Sunday, April 26, 2020

Episode 146 The Battle of Hubbardton




Last week, we followed the British down Lake Champlain as they captured the remaining American fleet at Skenesborough and forced the Americans to abandon Fort Ann.  At the same time that was happening, the main American force from Ticonderoga was retreating through the woods toward Castleton.

St. Clair Retreats

General Arthur St. Clair marched his main column of about 2000 men away from Fort Ticonderoga in the early pre-dawn hours of July 6, 1777.  His soldiers traveled down the Hubbardton Road, which was little more than a stump-filled path cut through the woods, leading away from the fort.  The men stumbled through the dark.  Remember many of the soldiers had panicked and run into the woods after General Mattias de Fermoy set his house on fire atop Mount Independence, thus alerting the enemy to the American retreat.  Many of those men joined up with the column along the way.

St. Clair attempted to organize the column with Continentals in front, militia units in the middle and more Continental units in the rear.  He kept the militia in the middle because he feared they might break and run.  Several company commanders had informed St. Clair the day before, that their enlistments were over and that they felt no compunction to remain with the army as it retreated.  Since they expected a British pursuit, St. Clair put some of his most capable units in the rear of the column to form a rear guard.

The Rear Guard

Colonel Seth Warner commanded the Green Mountain Boys, who were mostly local to this area and were defending their homes.  Warner and many of his men had been with the force that originally captured Ticonderoga in 1775 under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.  When the regiment joined the Continental Army a few months later, they voted Warner as their commander, and ousted Ethan Allen.  These men had participated in the invasion of Quebec, and the subsequent retreat, before ending up back at Fort Ticonderoga.  Warner had brought 800 militia to the fort from the self proclaimed independent Republic of Vermont just days before the decision to abandon the fort.  Most of his militia had dispersed.  In the rearguard, he commanded a regiment of less than 200 men.

British and native allies at Ticonderoga (from British Battles)
The head of St. Clair’s column reached the small town of Hubbardton, actually just a few farm houses, in the afternoon of July 6.  The men had about a 17 mile march from Mount Independence, after spending the previous night preparing to abandon the fort.  The men were exhausted and demoralized.  St. Clair gave his men a few hours rest at Hubbardton.  But after learning that enemy Indian warriors had passed through the area before they had arrived, St. Clair determined that his force should continue on to Castleton, about seven miles further to the south.  He left Colonel Warner’s regiment in Hubbardton to await the arrival of the rear guard that was still marching there.

To supplement Warner's force, St. Clair also left the Second New Hampshire Regiment, commanded by Colonel Nathan Hale, no relation to the captain of the same name who had already given his one life for his country.  Hale had been with the army since the Battle of Lexington.  He was a veteran of Bunker Hill.  His regiment had also participated in the Quebec campaign and retreat, then marched south in time to participate in the battles of Trenton and Princeton before moving back north to Ticonderoga.  His regiment of 360 soldiers was highly experienced and battle hardened.

These two regiments awaited the rearguard regiment, the 11th Massachusetts, commanded by Ebenezer Francis.  Francis was an up and coming officer who had served with distinction during the Siege of Boston.  It was only a few months earlier that he had received his promotion to colonel and led the 11th Massachusetts to Fort Ticonderoga.  His large regiment of 420 Continentals formed the bulk of the rearguard once they arrived in Hubbardton.

Seth Warner
(from Wikimedia)
Although Warner commanded the smallest of the three regiments, he was the most senior colonel among the leaders, which put him in overall command.  St. Clair left Warner with orders to wait for Colonel Francis and then march immediately to Castleton to catch up with the main column.  Instead, when Francis’ regiment arrived in late afternoon, Warner decided to rest for the night, and leave at dawn the following morning.

It’s not entirely clear what Warner’s motives were in disobeying orders to march.  It could be that he was still awaiting some stragglers that he expected to march in overnight.  It could also be that he feared losing men in a nighttime march.  Most of these men had been awake for the last 36 hours and had been hard at work loading equipment and marching that whole time.  A night march would mean that men would almost certainly fall out of line in the dark and fall asleep, making them easy prey for the advancing enemy or for the Indians prowling the woods.

Instead, Warner deployed his three regiments in a defensive position in case the enemy approached before they were ready to leave in the morning.  Knowing the enemy was in the area, he set out pickets and placed his thousand or so men in defensive lines where they could sleep, but then if needed, wake and be in a position to fight in a moment’s notice.

British Pursuit

Only a few miles away, General Simon Fraser had led his British regulars along with Indian and loyalist scouts totaling about 850 in pursuit of the Americans.  Fraser had marched his troops across the footbridge across Lake Champlain the only hours after the last Americans had left on July 6.  Although his force was smaller than the American column, he was confident that he could capture the retreating and demoralized garrison if he could catch up with them.

Simon Fraser
(from Fandom)
Fraser also wanted to stay ahead of General Friedrich Von Riedesel who commanded a force of over one thousand German troops.  This was the division that had been too slow to cut off the American retreat, but was now also in pursuit of the retreating column.  Riedesel outranked Fraser and could take command of the entire operation if the two forces combined.

Riedesel got frustrated with the slow pace of his own column.  He took a small division of Jaegers and rode ahead to find Fraser.  By early evening, he caught up with Fraser’s column.  Although Riedesel was the senior officer, he did not try to take command.  Instead, he said only that he was there to assist.  Riedesel said that his soldiers were exhausted and needed to rest for the night.  However, he allowed Fraser to take his regulars a few miles closer to the rearguard at Hubbardton before they also camped for the night.  As aggressive as Fraser was, he was not read to lead his exhausted men into a night raid in unknown territory.

At the same time, he did not want the American column to escape. After a few hours of rest, Fraser roused his men from sleep in the middle of the night, and had them ready to march by 3:00 AM.  The first few hours of marching in the dark were slow and difficult.  But by dawn, Fraser’s Indian and Tory scouts encountered Continental pickets near Hubbardton.

Battle of Hubbardton

Fraser knew that his German reinforcements under Riedesel were at least a few hours behind him.  He could have waited for the reinforcements to arrive.  Charging in without reinforcements was a dangerous move.  There were hills all through the area which the Americans could use to ambush the regulars.  Despite the risks, Fraser opted to charge the Americans and engage them.

Americans at Hubbardton (from Revolutionary War)
Although alerted by the pickets, the Americans were still in camp when the British attacked.  Pickets engaged the enemy, who exchanged volleys as both sides attempted to form their lines.  The Americans only hoped to delay the British assault as they continued to pull back.  Both sides stood their ground and fired, leading to dozens of casualties on each side.

