The Battle on Snowshoes, March 1758
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on Snowshoes, March 1758
The Battle: Phase Two
The veteran Langy, hearing the firing to his front,
deployed his two hundred and five men, mostly French marines and Canadian militia,
and advanced in a rough line of battle. Within minutes Langy's force received
the approximately fifty-five fleeing survivors of Durantaye's force hotly
pursued by Ensign Gregory MacDonald's right flank guard followed by virtually
the whole of Captain Charles Bulkeley's division including lieutenants Increase
Moore, Archibald Campbell, James Pottinger and Ensign James White. The exultant
rangers ran straight into Langy's volley, delivered at close range in total surprise.
Captain Bulkeley and all his officers were killed or wounded in the deadly fusillade.
Lieutenant Moore and Ensign MacDonald, both mortally wounded, managed to rally
the survivors and fall back, hard pressed by Langy and Durantaye, to Roger's main
body before they died.
Rogers himself was unable to form the remaining rangers
into line facing the attacking French and Indians. Some rangers were caught
scalping and searching the dead at the first ambush site, others were scattered
through the woods where they had followed Bulkeley's men in pursuit of the defeated
Indians. Now as the French counter-attack came in on his right, Rogers found
his flank turned and himself in danger of being enveloped. Rogers, a superb
combat leader, was nothing if not mentally and emotionally resilient. He took
in the chaotic situation and made his decision in a moment, ordering the rangers
to fall back toward the high ground of Bald Mountain. If he could not break
contact he would make his stand there. Thus ended phase two of the battle. Phase
three, the rangers "last stand" was about to begin.
The Battle: Phase Three
The French and Indians, perhaps seeing that the destruction of Rogers' hated rangers
was at last within their grasp, pressed their attack so closely that the rangers
could not break contact. Rogers later wrote in his journal that he lost fifty
men in getting to the high ground.
The remainder I rallied, and drew up in
pretty good order, where they fought with such intrepidity and bravery as obliged
the enemy to retreat a second time; but we not being in a condition to pursue
them, they rallied again, and recovered their ground, and warmly pushed us in
front and both wings, while the mountain defended our rear."
the historian of Rogers Rangers, estimates that Rogers now had not more than
120 men, many wounded, on his firing line. Ensign Joseph Waite and the ten men
of his rear guard, on the left, were cut off and overwhelmed in the confusion
as the rangers scrambled up toward the high ground. The officer and one man
succeeded in escaping the carnage and fled into the woods.
The French and Indians, well handled by Langy and Durantaye, pressed the rangers
on all sides and attempted to envelop the perimeter around both flanks. The
rangers' position held, however, and "they were so warmly received that their
flanking parties soon retreated to their main body with considerable loss. This
threw the whole again into disorder, and they retreated a third time."
However Rogers found a resumption of the offensive impossible. "Our number
being now too far reduced to take advantage of their disorder, they rallied
again, and made a fresh attack upon us." The French and Indians, infuriated
by the sight of scalped corpses, victims of the first ambush, threw themselves
into repeated assaults and, as casualties continued to mount, Rogers position
became more and more precarious.
Most of the Indians seemed concentrated on the English right where, under Lieutenant
William Phillips, the perimeter was first strained to the breaking point. But
soon Rogers, who had now been in action about an hour and a half, was patching
and filling everywhere.
Lieutenant Phillips informed me that about 200 Indians were
going up ye hill on our right to take possession of ye rising ground upon our
backs. . . I ordered him with 18 Men to take possession of ye rising Ground
before the Enemy, & try to beat them back. Accordingly he went, but I being
Suspicious that ye Enemy would go round on our left & take possession of
the other part of the hill, I sent Lieutenant [Edward] Crofton with 15 Men to
take possession of the ground there and soon after desired Captain Pringle to
go with a few men & assist Crofton, which he did with Lt. Roche & 8
Men. But the Enemy pushed So close in the front that the party's were not more
than 20 yards apart & oftentimes intermixed with each other.
Darkness was now approaching and Rogers, having lost eight
of fourteen officers and over 100 men, sought only to hang on until nightfall.
Rogers himself with Ensign Joseph Waite held the center with some thirty-one
men still effective. Phillips held the right flank with eighteen men, not nearly
enough, while Crofton and Pringle held the left with twenty-three.
Langy and Durantaye were equally determined to finish the rangers before they
could break up and escape in the darkness. The final assault came in from all
sides but Lieutenant Phillips on the right was the first to be cut off and overwhelmed.
He attempted to surrender on terms and did receive assurances of quarter. However,
once in enemy hands scalps were discovered on the persons of the survivors and
most "were inhumanly tied up to trees" and hacked to death by the enraged Indians.
Only Phillips and three others survived. They were eventually taken north where
they were paraded and exhibited as "live letters" through the Indian villages
around Montreal. After a series of harrowing experiences, Phillips, the only
ranger officer captured alive, escaped and made his way back to British lines.
The fate of the other three MIA's is unknown but can be surmised. They never
returned to New England.
While Lieutenant Phillips and his men were surrounded but still fighting, Rogers
and Ensign Joseph Waite continued to hold the center while casualties mounted.
Finally, their strength now down to about twenty men, their right flank cut
off from Phillips and the enemy so close that combat was virtually hand to hand,
Rogers ordered his men to fall back upon Crofton and Pringle holding the left.
Upon finding that Phillips & his party was obliged to
Surrender, I thought it most prudent for me to retreat & bring off as many
of my people as I possibly could. Which I immediately did.
