11. Driving on Burgoyne Road: Flaws of Fort Ticonderoga

The Rebels worked feverishly to fortify their position, but it would be in vain.

Fort Carillon, taken in 1759 from the French during the French and Indian War, was renamed Ticonderoga—“between the two waters”—by British General Jeffery Amherst. Since then it had been garrisoned by a rather small British contingent, making it easy for Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, and their Rebel forces to capture it in May 1775. Its artillery was later transported by oxen to the American army surrounding Boston. The threat of the big guns would prove instrumental in forcing the evacuation of British troops from Boston.

Two years later in the spring and early summer of 1777, however, the Americans had been struggling to prepare a severely compromised Fort Ticonderoga for an expected British assault from the north. Aside from the deteriorated condition of most of the structures, the fort had three fatal flaws:

First, Fort Ticonderoga had originally been constructed by the French on a southern facing promontory of the peninsula during the French and Indian War to withstand a British attack from the south. This time, however, the British would be coming from the north, from Quebec.

Recognizing the deficiencies of Fort Ticonderoga to repel a northern attack, Major General Philip Schuyler ordered the fortification of Rattlesnake Hill, which was directly across the lake on the Vermont shore. Construction began on July 18, 1776, and, when the Declaration of Independence was read to an enthusiastic gathering there on July 28, the hill was soon christened “Mount Independence.”

Second, the Rebels inexplicably ignored the threat posed by the superior elevation of Mount Defiance, a mountain just south of Fort Ticonderoga that overlooks both Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. This vulnerability had been identified—most recently by Colonel John Trumbull and Polish engineer Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko in 1776—but measures to prevent enemy access to the summit of Mount Defiance were never implemented.

The third weakness had to do with numbers. By June 1777, the garrison totaled somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 Rebels, far short of the 10,000 men required for the fort’s defense. George Washington, who had never visited the fort, relied on misguided reports of its impregnability to justify his refusal to send reinforcements.

Having arrived in mid-June to take command of Fort Ticonderoga, Major-General Arthur St. Clair continued to fortify the site’s defenses. Burgoyne, believing that Ticonderoga and Mount Independence would be the only serious obstacles in his drive toward Albany, was coming well-prepared for a siege, bringing with him 138 cannons and an army of 8,000 well-trained British and German soldiers. Work proceeded feverishly, but with Burgoyne’s June 27 occupation of Crown Point, just 17 miles to the north, St. Clair was faced with a difficult situation.

Burgoyne had prepared his strategy for attack. He intended to use an ancient military tactic known as a pincer movement. He dispatched Major General Frederick Riedesel to the east shore to block the road to the Hampshire Grants, in what is now Vermont. General Simon Fraser, along with General William Philips, were dispatched to the west, where they were to cut off the land route between Lake Champlain and Lake George. Burgoyne, with his armada would lead the frontal assault on the lake. If each person completed their task, then the Rebels would be surrounded, with no way to escape.

Travel Tools:

Start track 11 after entering the town of Ticonderoga. From Route 9 N, turn left onto Burgoyne Road. The route you are driving is approximately the same one that British generals Simon Fraser and William Philips took in their attempt to circle around the Rebel troops at Fort Ticonderoga from the west.

Mount Hope: Turn left at the Mount Hope Cemetery. Finish listening to track 11 here as you do a loop around the remains of the “star.” Back then, there would have been no trees, allowing for a 360-degree view of everything the Rebels were doing.

Rebel engineer Jeduthan Baldwin laid out the earthworks on Mount Hope in September 1776, as it commanded the heights overlooking Lake George and La Chute River. For this same reason, it was also used as a fortification by the French during the French and Indian War. Sentries would have had a 360-degree view of the military road north to Crown Point, the portage and falls of La Chute River, as well as a clear view of any army coming by way of Lake George. Today, much of Mount Hope is occupied by the Mount Hope Cemetery (mostly comprised of War of 1812 burials). The remains of a star-faced edifice, part of the Revolution-era fortification can still be seen. A visit to Mount Hope provides a vantage point that makes it easy to understand the strategic value of this site.

 

Learn More

Battles at Ticonderoga (video)

The Hampshire Grants

First-Hand Accounts

Major-General Arthur St. Clair recognized that more Rebel forces were needed to properly defend Fort Ticonderoga. But his requests to George Washington were not granted:

The Rebels were hard at work building fortifications at Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Defiance:

 

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