About the same time fighting began, Colonel Warner received a message from General St. Clair telling him that the British had captured the American baggage and wounded at Skenesborough, and that Warner should bring his men immediately to Rutland, further to the east.  From there, the column would move south through the woods to link up with General Philip Schuyler’s forces.

With the British attacking though, the Americans could not simply march away.  Colonel Francis formed the main line behind a stone wall.  His men repelled several British charges with devastating volleys.  General Fraser personally led a company of light infantry in an attempt to break the American line, but the American lines held.

Next, Fraser sent his grenadiers against the American left flank.  This would have cut off the American line of retreat.  However, deploying these reinforcements against the American left also weakened his own left flank and risked his own army being surrounded.  The Americans advanced on the British left and threatened to break the British lines.

By this time General Riedesel was only a few miles away and was able to observe the firefight from a nearby hill.  He rushed a few companies of jaegers on the double to the scene of the battle in hopes of shoring up the British left flank and preventing the Americans from breaking the enemy line.

Much of this battle took place in heavy woods, meaning that it was almost impossible to know what was happening in other parts of the battlefield.  Colonel Hale’s regiment had taken the brunt of the first British assault and was mostly gone by now.  Some had been captured, many had fled into the woods and were in hiding as the British overwhelmed the area.

Friedrich von Riedesel
(from Wikimedia)
According to British sources, at one point about 60 patriot soldiers approached a British line with their muskets clubbed.  That is when a soldier holds his weapon so that the stock is pointing up and the barrel to the ground.  This was understood at the time as meaning the soldier was surrendering.  The British allowed the soldiers to advance to within about thirty feet.  Then suddenly, the Americans turned their muskets toward the enemy, fired, and then ran back into the woods.

The actions grew fierce as the grenadiers pushed on the American left flank.  The Americans refused to pull back, engaging in hand to hand combat with the enemy.  Warner’s Green Mountain Boys pulled back across a field to a low stone wall. From there, they dared the grenadiers to charge, knowing they would take heavy losses in doing so.

As the American left flank pulled back, the right flank under Colonel Francis advanced against the weakened British line on that side of the battle.  For a time, it appeared that the Americans might surround the British regulars and force a surrender. But then events took a different turn.

The arrival of Riedesel’s jaegers provided the British with the necessary reinforcements to hold up the American advance.  Around this same time, as Colonel Francis attempted to rally the Americans, a British volley struck him down, killing him.  With the loss of Francis and the arrival of the German reinforcements, the American lines began to falter.

Colonel Hale found himself in between British and German forces.  His force began to scatter.  Hale and about 70 of his men were taken prisoner.  More of Riedesel’s soldiers were arriving at the battle scene giving the British the support they needed.

Map of Hubbardton (from British Battles)
Colonel Warner, the only American commander still fighting on the field, observed another group of Germans working their way behind his lines in an attempt to cut off retreat and surround his remaining men.  He yelled out to the remaining forces “meet me in Manchester” by which he meant it was time to flee as best they could and regroup back in the town of Manchester.  The remaining Green Mountain Boys, along with the remnants of the second New Hampshire and Eleventh Massachusetts scattered into the woods, each man attempting to evade the enemy and escape as best he could.  By 9:00 AM, the battle of Hubbardton was over.  The British and Germans held the field.

About an hour later, the British and Germans were still regrouping and surveying the battlefield.  They came across the body of Colonel Francis and began going through his papers.  Suddenly, a rifle shot rang out.  An American sniper had taken a long distance shot at the group of officers and then disappeared into the woods.  A British captain, John Shrimpton fell wounded, the final casualty of the Battle of Hubbardton.

Estimates of American casualties vary greatly.  Estimates of battle death range from around 40 to over 150.  Wounded estimates range from about 100 to over 450.  Somewhere between 230 and 290 became prisoners of war.  That is a pretty substantial casualty rate for an American force of less than 1000 men.  The British and Germans had suffered losses of just under 200 killed or wounded, the bulk coming from Fraser’s smaller force that had engaged the enemy first.  The Germans only reported ten killed and fourteen wounded.

British Do Not Pursue

The British had taken the field that day, which is to say they forced the Americans to retreat from the field.  But the Americans had never intended to hold the field.  It only meant to delay the much larger British and German force in order to prevent them from catching up with St. Clair’s main column of retreating Americans.  In that, the American rear guard action succeeded.  The ground on which they fought was itself meaningless.  Neither side intended to remain there and it had no strategic value.

British General Fraser and German General Von Riedesel both agreed that they should not pursue the enemy any further.  They were quickly becoming detached from the main force still at Ticonderoga and had no idea what might be awaiting them down the road.  It did not help that an afternoon rain soon turned into a downpour.

The army remained in Hubbardton for the rest of the day.  Soldiers spent some time searching through the woods, still rounding up hiding enemy, but mostly finding wounded and dead on the field.  Despite the enemy having fled, the woods were still dangerous.  One British officer reported an American straggler had jumped out from behind a tree and pointed a musket at his head.  The British officer was faster and shot the soldier.  He then ran over to the fallen many to say he hoped he was not hurt too badly, only to realize the shot had killed the man instantly.

Of course, looting bodies was always a good source of supplies.  There is a story of a British soldier stripping the shoes off the body of a sixteen year old fifer.  It turns out the young man had been shot in the back but was only playing dead.  He decided he would rather be taken prisoner than lose his shoes.  He opened his eyes and startled the British soldier by letting him know he was not dead and that he surrendered.  An officer with the soldier ordered him to return the shoes to the boy and bring him back to camp where doctors could attend to his wounds.  Young Ebenezer Fletcher would become one of the American prisoners taken back to Fort Ticonderoga.  After a few weeks, he escaped his captivity and returned home to New Hampshire.  He eventually recovered from his wounds and returned to service.

After spending most of the day and night in Hubbardton, the British and German forces planned to move back to catch up with Burgoyne’s forces at Skenesborough while sending a smaller detachment with prisoners back to Fort Ticonderoga.  However, continuing torrential rains the following day forced them to remain in camp another day.  The force finally departed on the morning of July 9.  After a miserable day-long march, they reached Skenesborough that evening.

The British and Germans left behind a group of wounded soldiers who were considered too hurt to travel.  There were no stretchers to carry them anywhere and no wagons could get through the woods.  They had to await stretchers sent from Fort Ticonderoga to carry back the wounded.  At least some of the wounded had to linger in the woods for nearly three weeks.