Lieutenant Henry Pringle, writing later as a French prisoner, described the
conclusion of the action to his former commanding officer:
Capt. Rogers with his party came to me, and said (as did
all those with him) that a large body of Indians had ascended to our right;
he likewise added, what was true, that the combat was very unequal, that I must
retire, and he would give Mr. Roche and me a Sergeant to conduct us thru the
mountain. No doubt prudence required us to accept his offer; but, besides one
of my snowshoes being untied, I knew myself unable to march as fast as was required
to avoid becoming a sacrifice to an enemy we could no longer oppose. I therefore
begged of him to proceed and then leaned against a rock in the path, determined
to submit to a fate I thought unavoidable. Unfortunately for Mr. Roche, his
snow-shoes were loosened likewise, which obliged him to determine with me, not
to labour in a flight we both were unequal to.
In the event Pringle and Roche both managed to escape from the battlefield
in the darkness. They wandered in the forest half frozen until 20 March 1758,
seven days later, when they reached Fort Carillon and succeeded in surrendering
to French officers before the Indians encamped around the fort could claim them
The Battle: Phase Four
Rogers, now in the last extremity, ordered his command to scatter and evade the
enclosing enemy individually. The designated rally point was to be the place on
the west shore of Lake George where they had left their sleds and packs so many
hours before. In this Rogers was following his own advice as previously set forth
in Rule No. X of his "Rules for Ranging Service":
If the enemy is so superior that you are
in danger of being surrounded by them, let the whole body disperse, and every
one take a different route to the place of rendezvous appointed for that evening
which must every morning be altered and fixed for the evening ensuring, in order
to bring the whole party, or as many of them as possible together, after any
separation that may happen in the day; but if you should happen to be actually
surrounded, form yourselves into a square, or, if in the woods, a circle is
best, and, if possible, make a stand till the darkness of night favors your
As the rangers dispersed into the gathering gloom Rogers
threw off his uniform coat which was later discovered on the battlefield by
the French. In the pocket was found his captain's commission, dated 24 March
1756 and signed by Sir William Shirley. The French were briefly convinced that
Rogers was indeed among the dead. One Iroquois warrior later boasted to Governor
Vaudreuil that "he had himself killed him." Rogers actually made good a legendary
escape, supposedly climbing up the west slope of Bald Mountain and then sliding
down the smooth, frozen, near vertical, east face of the mountain to the surface
of Lake George over a thousand feet below. Loescher suggests that he back-tracked
to the lip of the cliff in order to convey the impression to his pursuers that
he had actually used "Roger's Slide." Rogers does not mention his escape, saying
only that "the Indians closely pursuing us at the same time, took several prisoners."
Rogers reached Lake George about 8 p.m. on 13 March 1758 and struck out for the
rendezvous. He soon met other survivors including several wounded. He collected
the survivors at the rally point and immediately sent two rangers, on ice skates,
south for Fort Edward with requests for a relief force. Four severely wounded
men were put on sleighs, with two men each to pull, and also sent south. Rogers
kept the remaining handful of survivors in a perimeter around the rally point
where they were able to collect other evaders as they came in, though the men
almost froze that night without fire or blankets.
By the morning of 14 March 1758, several more rangers arrived, some also wounded.
At daybreak they started south for Fort Edward where his first messengers arrived
at noon and informed the garrison that Rogers "Had a Hot Ingagment Such as Scare
Even was Knowed in ye Country & Most of His Party Destroyed."
Lieutenant Colonel Haviland ordered three companies of rangers, Stark's, Shepard's
and Durkee's, to Rogers' support. They met the survivors at Sloop Island, six
miles from the head of Lake George. Rogers spent the night of 14-15 March on
Sloop Island, and sent again to Fort Edward for three horse-drawn sleighs to
carry his remaining wounded. These arrived in the morning under the command
of Lieutenant John Belscher, 27th Regt. of Foot. 15 March 1758 was described
by Jabez Finch as "a Vast Cold & Tedious Day Espacially for ye Wounded Men." The defeated rangers trickled into Fort Edward in small groups from about 3
p.m. Rogers, bringing up the rear, reached the fort about 5 p.m. He had brought
with him fifty-two survivors, eight badly wounded. He had lost 124 men and one
more, his own orderly, died of the cold during the retreat.
Rogers estimated that about forty French and Indians were killed in the initial
ambush and another sixty killed in the subsequent action. He estimated the enemy
wounded at no less than 100. However Captain Hebecourt's report to General Montcalm
listed his casualties as eight Indians killed, seventeen Indians wounded and two
died of wounds, three Canadians wounded.
Rogers dictated his journal account of the action on 17 March 1758, four days
after the battle. On 6 April 1758, General Abercromby confirmed Rogers' promotion
to "Major of the Rangers in His Majesty's Service." It was a vote of confidence
in the defeated partisan that subsequent events would more than justify. Now
Rogers set about the task of reconstructing his shattered force.
To Read More on the Battle on Snowshoes
Accounts of the battle are found in Burt Loescher, The History of Rogers'
Rangers, in Francis Parkman's classic Montcalm and Wolfe, and in
Lawrence Henry Gipson's The Great War for the Empire: The Victorious Years,
1758-1760, as well as in John Cuneo's biography, Robert Rogers of the
Rangers. See also Gary Zaboly's "The Battle on Snowshoes," American History
Illustrated, Dec. 1979, 12-24.
Dr. Joseph F. Meany Jr., a member of the Advisory Board of the New York State
Military Heritage Institute, is a Senior Historian at the New York State Museum
in Albany, New York.
Back to Page 1 of Frigid Fury: The Battle
on Snowshoes, March 1758
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
March 19, 2008