On March 10, 1758, Major Robert Rogers left Fort Edward with 180 men. The force cautiously crept up the shore of Lake George. The lake was still frozen but free of snow, so the Rangers used ice-creepers to move north toward the French lines. As the Rangers neared enemy territory they slept during the day and marched in the dark of night. By March 13, they left the ice of the lake and moved into the forests. They cached their rucksacks and sleds and took only their fighting order. Rogers decided to ambush a French patrol as it left their defensive lines. He picked the terrain for the ambush carefully and then divided his force in two. Now it was a matter of waiting.
Rogers had his men hide behind trees overlooking a ravine with a frozen stream. A French column of approximately 100 men, led by Natives, worked its way down the ice of the stream bed, which was easier to travel on than the deep snow. As the head of the French column drew even with Rogers’ left flank, Rogers fired his musket as a signal to attack. The woods suddenly filled with a continuous clap of thunder as the Ranger line fired into the French, Canadians, and Natives. It was as if a scythe cut through their ranks. As the survivors tried to escape, Rogers’ right flank rushed down into the ravine to cut them off. It seemed like the Rangers had bested their enemy.
Suddenly, another wave of thunder reverberated through the winter wilderness. Rogers realized immediately that he had just attacked the vanguard of a larger force. The hunter became the hunted. The Rangers that rushed into the ravine now found themselves overwhelmed and fighting for their lives to escape back up the hill to friendly lines. The Rangers fought from tree to tree and tried to create a defensive perimeter. The Canadians and Natives darted from cover to cover, attempting to infiltrate and cut off the Rangers.
The French attacked relentlessly. The Rangers, realizing their lives were at stake, were able to throw back the assaults. But they could not last forever. Ninety minutes after the first shot was fired, as darkness began to fall, the French succeeded in collapsing the centre of Rogers’ position. Rogers and 20 men fell back on their depth position. They fired a volley and then scattered into the darkness to make their individual escapes.
To speed up his getaway, Rogers threw off his jacket, which held his commissioning scroll. As a result, a rumour that Rogers was killed at the Battle of the Snowshoes circulated in the French camp. It was not, however, true. Rogers had made a narrow escape. Of the 181 individuals who began the expedition, only 54 survived and made it back to Fort Edward. Once again, Rogers had been bested by the French Canadians.
Less than six months later, the two forces would meet once again in a bitter showdown. This time it was the French Canadians who found themselves trapped behind enemy lines. The morning began like many others for Captain Joseph Marin, the veteran French-Canadian partisan leader who was preparing his war party for the next leg of their raid. A sudden musket shot shattered the morning stillness of the Adirondack wilderness. Within seconds two more shots rang out. As they echoed through the forest, Marin realized that the enemy was very close. He quickly and quietly deployed 500 Canadians, coureurs de bois, and Natives into a crescent-shaped ambush on the edge of the forest clearing. Within minutes, his large force practically vanished as they melted into the thick brush, awaiting the arrival of the British-American force that was apparently close by.
Marin and his raiding party had been on their way to strike the English at Fort Edward. They were emboldened by the French victory at Fort Ticonderoga a month earlier, on July 8, 1758, when Montcalm’s force of 3,600 men defeated Major-General James Abercromby’s army of 15,000. In its aftermath, the Canadians and their Native allies mounted a number of raids. In fact, just days earlier on July 28, another French Canadian, La Corne, with 300 Canadians and Natives, massacred a convoy of 116 men and women between Fort Edward and Halfway Brook. Upon hearing of the outrage, Major-General Abercromby immediately ordered Majors Robert Rogers and Israel Putnam, with a combined force of 1,400 men, to hunt down La Corne. Despite their haste they reached the narrow of Lake Champlain too late; La Corne narrowly missed their noose. However, the stage was now set for yet another encounter between Marin and his nemesis Rogers.
Three days later, 11 Rangers patrolling the Wood Creek approach from Fort Ticonderoga stumbled upon fresh tracks of a large Native war party. They followed the trail for four miles, then decided to stop for a meal. In an instant the tables were turned. The Rangers were surrounded by 50 Natives — they attacked and the hunter became the prey. In the desperate and savage struggle that followed, eight Rangers and 17 Natives were killed, and two Rangers were captured. Only one Ranger, Sergeant Hackett, escaped. As he fled to Fort Edward he discovered the tracks of an even larger enemy war party, apparently heading in the direction of Fort Edward.
When Hackett reached Fort Edward he reported what he had seen to Abercromby, who devised a plan to intercept and destroy the unidentified French raiding party. Abercromby sent a dispatch to Rogers and Putnam, who were still in the field, to take 700 chosen men and 10 days of provisions and “sweep all that back country” of South Bay and Wood Creek to Fort Edward in hopes of finding the French-Canadian war party.