The British buried their own dead, and gave Colonel Francis the honor of being buried with them.  Most of the American casualties, however, were left in the woods to rot and be eaten by wolves.  Some of their bones were still being found by locals a decade later.

St. Clair Escapes

General St. Clair, with the main American column heard the battle in the distance and dispatched officers to find out what was happening and return back.  By the time his aides got near the battle, the shooting was over and retreating soldiers told them the American rear guard was now fleeing for their lives.

Arthur St. Clair
(from Wikimedia)
By this time St. Clair also knew that the other smaller force with the baggage had been captured or destroyed at Skenesborough, so marching to the rendezvous point at Castleton did not make much sense.  Instead St. Clair took his remaining forces to Rutland, further to the east and away from enemy forces. The next day, before even reaching Rutland, he rerouted again to Dorset, which was 25 miles further south.

The American column arrived in Dorset on July 9.  There, St. Clair gave his men time to rest, and spent a few hours writing reports for General Schuyler and others to explain why he had abandoned Fort Ticonderoga without putting up a fight.  Many of the men who were feared lost from desertion or capture, eventually found their way back to the army in Dorset as men had used the cover of the woods to escape but were still ready to rejoin the army for its next fight.

The battle of Hubbardton succeeded in preventing the British from catching the main column that had left Fort Ticonderoga.  But the fleeing Americans were demoralized and isolated as they marched through the woods, still not entirely sure of their destination.  Meanwhile the British consolidated their gains and took control of the region.

- - -

Next Episode 147 Kidnapping General Prescott

Previous Episode 145 Retreat from Ticonderoga


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Further Reading

Websites

Hubbardton: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/hubbardton

Hubbardton Battlefield: https://historicsites.vermont.gov/hubbardton-battlefield

Battle of Hubbardton: https://www.britishbattles.com/war-of-the-revolution-1775-to-1783/battle-of-hubbardton

Battle of Hubbardton, Animated Map: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdCdykHbP4s

Barbieri, Michael “Ti’s Evacuation and the Battle of Hubbardton” Journal of the American Revolution, July 24, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/tis-evacuation-and-the-battle-of-hubbardton

Schenawolf, Harry “A Desperate Affair: The Battle of Hubbardton July 7, 1777” Revolutionary War Journal, Dec. 18, 2018: http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/battle-of-hubbardton-july-7-1777

Duling, Ennis “Thomas Anburey at the Battle of Hubbardton, How a Fraudulent
Source Misled Historians” Vermont History Vol. 78, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2010): 1–14:
https://vermonthistory.org/journal/78/VHS780101_1-14.pdf

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Brandow, John H. The Story of Old Saratoga; the Burgoyne Campaign, to Which is Added New York's Share in the Revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Digby, William The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Fletcher, Ebenezer The Narrative of Ebenezer Fletcher: A Soldier of the Revolution, New York: Private Printing, 1866.

Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne: Misadventures of an English General in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Nickerson, Hoffman The Turning Point of the Revolution; or, Burgoyne in America, (Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1928 (Hathitrust.org).

Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise, Freifrau von Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga, Joel Munsell, 1867.

Smith, William Henry (ed) The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair, Vol. 1, Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co, 1882.

Stone, William Leete, The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne  and the expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.

Chipman, Daniel Memoir of Seth Warner, Middlebury: L.W. Clark, 1848 (Also in this same volume is The Life of Ethan Allen, by Jared Sparks).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Robert P. Where a Man Can Go: Major General William Phillips, British Royal Artillery, 1731-1781, Praeger, 1999.

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010.

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990.

Ventnor, Bruce M. The Battle of Hubbardton: The Rear Guard Action That Saved America, Arcadia Publishing, 2015 (book recommendation of the week).

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.



Sunday, April 19, 2020

Episode 145 Retreat from Ticonderoga





Last week, we left the British and German force under General Burgoyne having nearly surrounded the Americans at Fort Ticonderoga.  The British had mounted heavy cannons on Mount Defiance, giving them the ability to fire on the fort and the Americans on Mount Independence without much fear of return fire.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Inside Fort Ticonderoga, General Arthur St. Clair realized his situation was quickly becoming desperate.  Three enemy deserters filled in the Americans on the size of the force threatening them, and other details which made them realize their predicament.

On July 4th, the garrison had held a small celebration for the first anniversary of American independence.  Probably greater cause for celebrations was the arrival of Colonel Seth Warner with 700 militia from the Grants, that is the disputed area that eventually became Vermont.  But even with the new arrivals, the presence of British on the top of Mount Defiance on July 5th meant that the garrison was in serious danger.  The Americans watched more and more enemy soldiers disembark and slowly put a stranglehold on the fort.

St. Clair held a council of war on the afternoon of July 5 to decide what to do next.  At the council was General Mattias de Fermoy, who you may recall was the French officer who turned tail and ran at the first sight of the enemy outside Trenton.

American Batteaux near Ticonderoga (from British Battles)
Also present was New Hampshire General Enoch Poor, a veteran of the Canada campaign.  Poor had recently been promoted to brigadier general by Congress.

Joining them was General John Paterson.  Paterson had grown up in Connecticut but had moved to Massachusetts shortly before the war.  He served in the Massachusetts militia at the siege of Boston and at Bunker Hill.  He had also served with Poor in the Canada campaign.  After that, he had moved south in time to serve under Washington during the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  Congress promoted Paterson to brigadier general in February, on the same day they promoted Poor, and sent him to Ticonderoga to support its defense.

Rounding out the group was Colonel Pierse (sometimes spelled “Pierce”) Long from New Hampshire.  Long had been an early patriot, participating in the pre-war raid on Fort William and Mary (see Episode 51) and at Ticonderoga commanded a Continental regiment of New Hampshire soldiers.

St. Clair spelled out their predicament.  The garrison in the fort and those atop Mount Independence were both in dire threat.  It appeared that the enemy was moving into position to cut off all avenues of escape.  Once in place, they would attack both the fort itself and Mount Independence, supported by artillery on Mount Defiance and overrun both garrisons.

As St. Clair saw it, they had two options.  One was to hunker down inside the fort and hold out under siege as long as possible.  But with little food and no prospect of a relief force on the way, this made little sense.  The other option was to abandon the fort and combine all forces on top of Mount Independence where they could make a stand, and possibly maintain an avenue of retreat if needed.

The council agreed unanimously that the fort was indefensible, and that any hope of saving the garrison required them to move that night to Mount Independence.

