On this day, August 2, 1748, an attack was made on Fort Massachusetts. This was the second and only other general assault upon the fort after its rebuilding in 1747. The second fort was much the stronger with cannon mounted so as to sweep the north and west, on which sides the French and Indians would naturally appear, both from the point of their general approach and especially from the lay of the land there, on which sides in the main the attack of 1746 was made. The fort was under the command of Captain Ephriam Williams.
The attack was very shrewdly planned on the part of the French, for it was made from the east and south sides—on which the fort was less formidable—and came very near being successful on account of what one cannot help regarding as rashness on the part of Captain Williams. We shall let him tell his own story in a moment, but an outline of the main facts will prepare us the better to judge of that and of him.
In the late afternoon of the 1st of August, the garrison (then full) had good reason to believe that an ambush of French and Indians had been laid in the woods that skirted the river on the side next the fort. The ford where the Indian trail — Trail of the Five Nations — crossed the Hoosac — was due east of the fort about fifty rods. Just a little below the fording-place, the stream, which here falls southerly, turns westerly, and keeps that course at about the same distance to the south of the fort as to the east of it. Dense woods skirted the stream on those sides of the fort. At six o'clock on the morning of the 2nd, Captain Williams went out at the gate to observe the motions of the fort dogs, and satisfied himself that the ambush was about forty rods to the east of the fort, between it and the fording-place; and going back into the fort, where all was commotion, a few men were eager to go out and reconnoitre. He refused to let them go because they were too few, and, getting ready fifty men for a sally, he found that four men had gone out without his permission, and were standing their ground against twelve or fifteen who had come out into the open; whereupon, Williams hastily sallied with thirty men, and drove these back into the woods near the fording-place, when fifty Indians in ambuscade on his right (southeast of the fort) rose and gave him a general discharge of their guns and then tried to get in between him and the fort, that is, to cut off his communications; but by a quick movement in retreat, the Captain and his party regained the gate just in time to have it shut in the face of the enemy. Lieutenant Hawley and Ezekiel Wells were wounded (the last mortally) in the sally. A large body of the enemy, probably their whole force, estimated as between two and three hundred Indians and thirty Frenchmen, then came out from their cover and opened fire on the fort, which they continued nearly two hours under a spirited response from the fort. One of the garrison, Samuel Abbott, was killed. The enemy then drew off down the Hoosac by the trail, carrying their killed and wounded.
The Captain's own letter addressed to Colonel Israel Williams, his immediate military superior, written on the day of the fight, is crowded with interest in every line, makes the best explanation of his conduct possible to be had, unfolds his own personal traits in several lines, and gives precious glimpses of the conditions and circumstances of the time.
Fort Massachusetts, Aug't 2, 1748.Sir, — You may remember in my last I informed you that our scout to Scatticook was discovered July 23 by the enemy and followed in, and that they had observed the motion of the garrison night and day ever since — and that the guards I had sent to Deerfield to bring stores I feared would be ambusht by an army in your return. But to my great joy yesterday at 2 o'clock post m. ye 2 Lieutenants Severance and Hawley with 40 of the guard arrived safe at the fort. Had not made any discovery of an enemy in their march from Deerfield here. But in less than two hours after their arrival the dogs began to bark, run back on their track some distance — were exceeding fierce. We all then determined the enemy had followed them in. Kept a good look out, last night. This morning at 6 o'clock being out at ye gate and observing the motion of the dogs I determined their was an ambush laid about 40 rods from ye fort, between the fort and where we crossed the river to go to Deerfield. Some of the men were desirous to go see if it were so. I told them they should not go out so few. But we would send out 50 men, (supposing we could have given them a welcome reception) (by taking ye advantage of the ground, with the assistance of our cannon). I went into the fort to consult my Lieutenants; ordered them to git ready. Had no sooner got into the fort but one of the enemy fir'd at our dogs, which I suppose would have seized him immediately had he not. Upon that there went of a volley of 12 or 15 guns at several men which had got out unbeknownst to me, who returned their fire & stood their ground. Finding our scheme was at an end, we made a sally with about 35 men (in order to save those that were out, & must in a few minutes have fallen into their hands). Engaged the enemy about 10 minutes & drove them off the ground. Upon which, an ambush of 50 men about 10 rod off arose on our right wing, & partly between us and ye fort, & discharged a volley upon us, at which we were obliged to retreat. Fought upon a retreat until we got into the fort, which they attacked immediately upon our shutting the gate. Upon this I ordered the men to their posts, (it being our turn now) & play'd away with our cannon and small arms, for the space of an hour and 3 quarters by the glass. They then retreated by degrees at a considerable distance, & so drew off. We had some fair shots in the fort. As to what number we killed & wounded of the enemy is uncertain. We saw them carry off but two, that was just as the fight was over. But this is certain a great many of the men fired 4, 5, or 0 round apiece in fair sight, & at no greater distance than 15 rods — a great many shots not above 7. On our side we had not one killed on the spot & but 3 wounded, though I fear 2 are mortally so. The men which are wounded are Lieut. Hawley, Samuel Abbott, Eze Wells. Lt. Hawley is shot through the calf of his leg with a large buck shot. Not hurt the bone. Abbott is shot in below his navel. The bullet cut out at his buttock. Wells is shot in at his hip. The bullet is lodged in his groin. (The reason I write so particular is on account of their friends. ) One thing is very remarkable (never to be forgot by us) that we should receive 200 shot at least in the open field, not anything to git behind, and make a retreat of 40 rods, and but 2 men wounded (for Abbott was not out with us).
We have been out some distance [west] in order to judge better of their number. Ye army consisted of at least between two and 300 men, which was chiefly of Indians, though I believe there was 30 French with a Commander in Chief. Some of them talked good English, whether Indians or French I know not.
I conclude by adding one thing more (viz.) ye officers and men behaved like good soldiers. Not one man flincht in the wetting that was perceiv'd. Thus Sr. I have given you an account of the whole affair as near as I can.
Blessed be God we have cause to sing of mercy as well as judgment.
I am Sr. Your Most Obedient
Eph. Williams, Junr.
Maj. Israel Williams, Esqr.
P.S. We have received one gun 2 hatchet & divers other small things. E. W.