Monday, July 06, 2009

Live-blogging the siege of Quebec +250 #4

July 6. The British navy and army, still arriving at Quebec, is preoccupied with setting out the groundwork for the siege of the city. Today the crucial action is to the west, at Fort Niagara.

Niagara, an old and substantial fortification (in the territory of the Seneca, westernmost of the Six Nations), enables New France to move men and supplies in bulk along Lakes Ontario and Erie. Niagara's commander, Captain Pierre Pouchot, a French regular officer with skills in both engineering and native diplomacy, returned from Montreal in the spring. Pouchot then dispatched 2500 (of his force of 3000 men) onward, across Lake Erie to attack Fort Pitt (the modern Pittsburgh) on the Ohio. The plan is to regain control of the Ohio-Mississippi communications route, shore up the confidence of the allied First Nations in the west, and by renewing forays into Pennsylvania and Virginia, force the British to retain substantial forces in the west, thus weakening their drive toward the heartland of New France.

French power in all this territory depends on alliances with the First Nations and on the delicate entente with the Six Nations, who have remained largely neutral in French-English quarrels since the Great Peace of 1701 ended a century of warfare between the Iroquois coalition south of the Great Lakes and the French-native coalition based north of the Lakes. Pouchot knows a British thrust to Fort Niagara could come via Oswego, at the southeastern end of Lake Ontario -- but he concludes that if such a thrust is developing, the Six Nations will keep him informed.

Montcalm, commander of the French army in New France, has never been keen on the disposition of thousands of soldiers into the west. Montcalm and Levis, his second-in-command of the army, want to concentrate on defending the approaches to Montreal and Quebec. It is Governor Vaudreuil who continues the fighting on all fronts, and Montcalm fears that Pouchot, "caressed in the study of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, has not gained caution by it."

On July 6 Captain Pouchot learns New France's entente with the Six Nations is coming to pieces. As the British power waxes, the Six Nations are accomodating to what they conclude must be the new reality. They have allowed Lt-Colonel Prideaux to move a British attack force in small boats from Oswego to Niagara without even a hint reaching Pouchot. Mohawks led by William Johnston, New York's influential envoy to the eastern Six Nations, are part of the force. On July 6, Mohawks, scouting just ahead of Prideaux's force, ambush some of Pouchot's men as they work outside the fort. This attack launches the unexpected siege of Fort Niagara -- and threatens the collapse of all New France's efforts in the west. Most of Pouchot's forces are away on the Ohio mission.

Update, July 8: "The History Blog" has news here on what Fort Niagara did to commemorate these events on July 4, 2009

(Photo: Old Fort Niagara)
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