Arthur St Clair (from Wikimedia)
It would be easy to criticize St. Clair for ordering a retreat of what was supposedly the strongest fort in North America without even a fight.  In fact, St. Clair would later have to defend his actions at a court martial.  He would be exonerated, and I think justifiably so.  He would have needed thousands more soldiers and tons more supplies to mount any sort of realistic defense or even to hold out during a siege.

He had only taken command a few weeks earlier and was not responsible for earlier failures to build defenses on Mount Defiance or improve defenses around the fort itself.  In fact, even his predecessors probably deserve a break on this point, given the lack of manpower and resources needed for anything like this.  The reality was that Ticonderoga was not a primary concern during the period that Washington was fighting for the survival of the Continental Army around New York City and in New Jersey.

Had St. Clair and the garrison remained in the fort for even one or two more days, they would have been captured and marched back to Quebec as prisoners of war.  This would have been a far greater defeat and likely would have made the remainder of the Saratoga campaign much easier for the British.

St. Clair knew he would be criticized.  He said at the time his choice was to lose his character and save his army, or save his character and lose his army.  He reasoned correctly that the garrison was much more important.  Retreating from a superior force was something General Washington had already done on several occasions, and is what should have happened at Fort Washington on Manhattan when the Americans surrendered 3000 prisoners.

Move to Mount Independence

Having made the decision to abandon Ticonderoga, the Continental leaders now had to determine if they were not already too late, and how to get everyone safely away from the fort.  The first step was to move everyone to Mount Independence.

Fortunately, the Continentals had prepared for this.  They had put a chain across Lake Champlain to prevent the British fleet from sailing south of the fort.  Just south of the chain was the footbridge across the lake that would allow men and supplies to move across and then up Mount Independence.  The garrison would cross to Mount Independence during the night to avoid enemy detection.  From there, the main garrison would march down the Hubbardton Road moving away to the southeast.  The Hubbardton Road was more of a rough footpath that would not be much use for artillery or wagons, even if they had horses to drag them.  Instead, heavy equipment and supplies would be loaded aboard ships and sailed south down Lake Champlain toward Skenesborough.  The sick and wounded, as well as women and children in the fort would also go with the ships.

Map of Mt. Independence, 1777 (from Wikimedia)
St. Clair had at his disposal about 200 batteaux, which were only a little larger than a canoe or rowboat.  They could only carry a few people each, as well as small amounts of supplies. He also still had five galleys: the Enterprise, the Liberty, the Gates, the Trumbull, and the Revenge, which could carry some artillery and large equipment, but not nearly enough.

The army set to work loading as much as they could on the ships.  Lack of planning meant that the midnight loading did not always prioritize the most important equipment.  The wind and a choppy lake also made loading the boats difficult and slow going.  Equipment began to pile up at the docks

After dark, the men began moving everything they could out of the fort and across the lake to Mount Independence.  Almost immediately, everything began to get clogged up on the other side of the bridge where no one was directing people to move.  It turned out that General Fermoy, who was in command of the forces at Mount Independence, decided to go to sleep in his cabin.  Most of his officers followed his example and opted for a good night’s sleep as well.  The result was leaderless chaos in the dark of night.  St. Clair had to order someone to go wake up Fermoy and get the Frenchman to do his job.

Secrecy was an important part of this move.  If the British discovered the garrison in mid-retreat, they could launch an attack and capture them before everyone had time to cross the bridge.  A few of the heavy cannons in the fort continued to fire on the British throughout the night, in hopes of covering some of the noise and to convince the British that they were not going anywhere.

Everyone participating in the fort’s evacuation had to move quietly and without torches or lanterns.  This made the night move even more difficult.  Because orders had to be passed around quietly, some parts of the fort garrison were not even aware of the orders to abandon the fort until after midnight.  The lack of space on the few small ships the army had available meant that many of the cannons simply had to be abandoned and spiked to prevent their use by the enemy.  A great deal of food and supplies had to be abandoned as well.

About 3:00 AM, St. Clair was at the foot of Mount Independence trying to organize the chaos left by General Fermoy’s failure to do anything that night.  Several hundred pickets still manned posts around the fort, mostly to ensure no deserters alerted the British to their night escape.

Then, suddenly, a great fire erupted at the top of Mount Independence.  It seems someone had awoken General Fermoy.  But rather than come down the hill to organize the retreating column, Fermoy had spent a few hours packing his bags.  He violated orders against any candles, lanterns, or campfires that might help the enemy see their escape.  Instead, he managed to set his cabin on fire.  By some accounts, this was an accident.  In others, he deliberately ordered his quarters to be burned.  The massive flames lit up the night sky for miles.  The fire gave everyone, including the enemy, a view of the retreating army on the mountain.

With that realization, the chaos turned to panic.  Militiamen ran down Hubbardton road.  St. Clair rode ahead of them to halt the panicking soldiers and organize the column.  Most soldiers ignored the General and ran past him.  St. Clair did manage to halt and organize some fleeing Continentals.

In the fort, the pickets who were serving as the rear guard also panicked, fearing the British would see the retreat and be on them before they could cross the footbridge across Lake Champlain.  These final companies fled across the lake without destroying the remaining equipment in the fort, or sufficiently damaging the bridge to prevent enemy pursuit.  The panic set in and everyone just wanted to escape.

British Pursuit

Fermoy’s house fire did create problems, but the flames only revealed the escape about an hour before the light of dawn would have anyway.  In the early morning hours, the British attempted to capture the American garrison through a three pronged attacked.  British forces under General Simon Fraser were moving into Fort Ticonderoga’s defenses from the west.  The British fleet moved down Lake Champlain to the chain that was directly to the east of the fort.  General Riedesel’s Germans were moving down the eastern bank of the lake in hopes of taking Mount Independence from the east.  Natives and Canadian militia also marched with both land forces.

Capture of Ticonderoga (from Wikimedia)
If Riedesel had been able to get his army into position a little faster, the main American force would have had its escape route cut off and would either have had to fight the Germans to break out, or surrender.  Riedesel's army had to march through heavily forested land with swamps and streams that made movement very slow.  As a result, he would not reach Mount Independence until the Americans had fled.  British troops from Fort Ticonderoga would be the first to reach Mount Independence, or what the British still called Rattlesnake Hill.

The British marched into Fort Ticonderoga without any resistance that morning.  They only found a few American stragglers who either had slept through the retreat or who had remained behind in hopes of looting some of the fort’s supplies.  They quickly discovered that gunpowder had been poured around much of the fort, with the apparent intent of blowing it up and setting everything on fire before leaving.  However, the last minute panic in abandoning the fort meant that no one had bothered to start the fire.  The main thing that slowed up the British forces after taking the fort, was that some of the British soldiers did a little looting of their own when they saw equipment and supplies scattered around the fort.

