Ticonderoga – Historic Landmarks

THE road from the foot of Lake George to Fort “Ty” is hilly, but the varied scenery makes the ride a pleasant one. We crossed the outlet of the lake twice; first at the Upper Falls, where stands the dilapidated village of Alexandria, its industrial energies weighed down, I was told, by the narrow policy of a ” lord of the manor ” residing in London, who owns the fee of all the land and of the water privileges, and will not sell, or give long leases. The good people of the place pray for his life to be short and happy—a very generous supplication. From the high ground near the village a fine prospect opened on the eastward ; and suddenly, as if a curtain had been removed, the cultivated farms and pleasant villages of Vermont along the lake shore, and the blue line of the Green Mountains in the far distance, were spread out before us.

The second or Lower Falls is half way between the two lakes, and here the thriving village of Ticonderoga is situated. A bridge and a saw-mill were there many years before the Revolution; and this is the spot where Lord Howe, at the head of his column, crossed the stream and pushed forward through the woods toward the French lines, a mile and a quarter beyond. We arrived at the Pavilion near the fort at one o’clock, dined, and with a small party set off immediately to view the interesting ruins of one of the most noted fortresses in America. Before noticing its present condition and appearance, let us glance at its past history.

Ticonderoga is a corruption of Cheonderoga, an Iroquois word, signifying Sounding Waters, and was applied by the Indians to the rushing waters of the outlet of Lake George at the falls. The French, who first built a fort at Crown Point (Fort St. Frederic), established themselves upon this peninsula in 1755, and the next year they began the erection of a strong fortress, which they called Fort Carillon. The Indian name was generally applied to it, and by that only was it known from the close of the French and Indian War in 1763.

The peninsula is elevated more than one hundred feet above the lake, and contains about five hundred acres.

Nature and art-made it a strong place. Water was upon three sides, and a deep swamp extended nearly across the fourth. Within a mile north of the fortress intrenchments were thrown up, the remains of which may still be seen at each side of the road, and are known as the French lines. The whole defences were completed by the erection of a breast-work nine feet high, upon the narrowest part of the neck between the swamp and the outlet of Lake George; and before the breast-work was a strong abattis.

Here was the general rendezvous of the French under Montcalm, preparatory to the attack on Fort William Henry. It continued to be the headquarters of that general until Quebec was threatened by an expedition under Wolfe, up the St. Lawrence, when he abandoned the posts on Lake Champlain, and mustered all his forces at the capital of Lower Canada.

Montcalm commanded a force of four thousand men at Ticonderoga when Abercrombie approached, and was in daily expectation of receiving a reinforcement of three thousand troops under M. de Levi. The English commander was advised of this expected re-enforcement of the garrison, and felt the necessity of making an immediate attack upon the works. His army moved forward in three columns; but so dense was the forest that covered. the whole country, that their progress was slow. They were also deficient in suitable guides, and in a short time were thrown into a great deal of confusion. They pressed steadily forward, and the advanced post of the French (a breast-work of logs) was set fire to by the enemy themselves and abandoned. Lord Howe, who was Abercrombie’s lieutenant, or second in command, led the advanced column ; and as they pressed onward after crossing the bridge, Major Putnam, with about one hundred men, advanced as a scouting party to reconnoitre. Lord Howe, eager to make the first attack, proposed to accompany Putnam, but the Major tried to dissuade him, by saying, ” My lord, if I am killed the loss of my life will be of little consequence, but the preservation of yours is of infinite importance to this army.” The answer was, ” Putnam, your life is as dear to you as mine is to me. I am determined to go.” They dashed in through the woods, and in a few minutes fell in with the advanced guard of the French, who had retreated from the first breast-works, and without a guide and bewildered, were endeavouring to find their way back to the lines. A sharp skirmish ensued, and at the first fire Lord Howe, another officer, and several privates were killed. The French were repulsed with a loss of three hundred killed and one hundred and forty-eight taken prisoners. The English columns were so much broken, confused, and fatigued, that Abercrombie marched them back to the landing-place on Lake George, to bivouac for the night. Early the next morning Colonel Bradstreet advanced and took possession of the saw-mill, near the present village of Ticonderoga, which the enemy had abandoned.

