“The soul of General Abercromby’s army seemed to expire”: The Death of George Howe, July 6, 1758

They waded ashore during the morning of July 6, 1758. Full of confidence, the vanguard of Major General James Abercromby’s massive army of over 16,000 men had completed its nearly thirty-mile trek northward across the waters of Lake George. They began pushing inland – men from Thomas Gage’s 80th Regiment of Light-Armed Foot, Phineas Lyman’s 1st Connecticut Regiment, and of Robert Rogers’ famed rangers – scattering small pockets of French resistance. By early afternoon the entire army had debarked at the designated landing site and formed into four columns to begin its advance towards the primary objective: Fort Carillon. Moving forward into the thick wilderness with the rightmost column of mixed regular and provincial units was Abercromby’s second-in-command, Brigadier General George Howe. [1]

George Howe
George Augustus, Third Viscount Howe. New York Public Library

George Augustus, Third Viscount Howe, was born in Ireland in 1725. Like his younger brothers, Richard and William, George was destined for a career in His Majesty’s Forces and to serve in North America. His father, Emanuel Scrope, Second Viscount Howe, was a prominent member of parliament and served several years as the Royal Governor of Barbados before dying there of disease in 1735. Upon his father’s death, George assumed the title of Third Viscount and in 1745, at age twenty, was made an ensign in the 1st Foot Guards. Subsequently serving as an aide-de-camp to William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, Howe fervently studied the strategies and tactics employed by his own commanding officers and the enemy, and witnessed firsthand the carnage of the War of Austrian Succession. Just ten years later, when the world was set ablaze by war yet again, George was ordered to Halifax, Nova Scotia with a commission as colonel of the 60th Regiment of Foot (Royal Americans) that was set to take part in a failed operation to capture Fortress Louisbourg in 1757. He was later made colonel of the 55th Regiment of Foot, and in December, appointed Brigadier General by William Pitt. The following summer, he accompanied the largest field army ever assembled in North America up to that time as its second-in-command. Continue reading ““The soul of General Abercromby’s army seemed to expire”: The Death of George Howe, July 6, 1758”

Visiting Carlyle House

Carlyle House from the Front (Author Photo)

William Griffith’s examination of the Carlyle House Congress last month (The Carlyle House Congress and Britain’s Military Objectives for 1755) reminded me that I had been remiss in not visiting the site.   So, the family and I set off for Alexandria, VA and a visit to John Carlyle’s home.

Continue reading “Visiting Carlyle House”

The Carlyle House Congress and Britain’s Military Objectives for 1755

The campaigns of 1755 began when Britain’s ranking military leaders in North America met in Alexandria, Virginia with the colonial royal governors of Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, at the home of prominent Ohio Company member, John Carlyle. On April 14-15, 1755, in what became known as the “Carlyle House Congress,” the newly minted commander in chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America, Major General Edward Braddock, presented London’s military objectives for that coming spring and summer. The Crown’s strategy, on paper, was simple: capture and hold key French fortifications within the boundaries of New York, Nova Scotia, and Pennsylvania before the enemy could concentrate his strength. This plan was intended to oust the French from His Majesty’s colonial possessions on the continent before a large-scale conflict could commence.

Carlyle House
The John Carlyle House, c. 1918-1920, Library of Congress.

The task of subduing the French, Canadians, and their Native American auxiliaries in these regions fell upon a mixed contingent of British Regular soldiers, colonial provincial troops, and British-allied Native American warriors. How each group would be utilized depended upon how the respective expeditionary field commander chose to execute his orders by moving, supplying, and fighting his men. Continue reading “The Carlyle House Congress and Britain’s Military Objectives for 1755”

Upcoming Lectures, Talks, and/or Events

With autumn just around the corner, cooler weather on the horizon, and the holidays quickly approaching. Some stores in the local area have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations all for sale currently, Emerging Revolutionary War wanted to bring your attention to a few different Revolutionary War Era happenings to mark on your calendars.  Continue reading “Upcoming Lectures, Talks, and/or Events”

Leaving Vegetius Behind: The British Army’s Departure from Classical Military Influence (1754-1783) – Part 2