The Americans had pulled up some of the planks on the bridge from the fort to Mount Independence.  But the British quickly replaced these and made their way across Lake Champlain.  On the other side, a British officer reported finding a loaded cannon pointed at the bridge with four Americans manning the gun.  A single shot could have been a disaster to the British soldiers crossing the bridge.  Fortunately for the British, they found the four Americans passed out with an empty cask of Madeira wine.  The men had gotten drunk and fallen asleep before the British got to the bridge.

To top it off, a Native American warrior who was part of the British auxiliary was curious about the cannon.  He picked up the still lit ignition stick and managed to fire the cannon anyway.  The British soldiers still crossing the bridge, were fortunate that the cannon was not pointed at the bridge by that time and the grapeshot landed harmlessly in the lake.

Skeffington Lutwidge
(from Wikimedia)
By noon on July 6, with the fort secure, General Burgoyne entered the fort himself and surveyed his victory.  The Americans had left behind British and loyalist prisoners now released from the fort’s prison.  They had abandoned at least eighty cannon, many of which had not even been spiked.  The British also found over 10,000 pounds of flour, large amounts of salted meat and other food, about 200 oxen and plenty of other baggage abandoned by the fleeing Americans.  Burgoyne congratulated his men on a job well done and ordered the pursuit of the fleeing Americans.

By the time Burgoyne entered the Fort, General Fraser’s forces had already crossed over to Mount Independence and were marching down Hubbardton road after the American column.  I will pick up that part of the story next week.

Once the British moved a small occupying force to Mount Independence using the American’s bridge, Burgoyne ordered the bridge destroyed so that the British warships could pursue the Americans down Lake Champlain.  Commander of the British fleet, Skeffington Lutwidge ordered the British cannons to blast away the chain blocking the lake.  After that they blew through the bridge and sailed after the American fleet.

Skenesboro

The Americans had several hours head start on the British.  The American fleet sailed down to Skenesboro, which was the southernmost point to which the larger ships could sail.  Colonel Pierse Long planned to unload the men and equipment, then march inland to connect up with the main force under General St. Clair, which was marching overland.

Before the Continentals could unload their ships, the British fleet was on top of them.  Unlike the fighting in prior battles under generals like Howe and Carleton, the British did not simply seize the fort and then take days to regroup and plan.  Burgoyne was intent on capturing the retreating Americans and using speed to do it.  Commodore Lutwidge had sailed his ships down the Lake, transporting several regiments of regulars to a few miles above Skenesborough, then continuing on with his fleet to attack the American ships.  The British had been wary as there were several points along the lake where the Americans could have set up an effective ambush.  However, the speed of the assault, left the Americans with no time to plan any defensive action.

Battle of Fort Ann (from Battlefields)
By late afternoon, British cannons were firing on the American fleet still docked at Skenesborough.  They had set three ships on fire within minutes.  The Enterprise, Gates, and Liberty were destroyed.  The other two ships, Trumbull and Revenge raised white flags in hopes of avoiding destruction.  Most of the hundreds of American soldiers with the fleet fled into the woods to avoid capture.  A few batteaux escaped up Wood Creek, but most were destroyed.  Colonel Long tried to evacuate the men who had not already fled, moving south toward Fort Anne, about ten miles away.  The sick and wounded were abandoned to become prisoners.  The supplies were destroyed in the fire started by British artillery.

Fort Ann

The British, having taken Skenesborough, continued in pursuit.  On the morning of July 7, Colonel John Hill led about 200 regulars in pursuit of the Americans at Fort Anne.  By this time, Colonel Long had reached Fort Ann with several hundred Continentals.  He was soon joined by about 400 local militia under Colonel Henry Van Rensselaer, who had marched up from Fort Edward to provide support.

At this point though, it was unclear if those reinforcements would be enough.  The Americans set up a perimeter guard about a mile and a half north of Fort Ann to warn them about any approaching British.  Colonel Hill’s British regulars probed the American defenses, leading to about four hours of skirmishing.  As night fell, the British opted to camp and await reinforcements.

The Americans were uncertain how large an enemy force confronted them.  Long got a volunteer to pose as a deserter who entered the British lines the next morning.  The deserter told the British leader that the Americans had at least 1000 men at the fort, almost double the actual number.  At the same time, the deserter confirmed that the British had only about 200 men.  With that, he slipped out of camp and returned to Fort Ann with his intelligence.

The Americans opted to attack the advance force before more British reinforcements could arrive.  By late morning, the patriots attempted to flank the enemy camp, using the woods as cover.  The attack took the British by surprise.  As the Americans had greater numbers, the Colonel Hill was forced to retreat, abandoning their wounded and taking the British to the top of a nearby hill where they formed a defensive perimeter.

As ammunition ran low, Colonel Hill had to consider the possibility of surrendering to the Americans.  As he considered his options, a small British relief force arrived with a party of Indian auxiliaries.  The screams of Indian warriors rushing into battle was enough to induce an American withdrawal. By some accounts, the Indians did not even attack at all.  A British officer with them ran at the Americans and gave an Indian war whoop to instill fear in the American troops, and it worked.  In any case, the Americans pulled out and ended the engagement.   A few hours later, General William Phillips arrived on the scene with a much larger advance force of 520 soldiers and two cannons.

Philip Skene (From
Bennington Battlefield)
With the arrival of more British reinforcements, the Americans had to reevaluate their situation.  They were running out of ammunition and the majority of the forces there, local militia, wanted to leave.  The Americans also learned that General Phillips would soon have about 2000 soldiers to attack the fort.

Colonel Long opted to burn the fort and move his men further south to Fort Edward.  Along the way, they destroyed bridges and blocked trails to make a British pursuit more difficult.  With the American retreat and the destruction of Fort Anne, the British pulled back to Skenesborough to regroup.

There is a story from a British officer who claims to have captured an American flag in this battle, that continued thirteen stripes and thirteen stars on a blue field.  Although this story is disputed, if true, it is the first reference to the use of the American flag in battle.

General Burgoyne had joined his army at Skenesborough on July 7.  He was accompanied by Major Philip Skene, the loyalist who had lived there before the war, and for whom the town was named. He had been forced to flee to Canada.  Skene was pleased to find his mansion looted but at least not burned to the ground.  He offered it to Burgoyne as his headquarters.

