The Battle of Ticonderoga 1777
Battle: Ticonderoga 1777
War: American Revolutionary War
Date: 6th July 1777.
Place: Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, New York State
in the United States of America.
Combatants: British, Hessians and Brunswickers against the
Generals: Major General John Burgoyne commanded the
British and Major General Arthur St Clair commanded the American
Size of the armies:
7,213 regular British, Hessian and Brunswick troops, a varying
but large contingent of Native Americans and some 150 Canadians
against some 3,000 American troops.
Uniforms, arms and equipment:
The British wore red coats and headgear of bearskin caps, leather
caps or tricorne hats depending on whether the troops were
grenadiers, light infantry or battalion company men. The German
infantry wore blue coats and retained the Prussian style grenadier
mitre with brass front plate. The Americans dressed as best they
could. Increasingly as the war progressed regular infantry regiments
of the Continental Army wore blue uniform coats but the militia
continued in rough clothing. Both sides were armed with muskets and
Winner: The Americans withdrew precipitately from
Ticonderoga leaving it in British hands.
9th Foot: later the Royal Norfolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian
20th Foot: later the Lancashire Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment
21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, now the Royal Highland Fusiliers.
24th Foot: later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal
Regiment of Wales.
47th Foot: later the Loyal Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire
53rd Foot: later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
and now the Royal Green Jackets.
62nd Foot: later the Wiltshire Regiment, then the Duke of
Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire,
Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.
King’s Loyal Americans.
Queen’s Loyal Rangers.
The British 9th Regiment of Foot
Prinz Ludwig Dragoons
Von Rhetz’s Regiment.
Von Riedesel’s Regiment.
Prinz Frederich’s Regiment.
Francis’ Massachusetts Regiment.
Marshall’s Massachusetts Regiment.
Hale’s New Hampshire Continentals.
Cilley’s New Hampshire Continentals.
Scammell’s New Hampshire Continentals.
Many other severely undermanned corps.
Fort Ticonderoga was built by the French as Fort Carillon
when they held Canada and the routes to the southern end of Lake
Champlain. In 1758 during the French and Indian War Ticonderoga was
the scene of a fearsome battle between the British and American
colonists and the French under the Marquis de Montcalm. The
following year, the fort was captured by the British under Amherst.
With the Treaty of Paris and the end of the French and Indian War
(the Seven Years War) all of Canada passed to the British and
Ticonderoga lost its previous strategic significance. That is until
the American Revolutionary War broke out. By that time the stone
fortifications had fallen into ruin and the garrison comprised 70
Battle for Fort Ticonderoga
In 1775 Fort Ticonderoga was surprised and captured by the
Americans under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. The Fort provided
the heavy artillery that the colonists needed to bombard General
Gage out of Boston. Ticonderoga again became an important bastion on
the route from the Hudson River to Canada, this time to resist
British invasion from North to South.
The end of the 1776 campaigning season saw British forces, under
the governor of Canada, Guy Carleton, and Major General “Gentleman
Johnnie" Burgoyne, advance south down Lake Champlain and threaten
Fort Ticonderoga. But the year was far advanced and Carleton was an
old North American hand. He considered it would be too difficult to
supply a garrison in Ticonderoga over the winter and withdrew his
forces to Canada, in the face of considerable objection from
Burgoyne and others who wanted to seize the fort that year.
General St Clair.
Over the winter Lord Germaine, the Secretary of State for the
Northern Department, the minister with the direction of the American
War, persuaded King George II to appoint General Burgoyne commander
of the expedition planned to attack the American colonies by way of
the Lake Champlain route during 1777.
On 20th June 1777 the army assembled in the St Lawrence River to
begin its advance south.
Over the winter of 1776/7 Major General Arthur St Clair, the
officer appointed by Congress to command at Ticonderoga, and his
garrison strove to bring the fort to a proper state of defence. St
Clair and his men faced considerable difficulties. Ticonderoga,
originally Fort Carillon, had been built by the French to keep the
British at bay and consequently faced south, the wrong direction to
resist the British incursion. In addition, with the end of the
French and Indian War Ticonderoga had lost its purpose and been
allowed to fall into disrepair.
In the summer of 1776 an American officer, Lieutenant Colonel
John Trumbull, had prepared a report on the defences of Ticonderoga.
