Loudoun takes charge of British forces in North America. Portrait of John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudoun (1705-1782)
Meanwhile, the fighting continued in North America between the French and their Indian (Native American) allies and the British and their American colonists. British leaders in London were still upset about the defeat of General Edward Braddock (1695-1755) and the failure of their other military plans. They decided to replace William Shirley (1694-1771), who had become commander-in-chief upon Braddock’s death, with an experienced military planner named John Campbell, fourth earl of Loudoun (1705-1782).
Like Braddock, Lord Loudoun held broad powers as commander-in-chief of all British and American armed forces in North America. But when he arrived in mid-1756, he found that Shirley had already planned several military campaigns for the year. For example, Shirley had ordered seven thousand colonial troops to gather at Fort Edward and Fort William Henry, British forts located on the Hudson River and Lake George in northern New York. These forces were to be used in an attack against Fort St. Frédéric, a French stronghold at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. Shirley had also put plans in place to capture French forts on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in order to cut off French supply routes to the west from Montreal.
Since most of the colonial troops were already in place, Loudoun decided to include the attack on Fort St. Frédéric in his plans. But Loudoun did not have much faith in “irregular” colonial troops (volunteers and recruits from the American colonies; they usually received less training than their British counterparts) and preferred to make the attack using “regular” (professional) British Army soldiers. Loudoun knew that there were three thousand highly trained British soldiers waiting for orders in Albany, so he decided to add them to the forces headed for Crown Point. Loudoun did not realize that Shirley had kept the British and colonial soldiers apart on purpose. British leaders in London had recently created new rules that made the colonial troops subject to the same strict discipline and harsh punishments as the regular troops. At the same time, however, colonial officers-regardless of their rank or level of experience-were expected to take orders from regular officers. These rules had made it difficult for Shirley to recruit an army from the colonies. To overcome resistance, he had promised the colonial forces that they would not have to serve alongside any regulars. This way, they would not have to worry about the new rules.
When Loudoun tried to combine the British and colonial forces for the attack on Fort St. Frédéric, the colonials threatened to quit and return to their homes. The commander-in- chief became furious about what he viewed as their unprofessional behavior. He could not believe that the American forces would not submit to British Army rules and discipline. But this incident was only the beginning of Loudoun’s problems. He soon began using his powers as commander-in-chief to issue orders to the colonial governors. He expected them to provide money, men, and supplies for his armies, but they often stalled or simply refused his requests. Loudoun also expected the people of Albany and other cities to provide shelter for British soldiers. He thought the colonists should gladly offer quarters for the troops that had come to defend them. But most people refused to allow soldiers to stay in their homes unless the army paid for their room and board. These disputes convinced Loudoun that all Americans were ungrateful and did not understand the idea of serving a common cause.
The French military effort also received a new leader in mid-1756 when Louis-Joseph, marquis de Montcalm- Gozon de Saint-Véran (1712-1759), arrived in New France. An experienced general, Montcalm would lead the defense of French territory in North America for the next three years. New France also had a new governor general, Pierre François de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil (1698-1778), who had replaced Ange Duquesne de Menneville, marquis de Duquesne (1700-1778) in 1755. Vaudreuil was a strong believer in wilderness warfare. He wanted to use France’s Indian allies to conduct raids along the western frontier of the British colonies. If the British had to worry about defending the frontier, Vaudreuil was convinced they would be less able to launch an invasion of Canada. But as a traditional European military leader, Montcalm was horrified by the style of warfare used by the Indians. He distrusted the Indians and was reluctant to use them in his military operations. He wanted to rely upon regular French Army troops and to conduct the war in a more civilized manner.
French capture Fort Oswego
As Lord Loudoun struggled to organize the British war effort, Montcalm and the French went on the offensive. Their first target was Fort Oswego, located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Oswego River (near the site of modern-day Syracuse, New York). The fort itself was situated on a low rise overlooking the lake. On each side of the fort were steep hills on which the British had built small outposts. Holding the fort for the British were 1,135 troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Mercer.
On August 10, 1756, Montcalm brought a 3,000-man army to attack the fort. His forces consisted of 1,300 highly trained French soldiers, 1,500 Canadian militia, and 250 Indians from six different nations. The French started out by attacking the two high outposts and capturing them easily. Then they aimed their cannons down at the poorly constructed British fort. One of the cannonballs killed Mercer, and the fort surrendered a short time later. Montcalm’s forces destroyed the fort and took all of the boats, cannons, guns, and other supplies they could find. Montcalm ordered that all the remaining British soldiers be taken as prisoners of war. He promised to protect the prisoners and transport them to Montreal for the duration of the war.
But Montcalm’s Indian allies had other ideas. Unlike the French and Canadian forces, they were not paid to take part in the battle. They had joined the fight in order to demonstrate their courage. Their only payment came in the form of the trophies they collected-captives, scalps, weapons, and supplies. The Indians became angry when they heard about Montcalm’s plan for the British prisoners. They ended up killing between thirty and one hundred British soldiers and taking many more captive. Montcalm was outraged by the Indians’ behavior. In fact, he secretly paid ransom to reclaim some of the prisoners.
Following the French capture of Fort Oswego, Loudoun called off the planned attack against Crown Point. Instead, he ordered the colonial soldiers gathered at Fort William Henry to improve the fort and prepare to defend it against an attack by the French. By the end of the summer, the British forces stationed along the northern border of the colonies were there for defensive purposes only.