Abercrombie sent an engineer to reconnoitre, and on his reporting that the works were unfinished and might easily be taken, the British troops were again put in motion toward the fortress. As they approached the lines, the French, who were completely sheltered behind their breast-works, opened a heavy discharge of artillery upon them, but they pressed steadily forward in the face of the storm, determined to assault the works, and endeavour to carry them by sword and bayonet. They found them so well defended by a deep abattis, that it was almost impossible to reach them; yet, amid the galling fire of the enemy, the English continued for four hours striving to cut their way through the limbs and bushes to the breast-works with their swords. Some did, indeed, mount the parapet, but in a moment they were slain. Scores of Britons were mowed down at every discharge of cannon. Perceiving the rapid reduction of his army, Abercrombie at last sounded a retreat; and, without being pursued by the French, the English fell back to their encampment at the foot of Lake George, from which the wounded were sent to Fort Edward and to Albany. The English loss was nearly two thousand men and twenty-five hundred stand of arms. Never did troops show bolder courage or more obstinate persistence against fearful obstacles. The whole army seemed emulous to ‘excel, but the Scotch Highland regiment of Lard John Murray was fore-most in the conflict, and suffered the severest loss. One-half of the privates and twenty-five officers were slain on the spot or badly wounded. Failing in this attempt, Abercrombie changed his plans. He despatched General Stanwix to build a fort near the head-waters of the Mohawk, at the site of the present village of Rome, Oneida County.

Colonel Bradstreet, at his own urgent solicitation, was ordered, with three thousand troops, mostly provincials, to proceed by the way of Osewgo and Lake Ontario, to attack Fort Frontenac, where Kingston, in Upper Canada, now stands; and himself, with the rest of the army, returned to Albany.

The skill, bravery, and activity of General Amherst, exhibited in the capture of Louisburg, gained him a vote of thanks from Parliament, and commended him to Pitt, who, the next year, appointed him to the chief command in America, in place of the less active Abercrombie. So much did Pitt rely upon his judgment and ability, that he clothed him with discretionary powers to take measures to make the complete conquest of all Canada in a single campaign. His plans were arranged upon a magnificent scale. Appreciating the services of Wolfe, one expedition was placed under his command, to ascend the St. Lawrence and attack Quebec. General Prideaux was sent with another expedition to capture the stronghold of Niagara, while Amherst himself took personal command of a third expedition against the fortress on Lake Champlain. It was arranged for the three armies to form a junction as conquerors at Quebec. Prideaux, after capturing the fort at Niagara, was to proceed down the lake and St. Lawrence to attack Montreal and the posts below, and Amherst was to push forward after the capture of Ticonderoga and Crown Ponit, down the Richelieu or Sorel River, to the St. Lawrence, and join with Wolfe at Quebec.

Amherst collected about eleven thousand men at Fort Edward and its vicinity, and, moving cautiously along Lake Champlain, crossed the outlet of Lake George, and appeared before Ticonderoga on the 26th of July. He met with no impediments by the way, and at once made preparations for reducing the fortress by a regular siege. The garrison were strong, and evinced a disposition to make a vigorous resistance. They soon discovered, however, that they had not Abercrombie to deal with, and, despairing of being able to hold out against the advancing English, they dismantled and abandoned the fort, and fled to Crown Point. Not a gun was fired or a sword crossed ; and the next day Amherst marched in and took possession of the fort. He at once set about repairing and enlarging it, and also arranging an expedition against the enemy at Crown Point, when, to his astonishment, he learned from his scouts that they had abandoned that post also, and fled down the lake to Isle Aux Noix in the Richelieu or Sorel.

