overtaken by an express from Colonel Stephen, informing him that a large body of Indians had fallen upon the inhabitants of some of the back settlements, and were murdering and capturing men, women, and children, burning their houses and destroying their crops, and that the few soldiers who were stationed there for their protection had fallen back upon the stockade forts, where they were hourly in expectation of destruction.
Colonel Washington immediately changed his course from Williamsburg to Winchester, where he used every exertion to induce the terrified and flying settlers to unite in the defence of their families and possessions. Too much frightened to care for any thing but the safety of their own families, they took very little thought for the general welfare, and fled in confusion towards the more thickly settled portions of the colony. Such was the consternation and confusion that prevailed, that before a force sufficient to stand before the enemy could be collected, they had recrossed the Alleghany Mountains, and retired with their plunder and captives to the protection afforded by the guns of Fort Du
Colonel Washington well knew that the only security against the repetition of such incursions was the capture of the French fort on the Ohio; but that was an absolute impossibility with the small means which the government of Virginia thought fit to place at his disposal. The governor and council considered it better
to act on the defensive; and Washington was ordered to establish a line of small stockade forts along the frontier. This was soon done, and the principal part of the forces under Washington being stationed in them, he, with the remainder, traversed the frontier, for the purpose of preventing or punishing the aggressions of the enemy.
The force at his command was too small to accomplish the intended object, and the enemy with whom he had to deal, too active and cunning to suffer from the forts. If Washington appeared with a force at any one part of his extended line, the enemy knew that the remainder of the line was proportionally weakened, and they would accordingly divide themselves into small parties, and, avoiding the forts, assail solitary farm-houses, by night or by day, and after plundering them and murdering their inmates, set them on fire and retire. The approach of a respectable force was the signal for the incendiaries to disappear. The distress of the inhabitants, caused by these incursions, exceeded all description. If they continued on their farms, they retired to rest every night under the apprehension of being murdered before the morning; if they fled, they abandoned the conveniences of home, and all means of support; and if they took refuge in the stockade forts, they suffered from famine, and were always liable to be cut off and murdered by strong parties. Death, too, was not the greatest of the evils to which they were exposed. Captivity, or torture, by which death was rendered a thousand times more terrible, and yet often welcome, was often their portion. Nor was it the men alone, who were liable to these evils, but the women and children; for the savages and their inhuman allies made little distinction on account of age or sex.
The vigilance and authority of Washington at last succeeded in restoring a little of the confidence of the inhabitants, and in opposing a slight barrier to the incursions of the enemy.
Some of the difficulties with which Colonel Washington was surrounded at this period, exclusive of those naturally to be expected from an active and vigilant enemy, and the smallness of his numbers, compared with the services expected from him, may be gathered from the tenor of his letters to Governor Dinwiddie.
In one dated from Fredericksburg, about two months after he had assumed the command, speaking of the difficulties which met him at the very outset, he says:
"In all things I meet with the greatest opposition.