Read Part 1 here

During the spring and summer of 1754, conflict over colonial possessions in North America erupted in western Pennsylvania. England’s military influence was ousted from the Ohio River Valley, and before the year was over the Captain-General of His Majesty’s Forces, the Duke of Cumberland, planned to dispatch regular troops to the colonies. Major General Edward Braddock, along with a thousand men of the 44th and 48th Regiments of Foot, was ordered to Virginia to organize a four-pronged summer offensive against the French at the Forks of the Ohio River, in Nova Scotia, the Great Lakes region, and along Lake Champlain. The two British regiments with Braddock had served primarily in Ireland, and possessed minimal experience in combat (Colonel Sir Peter Halkett’s 44th Regiment was lightly engaged at Culloden in 1746). Historian David Preston described the experience carried to North America by the senior and junior officers of Braddock’s expeditionary force:

While there was a growing sense of professionalism in the mid-eighteenth-century British Army, most younger officers had formed whatever expertise they possessed through studying manuals, guidebooks, and historical works by ancient and modern authors such as Thucydides, Caesar, Vegetius, and Humphrey Bland, whose Treatise of Military Discipline, first published in 1727, was the unofficial guide to basic drill and maneuver for young officers. The officers’ own lack of formal training, along with their mechanistic daily regimens, prevented them from achieving competency much beyond the level of basic training that they were expected to perfect in their soldiers. While some senior officers had tasted battle, the first test of combat leadership for many of the junior officers or subalterns came on the banks of the Monongahela.[1]

Despite the lack of battlefield experience, King George II, the Duke of Cumberland, and Braddock were confident that the “professionalism” of the regular troops would be enough to oust French forces (Troupes de la Marine, Canadian militia, and Native American auxiliaries from the Ohio River Valley and Great Lakes) from Fort Duquesne.

The first break from Vegetius’s influence and British army doctrine in the Age of Enlightenment occurred before the campaigns of 1755 even commenced. The 44th and 48th Regiments of Foot were understrength and carried with them to North America roughly 500 men each. To raise their numbers to full battalion strength – 700 men – the units were augmented with colonial levies from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Already lacking in experience, the addition of colonial militiamen (militias were the largest recruiting pools in the colonies) did nothing but delegitimize the “professionalism” of the two regiments. The levies, who previously only drilled once every few months or so with their respective militias, were expected to conduct themselves like British regular soldiers.

Along with the colonists augmented into the regiments of foot, the task of capturing the various French strongholds in Nova Scotia and along Lakes Champlain and Ontario that summer was given to non-regular troops. To subdue the French garrisons, small armies of colonial provincial soldiers were recruited in New England, New Jersey, and New York. Braddock’s army, too, was supplemented with provincials from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas. The expeditionary force ordered to bag Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point) along Lake Champlain was composed of 3,000 provincial troops with only one British regular, Captain William Eyre of the 44th Regiment of Foot, serving among them.[2] Again, these provincial regiments were entirely green (other than some veterans of various frontier services and the Louisbourg Expedition of 1745) and made up of levies and volunteers drawn predominantly from local militias. Also, attached to these armies were Native American auxiliaries, whose style of warfare was completely foreign to regular troops and far from professional. Service against and alongside these “savages” was the first exposure to irregular warfare in North America that His Majesty’s soldiers would receive. Vegetius believed that heavy reliance on auxiliaries, in this case Native Americans, colonial provincials, and colonial troops on the British military establishment, was detrimental to the performance and survival of professional units and overall cohesion.[3]

For the most part, the colonial provincials held their own on the battlefield against French forces, more so than the British regulars did early in the French and Indian War. They obtained victories in Nova Scotia, along the southern shore of Lake George in New York, and diligently defended the frontier against French and Indian raids. However, the colonists could never truly mesh with the regulars from Great Britain. British officers held them in contempt. “The Americans,” Brigadier General James Wolfe declared, “are in general the dirtiest most contemptible cowardly dogs that you can conceive. There is no depending on them in action. They fall down dead in their own dirt and desert by battalions, officers and all. Such rascals as those are rather an encumbrance than any real strength to an army.”[4]

