A look at the surrender of Fort William Henry…this piece stars a Colonel Gordon Doherty and a Sgt. Glyn Mulhern…take a bow gentlemen 🙂
Colonel Doherty watched the second day of exchanged artillery fire from his post in the militia encampment. The cannon and howitzers of Munro’s force were giving back as much as they were taking from the French but it was just a matter of time thought Doherty before the walls were breeched and the real slaughter began. Realizing that something had to be done to turn the tide he headed to the fort for yet another confrontation with Colonel Munro. He entered headquarters to find Munro hunched over casualty reports when a tremendous explosion rocked the building knocking candles out of their sconces and shaking the windows. ‘That was not an enemy shell,’ exclaimed Doherty as he extinguished a burning candle that had fallen to the floor, ‘sounded more like an exploded cannon.’ He ran to the door and saw that one of the 12 pounders had indeed exploded while firing, killing three soldiers and wounding four others. ‘That’s the fourth one plus one howitzer. We’re killing our own more efficiently than the French are, ‘he said as he sat opposite Colonel Munro. ‘Sir, this fort is going to fall and sooner rather than later. The walls cannot take much more pounding and our counter artillery is rapidly falling apart. We need to do something to save the men from being mercilessly slaughtered. The French can talk all they want about keeping their allies in check but they won’t have the will to do it.’ ‘What do you propose, my dear Colonel Doherty, ‘replied Munro, ‘that we attack the French?’ ‘Yes, but not the force besieging the fort and not conventionally,’ said Doherty, his excitement mounting with every breath as he laid out his plan, ‘we attack the force guarding the road to Fort Edward. That is our objective, getting as many of these troops to General Webb as we can rather than waiting on the General to send troops to us; troops that would have to fight their way in and for what, saving a doomed fort? We send in the militia just before dawn catching them by surprise and as the sun comes up, you lead the regulars in and from the road deliver a few massed volleys. That should do the trick and will buy us enough time to march the 20 miles to Fort Edward.’
‘An interesting thought, Colonel, but I have no intention on leading a doomed to fail attack. Your idea of having the irregulars execute a raid in semi-darkness is not only foolish but is not the way I will prosecute this war. We are outnumbered. We will wait for the reinforcements that I’m sure will be here in two or three days. If they are not, I am fully confident in the French commander and his honorable word.’
‘We may not have two or three days, Colonel. We need to…’
‘That is enough Colonel Doherty,’ interrupted Munro, ‘I will hear no more about it. You are dismissed.’
Colonel Gordon Doherty prided himself on being a good soldier and it is only that pride that stayed his voice and allowed him to give a rather slipshod salute just before he slammed the door. He was heading to his own tent when he heard an incoming bombardment thud into the wall. So far in this siege the French ceased their artillery firing once the sun went down. ‘Not so tonight it seems,’ Doherty thought, ‘the end is near.’ When he reached his tent he sent his orderly to find Sgt. Mulhern, Timothy and Markus. He sat down at his camp desk and began writing out an order for the three of them. When they entered he motioned them to sit. He looked them each in the eyes before he read out their new orders. ‘The three of you are hereby ordered to vacate this camp in the event of surrender and report at best possible speed to General Webb at Fort Edward. You are too valuable to be captured or killed. This order will nullify any chance of desertion or cowardice charges ever being discussed. That takes care of the legality of your disappearance; I would ask one more thing. If I am taken captive and appear certain to be tortured or burned do what you can to end it.’
Timothy and Markus shook Doherty’s hand, ‘I really didn’t want to give up my new musket anyway,’ said Markus, ‘been getting pretty good with it too,’ he continued looking the colonel in the eyes, ‘I can hit what I aim at.’
Sergeant Glyn Mulhern reached inside his shirt and pulled out his flask, ‘A wee bit of comfort and fortifying colonel darling.’ He handed the brandy to Doherty who raised it up and toasted, ‘To all the campaigns we fought, to all the glory we sought, to all the regiments we led, to all the privations we endured, to the friendship we forged. To you my Irish bog trotting friend.’ After taking a drink he handed it back to Mulhern who could only manage to reply through his tears, ‘Colonel darling.’ He took a drink, saluted and followed Timothy and Markus back to camp.