Trumbull recommended that the axis of defence be moved from the
existing fort to a mountain on the opposite side of the lake, then
known locally as Mount Rattlesnake. The recommendation was accepted
and, in keeping with the spirit of the times, Mount Rattlesnake
became Mount Independence. Unfortunately Trumbull’s further
recommendation that a prominence called Sugar Hill which overlooked
the whole area also be fortified was ignored. It seemed sufficient
to change its name to Mount Defiance.
St Clair’s engineering officer, Colonel Jeduthan Baldwin, worked
tirelessly in the face of shortages and disease to prepare
Ticonderoga for attack by the British. By July 1777 Baldwin had
built batteries, stockades and block houses and, to link the old
Fort Ticonderoga with the fortifications on Mount Independence, a
bridge and boom. On Mount Independence the Polish military engineer,
Thaddeus Kosciuszko, built batteries and fortifications. The spirit
of the American garrison was good. There were too few troops but
they were ready to fight. Parties of New England militia came to the
encampment, stayed long enough to deplete the garrison’s stores, and
On 1st July 1777 Burgoyne’s army, carried by flotilla and
marching down the lake side, arrived just north of Ticonderoga.
Light Infantry under Brigadier Simon Fraser infiltrated around the
western side of the fort over Hope Hill. Fraser’s troops crossed the
river leading to Lake George and circled around the southern side of
Ticonderoga. They climbed Sugar Hill and saw, as Trumbull had, that
the heights dominated the American positions in both Ticonderoga and
Mount Independence. The British dragged guns to the summit and
St Clair thereupon, after notionally consulting a council of war,
resolved to abandon Ticonderoga and retreat south. During the night
of 5th/6th July 1777 the American troops left the fort with such
supplies as they could move in the time and rowed across to the
landings beneath Mount Independence. The secrecy of the move was
destroyed by a French officer, Colonel Roche de Fermoy, who set fire
to his house on the summit of the hill lighting up the bay beneath,
with its flotilla of boats carrying the American troops across the
Alerted to the withdrawal, the British troops pursued, crossing
by boat and across the boom from the old French fort, but the
Americans made good their escape, marching away into the woods or
rowing down the South Bay towards Skenesborough to the South.
An American rear party remained to contest the British advance
and cover St Clair’s withdrawal. That party fell back, leaving a
forlorn hope of 4 men posted at a heavy gun with the duty of firing
into the British as they crossed on the boom. The redcoats found the
4 men lying around the gun, incapably drunk, an empty Madeira barrel
lying nearby. An inquisitive Iroquois discharged the gun by
accident, but caused no injuries, the round howling off into the
sky. Ticonderoga was again in British hands and available as a base
for their operations south towards Albany.
Casualties: Casualties were only a few dozen on each side.
Ticonderoga was an important symbol for the Americans, who
expected that the fort would keep the redcoats out of the northern
colonies, particularly in view of the winter spent improving the
fortifications. St Clair’s abrupt retreat caused alarm and outrage.
A militant Protestant chaplain in the garrison, the Reverend Thomas
Allen, wrote “Our men are eager for the battle, our magazines
filled, our camp crowded with provisions, flags flying. The shameful
abandonment of Ticonderoga has not been equaled in the history of
the world." This sentiment was repeated with fury across the
St Clair justified his actions, claiming to have saved valuable
troops for the American cause. In the light of the heavy criticism
to which he was subjected he demanded a court martial, at which he
St Clair may have been right. It may be that Burgoyne would have
captured a defended Ticonderoga and that many valuable American
troops would have become casualties. There is no doubt that
Burgoyne’s further march south overstrained the British supply
system and contributed directly to his surrender at Saratoga.
Was the fact that the British battery established on Sugar Hill
overlooked the American fortifications in Ticonderoga and on Mount
Independence an adequate reason for the precipitate and headlong
retreat and the abandonment of a major American defence on which
such effort and expectation had been lavished?
In the absence of a direct order from General Schuyler or the
Congress to abandon Ticonderoga, perhaps St Clair should have fought
it out. Probably, whatever the outcome, St Clair would have emerged
from the war a national hero instead of spending the rest of his
life attempting to justify his actions and fending off allegations
- History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
- The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward
- Saratoga by Richard Ketchum