Officers serving in North America and British authorities in London, like William Pitt, began to recognize the importance in 1758 of separating from the seemingly arrogant professionalism that the British Army had so dearly held on to. The conflict being fought in the colonies was not a conventional European war. Even as a world war was being waged elsewhere around the globe, it became evident that something needed to change if His Majesty King George II was to claim North America as his own. William Pitt, Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for the Southern Department, put forth and instituted an agenda that shifted the sole focus on winning with professional soldiers in North America to building a substantial military force consisting of a majority of colonists. He ordered 20,000 colonists to be levied or recruited into provincial units. The crown would supply them the required arms, ammunition, tents, and provisions, and would reimburse the colonial assemblies for the costs of raising, clothing and paying the men. In response to this proposal, the colonies mustered over 23,000 troops for the upcoming 1758 campaigns.[5] These men complimented the 20,000 British regulars dispatched to the colonies that year. At close glance, the measure instituted by Pitt’s administration resembled France’s levée en masse in 1793 on a smaller scale.[6] This was an early example of the departure from Vegetius’s classical reliance on professional soldiers in favor of larger armies consisting of men serving shorter terms of enlistment. Discipline for these men was mild and their training was limited. “Men,” one of Vegetius’s general maxims read, “must be sufficiently tried before they are led against the enemy.”[7] Quality was displaced by quantity. This was not the only aspect of the British Army that was transforming in the wilderness of North America. The nature of the conflict was forcing a change in the way the war was being waged as well.

Edward Braddock’s expeditionary force of regulars and provincials crossed the Monongahela River on the morning of July 9, 1755 and precipitated a departure from Vegetius and Humphrey Bland’s strategic, operational, and tactical influence. Less than ten miles outside of Fort Duquesne, the 1,400-man column engaged and was easily defeated by a smaller force of Canadians and Indians fighting in an irregular manner. Braddock’s Defeat signaled an end to England’s classical style of linear warfare – it had officially met its match and was countered. Vegetius and Bland’s disciplined closed-rank formations had faltered. Vegetius wrote that, “The nature of the ground is often of more consequence than courage.”[8] However, this referred to terrain and its effect on the seven linear formations that Vegetius had presented. General engagements in Europe did not take place in thick vegetation. Maneuvering, let alone fighting, in closed-ranks was nearly impossible to accomplish smoothly in North America. As Braddock’s army had learned along the banks of the Monongahela, His Majesty’s Forces needed to adapt to the current conditions and nature of warfare in the colonies. To do so, officers needed to adjust tactically and borrow from the colonists and their Native American auxiliaries who were accustomed to loose formations and irregular warfare. Adapting meant completely altering preconceived tactical doctrine.

wounding of general braddock
The Wounding of Edward Braddock at the Battle of the Monongahela, July 9, 1755

Continue reading “Leaving Vegetius Behind: The British Army’s Departure from Classical Military Influence (1754-1783) – Part 2”

Leaving Vegetius Behind: The British Army’s Departure from Classical Military Influence (1754-1783) – Part 1

No other classical text had more of an influence on princes and young officers of the 18th century than Flavius Vegetius’s De Re Militari. For centuries, the ancient Roman manual on the art of war inspired men to professionalize the militaries of Europe. Standing armies were formed to fight for King and Country. Officers whipped their men into shape, drilling and disciplining by the book. As conflicts erupted throughout the world, the British armies took to the field waging war over royal successions. They emerged as a dominant force on the European continent. Vegetius continued to influence the conduct of His Majesty’s Forces and it appeared as if his principles were to become a mainstay in British military doctrine. Then, as the second half of the 18th century began, tension between England and France over colonial possessions in North America boiled over. By the spring of 1754, armed conflict had ignited an undeclared war in western Pennsylvania. Less than a year later two royal regiments (the 44th and 48th Regiments of Foot) had left Ireland and disembarked in the colony of Virginia.[1] In North America they were confronted by a different way of war – an unconventional one. Would Vegetius’s principles and the doctrine he influenced continue to remain true? Or could only a departure from his art and science of war prepare England’s forces to combat the new threat?  War does not change, but warfare does, and Vegetius’s classical influence began to fall out of favor.