On the night of July 31, Rogers, Putnam, and their force camped on Sloop Island. The next day was spent preparing the expedition and on August 2, Rogers and Putnam left with separate groups to set ambushes where the Wood Creek meets East Bay and South Bay. Unfortunately, no one stumbled into either of the traps. Four days later, Rogers and Putnam rejoined forces and marched to the decaying ruins of Fort Sainte-Anne, where they camped on the night of August 7, 1758.
Up until that point, the Rangers hadn’t accomplished much. Other than the near capture of an enemy canoe with six warriors, there was no sign of enemy forces. The men were becoming bored and distracted. One hundred seventy soldiers were released and they returned to Fort Edward. Rogers had just 530 men remaining when they settled in for the night.
The next morning, as the sun began to rise over the hills, Rogers and Putnam prepared for the march west to Fort Edward. For some reason, Rogers, who had literally written the book on light infantry warfare in North America, “Standing Orders of Rogers’ Rangers,” had a lethal lapse of judgment. He and Ensign William Irwin, of Gage’s Light Infantry Regiment, had a friendly argument about who was the more skilled marksman. Things quickly got a whole lot less friendly, and words soon led to action: the two began firing at targets to prove who was the better shot.
Little did they know that the enemy was in the area. As the shots echoed through the forest, the French-Canadian commander, Captain Marin, who was close by, reacted instantly. His trained eye surveyed the ground and he quickly spotted an ideal ambush site. He developed a plan and swiftly deployed his forces. Between the two forces lay a clearing that was choked with alder and brush, cut in half by a single narrow trail that led directly into the forest where Marin had positioned his men. The dense cover would allow the enemy to unwittingly walk right into Marin’s ambush location. By the time they realized the threat it would be too late.
Major Putnam led the column. He had his 300 Connecticut Provincials leading. Behind him followed Captain James Dalyell with detachments of British infantry from the 80th and 44th Regiments. Rogers brought up the rear with his Rangers and the remaining Provincials. Putnam marched right into the ambush. Lieutenant Tracy and three soldiers were suddenly overwhelmed and dragged into the thick brush. Then the French Canadians and their Native allies unleashed a lethal volley on the unsuspecting English troops caught in the open clearing. “The enemy rose as a cloud and fired upon us,” recorded one participant, “the tomahawks and bullets flying around my ears like hailstones.”
Putnam immediately ordered his men to return fire and a deadly melee began in the thick alder brush and forest, but the odds were against them. “The enemy discovering them,” recounted Dr. Caleb Rea, “ambushed’m in form of a Semi Circle which gave the Enemy a great advantage of our men.” The provincial troops quickly broke and fell back behind the regulars, who were led forward by Captain Dalyell.
The battle became centred around a huge fallen tree. Marin pounded the British with four volleys of fire before the “Red Coats” managed to flank the tree and engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. At this point, the momentum of the battle began to turn in favour of the British. Major Rogers was at the back of the column with his men. He quickly moved his forces to the sound of battle. The antagonists were then evenly matched and the action raged on for another hour.
The thick bush and alder at the edge of the forest turned the battle into a series of very personal fights, as the small area prevented much group action. At one point, a monstrous Native chief, who stood six feet four inches tall, jumped upon the large fallen tree and killed two British regulars who tried to oppose him. A British officer, who was trying to help the fallen soldiers, hit the giant with his musket. Although he drew blood, he only enraged the Native, who was about to dispatch the officer with his tomahawk when Major Rogers proved his marksmanship and shot the Native chief dead.
Marin tried to outflank the British by turning their right flank. He made four valiant attempts, however, Rogers and his Rangers gave no ground. As the fight raged around him, Rogers sensed the flow of battle and reversed the initiative. He began to shift his Rangers right in a bid to out-manoeuvre the French Canadians. Some Canadians began to break. Then the Rangers charged. Half the Rangers would fire, while the other half would reload. That way, they kept up a constant fire and forward movement. Under this constant fire and pressure, the remainder of the French Canadians gave way.
However, Marin was no novice in bush warfare. Realizing the situation, he avoided a rout and destruction of his force by dividing his surviving force into small parties and taking different withdrawal routes. The groups reunited later that night and made camp in a secluded location surrounded by impenetrable swamp.
The British chose not to pursue the French. Instead, they stayed on the battlefield and buried their dead. As always, the casualty figures vary, however, it appears that British-American losses added up to 53 killed, 50 wounded, and four taken prisoner. The French Canadians suffered approximately 77 killed.
