- Historic Sites
“oh Amherst, Brave Amherst…
Lord Jeffery’s name is “known to fame,” but it was the five years he spent in America that rescued him from obscurity
December 1960 | Volume 12, Issue 1
It was this barrier that an amphibious force under Wolfe succeeded in penetrating alter an initial repulse. Once the beachhead was established and additional troops and supplies rushed through, the fate of invested Louisbourg was scaled. Methodically, relying as much on his engineers as on his infantry, Amherst proceeded to garrote the beleaguered citadel. After a siege of seven weeks, Drucour was forced to surrender without terms.
The first step in Pitt’s conquest of Canada had been achieved. Young Billy Amherst, serving as his brother’s aide-de-camp, was sent back to London with the dispatches. Long unaccustomed to victory, the gray capital city celebrated with fireworks, parades, and artillery salutes. The captured French standards were carried through the streets to St. Paul’s, and the Archbishop of Canterbury offered public thanksgiving. “This is the greatest news!” Pitt exclaimed.
On the day Amherst occupied Louisbourg he wrote to Pitt: “If I can go to Quebeck , I will.” But the ink was scarcely dry on his letter before he received the belated news of Abercromby’s disaster and knew the year would not see him there, fust nineteen days. before Drucour’s surrender, “Mrs. Nabbycromby”—the name given by the provincials with mimicking exactness to their English commander—had shattered his great army in a hopeless frontal attack against the Ticonderoga fortifications. Of Abercromby’s 15,000 men almost 2,000 were lost in six hours. His promising subordinate, Lord Howe, had been killed in the underbrush in a preliminary skirmish. Instead of victory, New York and New England now faced the renewed terror of Indian raids down the Mohawk Valley. Amherst realized he would have to divert his fortes to aid Abercromby before something worse happened.
In spite of the anticlimax of Ticonderoga, Bostonians still found an undimmed luster in the name Louisbourg. When Amherst, with the major part of his forces, arrived in the Massachusetts capital on September 13, he was given a conqueror’s reception. Clergymen held services of thanksgiving in all the churches, while the laity opened doors and bottles impartially. “The Troops remained encamped on the Common of Boston,” Amherst observed in his journal, “where Thousands of People came to see them and would give them Liquor and make the men Drunk in Spite of all that could be done. I sent patroles round the Town all day & night.”
He moved through the burnished autumn countryside, skirting (he Berkshires on his way to Albany where he met Abercromby’s demoralized army; on November 9 the latter was recalled and Amherst made commander in thief of all the British forces in North America. From his winter quarters in New York, Amherst laid his final plans for the postponed conquest of Canada. He saw it as a three-pronged drive: from the east up the St. Lawrence to Quebec; from the south to Montreal by way of Ticonderoga; from the west a blockade by way of Niagara and Oswego and La Galette (now Ogdensburg, New York) to seal off any French retreat.
The great year began on January 12, 1759, when Amherst appealed to Abercromby’s disgruntled veterans by issuing a general pardon for all deserters who rejoined the colors before March. To the impetuous Wolfe he gave full responsibility for the Quebec campaign, although he placed him under his orders for all other operations. Brigadier John Prideaux was to re-establish Oswego—demolished by the French nearly three years earlier—and then combine with Sir William Johnson for an attack on Fort Niagara.
Amherst left the most difficult task to himself, that of attacking Canada by way of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. His colonial detachments had been slow in arriving, and by June, when he pitched camp at the foot of Lake George, his total force was less than half that of Abercromby’s the year before. A sullen month followed of humid heat-struck days interspersed with deluging thunderstorms. Black flies swarmed, and morale sank. But for the French Indians lurking beyond the clearings, there might have been even more desertions than there were. The provincials swore that Ticonderoga was enchanted.
On July 22, with what boats and canoes he could still gather, Amherst finally set off up Lake George. Some of the men improvised sails from army blankets. It was a much more utilitarian advance than the glittering show of the previous year. The troops followed the stream and falls leading from Lake George into Lake Champlain, made a portage, and landed on the opposite bank three miles from Ticonderoga. Two more miles of bushwhacking brought them to a sawmill near a waterfall about a mile from the fort. A bridge by the falls had been partially destroyed by the withdrawing French outposts. With his usual precision, Amherst spent all that day and evening bringing up cannon.
Next morning he led his army across the bridge that his sappers had managed to repair during the night. His intention was to outflank Ticonderoga by marching past it to the north and setting up his siege lines on the shore of the lake. From the near bank by the sawmill he could see eight hundred yards away to the French lines where Abercromby’s army had been slaughtered the summer before. But as he eyed the zigzag impalements he could scarcely believe his eyes. In the hard slanting light there was a stir and flutter of white uniforms. The French were withdrawing into the fort.