The Last of the Mohicans HTML version

Chapter 15
"Then go we in, to know his embassy; Which I could, with ready guess, declare, Before
the Frenchmen speak a word of it,"--King Henry V
A few succeeding days were passed amid the privations, the uproar, and the dangers of
the siege, which was vigorously pressed by a power, against whose approaches Munro
possessed no competent means of resistance. It appeared as if Webb, with his army,
which lay slumbering on the banks of the Hudson, had utterly forgotten the strait to
which his countrymen were reduced. Montcalm had filled the woods of the portage with
his savages, every yell and whoop from whom rang through the British encampment,
chilling the hearts of men who were already but too much disposed to magnify the
Not so, however, with the besieged. Animated by the words, and stimulated by the
examples of their leaders, they had found their courage, and maintained their ancient
reputation, with a zeal that did justice to the stern character of their commander. As if
satisfied with the toil of marching through the wilderness to encounter his enemy, the
French general, though of approved skill, had neglected to seize the adjacent mountains;
whence the besieged might have been exterminated with impunity, and which, in the
more modern warfare of the country, would not have been neglected for a single hour.
This sort of contempt for eminences, or rather dread of the labor of ascending them,
might have been termed the besetting weakness of the warfare of the period. It originated
in the simplicity of the Indian contests, in which, from the nature of the combats, and the
density of the forests, fortresses were rare, and artillery next to useless. The carelessness
engendered by these usages descended even to the war of the Revolution and lost the
States the important fortress of Ticonderoga opening a way for the army of Burgoyne into
what was then the bosom of the country. We look back at this ignorance, or infatuation,
whichever it may be called, with wonder, knowing that the neglect of an eminence,
whose difficulties, like those of Mount Defiance, have been so greatly exaggerated,
would, at the present time, prove fatal to the reputation of the engineer who had planned
the works at their base, or to that of the general whose lot it was to defend them.
The tourist, the valetudinarian, or the amateur of the beauties of nature, who, in the train
of his four-in-hand, now rolls through the scenes we have attempted to describe, in quest
of information, health, or pleasure, or floats steadily toward his object on those artificial
waters which have sprung up under the administration of a statesman* who has dared to
stake his political character on the hazardous issue, is not to suppose that his ancestors
traversed those hills, or struggled with the same currents with equal facility. The
transportation of a single heavy gun was often considered equal to a victory gained; if
happily, the difficulties of the passage had not so far separated it from its necessary
concomitant, the ammunition, as to render it no more than a useless tube of unwieldy
* Evidently the late De Witt Clinton, who died governor of New York in 1828.