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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch - Ticonderoga
Additional Battle Information


Kindly provided by Murray McCombs

Excerpt from:
"Merchant and Redcoat: The Papers of John Gordon MACOMB (aka McCOMB), July 1757-1760, by Joesph Francis J. Meany Volume 2 pp 849-859
French and Indian Wars, Northern Theatre
Abercromby's attack on Fort Ticonderoga 8 July 1758.

The French lines consisted of eight to nine foot wall "made of tree trunks lying one on top of the other" with loop holes cut between the chinks of the logs. The French infantry behind the wall could fire out from a position of almost total protection. "The line followed the top of the ridge, along which it zig-zagged in such a manner that the whole front could be swept by flank-fires of musketry and grape." [37]

To this formidable defense was added an additional filip; a vast abatis made from the tops of the trees that formed the wall whose cut and sharpened branches gave the effect of "chebaux-de-frise." "The army worked with such ardor that the line was in a defendable state the same evening." The French continued to improve the position through the night [38].

More reinforcements arrived on the night of the 7th in the form of the light companies recalled from the Mohawk Valley expedition and now reunited with their parent battalions.

" between six and eight in the evening the light companies of our troops detached with the Chevalier de Levis, reached camp. They had been most diligent (paddling) day and night despite contrary winds to join their comrades whom they knew were about to be attacked; they were received by our little army with the same joy as were Caesar's legions by those Roman cherts blockaded with cicero by a multitude of Gauls. [39]

That night the army slept in the open along the entrenchments. At dawn "to arms" was beaten and Montcalm place his army in position to receive the expected British attack; "At the left of the line were the battalions of LaSarre and Languedoc and two of the light companies [that] arrived the night before..." 460 and 426 officers and men respectively. "The center was occupied by the battalions of Royal Roussillon, the first battalion of Berry and the remainder of Chevalier de Levis' light companies." 480 and 450 officers and men respectively. "La Reine, Bearn and Guyenne defended the right..." 365, 410, and 470 officers and men respectively"...and in the plain between the escarpment of the right and the St. Frederick river they placed the Canadiens and the troops of La Marine (250 and 150 officers and men respectively) who were also protected by the abatis. [40]

The french defense totalled 3,526 officers and men. "The Chevalier de Levis was charged with the right, Sieur de Bourlamaque with the left and the Marquis de Montcalm remained in the center to be within range of all parts." Lawrence Henry Gipson noted: "There were now opposing Abercromby the three best field officers that the French army had in North America." Thus disposed, the French army waited behind their defenses. "Half an hour after noon the English army advanced on us." [42} In total they outnumbered the French by about five to one.

By the morning of 8 July, Abercromby was aware that Montcalm was erecting entrenchments across the base of the premonitory on which stood Fort Carillon (Fort Ticonderoga). Shortly after dawn he ordered a reconnaissance party, consisting of Capt. James Abercromby, 42nd Regt of Foot, his nephew and Aide-de-Camp, and Lt Matthew Clark, 27th (Inniskillings) Regt of Foot, a military engineer, with a party of rangers, to reconnoiter the French works from the top of Rattle-snake hill, modern Mt. Defiance. From there the officers examined the French lines, through their "perspective glasses." It was mid to late morning when the reconnaissance party returned. Clarke reported that the French were in the process of erecting a breastwork across the low wooded hills about 1000 yards from the fort. His observation, that the French works were not complete, was tragically mistaken and he compounded the error by rendering the fatal judgement that the works could be easily assaulted [43]

Abercromby, obsessed by the possibility of imminent French reinforcement, resolved to attack immediately, without waiting for his artillery. The guns were, at the moment, being moved from the camp at the landing to the French saw mill where a new bridge would have to be built across the Riviere de la Chute to move the guns up. Abercromby deemed this entirely too long to wait. He summoned his senior commanders to a Council of War, really and "orders group", which duly concurred in his concept of the attack.

The actual assault would be led by the pickets or light companies, commanded by Major Thomas Proby, 55th Regt of Foot, with the grenadier companies, under Lt. Col. Frederick Haldimand, 60th Regt of Foot, in direct support.

The right wing of the provincials, New York and Massachusetts Bay troops under Col. Jedediah Preble of the later colony, to form line two hundred yards from the enemy entrenchements leaving gaps in the line through which the battalion or "hat' companies of the regular battalions would pass. The regular battalions, less their flank companies, were to attack in the three original brigades organized by Lord Howe. The first brigade under Col. William Haviland, 27th Regt of Foot, and comprising the 27th and the first and fourth battalions of Royal Americans were posted on the British right, the third brigade, under Lt. Co.. John Donaldson, 55th Regt of Foot, and comprising his own and the 44th Regt of Foot, was assigned the center of the British line and the second brigade, under Lt. Col. Samuel Beaver, 46th Regt of Foot, and comprising his own and the Royal Highland Regt. were posted on the British left. The assault was to go in simultaneously. The regulars were under orders "to carry the woks with the bayonet."

