During the French-Indian War in North America, General Abercromby took charge of the expedition against the French at Fort Ticonderoga on the 8th July 1758, with a force of 15,390 men, including 6337 Regular soldiers. The 42nd (Black Watch) were part of the regular force. Fort Ticonderoga was surrounded on three sides by water with part of the fourth side protected by a morass; forming a most formidable defence. The fort was garrisoned by 5000 men, including nearly 3000 French troops of the line.
The British forces advanced at speed towards the Fort entrenchments, which they found to be much more formidable that they expected. The 42nd pushing forward to the front, endeavoured to cut their way through trees with their broadswords and in the face of a destructive fire, maintained their ground without flinching. After a desperate struggle, which lasted about four hours, General Abercromby seeing no possible chance of success, gave orders for a retreat. It was with difficulty that 42nd could be prevailed upon to retire and it was not till they received the third order that they were induced to retreat after more than half the men and twenty-five officers had been either killed or wounded.
The intrepid conduct of the 42nd during the battle was made the topic of universal praise and admiration in Great Britain, and the public spirits teemed with honourable testimonies to their bravery. The Regiment’s fighting spirit was further enhanced by written testimonies from other soldiers on the same battlefield. An officer from the 55th (Westmorland) Regiment of Foot stated:
“With a mixture of esteem, grief, I consider the great loss and immortal glory acquired by the 42nd in this late bloody affair. Impatient for orders, they rushed forward to the entrenchments, which many of them actually mounted. They appeared like lions breaking from their chains. Their intrepidity was rather animated than damped by seeing their comrades fall on every side. I have only to say of them, that they seemed more anxious to revenge the cause of their deceased friends, than careful to avoid the same fate”
The battle was the bloodiest of the war, with over 3,000 casualties suffered. The 42nd paid dearly with more than 300 men (including 8 officers) killed, and a similar number wounded. King George later that year designated the 42nd a “Royal” regiment, due to its gallantry in earlier battles, and issued letters of service for adding a second battalion as a testimony of his Majesty’s satisfaction and approbation of the extraordinary courage, loyalty, and exemplary conduct of the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot.
General Abercrombie never led another military campaign. William Pitt, the British Secretary of State who had designed the British military strategy and received word of the defeat in August, wrote to Abercrombie that the “King has judged proper that you should return to England. Abercrombie continued to be promoted, eventually reaching the rank of full General. In 1759 the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment returned to the same battlefield at Ticonderoga and victory was won within 30 minutes.