Sunday, November 20, 2011

French & Indian War AAR: Caravan to William Henry

Many of my readers may remember that a few weeks ago I posted about a discovery of two separate documents relating to a battle during the French and Indian War. (Click here for the reference) I received many e-mails asking for more information about the battle and the prominent men featured in the action. After searching online and library sources I have finally found a reference to a few of these men. In particular, I found an early reference to Sergeant Duncan Kelley. This reference also contains mention of Jerome Long Tree, the Indian chief from the Abenaki Indians.

The reference was found in the memoirs of Captain Blaine Downs. It seems that this was an unpublished memoir that he wrote some years after the war but before the Revolutionary war. It is unclear as to the exact year he wrote the memoir but Captain Downs had left the Colony of New York and moved to Scotland by this time. The details of the events must have been blurred over the years but his account of the action is quite interesting.

His account begins as follows. "It was two years before the beginning of the war that I had joined the county militia. I was elected Lieutenant for our company. Militia service was one of the best times of my life. Our unit was far less martial and far more social. Most of our musters took place in the local tavern than on any parade field. As the Provincial units were being assembled in the year before the war, I was offered a commission with the Provincial unit as a captain of infantry. I was told my experience as a militia officer was valuable."

Given this background the following report of the battle that follows is slightly more clear. Captain Downs continued with his description of the training that they underwent. It seems that despite his lack of military efficiency, his battalion officer was an energetic officer and managed to teach the rudiments of drill to the company. We will skip on to the interesting bits.

"It was in the first year of the war, prior to the fall of Fort William Henry. My company was selected to escort a party of civilians and some essential military stores forward to Fort William Henry. From the edge of civilization it was over 14 miles through the darkest wilderness to the fort. It is no wonder that we could not hold the place."

"It was before our departure that I had the dubious honor of meeting Sergeant Duncan Kelley of the Rangers. The Rangers at this time were not the most military of units. None of Kelley's men had uniforms. Yet these backwoodsmen were reputed to be among the best troops when engaging the Indian in his natural habitat. I was not to find this to be the case. Kelley, a mere sergeant, accosted me before we left and informed me that he was related to my new ensign. Now I believe his name was Moss. Yes, Tyler Moss. The lad was not yet fifteen years in this world and his father had purchased his ensign's commission. The boy was worthless. Yet he was some kind of cater cousin to this Kelley who appeared to be fond of the boy. I was actually threatened by him to ensure that nothing would happen to him. Well, I informed him that my duty was to my King and my orders were to supply the fort and not play nursemaid to some pimply boy who had no business being an officer. I do not think this was a stellar beginning to our professional relationship."

"The trees were absolutely stunning as it was a crisp fall day. We approached the river we had to ford in order to reach the fort. We were still miles from the fort. The Rangers were no where in sight. I was told that if I could not see the Rangers, then they were doing their job. Needless to say, I was skeptical."

"I had deployed my small company with two thirds of the men at the head of the column and the remaining third in the rear under the capable command of Sergeant Mike Iggluden. The man was huge. A giant of a fellow. Just the thing to lead when under the guns of the enemy. Had to have come from some kind of foreign stock with a break teeth last name like that. The men took to calling him Sergeant Iggy. I could not disapprove as I could not pronounce that name either. I placed Moss with the men to for fore and myself directly behind the leading group. Behind myself was two cannon and their limbers, two ammunition wagons and many civilians. Also a strange Mohawk warrior was with us. A dour individual that barely spoke a word the entire trip."

"We had barely advanced far enough to have the river in sight when the woods to either side of the road erupted in gunfire. It was quite alarming. Reacting quickly, I placed the lead units in a line and halted the caravan. In addition, I called Sergeant Iggy and his men forward. As the gun fire continued to either side of the road, I decided to utilize the assets that we had. I ordered one of the guns to be unlimbered and brought forward. Being unfamiliar with artillery, we had a gun crew with us as part of the caravan. They rushed forward to get the gun into action."

"I was to learn several days later that the fight on the right hand side of the road went very poorly for the Rangers. It seems that they had stumbled upon an Indian and French Marine ambush on both sides of the road. Hopelessly outnumbered, the Rangers on the right were routed. However, most of those men survived the action. I was assured that they stood and fought for as long as they could but one has to wonder given their extraordinarily light butchers bill. I believe that the group on the right only lost one man of the twelve."

