“Rev War Revelry” The Battle of Lake George: England’s First Triumph in the French and Indian War

To usher in the month of May, Emerging Revolutionary War returns to the French and Indian War for a discussion with author and historian Billy Griffith on his book, “The Battle of Lake George: England’s First Triumph in the French and Indian War.

On September 8, 1755, two armies clashed along the southern shore of Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The battle between William Johnson’s force of colonial provincials and Mohawk allies and Baron de Dieskau’s French and Native American army would decide who possessed the lower part of the strategic water highway system that connected New York City with Quebec.

Join ERW historian Billy Griffith for a discussion about this crucial event in the early stages of the French and Indian War that can be considered one of the first true “American” victories against professional foreign troops. We look forward to you joining us, at 7 p.m. EDT on our Facebook page for the next historian happy hour.

Lt. Col. John Laurens’ Post-Monmouth Letter

Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens of South Carolina had served as part of George Washington’s military family since early August 1777. Just 23-years-old during the summer of 1778, Laurens had established himself as one of Washington’s most trusted aides, as well as a close friend to Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette.

During the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, fought June 28, 1778, Laurens was sent ahead of the army early in the morning to assist Baron von Steuben in reconnoitering the British Army’s position around the village. The party was fired upon and chased westward by the Queen’s Rangers back to a hedgerow defended by New Jersey militiamen. When the battle began in earnest later in the morning, Laurens found himself back at the same hedgerow assisting Continental troops in conducting a delaying action to by time for Washington to establish a strong defensive position further to the west. It was during this action that the young officer from the Palmetto State lost his mount.

The following letter was written by Lt. Col. Laurens on June 30, 1778, to his father, Henry Laurens, who was then serving as the President of the Continental Congress. It is a fascinating look at one soldier’s experience during a battle in which he was right in the thick of things, selflessly exposing himself to the enemy.   

Portrait of John Laurens painted in 1780 by Charles Wilson Peale.

“HEAD QUARTERS, ENGLISH TOWN, 30th June, 1778.

My Dear Father:

I was exceedingly chagrined that public business prevented my writing to you from the field of battle, when the General sent his dispatches to Congress. The delay, however, will be attended with this advantage, that I shall be better able to give you an account of the enemy’s loss; tho’ I must now content myself with a very succinct relation of this affair. The situation of the two armies on Sunday was as follows: Gen’ Washington, with the main body of our army, was at 4 miles distance from English Town. Gen’ [Charles] Lee, with a chosen advanced corps, was at that town. The enemy were retreating down the road which leads to Middle Town; their flying army composed (as it was said), of 2 [battalions] of British grenadiers, 1 Hessian [grenadiers], 1 [battalion] of light infantry, 1 regiment of guards, 2 brigades of foot, 1 [regiment] of dragoons and a number of mounted and dismounted Jägers. The enemy’s rear was preparing to leave Monmouth village, which is 6 miles from this place, when our advanced corps was marching towards them. The militia of the country kept up a random running fire with the Hessian Jägers; no mischief was done on either side. I was with a small party of horse, reconnoitering the enemy, in an open space before Monmouth, when I perceived two parties of the enemy advancing by files in the woods on our right and left, with a view, as I imagined, of enveloping our small party, or preparing a way for a skirmish of their horse. I immediately wrote an account of what I had seen to the General, and expressed my anxiety on account of the languid appearance of the Continental troops under Gen’ Lee.

Some person in the mean time reported to Gen’ Lee that the enemy were advancing upon us in two columns, and I was informed that he had, in consequence, ordered Varnum’s brigade, which was in front, to repass a bridge which it had passed. I went myself, and assured him of the real state of the case; his reply to me was, that his accounts had been so contradictory, that he was utterly at a loss what part to take. I repeated my account to him in positive distinct terms, and returned to make farther discoveries. I found that the two parties had been withdrawn from the wood, and that the enemy were preparing to leave Monmouth. I wrote a second time to Gen’ Washington. Gen’ Lee at length gave orders to advance. The enemy were forming themselves on the Middle Town road, with their light infantry in front, and cavalry on the left flank, while a scattering, distant fire was commenced between our flanking parties and theirs. I was impatient and uneasy at seeing that no disposition was made, and [endeavored] to find out Gen’ Lee to inform him of what was doing, and know what was his disposition. Ile told me that he was going to order some troops to march below the enemy and cut off their retreat. Two pieces of artillery were posted on our right without a single foot soldier to support them. Our men were formed piecemeal in front of the enemy, and there appeared to be no general plan or disposition calculated on that of the enemy; the nature of the ground, or any of the other principles which generally govern in these cases.