The artillery barrage the following morning went on relentless for three hours, twenty pieces in a constant bombardment of the walls. After a tremendous double salvo the firing ceased and a French officer headed across the open meadow under a white flag. He was met by a company of grenadiers, blindfolded and led to Colonel Munro. He handed the colonel two letters, one from Montcalm detailing surrender terms and the other the message from General Webb stating he would not send reinforcements. ‘Thank the Major-General for his generosity and concern. He will have our answer shortly,’ said a noticeably shaken Munro. The French aide returned to Montcalm and relayed Munro’s answer and then asked, ‘What about our allies? They are not going to like losing out on trophies and the like. You know that that damnable Shawnee Huritt will be stirring up trouble.’ Montcalm paced back and forth, ‘I will speak with the chiefs in the morning but not with Huritt. The other chiefs will have to keep him and the other hotheads in check. Once the British surrender we will supply the normal honor guard; make sure they know that they are to keep the British safe as they leave the fort.’
Huritt stormed into the Shawnee encampment eyes spitting fire, hands clenched tightly on his war lance. He had been to the French camp and heard the rumor that the British were going to surrender and that they were getting safe passage out of the fort. The chances for scalps, captives and other prizes of war not to mention the basic thrill of battle were all being taken away by these craven French. Huritt knew Montcalm would approach the chiefs and tell them to not make trouble but he would not listen to the French or the chiefs. He would make his own plans; gather those of a like mind from across the tribes assembled and then dare the French to stop him.
The next morning Colonel Munro addressed his officers,’ Gentlemen we are faced with a hopeless situation. Our munitions and supplies are dangerously low, our morale is low, and we can expect no help from General Webb, an act of deplorable negligence on his part. Major-General Montcalm has offered us full honors; officers may keep their side arms and our baggage will not be molested nor will we be. All other weapons will be stacked up in the fort. I will not wait any longer. I will walk out and surrender the fort. Colonel Doherty will accompany me.’
An hour later the sun just now cresting the hills to the east, Colonel Munro and Colonel Doherty with an honor guard bearing a white flag trotted out of the gate. Major-General Montcalm expecting such a move was already mounted when word came that the British were riding out. The two parties met in the meadow just west of the fort; Doherty was scanning the group of French cavalry attending the Major-General when his eyes were drawn to a lone Shawnee brave standing on a hilltop. ‘That bloody chap does not have the look of acquiescence about him,’ Doherty muttered under his breath. He was partially drawn back to Colonel Munro who was officially surrendering the fort but he couldn’t escape the look of that Shawnee. ‘I see my death in his eyes.’ ‘What was that?’ asked Colonel Munro. ‘It is nothing sir, just a moment of private reflection.’ Montcalm saluted Munro turned and headed back to his camp. Colonel Doherty finally turned away from Huritt’s stare and rode back to the fort, his gaze now falling upon the three men on horseback leaving the militia encampment.
The rest of the day was spent in stacking of arms under the supervision of a troop of French Marines and in the moving of the troops from the fort to the larger militia camp. Timothy, Markus and Sgt. Mulhern were camped in a small valley between the hills to the east of the camp. They agreed on taking turns watching the militia camp. Markus had the first watch but had seen nothing noteworthy; his ears perked up as he heard Timothy climbing the hill to relieve him. ‘Nothing going on down there. I ‘spect it’ll be quiet until morning,’ Markus told Timothy as he headed to a well needed sleep. Timothy found it hard to stay awake through the long and quiet night and so was startled when Sgt. Mulhern tapped him on the shoulder. ‘I’d kick you six shades of shite if you was regular army; napping on guard duty,’ chuckled Mulhern, ‘I presume all is quiet? Oh well now what have we here?’ Mulhern pointed down to the foothills below them where a large force of Shawnee, Ottawa, Huron and Ojibway warriors were spreading out on either side of the road out of the camp, keeping to the depressions between the hills so as to not be spotted. ‘Go and help Markus saddle our horses. I have a feeling down the back of my neck that we will need to follow the colonel very shortly.’