This two-part essay will demonstrate that Vegetius’s military influence on the British Army officially began to diminish during the French and Indian and American Revolutionary Wars (1754-1783). To do so, this essay will analyze Vegetius’s initial influence on England’s military thinkers and officers during the Age of Enlightenment. It will then examine why the departure from this classical military theory and science was necessary and how it transformed the way that the British Army approached war at the moral and physical levels. It will then summarize and conclude.

Flavius Vegetius Renatus was a high-ranking official in the Roman Empire during the 4th century. It is quite possible that he served in some sort of financial position for the court which would have given him insight into military matters.[2] He was not a soldier, and he approached the art of war as a historian. When compiling his most famous work on Roman military institutions he desired to write a treatise, “for public use, [regarding] the instructions and observations of our old historians of military affairs, or those who wrote expressly concerning them … to exhibit in some order the peculiar customs and usages of the ancients….”[3] Vegetius began writing in the late 4th century during a time of decline for the Roman military. He had hoped that the Emperor would accept his work as a set of mere suggestions, or precedents demonstrated by the “ancients.” While it had not been used widely by his contemporaries, his treatise, On Roman Military Matters (De Re Militari), became a crucial piece of military thought and theory in Europe centuries later.

Flavius Vegetius’s field manual, On Roman Military Matters, written around 386 A.D., offered its readers a glimpse into the discipline and organization, and weapons and tactics utilized by the Roman Legions.[4] Through the medieval period in Europe, Vegetius’s book on the art of war served as an essential part of any prince’s military education. According to Dr. Charles S. Oliviero of Norwich University, “Until Clausewitz’s Vom Kriege appeared in 1832 to guide those who would understand the nature of Napoleonic warfare, no single writer in the West was more influential than Roman historian and writer Flavius Vegetius Renatus.”[5] On Roman Military Matters laid the groundwork for maintaining a professional standing army through discipline, organization, training, and administration. It also provided 26 chapters on strategy, tactics, and the principles of war, which were widely read and implemented by rulers and officers. The various tactical movements listed greatly influenced linear formations and battlefield maneuvering, which evolved to accommodate new weapons technology as time went on. Following the Renaissance, his influence widely reemerged in the 18th century at the onset of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe.

The Age of Enlightenment brought on a period in Europe known as the Military Enlightenment as well. According to historian John Lynn, “The Military Enlightenment followed the program of the broader Enlightenment, which sought to pattern study and knowledge after the natural sciences. By doing so it hoped to provide simple but fundamental, almost Newtonian, empirical truths, even in the realms of human psychology and conduct. Science seemed basic to all understanding.”[6] Military thinkers and officers turned to classical texts for direction in organization and tactics. Operating in compact linear formations, the geometric nature of a 18th century battlefield was perceived to be scientific. The commanding officer was required to possess a certain type of genius, but nearly everything on a battlefield could be measured and predicted. Antoine-Henri Jomini carried this belief into the 19th century, but before his famous theories presented in The Art of War were published, European officers turned to earlier works in order to better understand the principles of war and warfare.

It was believed by many military reformers in Europe that Vegetius offered these tactical principles. “Vegetius,” John Lynn described, “… inspired such military advances as battalion organization, firing by countermarch, and marching in step. This process was a later phase of that earlier intellectual phenomenon, the Renaissance.”[7] Book III of On Roman Military Matters offered guidance in tactics for linear style formations (seven possible tactical formations to be exact). The closed ranks that the Roman Legions maneuvered in were meant to instill discipline by not allowing any room for men to turn and run or fall out of order. Again, these formations influenced a geometrical view of the battlefield. From afar a battlefield would resemble a series of thick and thin lines moving back and forth against each other. These lines could be turned at various angles and degrees to meet threats coming from any direction. It became easier for officers to control and command their men if they could remain in a tight-packed linear formation. This was not a simple task, but with properly educated men at the helm, and disciplined troops on the ground, it became more easily quantifiable and predictable. In the 18th century, war and warfare were viewed as a profession in their own right.

