Several weeks ago I was fortunate enough to take part in Fort Ticonderoga’s twenty-second annual War College of the Seven Years’ War as a guest author. This was my first experience attending the War College, and I can confidently say that I plan on going again. The three day symposium took place from Friday, May 19, to Sunday, May 21, and consisted of lectures, book signings, and even a tour of some of the fort’s awe-inspiring artillery collection on display throughout the complex by curator Matthew Keagle. If you have not visited Fort Ticonderoga before, their massive inventory of 17th and 18th century cannon is well worth the visit alone. In fact, this August the staff and outside historians and interpreters will be conducting a symposium entitled, “New Perspectives on the ‘Last Argument of Kings’: A Ticonderoga Seminar on 18th-Century Artillery.” You can access the schedule and more information here. I am saving up my pennies right now to go!
The War College’s Saturday and Sunday lecture lineups were superb. They included several lectures that focused on the colony of New France and France’s regular soldiers deployed in North America. I consider myself a French and Indian War historian, but I have never paid much attention to what transpired along the Mississippi River during the conflict. It is easy to forget sometimes that France’s claims on the continent included not just Canada, but south down the Mississippi River all the way to Louisiana. This region seems too far away from everything else to have served an important role during the war, but that simply was not the case. Thanks to Joseph Gagne (Laval University) and David MacDonald (Illinois State University, retired), I was introduced to events transpiring in the Illinois Country and Louisiana.
Other lectures were also given focusing on The Cherokee War (Jessica Wallace, Georgia College and State University) and even smallpox. David Kelton, University of Kansas, shared with us his work entitled, “Disease Diplomacy: How Rumors of Smallpox, Outbreaks, and Diabolical Schemes Shaped the Course of Empire in North America, 1755-1764.” His arguments targeted the myths of biological warfare conducted by the English against Native Americans. Another talk that I was excited for (it had a whole lot to do with my first book I authored) was a look at Ephraim Williams and the Bloody Morning Scout during the Battle of Lake George, presented by Gary Shattuck. Gary’s conclusions and judgements were in line with my own. He did not believe that Colonel Williams blundered his way into an ambush that left him and scores of men under him dead. It is always nice to see when historians reassess the decisions made and roles played by those who have been judged poorly by history. The photographs used in the presentation of the battlefield today were also very useful. Shattuck had a good eye for the terrain and gave me the best look at where the positions held by Baron de Dieskau’s French Regulars, Canadian militia, and Native Allies, in his opinion, most likely were (of course this is still up for debate).
Unfortunately, I needed to leave early and missed Sunday’s talks, which included Brady Crytzer discussing his new book on the Kittanning Raid of 1756, as well as a look at Cadwallader Colden, a colonial statesman from New York, and his experiences during the French and Indian War by John Dixon (College of Staten Island). Matthew Keagle also conducted a talk on the dress and traditions of light infantrymen. I missed a good day.
On my way out of Fort Ticonderoga I stopped off at one of my favorite battlefields. Just outside the fort complex down the exit road is the Carillon battlefield, where on July 8, 1758, a massive British and provincial force under the command of James Abercromby continuously assaulted a fortified line of earthworks and abatis held by a much smaller French army under the leadership of the Marquis de Montcalm. By day’s end the French had emerged victorious, inflicting over 2,000 casualties within Abercromby’s force. The 42nd Regiment of Foot (The Black Watch), alone, lost well over 600 men. It was the bloodiest military engagement fought in North America prior to the Civil War, yet it is widely forgotten.
Carillon Battlefield, Fort Ticonderoga, NY. Remnants of the French earthworks are visible in front of the treeline.
Today, the Carillon Battlefield is small, or at least the area that is easily accessible to the public is. Despite this, portions of Montcalm’s earthworks still remain (rebuilt by future armies making their way to the Heights of Carillon) and the spot is dotted with several monuments, including one for the Black Watch, as well as a reconstructed cross to mimic the one placed along the French lines by Montcalm to memorialize his victory and honor his men’s courage against such great odds. Other than this tiny open area, the rest of the battlefield is covered with a dense thicket making it difficult to explore. However, it is extremely peaceful and serene. If you look to the woods with your mind’s eye, you can almost see the waves of scarlet red moving relentlessly towards your position, and hear the shriek of the bagpipes, the crack of the drummer’s cadence, the rattling of musket fire, and the yells of men charging towards a probable death.
Monument to the 42nd Regiment of Foot, “The Black Watch,” dedicated in 1997.
Fields just outside the exit of Carillon Battlefield and Fort Ticonderoga, where Abercromby’s men formed their ranks and repeatedly advanced against Montcalm’s fortified line.
Fort Ticonderoga and the Carillon Battlefield are a must-see for any history buff.