Colonel Munro led the contingent of regulars out of the gate and was followed by Colonel Doherty and the militia. The baggage and civilians made up the rear as they marched out to the fanfare of drums and military band of the French. They had barely cleared the gate when they heard the cries of Indians as they began killing the wounded that had been under French care in the fort. The already somber mood of the British became noticeably tenser with eyes darting back and forth expecting to see a horde of blood thirsty savages descending upon them. Colonel Doherty being on horseback saw them first. When they had gone about 500 yards there was a loud war whoop and then the hillside was alive with tomahawk brandishing warriors. Some of the warriors headed to the baggage train and began looting it finding among the valuables a sizable quantity of rum. Others went straight into the British ranks indiscriminately killing and scalping or grabbing men out of the line to be taken back as captives. Soon the 2500 unarmed men and women were in a panic and began running, some trampling on the bodies of the fallen and the dead. The sight of brain matter, the coppery smell of blood and the loosened bowels had many bent over retching. The French were quick to react but were ineffective in quelling the slaughter. They did manage to put a protective cordon around Colonel Munro but were too late to help Colonel Doherty. Doherty had pulled out his saber and was using it to club and slash at the hands trying to pull him down off of his mount. He had just succeeded in repelling an Ojibway by cutting off two of his fingers when he locked eyes on Huritt who was leaping onto the back of the horse bringing the pipe end of his tomahawk down on Doherty’s skull knocking him unconscious. Huritt grabbed onto him to keep him from falling and took the reins from his hands. With a victory scream he galloped away with his prize heading north to a Shawnee village on the east shore of Lake George.
Colonel Doherty awoke to a sharp pain in his head and found that he was sitting against a tree trunk bound to it around his waist. His feet were bound together as were his hands. He grimaced through the pain and tried to focus on his surroundings but his eyes were blurry from the blow to his head. Soon Huritt came over to him, set down a bowl of food and untied his hands. ‘Eat, colonel. You will need your strength to run a gauntlet in the morning.’ While eating he reached his hand up to his head and felt the stickiness of caked blood and an indentation in his skull. The touch had him almost screaming but he had made up his mind that he was not going to give Huritt the satisfaction of hearing him suffer; he would go to his death silently. When he had finished the food Huritt came over to re-tie his hands and said nothing but just stared into his eyes trying to intimidate Doherty. Doherty was staring back and was about to look away when the sound of a curlew reached his ears.
Sergeant Mulhern began imitating the songs and cries of the birds of his homeland when he was a boy and through the years with Colonel Doherty they had always used the curlew as a means of communicating in the field. They had taken a position in the hills east of the lake and had a good view of the Shawnee camp and of Colonel Doherty. The possibility of rescue, after much debate and with much sadness was deemed impossible. The Shawnee camp was a getting larger as the night wore on as more and more warriors came into the camp with their captives or with their many scalps. The constant activity and the fact that the captives, including Doherty were being kept in the middle of the camp made any rescue attempt a suicide mission. When Doherty heard Mulhern’s bird call, his resolve strengthened and with a grin he said to Huritt, ‘You think to gather my warrior spirit and courage by killing me; God’s bollocks you will. You will get nothing from me but this advice; you are doomed, Snake Slayer will avenge his family and me. If I were you I’d head west of the Father of Rivers and perhaps sleep with your eyes open. He will find you and you will die.’ Huritt snarled and stood up, giving Doherty a slap to the back of his head causing him to spasm with fresh waves of pain. Still he did not scream but he did vomit most of his just eaten dinner on Huritt’s feet and lower legs.
The Shawnee camp, being a temporary one used only during the siege and battle for Fort William Henry, did not contain many women or the older men and women of the tribe. This meant that the gauntlet run was lined on both sides by mostly young men and warriors. They each held some sort of club or a cluster of thorn covered boughs. Huritt led Colonel Doherty to the beginning of the line and said, ‘Now we see if you live or die,’ and gave him a shove in the back to start him running.
Timothy watched as the colonel stumbled into a slow jog and was met with a hail of blows to his back, buttocks and legs. ‘Come on colonel. Make it to the end and you might live through this,’ he exhorted. ‘I don’t reckon them Shawnee are gonna let him finish,’ replied Markus, ‘do you see the size of the bastard at the end of the line. If the colonel makes it that far without falling or losing consciousness that beast will stop him.’