On July 8, as Burgoyne received reports of the battle at Fort Anne, and that the Americans had fled south, he was pleased to learn of the victory but disappointed about the American escape.  That evening, a soldier brought him a letter that they said had been nailed to a tree by the Americans and which was addressed to him.  When he opened it, the letter simply said “To General Burgoyne! It ain’t over yet!

Next week: British and American forces clash at the Battle of Hubbardton.

- - -

Next Episode 146 Battle of Hubbardton

Previous Episode 144 Defending Fort Ticonderoga


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American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account.

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Further Reading

Websites

The Battle of Fort Ticonderoga (Second): https://revolutionarywar.us/year-1777/battle-fort-ticonderago-second

Schenawolf, Harry “Fort Ticonderoga: Americans Abandoned The Gibraltar of the North Without a Fight” Revolutionary War Journal December 7, 2018: http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/fort-ticonderoga-americans-abandoned-the-gibraltar-of-the-north-without-a-fight

Battle of Ticonderoga
https://www.britishbattles.com/war-of-the-revolution-1775-to-1783/battle-of-ticonderoga-1777

Barbieri, Michael “Ti’s Evacuation and the Battle of Hubbardton” Journal of the American Revolution, July 24, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/tis-evacuation-and-the-battle-of-hubbardton

Skenesborough: Today’s Whitehall, New York: http://www.revolutionaryday.com/usroute4/whitehall/default.htm

The Battle of Fort Ann: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/fort-ann

The Battle of Fort Anne: https://revolutionarywar.us/year-1777/battle-fort-anne

Jacobson, Michael “Fort Anne: Remembering the Continental Army’s First Stand Against Burgoyne” Journal of the American Revolution, March 22, 2017: https://allthingsliberty.com/2017/03/fort-anne-remembering-continental-armys-first-stand-burgoyne

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Brandow, John H. The Story of Old Saratoga; the Burgoyne Campaign, to which is Added New York's Share in the Revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Burgoyne, John A Brief examination of the plan and conduct of the northern expedition in America, in 1777, T. Hookham, 1779.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Digby, William The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Duncan, Francis History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Vol 1, J. Murray 1879.

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne: Misadventures of an English General in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Nickerson, Hoffman The Turning Point of the Revolution; or, Burgoyne in America, (Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1928 (Hathitrust.org).

Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise, Freifrau von Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga, Joel Munsell, 1867.

Smith, William Henry (ed) The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair, Vol. 1, Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co, 1882.

Stone, William Leete, The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne  and the expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.


Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Robert P. Where a Man Can Go: Major General William Phillips, British Royal Artillery, 1731-1781, Praeger, 1999.

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010 (book recommendation of the week).

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Episode 144 Defense of Fort Ticonderoga




Last week I introduced the British Army that was tasked with moving from Canada down to Albany New York. General Burgoyne’s first goal was to conquer Fort Ticonderoga, the Gibraltar of North America.  Both sides seemed to think it was the key to the region.  It had been where French General Montcalm had defeated a massive British force under General Abercromby during the French and Indian War.  In 1776, General Guy Carleton took one look at the fort and turned around, thinking it would take too long to besiege the fort that year.

Schuyler and Gates

The Americans in charge of the fort, however, had a very different view.  For starters there was no united chain of command.

Phillip Schuyler was the senior general in command of the northern army.  In fact following the retirement of Artemas Ward and the capture of Charles Lee, he was the most senior ranking major general, second only to George Washington himself in the chain of command.  As you may recall from earlier episodes, Congress had promoted Horatio Gates to major general in May 1776 and sent him to take command of the Continental Army in Canada.  Gates arrived just as the British were chasing the last of the Americans back into New York where the senior general Schuyler remained in command.  Gates spent most of his time over the rest of the year trying to undercut Schuyler and take full command of the northern army.

Fort Ticonderoga (from Wikimedia)
In December 1776, Gates left Fort Ticonderoga with part of his army to join Washington in Pennsylvania.  Gates had been corresponding with General Lee about what a dumpster fire they thought Washington’s command was and felt out each other about a possible replacement for the commander.  After the British captured Lee, Gates continued down to Washington’s headquarters.  When Washington begged him to assist with the attack on Trenton, Gates begged off, claiming he was too sick, and instead rode down to Baltimore to badmouth Washington to Congress.

After Washington’s great victory, Gates decided badmouthing Washington was not going to work at the moment, so we went back to badmouthing General Schuyler.  In March, Congress agreed to give command of the northern army to Gates, supported primarily by the New England delegation, which distrusted the New York General Schuyler.  The blow back from this change caused Congress to reverse itself a month later and return command to Schuyler in April.  Rather than sucking it up and working with Schuyler, Gates left New York again and went back to Philadelphia to complain more to Congress.  He was still in Philadelphia in June when the British began to move down toward Fort Ticonderoga.

Schuyler did not spend much time at Ticonderoga either.  For most of this time Schuyler was in Albany, working on logistical support and other matters.  General Benedict Arnold had also left after the 1776 fighting season ended and headed back to Connecticut.  That left Colonel Anthony Wayne in charge of the fort.  Wayne, as you may recall, was a Pennsylvania officer who had led a regiment to Canada as reinforcements after most of the army had been captured at Quebec.  He had played a leading role at the Battle of Three Rivers (see Episode 95) before retreating with the rest of the army back to Fort Ticonderoga.

Wayne and St. Clair
As other officers moved south, Wayne remained in command over the miserable winter.  Out of desperation, he refused to release soldiers when their enlistments were over.  He personally punched a few soldiers who went on strike.  Over the winter, there was no food or clothes for the men.  They did what they could to survive, and little more.  The fort, which was already in terrible condition, fell into even worse disrepair.  In commenting on the region Wayne wrote“it appears to be the last part of the world that God made & I have some ground to believe it was finished in the dark-that it was never Intended that man shou’d live in it is clear”
He noted that men simply were not meant to live in such land, made worse by the dead bodies still littering the forest from the French and Indian War.  Some of the soldiers used the skulls for drinking cups, and shin bones as tent pegs.

Anthony Wayne
(from Wikimedia)
The command structure in the fort itself remained a mess.  General Schuyler had attempted to impose discipline, but the New England soldiers resented the New York general’s attempts to impose rules on them.  The internal rivalries came out several times over the winter.  Massachusetts Colonel Asa Whitcomb’s son was a cobbler by trade and attempted to address the shortage of shoes at the fort by setting up a cobbler’s bench in the colonel’s quarters.