Once the dead were buried, Rogers and his party continued their march to Fort Edward, carrying their wounded on litters made of strong branches with blankets strung over them. En route, a relief force of 400 soldiers under Major Munster, which included an additional 40 Rangers and a surgeon, met the column. Rogers then encamped for the night. The latest desperate fight combat had no overall effect on the struggle for North America. What the combatants in the depth of the Adirondack wilderness did not yet know was that the strategic tide of the war had begun to shift. Soon, the focus of operations would be farther north.
Joseph Marin de La Malgue (known as Marin) was another legendary French-Canadian partisan leader who struck terror into the English settlements. He was born in Montreal in 1719, into a family steeped in martial tradition. His grandfather was an officer in the colonial regular troops and his father, Paul Marin de la Malgue, was also an officer of the colonial regular troops who became renowned for his diplomatic, trading, and fighting skills. Marin the elder, at the age of 30, took command of Chagouamigon (near present-day Ashland in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior). This appointment carried the customary monopoly of the region’s fur trade, but his primary responsibility was to ensure and maintain the alliance between the Native nations and France.
The young Marin was a famous partisan leader in his own right. From an early age he was brought up on stories and the reality of fighting in the wilderness of North America. His father, who was greatly feared and respected by the Natives, taught the younger Marin his trade. In 1732, at only 13 years old, Marin’s father sent him to explore the Pays-d’en-Haut, which refers to the northwest (i.e., the upper Great Lakes basin). For the next 13 years, as a cadet in the colonial regular troops, he stayed in that area. This experience was critical in his development, providing him with an understanding of the complexities of the fur trade. More importantly, he became skilled at wilderness travel, and knowledgeable about Native culture and temperament. In fact, he became fluent in Sioux and several Algonquin dialects. He also gained military experience during the campaign against the Chickasaws in 1739–40, and he earned his diplomatic spurs when he made peace and trade agreements with the Sioux west of Baie-des-Puants (present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin).
In 1745, Marin and his father were recalled to the east to fight in the war in Acadia and Cape Breton Island. Although his influence was minimal at the time, this latest exposure to war provided more experience. Later that year, Marin, under his father’s command, participated in a large-scale raid against the English, which devastated Schuylerville and neighbouring areas in New York. During the next two years, 1746–48, Marin was busy in Acadia, Grand-Pré, Cape Breton Island, and the New York frontier, learning and plying the deadly craft ofla petite guerre. He was promoted to the rank of second ensign at the end of the conflict in 1748.
The following year, the governor of New France, La Jonquière, gave Marin command of the post at Chagouamigon. Marin found himself in his father’s old job. He was also assigned the responsibility of making peace with the Sioux and Ojibwas who were locked in conflict with each other, as well as the French. He succeeded.
In 1750, Marin was promoted full ensign. He was recalled to Montreal on July 11, 1756, with a large contingent of Native warriors. Later that summer, he participated in the successful campaign to capture the British fort at Oswego, where he and his Menominee warriors continually beat larger British forces.
In August, Marin led a force of approximately 100 on a raid against Fort William Henry on Lake George, New York, and defeated a force of about the same size as his own. His constant raids, particularly because of the brutality and savage nature of the French Canadians and Natives, terrorized both the garrisons of the frontier forts and the settlements at large. In December 1756, Marin led a force of 500 French Canadians and Natives on another raid that tore a path of destruction through New York. Six months later, in July 1757, Marin led a small reconnaissance party to the vicinity of Fort Edward in New York. His force crept up close to the fort and then annihilated a 10-man patrol, and then a 50-man guard. Finally, totally overwhelmed by British reinforcements, he expertly held them off for an hour and then withdrew. In total, the action cost him only three men.
The next major battle took place in August 1758. It pitted Marin against his arch-nemesis, Major Robert Rogers. Rogers and the British force of about 530 men were careless, and Marin and his raiding party figured out that they were outnumbered. Marin quickly deployed his Canadians and Natives and skilfully sprung an ambush that caught the enemy completely by surprise. Although inflicting heavy casualties and capturing several prisoners, the remainder of the British force reacted well and the battle soon settled into a bitter war of attrition. Marin was caught behind enemy lines, between a large force and an even larger pool of reinforcements who were only hours away. So he broke his command up into small groups and they melted away.
In January 1759, Marin was promoted to captain. He spent the first part of the year conducting raids against the frontier settlements in Pennsylvania and Maryland. That summer he joined a relief effort to raise the British siege of Fort Niagara (near present-day Youngstown, New York). However, his force was ambushed and he was taken prisoner. Not surprisingly, his capture was announced as a great triumph in the English colonies.