General Louis de Montcalm was a gentleman, Carver thought. There would be no ignominy associated with the surrender. No one would be held prisoner or hostage for ransom. The men, women and children of the fort would be provided an escort to Fort Edward. They were promised safety from the Indians. Montcalm gave them his personal assurances. The only concession made by the English besides the loss of the fort itself was that all munitions were to be left behind. The men could even keep their muskets, but they could take no ammunition.
Despite Montcalm’s assurances there was panic in the English camp. It was a panic not unfounded but rather supported by history. The word savage was not an idle description of the Indian. They were brutal beyond an Englishman's wildest imagination. Outside the fort all night after the capitulation the Indians milled about restlessly, uttering the most blood curdling shrieks. No one slept, despite assurances.
What followed was memorialized for the generations by the Lieutenant in his Journals, and transcribed hereinafter for the reader.
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When the Indians succeed, a scene of horror that exceeds description ensues. The savage fierceness of the conquerors and the desperation of the conquered, who well know what they can expect should they fall alive into the hands of their assailants, occasion the most extraordinary exertions on both sides. The figure of the combatants all smeared with black and red paint, and covered with the blood of the slain, their horrid yells and ungovernable fury, cannot possibly be understood by those who have never had the personal experience.
The brutal savagery is exemplified by the events that unfolded at Fort William Henry the morning of August 11, 1757, the day after the capitulation was signed. As soon as day broke, the whole garrison, now consisting of about two thousand men, besides women and children, were drawn up within the lines, and on the point of marching off, when great numbers of the Indians gathered about and began to plunder. We were at first in hopes that this was their only intention and let them proceed without opposition. Indeed, it was not within our power to make any, had we been so inclined, for though we were permitted to carry off our arms, we were not allowed a single round of ammunition. We soon became disappointed, for some of them began to attack the sick and wounded when they were not able to crawl into the ranks for mutual protection. Notwithstanding their attempts to avert the fury of the enemy with shrieks and groans, they were soon dispatched.
Here we were fully in expectation that the disturbance was over and our little army began to move, but in a short time we saw the front division driven back and discovered that we were entirely encircled by the savages. We expected every moment that the guard, which the French, by the articles of capitulation had agreed to allow us would have arrived and put an end to our apprehension. But none appeared. The Indians now began to strip everyone without exception of their arms and clothes, and those who made the least resistance felt the weight of their tomahawks.
I happened to be in the rear division, but it was not long before I shared the fate of my companions. Three or four of the savages laid hold of me and while some held their weapons over my head, the others soon disrobed me of my coat, waistcoat, hat and buckles, omitting not to take from me what money I had in my pocket. I ran to a French sentinel who was posted close by our passage and claimed his protection, but he only called me an English dog and violently thrust me back again into the midst of the Indians.
I now endeavored to join a body of our troops that were crowded together at some distance, but innumerable were the blows that were made at me with different weapons as I passed on. Luckily, however, the savages were so close together that they could not strike me without endangering each other. Nevertheless, one of them made a thrust at me with a spear which grazed my side, and from another I received a wound with the same kind of weapon, in my ankle. After a while I reached the spot where my countrymen stood, and I forced my way into the midst of them.
But before I got this far out of the hands of the Indians, the collar and wristbands of my shirt were all that remained of it, and my flesh was scratched and torn in many places by their savage grasps.
By this time the war hoop was given and the Indians began to murder those that were nearest to them without distinction. It is not in the power of words to give a tolerable idea of the horrid scene that now ensued; men, women and children were dispatched in the most wanton and cruel manner and immediately scalped. Many of these savages drank the blood of their victims as it flowed warm from the fatal wound.
We now perceived, though too late to avail us, that we were to expect no relief from the French, and that, contrary to the agreement that they had so lately signed to allow us a sufficient force to protect us from these insults, they tacitly permitted them, for I could plainly see the French officers walking about at some distance, talking among themselves with apparent unconcern.
For the honor of human nature I would hope that this flagrant breach of every sacred law proceeded rather from the savage disposition of the Indians, which I acknowledge is sometimes almost impossible to control, and which might now unexpectedly have arrived to a pitch not easily restrained, than to any premeditated design in the French commander. An unprejudiced observer would, however, be apt to conclude that a body of ten thousand Christian troops had it in their power to prevent the massacre from becoming so general. But whatever was the cause from which it arose, the consequences of it were dreadful and not to be paralleled in modern history.