Battle of Fontenoy, 1745, a classic example of a linear engagement

Continue reading “Leaving Vegetius Behind: The British Army’s Departure from Classical Military Influence (1754-1783) – Part 1”

Congratulations to William Griffith

Our enthusiastic congratulations to Emerging Revolutionary War’s William Griffith on the release of his new book, The Battle of Lake George, England’s First Triumph in the French and Indian War. The book, published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, is now available for sale in books stores and online.9781467119757

From the press release of the book,

“In the early morning of September 8, 1755, a force of French Regulars, Canadians and Indians crouched unseen in a ravine south of Lake George. Under the command of French general Jean-Armand, Baron de Dieskau, the men ambushed the approaching British forces, sparking a bloody conflict for control of the lake and its access to New York’s interior. Against all odds, British commander William Johnson rallied his men through the barrage of enemy fire to send the French retreating north to Ticonderoga. The stage was set for one of the most contested regions throughout the rest of the conflict. Historian William Griffith recounts the thrilling history behind the first major British battlefield victory of the French Indian War.”

Recently, ERW had the chance to sit down and talk with William about the book.

Q: This book fills an important gap in the French and Indian War, why has this campaign been overlooked for a publication like this?

W: I think that the Battle of Lake George has been overlooked for multiple reasons. When we think of the opening years of the French and Indian War we tend to immediately think of the events transpiring in western Pennsylvania (i.e. Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity, and the Battle of the Monongahela), and do not really place Lake George at the forefront until the surrender of Fort William Henry in 1757. The significance of the Battle of Lake George has also been up for debate by historians, many whom believe it was a stalemate or inconsequential engagement, but in my opinion they are entirely incorrect. Because of these sentiments, when looking at the year 1755 the predominant focus has been placed on Braddock’s Defeat. Tragedy draws attention, and that is exactly what the Battle of the Monongahela was. Not only has scholarship relating to the Battle of Lake George been placed on the backburner to Edward Braddock, but it has also been pushed aside by the Siege of Fort William Henry and the subsequent “Massacre” – another tragic event. The Battle of Lake George is a prime example of history overshadowing history, and hopefully my book will be able to bring the event out of the darkness and into mainstream French and Indian War scholarship.

Q: Why did you choose the campaign to Lake George as your first book?

W: Even before I was born my family vacationed every year along the western shore of Lake George. When I was five years old my father brought me to my first historic site – Fort William Henry – and from then on my passion for history began to blossom. After that each trip to the lake during the summer caused my interest in upstate New York’s colonial history to grow and it soon became a big part of my life. There are some places on this earth that have the power to transport you to another time or place. Lake George is one of them. It truly forms a connection with people and for me, so did its history – especially the 1755 battle, which I could find no substantial work done on. In a quest for myself to learn more about the event, I determined in high school that when I was to write my first book it would be on the long neglected battle. I ended up writing it a lot sooner than I imagined I would.

Q:If there was only one thing a reader took away from this book, what would you want it to be?

W: An interest in the French and Indian War and a desire to learn more about this period in our history. If a visit to Amazon, the bookstore, or Lake George occurs after reading my work, then I succeeded.

Q:How accessible are the sites attributed to the campaign to visitation?

W:Extremely accessible. All three sites associated with the Battle of Lake George are preserved to some extent or at least enough so to interpret and visit. The battlefield of the main engagement fought during the afternoon is the largest and is preserved as the Lake George Battlefield Park at the southern end of the lake astride the reconstructed Fort William Henry and busy Lake George Village. Interpretation here is really bad though. Only one sign actually explains the 1755 battle although there is an impressive monument serving as the centerpiece of the site. Along present day Route 9 roughly three miles or so south of Lake George is the site of the morning engagement, the “Bloody Morning Scout,” and an obelisk dedicated to Colonel Ephraim Williams of the 3rd Massachusetts Regiment who was killed during the opening engagement. About a mile or so closer to the lake along Route 9 is a pond with signage interpreting it as “Bloody Pond,” the site of the final confrontation during the battle. It is possible that this could be the actual pond, but there is speculation that it was actually located several hundred yards further into the woods and is now dried up

Q:What is next book or publication you are working on?