Doherty moved as quickly as he could but could not avoid some of the more vicious hits and soon was only able to walk slowly, almost shuffling his feet as he progressed down the line. His mind was now numb as fresh bouts of pain took their toll. He was about three-quarters through the gauntlet and only with great effort did he move one foot in front of the other. A glancing blow to his head sent him reeling but he caught himself before he hit the ground. A young Shawnee boy then lashed at him with a thorn laden branch, scrapping it down his back and creating several rivulets of blood to stream down his back and legs as he struggled to right himself. Somehow the blow of the thorns digging into his back and sides triggered him into action and with a roar he grabbed the boy and using him as a shield moved closer to the end finally throwing him into the body of one of the last warriors in line. He glanced up at the only one left and with a cry of rage and with an instinct for survival he launched himself at the large warrior. Huritt, who was now standing behind the muscle bound brave, watched with an amused look on his face as the warrior raised one of his ham sized fists and brought it down on the back of Doherty’s head right where the tomahawk had done its initial damage. The colonel went down, unconscious before he hit the ground.
When Colonel Doherty awoke he found himself tethered to a pole by a noose around his neck. His hands were tied but his legs were free from restraint allowing him to move in a circle around the pole. He pushed back the throbbing pain in his head and willed himself to focus his sight on his surroundings. A pile of brush and firewood was stacked around the pole; there being about a five foot clearing where the condemned could shuffle about in a vain attempt to avoid the heat and flames. He looked out at the gathering warriors and saw the many empty rum barrels scattered throughout the camp. He vaguely remembered hearing while he was coming to consciousness the whoops of drunken men and the beating of drums but now it was eerily quiet as they all waited for Huritt to light the fire. To compose himself before his fiery death, Doherty thought back to his last conversation with Sgt. Mulhern and fervently prayed that his friends were nearby. He looked up to the hills and he realized that the morning was without even a breath of wind and he smiled. His grin grew when he heard the distinctive trilling of a curlew.
Markus had used the pre-dawn darkness to creep down the hillside until he found a covered position behind some boulders. He estimated that he was about 225 yards from the execution site and was pleased to note the absence of any wind. Timothy and Sgt. Mulhern remained at the top of the hill; their muskets loaded and the horses saddled.
Growing impatient at the wait, one of the more inebriated Shawnee grabbed the unlit end of a smoldering, white hot piece of firewood from the camp fire and entered the ring intending to inflict more pain on the prisoner. Doherty backed up as far as he could until his back was against the pole and waited for his tormentor to get close. With a reserve of strength he did not know he had he leaped up and delivered a two footed kick to the Shawnee catching him in the groin sending him sprawling into the brush and logs where he proceeded to moan in pain to the sounds of laughter from his fellow warriors. Huritt picked him up and shoved him out of the way and lit the bonfire.
Huritt stood back from the growing conflagration as the brush ignited all around the condemned colonel. He was looking for the fear and listening for the begging screams but Colonel Doherty just stared back at him with an emotionless face. When the heat grew too fierce, Huritt backed away more and joined his warriors who were screaming their approval and their hate. Doherty felt the hair on his legs begin to curl and singe, his feet began to throw off smoke as he retreated as far as he could. Then some of the Shawnee with long poles began pushing the burning wood closer to the cut-ta-ho-tha; the condemned one. No longer able to hold out, Doherty screamed out, ‘For God and Saint George, for King and Britain. MULHERN!’
Markus knew it was time when he heard the colonel cry out. He raised the musket, said a quick prayer for accuracy and squeezed the trigger.
Huritt was beginning to feel good about the proceedings and had even allowed himself a long drink from a rum cask. His eyes, however, never veered off of his victim. Just when it appeared that the flames would engulf the pole and the man on it, Huritt saw the colonel’s head recoil as if from a blow and saw a fresh spray of blood, skin and hair. He threw down the rum and looked back to the hillside and saw a white man scrambling back up from the boulders. Bellowing at the top of his voice because he had been cheated out of the death of his enemy, he looked around but realized he would not be able to catch the shooter. Too many empty rum barrels meant too many warriors unable to take up the chase.
Sergeant Glyn Mulhern saw Markus raise the musket to his shoulder, heard the shot and watched as his friend died cheating the Shawnee out of some of their glory, honor and barbaric notion of courage and strength. ‘Farewell, Colonel Darling, you sheep shagging Scottish bastard. The Good Lord and Saint George will take care of you now.’ He nodded to Markus as he joined him and Timothy and handed him the reins to his horse. With unabashed tears and without looking back, the three then rode away.