The Fall of Fort Ticonderoga
Early this morning, July 2nd, the block house at the lower falls was afire – the clouds of smoke announced to the British that the Americans had abandoned this important position that guarded the mills at the Lower Falls and the head of the road to Lake George. It also eliminated one of the escaped routes the Americans could have taken, if needed, to preserve the men and material that was located here.
Yesterday, July 1st, General Burgoyne on his flag ship the “Royal George” along with his second frigate, the “Inflexible” and a large array of other water craft – gunboats, 200 bateaux and many smaller craft – had anchored just out of reach of the cannons of Fort Ticonderoga, located on the eastern bank and Mount Independence, on the western bank (Vermont).
Fort Ticonderoga & Mount Independence
He had deployed his British troops and a number of Indians, under the command of General Simon Fraser’s brigade to seize Mount Hope, another fortification high on the hill that also helped defend the mills, blockhouse and the road that led to the south.
Mount Hope looking out to Fort Ticonderoga and Lake Champlain Mount Defiance to the right
General Friedrich Riedesel, an experienced soldier; and, liked General Burgoyne a Calvary man, commanded the German troops that was charged with making a flanking maneuver to get around to a rear position at Mount Independence.
Part of the attack plan was to bombard the fortifications from both the water and land. General Burgoyne started his campaign with: 16 – 24 pounders; 2 – light 24 pounders; 10 – heavy 12 pounders; 8 – medium 12 pounders; 1 – light 12 pounders; 26 – light 6 pounders; 6 – eight-inch howitzers; 6 – five and-a- half inch howitzers and 46 mortars of various calibers. Of those they used seven of the cannon were hauled up to the top of the undefended Mount Defiance (AKA – Sugar Hill or Sugar Loaf).
The preceding summer (1776) American Colonel Trumball had advised the need to fortify that position. Others didn’t feel the need to do so – so he demonstrated that a six pounder could reach the top. When it was also stated that artillery could not be dragged up the steep mountain side, he pointed out to Generals Arnold and Wayne, who climbed with him to the summit, a natural roadway. General Gates, then in charge of the area and later the American commanding General at Saratoga, did not follow through on the Colonel’s advice. Thus that post was neglected.
On July 4th, 1777 with the Americans withdrawn into the fort, they were not aware on the British activity in making a rough cut road to the summit. Lt. William Twiss, Burgoyne’s chief enginer, had inspected the mount and found it climbable, with some difficulty. He noted both the fort and Mount Independence were at a range of about 1,400 and 1,500 yards respectfully. In his report to General Phillips it is reputed that Phillips’ said: “Where a goat can go, a man can go, and where a man can go, he can drag a gun.”
General St. Clair
July 5th morn – the Americans were surprised to see redcoats moving about Mount Defiance. That afternoon at a “council of war” meeting General St. Clair and his officers decided to abandon both Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. After that decision was made they began moving the garrison across the floating bridge to the Vermont side and destroying the cannons that couldn’t be taken.
The sick, the women and baggage were to be transported to Skeneborough (Whitehall) in 200 bateaux under the command of Colonel Long. To protect them five armed galleys formed a rear guard – all being done with the attempt to not draw attention to their activity.
As night fell, great activity began loading boats and moving the men across the lake. Around 2 O’clock in the morning of July 6th most of the garrison of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence were on their way to Castleton, Vermont.
However, it wasn’t as smooth as the earlier evacuation. An incompetent French adventurer, Roch de Fermoy, the Mount Independence commander had made no prior preparations for withdrawal, and in his rush to move the men and material under his charge and to collect his belongings he torch his headquarters, providing a glowing alert to the British.
While all this activity was taken place earlier three American deserters had provided valuable information of the American plans to the British. General Frasier, understanding the importance of this information alerted both General Burgoyne and General Riedesel. By the day’s light the British Union Jack was flying over the ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga and the race was on to capture the Americans.
There is much more to this story, but this short review tells the essence of the Fall of Ticonderoga and its surrounding dependences on the early days of July in 1777 – two hundred and forty years ago.
The Front Parlor Hancock House, Ticonderoga, NY. Note one of the newest gifts to the Society – John Hancock’s original dining room table.
Beginning July 4th through the end of August we will be open 7 days a week – 10 to 4
Three floors of exhibits and displays.