W: I am currently not working on any publications. As I complete my master’s degree at Norwich University this next year and a half or so I plan on focusing on my studies, maybe doing a bit of research here and there when I am free. I do have aspirations to publish more, however, and would like to write a biography of George B. McClellan (my historical idol) focusing on his life from November 1862, when he was removed from command of the Army of the Potomac, to his death in 1885. I would also like to create some sort of guidebook for the Battle of Lake George, Siege of Fort William Henry, Battle of Carillon, and the 1759 British capture of Fort Ticonderoga.

Q:How does one get a copy?

W: The History Press usually distributes locally, so if you live in the upstate New York area near Albany/Lake George you can probably run down to your nearest bookstore and purchase one. If not, then it is available on Amazon and other major retailers online. If you happen to attend a signing or talk that I am doing then you can certainly also pick one up from me.


A Quick Trip to Fort Ticonderoga

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome guest historian David A. Powell to the blog. A biography of David is at the bottom of this post. 

The Hudson Valley in upstate New York is one of my favorite historical places – which might come as a surprise to some, given that my usual historical beat is the 1861-1865 time-frame. There are a handful of Civil War related sites along the Hudson, but not many.

But for two centuries before our war between the states, the region was the pathway for commerce, settlement, and conflict. The banks of the Hudson, Lakes George and Champlain, and the St. Lawrence are all dotted with crucial reminders of a violent historical past.

Ruins Crown Point
Ruins of Crown Point

I’ve been to most of these sites; West Point, Bennington and Saratoga battlefields, the site of Fort William Henry, Crown Point, and plenty of other locations. One of them, however, fixes my attention beyond all others:

Fort Interior
Interior of Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga.

The fort occupies a strategic place on Lake Champlain, were a land portage connects Champlain to Lake George, and ultimately, the Hudson River.

<Lake Champlain from Fort, looking south>

Originally called Carrillon by the French, who built it in 1755; the fort changed hands several times during the ensuing 25 years. It was unsuccessfully attacked by the British in 1758, and finally captured the next year, part of the British “Annus Mirabilis,” that string of decisive triumphs over the French that reached their crescendo with Wolfe’s victory at Quebec. Two decades later, it figured in the American Revolution; it was wrested from British control by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold in 1775. Its heavy artillery was sledged across many miles of Wilderness snow and ice to reinforce the Rebel army besieging Boston by Henry Knox, which forced the British to abandon that city. In 1776 Ticonderoga was a bulwark of the Patriot defenses on Lake Champlain. In 1777, it was easily re-captured by the British under Burgoyne, but returned to American control after Burgoyne’s disasters of Bennington and Saratoga.

Ticonderoga is fully restored now, owned and maintained by a private foundation that has done an outstanding job of presenting and preserving the Fort’s history. The town and the fort grounds are also dotted with interesting monuments, many erected by British regiments, mainly placed to honor their troops who fought in the Fort’s bloodiest single battle, that of 1758.

British General James Abercrombie led 17,000 troops – colonials and British regulars – against a much smaller garrison of between 4,000 and 5,000 French, Canadian Militia, and Indian Allies. The French, under the Marquis de Montcalm, defended an entrenched line outside of the fort walls, which Abercrombie obligingly assaulted. The British lost 2,000 men, and Abercrombie retreated.

My favorite monument at Ticonderoga is actually paired with another monument erected by the American Colonists in Westminster Abbey (left to right in picture below). They both commemorate the death of Lord George Howe, a Brigadier General in Abercrombie’s army (and elder brother to the Howes of Revolutionary War fame) who embraced irregular warfare.



Go spend an afternoon at Ticonderoga. You won’t be disappointed.



*David A. Powell is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (1983) with a B.A. in history. He has published numerous articles in various magazines, and more than fifteen historical simulations of different battles.

For the past decade, David’s focus has been on the epic battle of Chickamauga, and he is nationally recognized for his tours of that important battlefield. The result of that study was his first published book, The Maps of Chickamauga (Savas Beatie, 2009).

His latest book is Failure In The Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry In the Chickamauga Campaign (Savas Beatie, 2011). He is currently working on a full length monograph of the battle of Chickamauga. The first volume of that work, entitled The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle, is scheduled for a 2014 release.

David and his wife Anne live and work in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. He is Vice President of Airsped, Inc., a specialized delivery firm.