The Pennsylvania officers took offense at a fellow officer working at a trade, which was considered demeaning.  Pennsylvania Colonel Thomas Craig and others broke into Whitcomb’s quarters, destroyed the cobbler’s bench and physically attacked Colonel Whitcomb.  The fight attracted a crowd and soon Pennsylvania and New England troops were in a full scale brawl.  The Pennsylvania soldiers escalated the fight by picking up their arms and firing on the New England soldiers, wounding several.  Despite the behavior, there were apparently no courts martial over the event.  Colonel Craig and his Pennsylvania men apologized by killing a deer and presenting a feast to the New England men.

In February 1777, when a militia company demanded to go home at the end of their enlistment, Wayne responded by punching one of the men in the face, and telling him he would not leave until his replacements arrived.  And if they did not arrive he would be there forever.  He held the rest of the company at pistol point until they accepted his orders to remain.

Despite these problems, that same month, Wayne was one of a record ten men promoted to brigadier general in February.  In April, after receiving word of his promotion and orders to move south, Wayne happily left the fort behind and marched his men to join Washington’s army in New Jersey.

The same week that Wayne got his promotion to brigadier general, Congress also promoted Arthur St. Clair from brigadier to major general.  St. Clair had had a meteoric rise since joining the Continental Army as a Pennsylvania Colonel in January 1776.  He received promotion to brigadier general in August, and then major general in February 1777.

St. Clair, had been born and raised in Scotland.  He served as a lieutenant in the regular army during the French and Indian War, where he saw action at the Siege of Louisbourg and the Battle of Quebec.

After the war, he settled in Pennsylvania. There, he became the largest landholder in the western part of the state.  He was able to purchase some of the land after marrying the daughter of a wealthy Boston family at the end of the French and Indian war.  He also received land grants from the king for his service in the war.  St. Clair was an early supporter of the patriot cause, and was one of the few Pennsylvanians with real military experience when the war began.  His first mission after raising a regiment was to go with General Gates to Canada, arriving just in time to help with the retreat back into New York.
Arthur St. Clair
(from Wikimedia)

St. Clair spent the summer of 1776 where, after Gates commended his actions during the retreat, received his promotion to brigadier general.  General St. Clair then headed south to join with Washington’s army in New Jersey, arriving in time to play a key role in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.  This helped to secure his promotion to major general in February 1777.  With that promotion came the responsibility to return to Fort Ticonderoga and prepare for a possible British attack.

When St. Clair arrived in June 1777, he immediately began writing that the fort was a mess, undermanned, lacking entrenchments, and generally in no condition to defend against an invasion.  Because there were no communities of any size in the hundreds of miles of surrounding wilderness, it was difficult to obtain any supplies or get much help in putting the fort back in defensible condition.  General Gates had been confident that the British force in Montreal would not invade, but instead would ship out for New York City in the spring so that they could supplement General Howe’s advance on Philadelphia.  Gates himself spent most of his time in Albany where he could keep his rival General Schuyler in check.

St. Clair arrived in mid-June after the British fleet had already left St. John’s.  He didn’t know it yet, but he only had days to prepare for the attack.  Far from being impregnable, the fort had many problems even if it had been well maintained and fully garrisoned.  For starters, the main defenses were on the south side.  The fort had been built originally by the French to defend against a British attack from the south.  More importantly, there were two large hills near the fort which an enemy could occupy and fire into the fort.  During the French and Indian War, when the French defeated the British Army led by General Abercromby, they did so from those hills, not from the fort itself.

Forces around Fort Ticonderoga (from British Battles)
A year earlier Continental engineers had identified Rattlesnake Hill as a more defensible position.  They also identified Sugar Hill as a key height that would, if occupied, threaten the fort itself.  These weaknesses had been identified in the summer of 1776, even before Gates and St. Clair had left the area to join Washington’s army. Leaders had decided to rename Rattlesnake Hill "Mount Independence" and rename Sugar Hill "Mount Defiance," but they did little to secure these potential dangers.

Over the winter, General Schuyler had issued orders to occupy Mount Independence and to build a bridge from the fort to the mountain.  Continental Colonel Jeduthan Baldwin built an impressive bridge between the fort and Mount Independence.  Although not fully complete by spring, it did serve as a footbridge over the water to move men and light equipment back and forth.  At some point, another engineer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko from Poland arrived on the scene.  However, Kosciuszko seemed more interested in criticizing Baldwin’s work and kissing up to General Gates than contributing much to the defenses.

By the time St. Clair arrived in June, the Continentals had occupied Mount Independence including placing several cannons there and were using the footbridge to move back and forth.  They had not occupied Mount Defiance at all, believing it too steep to allow the British to mount cannons there.

British Advance on Ticonderoga

On June 13, the Continentals captured two British prisoners who said that General Burgoyne was already on his way with thousands of soldiers and would be at Fort Ticonderoga in about two weeks.  They also informed the Continentals about St. Leger’s move from the west toward Albany.

An unnerved General St. Clair was not sure whether to believe them.  There was a good chance they were British spies sent to spread misinformation.  He sent them on to Albany under guard for further interrogation.  A few days later, two soldiers walking to the saw mill were jumped by about thirty Indians.  The attackers shot, stabbed, and then scalped the two men.  The only reason we have a record of the number of Indians is because one of the men survived by pretending to be dead as the Indians scalped and stripped him.  He then crawled back to camp.  When a lieutenant took about a dozen men to track down the Indians, they hit another ambush where several were killed or wounded on both sides before withdrawing.

British Landing near Ticonderoga (from British Battles)
The presence of hostile Indians made clear that the British invasion force was probably not far behind.  The Indians in the woods also made it nearly impossible to send out scouting parties to look for the enemy without the fear that they would be ambushed, killed, and scalped.  Even so, some daring men did do some scouting.  In June 23, Sergeant Heath reported British ships and an enemy encampment about 40 miles north of Ticonderoga.  He also noted that Indians in the woods were “as thick as mosquitoes”

For the next week or so, poor winds and a driving rain prevented the British fleet from advancing.  But everyone knew it was just a matter of time.  The Americans sent out several more scouts but they all failed to return, presumably killed or captured.

General St. Clair knew that the fort was woefully understaffed to withstand a full assault.  He had between 2000 and 2500 men fit for duty, but thought he would need 10,000 to hold the fort against an attack.

He had begged for reinforcements earlier, but was refused.  General Washington had responded that he believed that the British and Germans in Canada would be removed in the spring and taken by ship to New York City to support General Howe’s offensive.  Even after it became clear that the British in Canada would attack Ticonderoga, St. Clair remained reluctant to call out the local militia.  He had such little food stores on hand that bringing militia to the fort would cause them to run out of food.

By June 30, the British force was at the ruins of Crown Point, about eleven miles from Ticonderoga.  St. Clair finally sent out a last minute call for militia, but doubted they could arrive in sufficient numbers to be of any assistance.

The British and German Army under Burgoyne advanced from three different routes.  General Friedrich Riedesel and his Germans moved down the east shore of Lake Champlain toward Mount Independence. General Simon Fraser led an advance force, followed by General William Phillips and the larger force of British Regulars moving down the lake's western shore.  General Burgoyne commanded from an armada of ships on the lake,with a battery of large cannon ready to reduce the fort’s walls.

British Assault on Fort Ticonderoga (from Wikimedia)
Even with such a large force at his disposal, Burgoyne could not completely surround the fort without leaving weak spots where the Americans might break through and retreat.  At a council of war, Burgoyne suggested they should at least send troops around the fort to cut off the major roads available for an American retreat, and rely on the Indians to prevent any attempted retreat through the woods.  Fraser thought this was folly as the Germans on that side of the engagement would not be good at moving through the woods and swamp necessary to reach their objective.  Instead, he recommended moving the British forces down to the west, and attempt to take the high ground on Mount Defiance, or what the British were still calling Sugar Hill.  From there, the British could fire on the fort without much danger to themselves.  Burgoyne rejected this option because it allowed the Americans line of retreat.  He wanted to capture not only the fort, but the Continental’s entire northern army.

The Germans would march on a circuitous route to the east of the fort, moving to cut off any American retreat.  Meanwhile, the British on the west side would take some time to cut out roads to move their cannons down toward the west of the fort.  They would start by capturing Mount Hope, just northwest of the fort.  The Americans had sawmills there and controlled a bridge on the portage road leading to Mount Defiance.

On July 2, Fraser sent an advance corps of about 600 regulars, with more Canadians and Indians in the front of the force, to capture Mount Hope.  The Americans saw them coming, set fire to the buildings, and retreated back behind the fort’s picket lines.  The advance force was only supposed to take the hill and await more support.  However, Fraser's Indians had gotten a little drunk and decided on their own to rush the American picket lines.  This led to a skirmish.  The Americans held their lines against this rather small force, and used cannons loaded with grapeshot to force the attackers to withdraw.  The skirmish lasted about an hour before Fraser was able to get his troops pulled back to Mount Hope.

While Fraser was writing up a report on the incident, General Phillips arrived on the scene to berate him and express his annoyance that he had ruined the element of surprise now that the Americans were well aware of their position.  Fraser, however, convinced Phillips that they had taken defensible high ground and now threatened the fort itself.  The position also prevented any American retreat toward Lake George.  Phillips agreed and supported holding the hill now that it was taken.

View of Ticonderoga from Mount Independence
(from Wikimedia)
Over the next couple of days, Phillips and Fraser looked up at Mount Defiance, thinking that if they could place a few large cannons up there, they could control a field of fire over both Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.  In their current position on Mount Hope the British were still in range of American cannons, and took several casualties as a result.  On Mount Defiance, they could fire without the enemy being able to return fire to that elevation.

You may ask yourself, why did the Americans leave this hill unoccupied? Several officers have looked at it months earlier and mentioned it as a possible weakness in the American defenses.  But the hill was so high and incline so steep, that the commanders did not think it would be possible to drag cannons to the top.  The British believed otherwise.  General Phillips famously said, “where a goat can go, a man can go, and where a man can go, he can drag a gun with him.”  The British removed two twelve-pounder cannons from the Thunderer and by the morning of July 5, had both of the guns, weighing a couple of tons each, mounted on the top of Mount Defiance.

They only had to await the slow moving Germans on the other side of Lake Champlain to cut off the final escape routes for the garrison at Ticonderoga.  Once the Germans were in place, they could open fire.  The Americans would have nowhere to go and would have no option but to surrender.  Sure enough, on the morning of July 5, Americans noticed smoke coming from campfires on Mount Defiance.  A closer examination revealed redcoats moving about on top of the hill.  The defenders knew they were in serious trouble.

Inside the Fort, General St. Clair held a council of war to decide what to do next.  The Commanders decided that the invincible Fort Ticonderoga was, in fact, lost.  Their next steps would be to do what they could to save the garrison.

Next week: The Americans take heed of the old adage, he who looks and runs away, lives to fight another day.
- - -

Next Episode 145 Retreat from Ticonderoga

Previous Episode 143 Burgoyne's Northern Army

Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account.

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You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.




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Further Reading

Websites

Philip Schuyler: https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/dutch_americans/philip-john-schuyler

Horatio Gates: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/horatio-gates

Anthony Wayne: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anthony-Wayne

Arthur St. Clair: https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Arthur_St._Clair

Christmas Riot at Fort Ticonderoga https://www.npr.org/2018/12/25/679831582/1776-christmas-riot-at-fort-ticonderoga-reveals-long-forgotten-tensions

The Battle of Fort Ticonderoga (Second): https://revolutionarywar.us/year-1777/battle-fort-ticonderago-second

Schenawolf, Harry “Fort Ticonderoga: Americans Abandoned The Gibraltar of the North Without a Fight” Revolutionary War Journal December 7, 2018: http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/fort-ticonderoga-americans-abandoned-the-gibraltar-of-the-north-without-a-fight

Battle of Ticonderoga
https://www.britishbattles.com/war-of-the-revolution-1775-to-1783/battle-of-ticonderoga-1777

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Brandow, John H. The story of old Saratoga; the Burgoyne campaign, to which is added New York's share in the revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Burgoyne, John Orderly book of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne : from his entry into the state of New York until his surrender at Saratoga, 16th Oct., 1777: from the original manuscript deposited at Washington's headquarters, Newburgh, N.Y. J. Munsell, 1860.

Burgoyne, John A Brief examination of the plan and conduct of the northern expedition in America, in 1777, T. Hookham, 1779.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Digby, William The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Duncan, Francis History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Vol 1, J. Murray 1879.

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne : misadventures of an English general in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Nickerson, Hoffman The Turning Point of the Revolution; or, Burgoyne in America, (Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1928 (Hathitrust.org).

Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise, Freifrau von Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga, Joel Munsell, 1867.

Smith, William Henry (ed) The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair, Vol. 1, Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co, 1882.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Robert P. Where a Man Can Go: Major General William Phillips, British Royal Artillery, 1731-1781, Greenwood Press, 1999.

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990.

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