The contempt with which the loyal and respectful ad-dresses of the first Continental Congress of 1774 were treated by the British ministry and a majority in Parliament; the harsh measures adopted by the government early in 1775, to coerce the colonists into submission, and the methodical tyranny of General Gage at Boston, and of other Colonial governors, convinced the Americans that an appeal to arms was inevitable. They were convinced, also, that the province of Quebec, or Canada, would remain loyal, and that there would be a place of rendezvous for British troops when the colonies should unite in open and avowed rebellion. The strong fortresses of Ticonderoga and Crown Point formed the key of all communication between New York and Canada, and the vigilant patriots of Massachusetts, then the very hot-bed of rebellion, early perceived the necessity of securing these post the moment hostilities should commence.

Early in March, Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren, members of the Committee of Correspondence of Boston, sent a secret agent into Canada to ascertain the opinions and temper of the people of that province concerning the great questions at issue and the momentous events then pending.

After a diligent but cautious performance of his delicate task, the agent sent word to them from Montreal that the people were, at best, lukewarm, and advised that, the moment hostilities commenced, Ticonderoga and its garrison should be seized. This advice was coupled with the positive assertion that the people of the New Hampshire Grants were ready to undertake the bold enterprise.

Within three weeks after this information was received by Adams and Warren, the battle of Lexington occurred. The event aroused the whole country, and the patriots flocked to the neighbourhood of Boston from all quarters. The Provincial Assembly of Connecticut was then in session, and several of its members concerted and agreed upon a plan to seize the munitions of war at Ticonderoga, for the use of the army gathering at Cambridge and Roxbury. They appointed Edward Mott and Noah Phelps a commit-tee to proceed to the frontier towns, ascertain the condition of the fort and the strength of the garrison, and, if they thought it expedient, to raise men and attempt the surprise and capture of the post. One thousand dollars were advanced from the provincial treasury to pay the expenses of the expedition.

The whole plan and proceedings were of a private character, without the public sanction of the Assembly, but with its full knowledge and tacit approbation. Mott and Phelps collected sixteen men as they passed through Connecticut; and at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, they laid their plans before Colonel Easton and John Brown, who agreed to join them. Colonel Easton enlisted volunteers from his regiment of militia as he passed through the country, and about forty had been engaged when he reached Bennington. There Colonel Ethan Allen, a man of strong mind, vigorous frame, upright in all his ways, fearless in the discharge of his duty, and a zealous patriot, joined the expedition with his Green Mountain Boys, and the whole party, two hundred and seventy men, reached Castleton, fourteen miles east of Skenesborough, or Whitehall, at dusk on the 7th of May. A council of war was immediately held, and Allen was appointed commander of the expedition, Colonel James Easton, second in command, and Seth Warner, third. It was arranged that Allen and the principal officers, with the main body, should march to Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga; that Captain Herrick, with thirty men, should push on to Skenesborough, and capture the young Major Skene (son of the governor, who was then in England), confine his people, and, seizing all the boats they might find there, hasten to join Allen at Shoreham ; and that Captain Douglas should proceed to Panton, beyond Crown Point, and secure every boat or bateau that should fall in their way.

Benedict Arnold, who joined the army about this time, doubtless received a hint of this expedition before he left New Haven, for the moment he arrived at Cambridge with the company of which he was captain, he presented himself before the Committee of Safety, and proposed a similar expedition in the same direction. He made the thing appear so feasible, that the committee eagerly accepted his proposal, granted him a colonel’s commission, and gave him the chief command of troops, not exceeding four hundred in number, which he might raise to accompany him on an expedition against the lake fortresses. Not doubting his success, Arnold was instructed to leave a sufficient garrison at Ticonderoga, and with the rest of the troops to return to Cam-bridge with the arms and military stores that should fall into his possession. He was also supplied with one hundred pounds in cash, two hundred pounds weight each of gun-powder and leaden balls, one thousand flints, and ten horses, by the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. His instructions were to raise men in Western Massachusetts, but, on reaching Stockbridge, he was disappointed in finding that another expedition had anticipated him, and was on its way to the lake. He remained only long enough to engage a few officers and men to follow him, and then hastened onward and joined the other expedition at Castleton. He introduced himself to the officers, pulled a bit of parchment from his pocket, and, by virtue of what he averred was a superior commission, as it was from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, claimed the supreme command. This was objected to, for he came single-handed, without officers or troops; and the soldiers, a large portion of whom were Green Mountain Boys, and who were much attached to Allen, declared that they would shoulder their muskets and march home rather than serve under any other leader. Arnold made a virtue of necessity, and united himself to the expedition as a volunteer, maintaining his rank, but having no command.

