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The Battle of Ticonderoga 1758

Battle: Ticonderoga 1758

War: The French and Indian War also known as the Seven Year War (1757 to 1762)

Date: 8th July 1758w

Place: At the southern tip of Lake Champlain in the United States, on the borders of northern New York State and Vermont.


The 42nd Highland Regiment, Black Watch, parading on
Glasgow Green, before leaving for America in 1757

Combatants: British and American colonial troops against French regular and colonial troops.

Generals: General James Abercromby and Brigadier Lord Howe commanded the British and Americans. The Marquis de Montcalm commanded the French.

Size of the armies: 15,000 British and American Provincials. Around 3,600 French regular troops with a few Canadian provincials.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The French made use of guns emplaced on the walls of the fort, but essentially this was a battle of musket and bayonet. The English regiments were uniformed in red coats distinguished by regimental lace and facing colour, black tricorne hats or mitre caps for the grenadiers.

The American provincial regiments wore blue. However, extensive modification of uniform was made to suit forest warfare with coats being cut back and any form of headgear and equipment permitted. Rogers Rangers may have worn their distinctive green and Gage’s light infantry wore grey.

The essential white uniform of the French regular infantry is likely to have been similarly modified.

Soldiers carried muskets, bayonets, hatchets or tomahawks and knives. The French musket was of a smaller calibre to the British. It is unlikely that many rifled weapons were used. The standard battle issue for British soldiers was 24 rounds. Probably Howe required his soldiers to carry as many rounds as they could.

Winner: the French drove back the British/American attack, inflicting heavy losses.

British Regiments: 27th, 42nd (the Highland Regiment: Black Watch), 44th, 46th, 55th, 1st/ 60th, 4th/60th, Gage’s 80th Light Infantry, Roger’s Rangers and regiments from New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
27th: Later the Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment
42nd: The Royal Highland Regiment (the Black Watch)
44th: The Essex Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
46th: 2nd Bn, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and now 1st Bn, the Light Infantry
55th: 2nd Bn, the Border Regiment and now 1st Bn, the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
60th: The King’s Royal Rifle Corps and now 2nd Bn, the Royal Green Jackets
80th: disbanded

Map of the Battle of Ticonderoga
Battle of Ticonderoga

Account: The French fort of Ticonderoga lay at the southern end of Lake Champlain, part of the long inland waterway that was the main route for a British land invasion of French Canada. In June 1758 a force of British regular and American provincial troops from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the other New England provinces, in all 15,000 men gathered at the head of Lake George. The nominal commander was General James Abercrombie, an elderly portly man raised to high command through political influence lacking military experience or ability. The true inspiration for the army was Brigadier Lord Howe. Howe understood the nature of warfare in America and worked hard to adapt the troops for forest operations.

Drummer of the Royal Roussillon Regiment
Drummer of the Royal Roussillon Regiment

The northern tip of Lake George was joined to the southern end of Lake Champlain by a 5 mile strip of river marked by rapids and morass. The French fort stood at the point where the river entered Lake Champlain. Moncalm’s regular French battalions were positioned at various points along the river, the regiment of Berry at the fort, the main party at the Saw Mills further south and an advanced party at the southern end of the portage that bypassed the rapids. Uncertain where to contest the British advance Montcalm ordered the Berry regiment to build a fortified abattis in front of the fort.   On 5th July 1758 the British and American flotilla set sail up Lake George, Rogers Rangers and Gage’s light infantry leading.

Grenadier of the 42nd Highlanders, the Black Watch
Grenadier of the 42nd
Highlanders, the Black Watch

Arriving at the northern end of Lake George, Howe, Rogers and Bradstreet landed to reconnoitre the French positions. A small French party had been watching the army from the Western bank of Lake George.

In attempting to return to the main camp this force became involved in a fight with the British advanced parties. In the skirmish Howe was killed. The disastrous consequence of Howe’s death was that actual command now fell on the inadequate Abercrombie.

Initially uncertain how to deal with the assault, Montcalm’s force withdrew behind the abattis constructed across the isthmus on which the fort lay. Montcalm set his whole force to strengthening the position, overnight building a near impenetrable thicket of branches and thorn. After an initial hesitation, Abercrombie resolved to attack, urged on by Bradstreet. Lieutenant Clarke, the army’s engineer was sent to reconnoitre the French position. Clarke advised that the abattis could be stormed by infantry assault.

Behind the fortified line, now reinforced through the arrival of a force commanded by Levis, stood the French regiments of La Sarre, Languedoc, Berry, Royal Rousillon, La Reine, Bearn and Guienne.

Soon after 9am on 8th July the British and Americans began their frontal assault on the abbatis. No use was made of the strong British artillery. The attack continued throughout the day with additional attempts to pass the fort by boat. In spite of the intrepid efforts of the American provincial and the British regular troops the French held them back until finally Abercrombie drew his men off and the retreat began. The attacking troops suffered heavy casualties.


View of the fort after the Battle of Ticonderoga

In the final stages of the assault the 42nd Highlanders launched from the reserve a particularly determined attack that came near to succeeding.

Montcalm understandably claimed that he had inflicted a crushing victory on the British.

Casualties: The American provincials lost 350 killed and wounded. The British battalions lost 1,600 killed and wounded. The worst affected were the 42nd with 490 casualties, 44th and 46th with 200 each, 55th and 4/60th with 150, 1/60th and 27th with 100.

The French casualties were around 350 killed and wounded.

Indians
Indians

Follow-up: Abercromby was reduced to a state of panic by his defeat and retreated to the southern end of Lake George. Fortunately some of his subordinates were made of sterner stuff, in particular Bradstreet and Forbes. In August 1758 Bradstreet marched to Fort Frontenac, captured and destroyed the fort and the French flotilla on Lake Ontario. In November Forbes took Fort DuQuesne, Braddock’s nemesis.
Abercromby was withdrawn and his position as commander in chief taken by General Amherst. The French victory deferred their loss of Canada by a year.


The 44th and 46th Foot

Regimental anecdotes and traditions:


General Abercromby's force embarking for the attack on Fort Ticonderoga

Captain John Campbell of the Black Watch
Captain John Campbell of the Black Watch

References: