Date: June 30 - July 7, 1777
Commanders: British - General John Burgoyne, General Freidrich von Riedesel, and General Simon Fraser. American - General Philip Schuyler, General Arthur St. Clair
British Perspective: Perspective: In the spring of 1777, Maj. Gen. John Burgoyne was dispatched to Québec, Canada, to take charge of British forces in that country and lead an offensive south into western New York. His mission was to crush Patriot forces in that region.
After destroying rebel resistance in western New York, Burgoyne intended to march south to Albany, where he would join with Gen. William Howe’s army for additional offensive operations. Burgoyne himself designed this ambitious scheme, which was fully supported by his superiors.
Burgoyne assigned 3,700 troops to remain with Gen. Sir Guy Carleton in Québec while he led a 9,100-man expeditionary force southward along Lake Champlain to eliminate the Patriots defending Fort Ticonderoga. This success would clear the rebels from Canada all the way to the Hudson River Valley. Simultaneously, another British force, about 2,000 men commanded by Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger, would march around to the west and attack Patriots operating in the Mohawk Valley before moving to Albany.
Howe, meanwhile, would lead the main British army northward up the Hudson River from New York City to join with St. Leger and Burgoyne at Albany. If successful, the three-pronged British offensive would crush the rebellion in New York and separate the New England colonies from the middle and lower colonies. It was an ambitious plan and offered perhaps the best way to cripple the rebellion and turn the tide of the war decisively in the Crown's favor.
Burgoyne’s expeditionary force departed St. Johns, Canada, on June 20, 1777. His troops consisted of 5,500 British soldiers, 3,000 Hessians commanded by Maj. Gen. Friedrich von Riedesel, 400 Indians, 150 Canadians, and 100 Tory sympathizers. Burgoyne also had 37 naval ships of various sizes, 138 artillery pieces, and 250 British artillerymen.
American Perspective: When he learned of the arrival of General Burgoyne and his army in Canada, Maj. Gen. John Thomas, the commander of American forces stationed on the outskirts of Québec, retreated southward into western New York. An outbreak of smallpox decimated American ranks during the retreat, and Thomas was one of those who died from the disease.
Brigadier General John Sullivan replaced Thomas, and the army marched southward to Fort Ticonderoga to join there with the forces led by Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler commanded all the Patriot troops in western New York (Northern Department of the Continental Army). One of Schuyler’s subordinates, Gen. Arthur St. Clair, was assigned to defend the key terrain overlooking Lake Champlain at Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.
Fort Ticonderoga had been in Patriot's hands since its capture by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen on May 10, 1775. The fort dominated the terrain on the western shore of Lake Champlain, where it intersected with the narrow waterway linking it to Lake George. This area was a mainstay in the Patriot defensive northern network, and 2,500 troops led by Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair was busy there preparing for the arrival of the British.
Artillery and supplemental positions were also prepared on Mount Independence, which overlooked the lake from the southeast. High ground west at Mt. Hope, southwest of Mt. Defiance, the lake itself, and wide northern and northwestern approaches meant that without a large force, Ticonderoga was indefensible. Its importance in the minds of Americans, however, made its defense professionally and politically necessary.
On June 20, Schuyler and his generals decided to hold the fort as long as possible before falling back southeast across a quarter-mile span of boats to Mt. Independence, where a line of retreat led south near the lakeshore to Skenesboro. The line of British operations was unknown, and the American plan was, at best, uninspired.
The Fighting: General Burgoyne arrived outside the walls of Fort Ticonderoga on June 30. His British had marched or landed on the western shore of the lake, while von Riedesel’s Hessians landed and marched down the eastern side toward Mt. Independence. The Hessians faced a difficult mission as East Creek and its surrounding marshes dominated the terrain in their sector. The Hessians planned to sweep around to the south and then move up into the high ground, but American artillery fire from Mt. Independence, coupled with swampy East Creek, thwarted their movements.
By July 2, troops commanded by Brig. Gen. Simon Fraser secured positions northwest of the American fort on Mount Hope, effectively cutting off an American retreat to Lake George. St. Clair and his officers knew if the British moved to occupy the high ground one mile farther south on Mt. Defiance, Fort Ticonderoga, the bridge of boats leading to the eastern shore, and Mt. Independence would be within the range of enemy artillery. St. Clair, however, lacked the troop strength to adequately defend the surrounding terrain.
The British initiated plans on July 4 to occupy Mt. Defiance. The move to mount the high ground and unlimber artillery there was foolishly performed in front of American eyes, which gave St. Clair the time he needed to hold a council of war and decide his next move. At dusk on July 5, St. Clair began evacuating Fort Ticonderoga, the move masked by a large-scale artillery barrage.
As long as the Hessians did not move south and cut off the route below Mt. Independence, the route to Skenesboro (now Whitehall) remained open. Critical supplies and artillery pieces were moved downriver; two hours later, the balance of the garrison crossed the boat bridge to Mt. Independence and marched south.
Burgoyne discovered his opponent’s escape the next morning and ordered a vigorous pursuit. He split his army into three parts. One wing was left to occupy Fort Ticonderoga and other strategic locations around Lake Champlain while he led another section by water in pursuit south down the lake.
The third portion was placed under General Fraser and ordered to march down the western side of the lake in pursuit of the retreating Americans. Burgoyne had easily captured the important stronghold.
To learn more Siege of Fort Ticonderoga facts, read the book Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution written by Theodore Savas and J. David Dameron.
- Wikipedia - Siege of Fort Ticonderoga
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