As the circle in which I stood enclosed by this time was much thinned, and death seemed to be approaching with hasty strides, it was proposed by some of the most resolute to make one vigorous effort and endeavor to force our way through the savages, the only probable method of preserving our lives which now remained. This, however desperate, was resolved on and about twenty of us sprung at once into the midst of them.
In a moment we were all separated, and what was the fate of my companions I could not learn till some six months after, when I found that only six or seven of them affected their design. Intent only on my own hazardous situation, I endeavored to make my way through my savage enemies in the best manner possible.
I have often been astonished since, when I recollected with what composure I took, as I did, every necessary step for my preservation. Some I overturned, being at that time young and athletic, and others I passed by, dexterously avoiding their weapons, until at last two very stout chiefs of the most savage tribes, as I could distinguish by their dress, whole strength I could not resist, laid hold of me by each arm and began to force me through the crowd.
I now resigned myself to my fate, not doubting but that they intended to dispatch me and then to satiate their vengeance with my blood, as I found they were hurrying me towards a retired swamp that lay at some distance. But before we had got many yards, an English gentleman of some distinction, as I could discover from his breeches, the only covering he had on, which were of fine scarlet velvet, rushed close by us. One of the Indians instantly relinquished his hold and springing on this new object, endeavored to seize him as his prey; but the gentleman, being strong, threw him on the ground and would probably gotten away had not he who held my other arm quitted me to assist his brother.
I seized this opportunity and hastened away to join another party of English troops that were not yet unbroken and stood in a body at some distance. But before I had taken many steps I hastily cast my eye towards the gentleman and saw the Indian’s tomahawk gash into his back and heard him utter his last groan. This added to me speed and desperation.
I had left this shocking scene but a few yards when a fine boy about twelve years of age that had hitherto escaped, came up to me and begged that I would let him lay hold of me so that he might stand some chance of getting out of the hands of the savages. I told him that I would give him every assistance in my power, and to this purpose bid him lay hold, but in a few moments he was torn from my side, and by his shrieks I judge was soon demolished. I could not help forgetting my own cares for a minute to lament the fate of so young a sufferer, but it was utterly impossible for me to take any methods to prevent it.
I now got more into the midst of my friends, but we were unable to afford each other any succor. As this was the division that had advanced the furthest from the fort, I though there might be a possibility, though but a very bare one, of my forcing my way through the outer ranks of the Indians and getting to a neighboring wood, which I perceived at some distance. I was still encouraged to hope by the almost miraculous preservation I had already experienced.
Nor were my hopes vain or the efforts I made ineffectual. Suffice it to say that I reached the wood, but by the time that I had penetrated my way into it, my breath was so exhausted that I threw myself into a brake and lay for some minutes apparently at the last gasp. At length I recovered the power of respiration, but my apprehensions returned with all their former force when I saw several savages pass by, probably in pursuit of me, but at no very great distance. In this situation I knew not whether it was better to proceed or endeavor to conceal myself where I lay till night came on. Fearing that they would return the same way, I thought it most prudent to get farther from the scene of my past distresses.
Accordingly, striking into another part of the wood, I hastened on as fast as the briars and the loss of one of my shoes would permit me, and after a slow progress of some hours, gained a hill that overlooked the plain which I had just left, from whence I could discern that the bloody storm still raged with unabated fury.
After passing three days without subsistence and enduring the severity of the cold dews for three nights, I at length reached Fort Edward where with proper care my body soon recovered its wonted strength, and my mind, as far as the recollection of the late melancholy events would permit, its usual composure.
It was computed that fifteen hundred persons were killed or made prisoners by these savages during that fatal day. Many of the latter were carried off by them and never returned. A few, through favorable accidents, found their way back to their native country after having experienced a long and severe captivity.
So many brave fellows, women and children died that day, murdered in cold blood. It breaks my heart to recount this story. But the savages paid a dear price. Few who shared their specious glory that day returned to their home either. The small pox, by means of their communication with the stricken at the fort, found its way among them. They died by the hundreds. In retrospect, theirs was a Pyrrhic victory.
The good Monsieur Montcalm fell soon after on the plains of Quebec, and not long after, I stood alongside General Jeffrey Amherst at the surrender of the French at Montreal.
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