The momentary interruption of Arnold produced no change in the plans, and Allen marched to the shore of the lake, opposite Ticonderoga, during the night. He applied to a farmer in Shoreham, named Beman, for a guide, who offered his son Nathan, a lad who passed a good deal of time within the fort, with the boys of the garrison, and was well acquainted with every secret way that led to or within the fortress. But a serious difficulty now occurred. They had but a few boats, and none had been sent from Skenesborough or Panton. The day began to dawn, and only the officers and eighty-three men had crossed the lake. Delay was hazardous, for the garrison, if aroused, would make stout resistance. Allen, therefore, resolved not to wait for the rear division to cross, but to attack the fort at once. He drew up his men in three ranks upon the shore, directly in front of where the Pavilion now stands, and in a low but distinct tone briefly harangued them; and then, placing himself at their head, with Arnold by his side, they marched quickly but stealthily up the height to the sally port. The sentinel snapped his fusee at the commander, but it missed fire, and he retreated within the fort under a covered way. The Americans followed close upon his heels, and were thus guided by the alarmed fugitive directly to the parade within the barracks. There another sentinel made a thrust at Easton, but a blow upon the head from Allen’s sword made him beg for quarter, and the patriots met with no further resistance.

As the troops rushed into the parade under the covered way, they gave a tremendous shout, and, filing off into two divisions, formed a line of forty men each along the south-western and northeastern range of barracks. The aroused garrison leaped from their pallets, seized their arms, and rushed for the parade, but only to be made prisoners by the intrepid New Englanders. At the same moment Allen, with young Beman at his elbow as guide, ascended the steps to the door of the quarters of Captain Delaplace, the commandant of the garrison, and, giving three loud raps with the hilt of his sword, with a voice of peculiar power, ordered him to appear, or the whole garrison should be sacrificed. It was about four o’olock in the morning. The loud shouts of the invaders had awakened the captain and his wife, both of whom sprang to the door just as Allen made his strange demand. Delaplace appeared in shirt and drawers, with the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his shoulder. He and Allen had been old friends, and, upon recognition, the captain assumed boldness, and, authoritatively demanded his disturber’s errand. Allen pointed to his men and sternly exclaimed, ” I order you instantly to surrender.” ” By what authority do you demand it? ” said Delaplace. ” In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress! ” thundered Allen, and, raising his sword over the head of the captain, who was about to speak, ordered him to be silent and surrender immediately. There was no alternative. Delaplace had about as much respect for the ” Continental Congress ” as Allen had for ” Jehovah,” and they respectively relied upon and feared powder and ball more than either. In fact, the Continental Congress was but a shadow, for it did not meet for organization until six hours afterward, and its ” authority ” was yet scarcely acknowledged even by patriots in the field. But Delaplace ordered his troops to parade without arms, the garrison of forty-eight men were surrendered prisoners of war, and, with the women and children, were sent to Hartford, in Connecticut. The spoils were one hundred and twenty pieces of iron cannon, fifty swivels, two ten-inch mortars, one howitzer, one cohorn, ten tons of musket balls, three cartloads of flints, thirty new carriages, a considerable quantity of shells, a warehouse full of material for boat building, one hundred stand of small arms, ten casks of poor powder, two brass cannon, thirty barrels of flour, eighteen barrels of pork, and some beans and peas.

Warner crossed the lake with the rear division, and marched up to the fort just after the surrender was made. As soon as the prisoners were secured, and all had breakfasted, he was sent off with a detachment of men in boats to take Crown Point; but a strong head-wind drove them back, and they slept that night at Ticonderoga. Another and successful attempt was made on the 12th, and both fortresses fell into the hands of the patriots without bloodshed.