The enemy began a cannonade from two parts of their line; their whole body of horse made a furious charge upon a small party of our cavalry and dissipated them, and drove them till the appearance of our infantry, and a judicious discharge or two of artillery made them retire precipitately. Three regiments of ours that had advanced in a plain open country towards the enemy’s left flank, were ordered by Gen’ Lee to retire and occupy the village of Monmouth. They were no sooner formed there, than they were ordered to quit that post and gain the woods. One order succeeded another with a rapidity and indecision calculated to ruin us. The enemy had changed their front and were advancing in full march towards us; our men were fatigued with the excessive heat. The artillery horses were not in condition to make a brisk retreat. A new position was ordered, but not generally communicated, for part of the troops were forming on the right of the ground, while others were marching away, and all the artillery driving off. The enemy, after a short halt, resumed their pursuit; no cannon was left to check their progress. A regiment was ordered to form behind a fence, and as speedily commanded to retire. All this disgraceful retreating, passed without the firing of a musket, over ground which might have been disputed inch by inch. We passed a defile and arrived at an eminence beyond, which was defended on one hand by an impracticable fen, on the other by thick woods where our men would have fought to advantage. Here, fortunately for the honour of the army, and the welfare of America, Gen’ Washington met the troops retreating in disorder, and without any plan to make an opposition. He ordered some pieces of artillery to be brought up to defend the pass, and some troops to form and defend the pieces. The artillery was too distant to be brought up readily, so that there was but little opposition given here. A few shot though, and a little skirmishing in the wood checked the enemy’s career. The Gen’ expressed his astonishment at this unaccountable retreat. Mr. Lee indecently replied that the attack was contrary to his advice and opinion in council. We were obliged to retire to a position, which, though hastily reconnoitered, proved an excellent one. Two regiments were formed behind a fence in front of the position. The enemy’s horse advanced in full charge with admirable bravery to the distance of forty paces, when a general discharge from these two regiments did great execution among them, and made them fly with the greatest precipitation. The grenadiers succeeded to the attack. At this time my horse was killed under me. In this spot the action was hottest, and there was considerable slaughter of British grenadiers. The General ordered Woodford’s brigade with some artillery to take possession of an eminence on the enemy’s left, and cannonade from thence. This produced an excellent effect. The enemy were prevented from advancing on us, and confined themselves to cannonade with a show of turning our left flank. Our artillery answered theirs with the greatest vigour. The General seeing that our left flank was secure, as the ground was open and commanded by it, so that the enemy could not attempt to turn it without exposing their own flank to a heavy fire from our artillery, and causing to pass in review before us, the force employed for turning us. In the mean time, Gen’ Lee continued retreating. Baron Steuben was order’d to form the broken troops in the rear. The cannonade was incessant and the General ordered parties to advance from time to time and engage the British grenadiers and guards. The horse shewed themselves no more. The grenadiers showed their backs and retreated every where with precipitation. They returned, however, again to the charge, and were again repulsed. They finally retreated and got over the strong pass, where, as I mentioned before, Gen’ Washington first rallied the troops. We advanced in force and continued masters of the ground; the standards of liberty were planted in triumph on the field of battle. We remained looking at each other, with the defile between us, till dark, and they stole off in silence at midnight. We have buried of the enemy’s slain, 233, principally grenadiers; forty odd of their wounded whom they left at Monmouth, fell into our hands. Several officers are our prisoners. Among their killed are Co’ Moncton, a captain of the guards, and several captains of grenadiers. We have taken but a very inconsiderable number of prisoners, for want of a good body of horse. Deserters are coming in as usual. Our officers and men behaved with that bravery which becomes freemen, and have convinced the world that they can beat British grenadiers. To name any one in particular wd be a kind of injustice to the rest. There are some, however, who came more immediately under my view, whom I will mention that you may know them. B. Gen’ Wayne, Col. Barber, Col. Stewart, Col. Livingston, Col. Oswald of the artillery, Capt. Doughty deserve well of their country, and distinguished themselves nobly.

The enemy buried many of their dead that are not accounted for above, and carried off a great number of wounded. I have written diffusely, and yet I have not told you all. Gen’ Lee, I think, must be tried for misconduct. However, as this is a matter not generally known, tho’ it seems almost universally wished for, I would beg you, my dear father, to say nothing of it.

You will oblige me much by excusing me to Mr. Drayton for not writing to him. I congratulate you, my dear father, upon this seasonable victory, and am ever

Your most dutiful and affectionate

JOHN LAURENS.

The [Honorable] Henry Laurens, Esqr.

We have no returns of our loss as yet. The proportion on the field of battle appeared but small. We have many good officers wounded.”

To hear more stories like John Laurens’s and to walk the ground in which he fought, join Emerging Revolutionary War historians Billy Griffith and Phillip S. Greenwalt this November on a bus tour covering Valley Forge and the Monmouth campaign. More in formation can be found on our website, www.emergingrevolutionarywar.org, or on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/632831987720200/?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A[%7B%22surface%22%3A%22page%22%7D]%7D .

“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” Author Interview: William “Billy” Griffith

This Sunday, at 7 p.m. join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page as we interview William “Billy” Griffith, author of the latest volume in the Emerging Revolutionary War Series.

His book, A Handsome Flogging, The Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778 was just released by Savas Beatie, LLC this month. The book is so new that Amazon still has it listed for pre-sale, but don’t worry, you can purchase the book directly from Savas Beatie by clicking here.

Billy Griffith is a full-time contributor to ERW and is also the author of The Battle of Lake George: England’s First Triumph in the French and Indian War, which was released in 2016 by HistoryPress. A native of Branchburg, New Jersey, he has a family connection to the the Monmouth area; he graduated with a degree in history from Shepherd University and holds a graduate degree in military history from Norwich University. He currently works as a full-time Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide. We would be remiss if we did not include his other passion, besides American military history, the New York Yankees. Feel free to join the Facebook Live to disparage his love of the Evil Empire!

ERW looks forward to seeing you, hearing your questions, comments, and what personalized message you want inscribed on your copy of Billy’s latest publication. Although this happy hour historian discussion centers on an author interview, it is still a “happy hour” so bring your favorite brew; we can guarantee the two historians on the program will be imbibing theirs!

Emerging Revolutionary War Series 2019 Releases

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In 2018, the inaugural two volumes, of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series published by Savas Beatie, LLC. Those first two volumes were; A Single Blow, The Battles of Lexington and Concord and The Beginning of the American Revolution and Victory or Death, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton.

In 2019, the series is set to release the next two volumes. The Winter that Won the War, The Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778 and A Handsome Flogging, The Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778. This past week, the covers of both were released by Savas Beatie so get a sneak peak below.

Both titles are scheduled for a release later this year. Stay tuned for updates!

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.