American Revolution: Capture of Fort Ticonderoga

Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga, 1775
Ethan Allen captures Fort Ticonderoga, May 10, 1775. Public Domain

The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga took place May 10, 1775, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Forces & Commanders

Americans

British

  • Captain William Delaplace
  • approx. 80 men

Background:

Built in 1755 by the French as Fort Carillon, Fort Ticonderoga controlled the southern part of Lake Champlain and guarded the northern approaches to the Hudson Valley.

Attacked by the British in 1758 during the Battle of Carillon, the fort's garrison, led by Major General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and the Chevalier de Levis, successfully turned back Major General James Abercrombie's army. The fort fell into British hands the following year when a force commanded by Lieutenant General Jeffrey Amherst secured the post and it remained under their control for the rest of the French & Indian War. With the end of the conflict, Fort Ticonderoga's importance diminished as the French were forced to cede Canada to the British. Though still known as the "Gibraltar of America," the fort soon fell into disrepair and its garrison was greatly reduced. The state of the fort continued to decline and in 1774 was described by Colonel Frederick Haldimand as being in "ruinous condition." In 1775, the fort was held by 48 men from the 26th Regiment of Foot, several of which were classified as invalids, led by Captain William Delaplace.

A New War

With the beginning of the American Revolution in April 1775, Fort Ticonderoga's significance returned. Recognizing its importance as a logistical and communications link along the route between New York and Canada, the British commander at Boston, General Thomas Gage, issued orders to the Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, that Ticonderoga and Crown Point be repaired and reinforced.

Unfortunately for the British, Carleton did not receive this letter until May 19. As the Siege of Boston commenced, American leaders became concerned that the fort afforded the British in Canada with a route for attacking their rear.

Voicing this, Benedict Arnold appealed to the Connecticut Committee of Correspondence for men and money to mount an expedition to capture Fort Ticonderoga and its large store of artillery. This was granted and recruiters commenced attempting to raise the forces required. Moving north, Arnold made a similar plea to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. This too was approved and he received a commission as a colonel with orders to raise 400 men to attack the fort. In addition, he was given munitions, supplies, and horses for the expedition.

Two Expeditions

While Arnold began planning his expedition and recruiting men, Ethan Allen and militia forces in the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont) began plotting their own strike against Fort Ticonderoga. Known as the Green Mountain Boys, Allen's militia gathered at Bennington before marching on to Castleton. To the south, Arnold moved north with Captains Eleazer Oswald and Jonathan Brown. Crossing into the Grants on May 6, Arnold learned of Allen's intentions.

Riding ahead of his troops, he reached Bennington the next day.

There he was informed that Allen was at Castleton awaiting additional supplies and men. Pressing on, he rode into the Green Mountain Boys' camp before they departed for Ticonderoga. Meeting with Allen, who had been elected colonel, Arnold argued that he should lead the attack against the fort and cited his orders from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. This proved problematic as the majority of the Green Mountain Boys refused to serve under any commander except Allen. After extensive discussions, Allen and Arnold decided to share command.

While these talks were ongoing, elements of Allen's command were already moving towards Skenesboro and Panton to secure boats for crossing the lake. Additional intelligence was provided by Captain Noah Phelps who had reconnoitered Fort Ticonderoga in disguise.

He confirmed that the fort's walls were in poor condition, the garrison's gunpowder was wet, and that reinforcements were expected shortly. Assessing this information and the overall situation, Allen and Arnold decided to attack Fort Ticonderoga at dawn on May 10. Assembling their men at Hand's Cove (Shoreham, VT) late on May 9, the two commanders were disappointed to find that an insufficient number of boats had been assembled.  As a result, they embarked with around half the command (83 men) and slowly crossed the lake. Arriving on the western shore, they became concerned that dawn would arrive before the rest of the men could make the journey. As a result, they resolved to attack immediately.

Storming the Fort

Approaching the south gate of Fort Ticonderoga, Allen and Arnold led their men forward. Charging, they caused the sole sentry to abandon his post and swept into the fort. Entering the barracks, the Americans awakened the stunned British soldiers and took their weapons. Moving through the fort, Allen and Arnold made their way to the officer's quarters to compel Delaplace's surrender. Reaching the door, they were challenged by Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham who demanded to know on whose authority they had entered the fort. In reply, Allen reportedly stated, "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" (Allen later claimed to have said this to Delaplace). Roused from his bed, Delaplace quickly dressed before formally surrendering to the Americans.

Taking possession of the fort, Arnold was horrified when Allen's men began to plunder and raid its liquor stores.

Though he tried to stop these activities, the Green Mountain Boys refused to adhere to his orders. Frustrated, Arnold retired to Delaplace's quarters to await his men and wrote back to Massachusetts expressing concern that Allen's men were "governing by whim and caprice."  He further commented that he believed the plan to strip Fort Ticonderoga and ship its guns to Boston was in threat. As additional American forces occupied Fort Ticonderoga, Lieutenant Seth Warner sailed north to Fort Crown Point. Lightly garrisoned, it fell the next day. Following the arrival of his men from Connecticut and Massachusetts, Arnold began conducting operations on Lake Champlain which culminated with a raid on Fort Saint-Jean on May 18. While Arnold established a base at Crown Point, Allen's men began to drift away from Fort Ticonderoga and back to their land in the Grants.

Aftermath

In the operations against Fort Ticonderoga, one American was injured while British casualties amounted to the capture of the garrison. Later that year, Colonel Henry Knox arrived from Boston to transport the fort's guns back to the siege lines. These were later emplaced on Dorchester Heights and compelled the British to abandon the city on March 17, 1776. The fort also served as a springboard for the 1775 American invasion of Canada as well as protected the northern frontier. In 1776, the American army in Canada was thrown back by the British and forced to retreat back down Lake Champlain. Encamping at Fort Ticonderoga, they aided Arnold in building a scratch fleet which fought a successful delaying action at Valcour Island that October.

The following year, Major General John Burgoyne launched a major invasion down the lake. This campaign saw the British re-take the fort. Following their defeat at Saratoga that fall, the British largely abandoned Fort Ticonderoga for the remainder of the war.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Capture of Fort Ticonderoga." ThoughtCo, May. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/capture-of-fort-ticonderoga-2360180. Hickman, Kennedy. (2017, May 9). American Revolution: Capture of Fort Ticonderoga. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/capture-of-fort-ticonderoga-2360180 Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Capture of Fort Ticonderoga." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/capture-of-fort-ticonderoga-2360180 (accessed November 17, 2017).