What we have discovered was that Elihu was the second generation of the family to live in the United States. Born on a frontier farm in New Hampshire, Elihu served as a Ranger during the French and Indian War. What makes the letters interesting is that they provide some colorful and insightful glimpses into the small actions that occurred in the back woods during this conflict. The only action we have discovered so far that Elihu details that an official report verifies is a brief action that took place where Elihu's Ranger Company were attempting to rescue some hostages captured by a band of hostile Abenakis Indians. The letter is dated 1756. The month and day are obscured with the age of the document.
The letter begins with a personal greeting to his wife Martha. Quickly he moves to the meat of the story. He begins with outrage at the "Damnable lies and outright falsification of facts offered by that yellow cur dog in an officer's uniform." It was this sentence that led for a search for another account of the action. It was found in the papers of Colonel Sir Bradly Pascall, then a lieutenant of Light Infantry serving on the frontier. What is fascinating is the descriptions of the skirmish read as if they were two separate actions except for the personnel referenced and the situations being identical.
What both accounts agree upon is that there were a body of captives taken by the Indians. The previous day, an unsuccessful attempt was made to secure the captives in a fight near a beaver pond. Here both accounts agree. The next day, the Rangers continue the pursuit and reach the party on the downward slope of a mountain before the Light Infantry arrive. It is here that the similarities begin to diverge. I will begin with quoting from Elihu's letter. His spelling and verbiage are maintained except for a few instances where his script is unintelligible.
From Elihu's letter, "Our Serjeant was one of the best marksmen and trackers in all of the Rangers. He was as quiet in the woods as any red injun and twice the man of any Regular we had ever met. Serjeant Duncan Kelley was acting as captain of the company and led us in pursuit of the red villains that done took them folks. We were in hot pursuit. Sending a couple of fleet footed boys ahead of the company, they fouled up the ambush ole Burning Brook had set for us. Spyin them out, Kelley had us split into two parties. He took ten men with him and Corporeal ??? took the other ten. I was with the Corporeal. Kelley took his party straight at those red devils and commenced to fire upon them. Kelley's men fired accurate and true. I personally saw several of them fall from his men's fire. Our bunch tried to move through the woods in order to catch'em up from behind."
At this point lets look at the official report of the action as filed by then Lieutenant Pascall. "In the morning the Rangers that accompanied our party moved off into the wilderness in pursuit of the savages. The Sergeant leading their number had spied a party of red skins and began to engage them from an impractical distance doing little harm other than notifying the enemy of the presence of his men."
It appears that Elihu was aware of the text of the official report and would comment on this report throughout his letter. "That no account liar was not even present when the Serjeant began to fight. We fought them from no more than 20 yards away."
Continuing his account, "We had difficulty moving through the rough ground. We had only moved about half way around them rascals when the Corporeal spotted some movement down toward the lake. Looking closely, he spotted a group of Canadian Militia in the woods. We had climbed on top of a rocky outcropping and had the drop on them Frenchies. The Corporeal ordered us to fire and it shook them mighty hard. I am pretty sure my round struck home as as saw my man fall. This put the militia into considerable confusion."
What is interesting to note is that Pascall's report does not feature the Canadien Militia at all. He only mentions the French Compaigne Franche de la Marine soldiers who came to the Indians aide. Elihu also discusses the French Marines in his letter. Their arrival was after the initial arrival of the British Light Infantry led by Pascall.
"After firing on the Frenchies, we backed down off the hill to approach the Injuns from their flank. Once we had backed down the hill, we had a good sight of the path on the other side of the Injun war party. That is when I recognized their chief - Black Brook. This was definitely the bunch we was looking for. I never did spy out the other fellow, Big Tree. Once we spotted them, they spun and turned their backs to us. We next saw what had spooked them, the Light Infantry had finally arrived. They stopped some 20 feet from Black Brook's bunch and just looked at them. It was the oddest thing. Black Brook fired into the Light Infantry but it did not appear to have any effect as the next thing you knew, the Lights got their backs up and charged. What I thought odd was that they did not fix bayonets. The one advantage they had over the savages in a fight and they did not use them. Well that decision cost them dearly. I spotted at least two red coats laying on the ground and the backs of the Lights as they ran away from Black Brooks band. Ole Black Brook seemed dazed by the exchange and did not pursue."
