French/Iroquois War
The War Without a War

In 1661, the new king of France, 22-year-old King Louis XIV, did not want to begin his reign by losing his colonies in New France to the Iroquois. The Iroquois, who had been originally confined to the land south of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, had taken advantage of the decimation of Huronia by smallpox, measles and influenza. They had moved north and quickly erradicated the Huron, Ottawa, and Petun tribes. The Iroquois controlled all of north-eastern North America.

When the Iroquois turned their attentions to the French settlements in New France, the settlers were forced to fend for themselves. France was in the midst of its own war and could offer no assistance to the colonies. The guerrilla warfare used by the Iroquois resulted in many deaths on the French side. No-one was safe from attack.

As a result, King Louis XIV declared war on the Iroquois in 1661. He removed royal administration of New France and appointed a governor and intendant and promised significant military support. In 1665, the King sent his first intendant, Jean Talon, to New France. Talon sailed with the Carignan-Salières Regiment (1,200 soldiers) and Governor Daniel de Remy de Courcelle, who would single-handedly cause the deaths of many of the French soldiers without them even entering into battle.

De Courcelle was a 39-year-old aristocrat who was experiencing his first voyage to New France. Egotistical and hopelessly ignorant of the new country in which he found himself, de Courcelle began his 'war without a war' in the dead of Winter in 1666.

Winter - De Courcelle, spending his first winter in New France, ordered a surprise attack on the Iroquois to the south. All attempts by the Commander of the troops, General Tracy, to convince de Courcelle of the futility of the advance fell on deaf ears. De Courcelle was convinced that 'surprise' was their ally, and, by attacking in winter, the Iroquois would be ill-prepared and easily subdued. Reluctantly, Tracy left Saint-Louis Fort leading the Carignan-Salières Regiment.

Provisions were meagre and virtually useless. None of the soldiers had snowshoes and only a few had axes. They struggled through waist-deep snow with only a pair of stockings and a pair of moccasins on their feet. At night, each had a single blanket to keep warm. With so few axes, they were unable to chop enough wood to provide fires for the 1,200 men. They wandered through the woods for 4 weeks without once seeing even a trace of the enemy. Over 400 men died from the intense cold. Unable to bury them in the frozen wilderness, the other soldiers salvaged what they could and reluctantly left their fellow soldiers to lie where they had fallen. The regiment finally stumbled across the small outpost of Schenechtady which the British had just previously taken over from the Dutch. Ironically, the English saved their lives.

The Carignan-Salières Regiment had not fired a single shot. They had not even seen a single Iroquois, yet over 400 soldiers had died, made even more frustrating by the fact that the Iroquois remained totally ignorant of the French presence on their lands.

Autumn - After having made their way back to New France with help from the British, the Carignan-Saliéres Regiment set out again later that same year in Autumn. Six hundred soldiers, 600 men and 100 native allies under the command of General Tracy headed south to Lake Champlain. They discovered 5 large, fortified Iroquois villages which had been abandoned recently, but, with winter approaching, Tracy was reluctant to give chase and ordered the villages and food stores burned to the ground instead. Again they returned to Quebec without having met or killed a single Iroquois, arriving on November 5.

Meanwhile, the Iroquois, who had been decimated by smallpox, no-longer wished to wage war against the French and signed a peace treaty which would last for 20 years. New France was left in peace, but the Iroquois continued to slow European expansion westward through their territory. The British were confined to the coastal colonies.