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Highlander’s War Dance

Two hundred and sixty years ago arguably one of the most significant French and Indian War era events occurred here at Ticonderoga.

As the sun rose over Lake George on the morning of July 6, 1758, a party of French soldiers on top of Mt. Pelee (Rogers Rock) looked down upon a great military spectacle.  They saw an armada of over thousand boats, bearing nine thousand colonials and six thousand regulars of the British army.  In the advance whaleboats were Roger’s Rangers and the light infantry  The six-mile flotilla, its oars glistening and its arms flashing in the sunlight, its colorful uniforms and banners, its bugles, trumpets and bagpipes, and it s picturesque Highlanders adding pageantry to the wild beauty of the lake, presented an imposing spectacle.  The scouts under Langyand Trepezec atop Rogers Rock might have picked out with their glasses the commander of the expedition, General Abercrombie.  They might also have picked out George Augustus, Lord Howe, the real leader of the army.  To the left of the lookouts smoke arose at the head of the portage.  The defenders of that outpost under Bourlamaque were burning their camp and bridge and retreating down the portage to join Montcalm at the sawmills.  The men of Langy and Trapeze descended the western slopes of the mountain they had climbed, and through experienced in bush fighting, soon became lost in the deep forest.  Suddenly they heard the noise of another party before them, also lost.  As the advancing party drew nearer, the French hurled out the challenge “Qui vive?” and the answer “Francais!” came back — with an English accent.  The order was given to fire, and at the first volley, though the French did not know it, Abercrombie’s great army was defeated.  For one of the bullets, in passing through the heart of Lord Howe, struck also the heart of the enemy.   Confidence and enthusiasm  gave way to indecision and confusion.

At the last moment Montcalm, on the advice of Lothbiniere and Le Mercier, threw up an abbatis across the slope of the promontory and decided to make his stand there rather than at the fort a quarter of mile farther out on the promontory.  His force at its greatest was outnumbered more than four to one.  He had only eight day’s provisions.  His position could be commanded from mill heights (Mount Hope) or Sugar Loaf (Mount Defiance).  He could be flanked and cut off from his base at Fort St. Frederic (Crown Point).  A formal siege would compel him to accept terms in short order.  Artillery could batter down his strong abbatis.  His only hope was that Abercrombie would make the stupid blunder of attacking his temporary defenses with infantry and muskets.

At twelve-thirty on that hot July day, two days after Lord Howe’s death, the French behind their breastworks heard firing ahead as their pickets were driven in.  From then until nightfall the regiments of the Highlanders, the regulars and the colonials came on, dying in heaps.  Abercrombie sat in his headquarters at the sawmills at the Lower Falls that hot afternoon, the roar of distant musketry in his ears.  His couriers would dash in, their faces showing the agony of the futile slaughter going on a mile away.  The general would hear their disheartening reports, and, impervious to all reasoning, would order his splendid regiments to press on again to the attack.  When the last charge was over, Abercrombie’s army had suffered approximately two thousand casualties; Montcalm’s loss was about four hundred.  The morning of July 9 a French scouting party was sent out and to their surprise they found that the bulk of the surviving British army were in full retreat.  So great was their rout that some of men left their shoes sticking in the mud in their precipitate flight from the three thousand or so Frenchmen. (Edited from the Ticonderoga Historical Society’s “Historic Ticonderoga.)

A new donation 

Terri and Reid McClure of Virginia present to the Society’s President William Dolback, a framed limited edition Print of Robert Griffing’s ~ War Dance