The account provided by Pascall differs considerably. "We burst upon the trail and spotted a large formation of the Abenakis Indians. We promptly charged into the backs of the Indians. In a fierce fight, I lost two men under my command. Given their strong position we were obliged to fall back, but not before taking a terrible toll on them. From our new position we began a murderous fire upon them. This broke them and they fled down to flee in their canoes across the lake. It was at this point that we rescued one of the captives. The man had taken the initiative and fled from the Indians as they approached the lake. From his story, I learned that the head start that Chief Jarome had was just too great. The captives had surely been taken across the lake before we even fired a shot. To continue pursuit would incur too great a loss for no chance of reward."
Elihu contends that upon being repulsed, Pascall began to fall back. "Once the Lights were compelled to fall back from loosing their fight against Big Tree, the French Marines made their appearance. The appearance of the French Marines was the straw that broke the cowardly camels back and the lobster backs began their flight away even though we were so close to rescuing the whole body of captives."
It appears that Elihu and the Rangers were not aware that Pascall's men had rescued one of the captives. They believed that the captives were just ahead at the lake shore, there to be rescued. "We watched in horror as the light infantry backed away. They left us to deal with the French and Injuns by ourselves. However, it is at this point that the most humorous event occurred. The French Marines moved to the wood line to take an advantageous position to fire on the retreating Light Infantry. When all of a sudden they fled across the path opening themselves to Serjeant Kelley's men. A bear chased them from the wood. The look of fright upon their faces caused many a man among the rangers to laugh. The beast was a scrawny hungry thing that was looking for any scrap of food to last it through the winter. The Marines sorted themselves out and detailed some men to put down the poor creature. Kelley's boys took advantage of the exposed Marines and began to pick them off. I learned from Buford that Kelly took careful aim at the French Captain and shot his hat from the man's head in a show of great marksmanship."
"Later I learned that it was not all of the Lights that were yellabellies, just their officer. Their serjeant ordered a volley fire during their retreat that took a considerable toll on the French Marines. We added our fire to their and Kelley's men. Surely it was hot work for for those Frenchmen pinned three ways on the trail."
It is important to note the differences in Pascall's claims. "Knowing that the captives were lost, we fell back along the path that we came up. We formed a line and put volley after volley into the French Marines that had come to support their fleeing Indian allies. The French Marines were shaken badly by the force of our volleys and we were able to safely make our way back to the fort."
Elihu notes that the skirmish was hardly over when they left. "The echoes of the Light Infantry muskets fades as they ran back to the fort when out of the woods, the Canadien Militia burst out upon us. We exchanged volleys briefly but both parties had enough for that day. In the fighting, our Corporeal was gravely wounded. I was one of the men who carried him from the wood back up the mountain. We lost one other man before we were able to break away. The militia turned on their heels and fled back as well. Kelley moved with great discipline backwards keeping the French Marines pinned as they pulled away. Kelley lost two good men dead in this foolishness."
I played the game on Saturday, September 24th, 2011. Mark created a whale of a scenario that the two of us played through. It was made for four players but only the two of us were available. The pictures do not show it, but the game was absolutely beautiful. Mark modeled a mountainside leading down to a lake where the Indian's canoes were waiting for them.
The game was great fun. The bear appearance was very humorous. The Indians under Black Brook fled to the lake and actually sank two of their canoes in their haste. The Indians under Jarome/Big Tree attempted to recapture one of the captives who got loose early on in the game. This prevented them from fleeing early on. Once the men returned, the Indians made their escape with 4 or 5 of their captives. Lieutenant Pascall was generally disliked by his men. As such, I made him a weasel who fled out on the Rangers when things looked tough. The Rangers did not do badly but never came close to the captives. They got stuck in a fight with the Indians first and the French Marines after them. I hope Mark publishes this one in a special or supplement of some kind as it was not only a good scenario, but great fun too.
One of these days, we need to have a games day here in Atlanta.