There are so many memories of the French and Indian War Grand Encampment at Fort Ticonderoga last weekend, and great images to go with many of them. This mixed fife and drum corps includes both French and British musicians and came down the road to welcome us on our arrival. Musicians have a special place in period reenactments, and we heard many impromptu performances by soldiers and civilians in camp as well as on the battlefield. The highlanders had their pipers on the field, but the skirl of their pipes was drowned out by the musketry. The sound of the drums, however, carried far.
The fort itself was just as popular with the thousands of participants as it was with regular visitors. I came upon these Grenadiers from His Majesty's 40th Regiment of Foot viewing the portrait and personal effects of an obscure Virginia Militia Colonel who had fought with Braddock at Monongahela in 1755.
The Rangers had their own section of the British camp. Here members of Rogers' Rangers prepare for the coming battle after the noonday meal. Fort Ti is behind them on the hill, and offers a new profile with the addition of a newly reconstructed building on the east side of the parade ground.
The highest ranking British officer I saw at the encampment was a much more diligent commander than his counterpart, General James Abercromby, who was not even present at the front during the fruitless assaults he ordered all afternoon against impregnable French positions. This fellow, on the other hand, was in the thick of things. Here he addresses some of the drummers from the various regiments, and I overheard him caution that the field was full of briers ands thistles that would make it hard for those without gaiters or leggings. The green-coated drummer of the Highland Grenadiers in his socks and kilt gamely said that the thistle was the flower of Scotland, to which the general wryly replied that it was a Scottish flower to a certain height, but then became an English spear.
Abercromby and the rest of the 16,000 man force he lead against Montcalm suffered an early and devastating loss when his second in command, Brigadier General Lord Howe, was killed in the opening skirmish after the British made landing at the north end of Lake George. The 250th commemoration features an opening reenactment in the park by the falls of La Chute in Ticonderoga. The French have just fired on the advancing British and Howe is down. The three brown coated light infantrymen in this picture removed his body and placed it beneath a shady tree and guarded it until the 45 minute battle was concluded. The truth is that all was chaos and blundering in the woods after Howe was shot, and there is still considerable controversy over what became of his body.
Black powder is pretty strong stuff, and reenactors fire much smaller loads than would have been used in actual battle. Cannons in particular take a fairly small charge and still make a heck of a racket. One of the peculiarities of firing blanks from muzzle loaders is that they sometimes produce beautiful smoke rings that rise above the fray as can be seen at right where the French have just fired a volley at the British. It is sometimes known by the charming name of Holy Smoke.
The La Chute battle was actually easier to view than the massive reenactment the next day at the Fort. Even so, there was action across the river where the Rangers moved on the French flank. There were only a handful of Native Americans in these engagements (Montcalm had just 14 with him at Carillon), but one is visible in the British line, crouched down and firing at will. He also riffled the "corpses" looking for trophies, which I thought was a good depiction (though he ought to have had plenty of willing accomplices in the camp followers and king's men).
I recognized two or three of these guys, though, from the reenactment Viv and I saw last September at Rogers Island in Fort Edward. The fellow in the center was one of these, and at the Grand Encampment he was a designated safety officer, shown here getting his yellow arm band. The reenactor holding his rifle and the one painted red and black in the center (and also sporting the requisite nasal piercing) are others I remember from that day. This time they fought with the British, but then they were with the French.
The French sent out a small detachment of skirmishers while the rest of their forces filed in behind this spectacular redoubt, build with volunteer labor especially for this reenactment. Driving in these pickets was the only success of British arms on this day.
The weather turned ominous after a brutally hot day and began to rain after the battle was well engaged. I saw units with hats over their gun barrels or marching with their muskets reversed to keep their powder dry, and a drummer with his uniform coat over the drumhead. The rain kept the smoke near the ground, giving an especially eerie quality to the scene of battle.
We were in a much better position to view the British than the French. Had we stuck around for the second day and its repeat performance of this battle, we might have tried out the view from the other side of the works.
I can't tell which regiment these men are depicting because they have left their uniform coats with their telltale facings back in camp because of the heat. His Majesty's forces may appear to be dressing down, but in fact modifications were made to their uniforms to account for the challenges of forest fighting. Col. Gage's 80th foot were trained as Light Infantry, an innovation that would have a great impact on British armies and their adversaries in the coming decades.
This was the Highlanders' battle, though: the one in which they were sent in as reserves and cut to pieces in repeated charges into the entanglements. We had been playing and singing The Piper's Refrain all weekend, thinking of Duncan Campbell and his many fallen companions.
I'm already starting to make plans to be on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec in 2010. Maybe this time in garb...