"Kelley, I was to later learn, led another group of twelve men on the left hand side of the road. His men fought on much longer than those on the right. But they too were repulsed. Kelley himself stayed to fight even though his men had fled the field, or so I have been told. I did hear the odd pop of a musket from the left apart from the shooting from the French and Indians."

"My men were engaged from the right hand side of the road by a large party of Indians. In their first volley, the Indians cut loose with a ferocious war cry that turned our bowels to water. Their musketry left much to be desired but one round did happen to find the young Mr Moss. The Ensign was struck between the eyes with a single shot and dropped dead at my feet. Not one man in the formation he was with even noticed the loss of the boy. My drummer was shaking in his boots yet he stood beside me throughout the entire fusillade."

"Our men fired back into the woods but not one man saw an Indian fall. Sergeant Iggy was able to get his men in a line on our left. The gunners were struggling to get the artillery into position. It seemed to take forever to move the gun and each second that ticked away cost my men their lives."

"Half of the men on the right had fired so much that their barrels were fouled and fighting was no longer an option. The other half had lost four men. Neither group could remain in the line and began to flee to the rear regardless of the encouragement and threats shouted at them. I ordered Sergeant Iggy to fall back but he was so involved in the firefight with the Indians to his front that he could not move. Finally, the gun was in position and loaded. A beautiful target presented itself. The French Marines formed a line near the road that was directly in line with the gun. We promptly fired on this target before it moved and we saw several men fall."

"The civilians had fled back down the road. Most of my command had fled as well. I was able to save Sergeant Iggy and his men and pull them back from the engagement. Unable to save the guns, I ordered them spiked and we set the ammunition carts alight as we fled the field. I was to later learn that the only Indians killed in this action were those that perished when the ammunition carts detonated. A French Marine officer that was captured two years later spoke to me of the skirmish. It seems that he was present at the time. The Indians rushed the ammunition carts looking for loot when the carts exploded. Three of the savages simply disappeared. So there was no bodies to be found. The French officer informed me that the Indians were lead by some fellow named Jerome Long Tree. A fierce individual that proved a terror to the settlers in the wilds of New York for years to come."

"The outcome of this embarrassing episode was that I was posted to a provincial unit guarding an island in New York harbor for the next year."


Saturday I had the privileged to play one of Mark's French and Indian War games. I commanded the Provincial unit and led them to ignominious defeat. The game was great fun even though my Captain's card seemed to cling to the bottom of the chip bag as if it were glued there. The player commanding the Rangers by pure luck destroyed the carefully planned ambush set up by the Indian and French players. However, his forces being so split had no real chance to win the fight against the Superior numbers of French and Indians.

Mark has more images of the game on his Flicker site. It was great fun. Sergeant Kelley attempted to use his Longue Carbine ability several times but failed to hit both times. The Rangers and Provincial troops could not buy good die rolls. The French rolled very well but the casualties were very light. Mostly alarming amounts of shock were accumulated that led to both units of Rangers breaking and nearly all three groups of Provincials breaking. I look forward to the next game in this series.


  1. Looks very interesting - just love Sharp Practice!


  2. Looks interesting indeed.
    Great work.

  3. The historical account reads just like a Sharp practice game! And very riveting reading it is too.

    How did you find memoirs like these? In local libraries/archives?


  4. Actually, the whole story is complete fiction. This is completely an account of a Sharp Practice game. I just thought it was more fun to write the report up this way, especially since I did the same with the previous report. However, there are several published memoirs out there. I am much more familiar with the AWI. Check out They have numerous accounts of various actions from pension applications and memoirs from the participants. Once you have learned the names of some of the participants, go to and and look for references to these people. You will be amazed at the information that is out there.

  5. Another fun AAR. Glad you enjoyed the game.

    Too bad that the Capt failed in his delivery mission


  6. Thanks Chris, I will do just that! here I come!

    Well it fooled me! I should say that the game reads just like history. It's a very well-written AAR- your scenery is amazing.


  7. Excellent write up!! gotta admit it fooled me too!!

  8. Great loking game and write up, Chris. It took me few moments to guess that it was a fictional account. I think the "Sgt Iggy" reference was a giveway. :)
    I loved the fall foliage, and the river was quite well done. I have drooled over many of Mark's 6mm terrain boards and envy you being able to game with him. I must get down to wherever you guys live some time.