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13. Fort View Inn: The Rebels Flee
Despite all efforts by the Rebels to build up Fort Ticonderoga, the British had the upper hand.
Listen to the Turning Point Trail Site 13 Audio Narration:
Nearly a full year had passed since the Rebels at Fort Ticonderoga had gathered in mid-July 1776 to celebrate the cause for independence by renaming Rattlesnake Hill Mount Defiance and Vermont’s Sugar Hill Mount Independence. British Lieutenant William Digby was astonished by the industriousness of the Rebels, who had made such vast improvements within a year, but the weakness of the stronghold had been found. Having already received intelligence about the vulnerabilities of fort, Burgoyne dispatched his engineer Lieutenant Twiss to study the feasibility of hauling a cannon up Mount Defiance, the promontory to the southeast of Fort Ticonderoga that overlooks both the fort and Mount Independence.
It was General Phillips that looked up Mount Defiance and said, “Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go, he can lug weapons.” A road to the top was quickly constructed and a team of oxen hauled a cannon to the summit. From that vantage point, the cannon could hit both fortifications.
St. Clair was faced with a difficult decision. If he abandoned what the Rebels believed to be an invincible fortress, it would be a huge blow to the morale of the American cause and would certainly draw condemnation from Continental leaders, but he also had a responsibility to preserve the army. Following a conference with his staff, St. Clair made the decision to evacuate the fort on the night of July 4, 1777.
In the darkness of evening, St. Clair began his retreat. He quietly loaded the ships with women, children, sick and wounded, along with tons of provisions to set sail south to Skenesborough (present-day Whitehall). The other soldiers were ordered to cross the bridge to Vermont and prepare for an extended march toward the New England colonies.
Things were moving in an orderly fashion until disaster struck. Against all orders, French General Roche de Fermoy set fire to his quarters, lighting up the whole sky and revealing the Rebel flight. It was a stroke of luck that the Burgoyne was so slow to respond, which allowed the last Rebels to vacate the fort at 5 a.m. on July 5, 1777.
For Burgoyne and the British, this was a great victory.
Start track 13 after leaving La Chute Falls Park. Continue south on Route 22. Just before the Fort View Inn on your right is a small pull-off. Take a look across the street. From here (325 NY-22, Ticonderoga) you get a panoramic view of where all the action took place on the momentous night of July 4, 1777, at Fort Ticonderoga. Directly across the lake, you see Mount Independence in Vermont. To the north (left) is Fort Ticonderoga, and just northwest (behind you), looms Mount Defiance—the weakness the Rebels failed to appreciate. The narrow point between Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence was where the Rebels had built the bridge, as well as the log and iron barrier to prevent ships from passing through.
You’re now halfway through the Turning Point Trail Tour. It’s recommended that you spend the night in Ticonderoga before continuing the second half on the tour. For places to stay in the Ticonderoga area, visit the lodging list provided by the Ticonderoga Chamber of Commerce.
The British recognize the strategic value of Mount Defiance: “Lt. Twiss the commanding Engineer was ordered to reconnoiter Mount Defiance on the southwest side of the communication from Lake George into Lake Champlain….Lt. Twiss reported this hill to have the entire command of the Works and Buildings both of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence; that the ground might be leveled so as to receive cannon; and that a road to convey them, though difficult, might be made practicable in twenty-four hours.” –General John Burgoyne
Rebel General St. Clair was in a tough position, when he decided to retreat from Fort Ticonderoga. Nevertheless, he was later court-martialed for his actions: “About nine o’clock the same evening General St. Clair sent me with orders to General Fermoy, that he should direct all the stores, ammunition, cannon, baggage, &c. to be taken to the foot of the hill on the east side of the Mount, where they were to be put on board bateaus for Skenesborough. I returned, after delivering the order, to Ticonderoga, and was sent by the General with orders to the Officer in the Jersey redoubt, to continue firing his cannon every half hour toward the battery the enemy were erecting opposite to the redoubt till further orders. About twelve o’clock the same evening I was again sent to Mount Independence. I found General Fermoy near his house, with his own baggage. I went to the landing, where I found Colonel Hay directing the leading the boats, with between three and four hundred men carrying down the stores, &c. but, for want of proper orders and attention from General Fermoy, everything appeared in the greatest confusion.… About three o’clock in the morning the troops were put in motion for the evacuation, but General Fermoy having set fire to his house (contrary to positive orders) which lighted the whole Mount, and gave the enemy an opportunity of seeing every movement we made, it damped the spirits of our own troops; the militia regiments pushed out of the Mount in disorder, and were followed by a number of continental troops; the guards from Ticonderoga had also to pass the light, and rushed forward in confusion.” –Major Dunn, Aid de Camp to General St. Clair at the Court Martial of St. Clair