The provincial left wing, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut troops under Col. Phynias Lyman of the latter colony, to form a second line, face to the rear and erect breastworks in order to cover the assault. Col. Timothy Ruggles Massachusetts Regt were detached to hold the French saw mill at the Rivier de la Chute [44] "Before the last order had been issued, the rangers and light infantry were hotly engaged in the usual prelude to attack, the attempt to drive in the enemy picket guards. [45]

As the british regulars first saw the French positions there must have been consternation and dismay in the ranks. Ahead lay a swath of cleared land at least a hundred yards in depth. There a vast interwoven tangle of fallen trees lay with the ends of their branches, trimmed and sharpened. No  modern barbed wire entanglement could be any more effective in breaking up the cohesion of an infantry assault. Behind the abatis lay the massive log wall. Only the colours of the French regiments were visible above the wall. The french lines were not at all 'incomplete."[46] At least one British officer, Major Eyre of the 44th, quailed at the prospect of assaulting them. Eyre recommended the assault formations be altered from line to column in order to better keep cohesion as they forced their way  through the abatis. He was overruled. "It was said this would cause confusion: in short, it was said, we must attack any Way, and not be losing time in talking or consulting how. [47]

The assault commenced, as Bougainville noted, about 12:30pm, 8 July 1758. The pickets or light companies of the regular regiments advanced under Major Thomas Proby of the 55th, supported by the grenadiers of the regular regiments under Lt. col. Frederick Haldimand, 60th Regt of Foot. As the pickets reached the fringe of the abatis the waiting French opened a withering fire. Proby was killed in the initial volley.[48]

Along the line the regular battalions moved up through the provincial screen although their assaults were not delivered simultaneously. The three battalions of the 27th and 60th Regt of Foot went in first while some confusion delayed the advance of the 44th and 55th regiments in the centre and the 42nd and 46th regiments on the left.[49] Even if delivered simultaneously, as planned, it is doubtful that the result would have been materially different, for everywhere the story was the same. The redcoats, in battalion line three ranks deep, were unable to advance through or across the abatis. The formations lost cohesion and momentum. Forward motion, essential in a frontal assault, stopped. The assault collapsed but the slaughter continued. The redcoats found themselves trapped in the maze of fallen trees that, beaten by relentless fire from a totally protected enemy, became a hideous killing ground.

"The scene was frightful: masses of infuriated men who could not go forward and would not go back; straight for an enemy they could not reach, and firing at an enemy they could not see; caught in the entanglement of fallen trees; tripped by briers, stumbling over logs, tearing through boughs, shouting, yelling, cursing and pelted all the while with bullets that killed them in scores.[50]

Many were simply driven to ground, desperately seeking protection behind tree limbs and earth...

"others, more courageous or better disciplined or angrier, continued to load and fire at the Frenchmen who made such a poor target behind the breastwork. Formal organization was lost. The best leaders, whoever and wherever they were, tried to organize the men around them and to fight through the mass of branches and brush that lay between them and the enemy. The efforts of these men can be read in casualty lists, for the regular officer corps suffered far out of proportion to its numbers [51]

On the left, the 42nd and 46th Regt of Foot attacked last. The Highlanders, with their large, basket-hilted claymores, were best able to hack their way through the abatis. An officer of the 55th who watched them wrote....

"With a mixture of esteem, grief and envy, I am penetrated by the great loss and immortal glory acquired by the Highlanders engaged in the late bloody affair. Impatient for the fray, they rushed forward to the entrenchments which many of them actually mounted, their intrepidity was rather animated than dampened by witnessing their comrades fall on every side. They seemed more anxious to avenge the fate of their deceased friends than to avoid a like death. [52]"

Alone among the attacking battalions, the Black Watch, or part of it, actually reached the French breastwork, but the assault was too fragmented, its energy spent and the French were able to dispatch those few berserk furies,such as Capt. John Campbell, 42nd Regt of Foot who, incredibly, succeeded in penetrating their defenses. [53] Finally the men of the Compagnes de la Marine on the right of the French line, were able to fire into the flank of the highlanders on the British left.

"The storm raged in full fury for an hour. The assailants pushed close to the breastwork; but they were stopped by the bristling mass of sharpened branches which they could not pass under the murderous cross file that swept them from front and flank. At length, they fell back....[54]

Shy notes that "No one person could regain control of the attacking force, extricate and reorganize it, and send it in a second, or-ordinated assault, "The attack however was not cancelled. Instead, it was allowed to continue, the British regiments renewing their assaults piecemeal throughout that long summer afternoon. [55] Behind the French lines, the Marquis de Montcalm, in his shirt and waistcoat, declared that between one and seven o'clock, six successive assaults were made on his position. [56]

" At about five o'clock, after bitter fighting...a furious concentrated charge of the British battalions was launched against the entrenchments of the French centre where the regiments of Guyenne and the left wing of that of Bearn were posted; this seemed to present such a threat that both Montcolm and de Levis were impelled to rush reinforcements to that point to support the defenders. Then at six o'clock the attack shifted [again] to the French left...against the Royal Roussillon and Berry battalions...The assailants hewed their way to the foot of the breastwork; and though again and again repulsed, they again and again, renewed the attack...[57]

The 42nd and 46th Regt of Foot bore the brunt of this last assault and again were defeated when the Compaignes de la Marine were able to take them in flank. The Black Watch "shattered itself against the wall of French fire, and ....left a grisly monument of kilted corpses to attest to its courage."[58] Actually "it was this attack which came closest to breaking through" but Montcalm was able to reinforce the threatened sector with reserves drawn from his center and left. "At seven o'clock the assaults ceased and Abercromby's army - deprived now of many of its best regimental and company officers - began to retreat covered by the fire of the light troops."[59] The defeated regulars fell back to the breastworks at the reserve position erected by Col. Lyman's provincials. The last assaults of the day were carried out by Col. Preble's provincial right wing but these half-hearted attempts were easily repulsed by the French. At sunset orders were issued to occupy Lyman's breastwork for the night while some attempt was made to get in the wounded.[60]

Casualties among the regulars, particularly the regular officers, were appalling. Of the 6370 regular soldiers mustered on 30 June, 464 were now lifeless corpses hanging in the French abatis, 1117 were wounded and requiring attention. Twenty-nine were missing in action, prisoners or dead. Officer casualties totalled 118 killed and wounded.[61] French casualties totalled 177.[62] It was one of the worst defeats in the history of British arms.


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