American Revolution: Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777)

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Lieutenant General John Burgoyne. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - Conflict & Dates:

The Siege of Fort Ticonderoga was fought July 2-6, 1777, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Armies & Commanders:

Americans

  • Major General Arthur St. Clair
  • approx. 3,000 men

British

​Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - Background:

In the spring of 1777, Major General John Burgoyne devised a plan for achieving victory over the Americans. Concluding that New England was the seat of the rebellion, he suggested separating the region from the other colonies by advancing down the Hudson River corridor while a second column, led by Colonel Barry St. Leger, moved east from Lake Ontario. Rendezvousing at Albany, the combined force would drive down the Hudson, while General William Howe's army marched north from New York. Though the plan was approved by London, Howe's role was never clearly defined and his seniority prevented Burgoyne from issuing him orders.

Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - British Preparations:

Prior to this, British forces under Sir Guy Carleton had attempted to capture Fort Ticonderoga.  Sailing south  on Lake Champlain in the fall of 1776, Carleton's fleet was delayed by an American squadron led by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Valcour Island.  Though Arnold was defeated, the lateness of the season prevented the British from exploiting their victory.  Arriving in Quebec the following spring, Burgoyne began assembling his army and making preparations for moving south.  Building a force of around 7,000 regulars and 800 Native Americans, he gave command of his advance force to Brigadier General Simon Fraser while leadership of the right and left wings of the army went to Major General William Phillips and Baron Riedesel.  After reviewing his command at Fort Saint-Jean in mid-June, Burgoyne took to the lake to begin his campaign.  Occupying Crown Point on June 30, his army was effectively screened by Fraser's men and the Native Americans.

Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - American Response:

Following their capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775, American forces had spent two years improving its defenses.  These included extensive earthworks across the lake on the Mount Independence peninsula as well as redoubts and forts on the site of the old French defenses to the west.  Additionally, American forces built a fort atop nearby Mount Hope.  To the southwest, the height of Sugar Loaf (Mount Defiance), which dominated both Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, was left undefended as it was not believed that artillery could be pulled to the summit.  This point had been challenged by Arnold and Brigadier General Anthony Wayne during earlier stints in the area, but no action was taken. 

Through the early part of 1777, American leadership in the region had been in flux as Major Generals Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates lobbied for command of the Northern Department.  As this debate continued, oversight at Fort Ticonderoga fell to Major General Arthur St. Clair.  A veteran of the failed invasion of Canada as well as the victories at Trenton and Princeton, St. Clair possessed around 2,500-3,000 men.  Meeting with Schuyler on June 20, the two men concluded that this force was not sufficient to hold the Ticonderoga defenses against a determined British attack.  As such, they devised two lines of retreat with one passing south through Skenesboro and the other heading east toward Hubbardton.   Departing, Schuyler told his subordinate to defend the post for as long as possible before retreating.     

Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - Burgoyne Arrives:

Moving south on July 2, Burgoyne advanced Fraser and Phillips down the west shore of the lake while Riedesel's Hessians pressed along the east bank with the goal of attacking Mount Independence and cutting the road to Hubbardton.  Sensing danger, St. Clair withdrew the garrison from Mount Hope later that morning due to concerns that it would be isolated and overwhelmed.  Later in the day, British and Native American forces began skirmishing with the Americans in the old French lines.  In the course of the fighting, a British soldier was captured and St. Clair was able to learn more about the size of Burgoyne's army.  Recognizing the importance of Sugar Loaf, British engineers ascended the heights and covertly began clearing space for an artillery emplacement (Map).

Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - A Difficult Choice: 

The next morning, Fraser's men occupied Mount Hope while other British forces began dragging guns up Sugar Loaf.  Continuing to work in secret, Burgoyne hoped to have Riedesel in place on the Hubbardton Road before the Americans discovered the guns on the heights.  On the evening of July 4, Native American campfires on Sugar Loaf alerted St. Clair to the impending danger.  With the American defenses exposed to the British guns, he called a council of war early on July 5.  Meeting with his commanders, St. Clair made the decision to abandon the fort and retreat after dark.  As Fort Ticonderoga was a politically important post, he recognized that the withdrawal would badly damage his reputation but he felt that saving his army took precedence. 

Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - St. Clair Retreats:

Gathering a fleet of over 200 boats, St. Clair directed that as many supplies as possible be embarked and sent south to Skenesboro.  While the boats were escorted south by Colonel Pierse Long's New Hampshire Regiment, St. Clair and the remaining men crossed to Mount Independence before marching down the Hubbardton Road.  Probing the American lines the next morning, Burgoyne's troops found them deserted.  Pushing forward, they occupied Fort Ticonderoga and the surrounding works without firing a shot.  Shortly thereafter, Fraser received permission to mount a pursuit of the retreating Americans with Riedesel in support.

Siege of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) - Aftermath:

In the Siege of Fort Ticonderoga, St. Clair suffered seven killed and eleven wounded while Burgoyne incurred five killed.  Fraser's pursuit resulted in the Battle of Hubbardton on July 7.  Though a British victory, it saw the American rearguard inflict higher casualties as well as accomplish their mission of covering St. Clair's retreat.  Turning west, St. Clair's men later rendezvoused with Schuyler at Fort Edward.  As he predicted, St. Clair's abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga led to his removal from command and contributed to Schuyler being replaced by Gates.  Firmly arguing that his actions had been honorable and were justified, he demanded a court of inquiry which was held in September 1778.  Though exonerated, St. Clair did not receive another field command during the war. 

Advancing south after his success at Fort Ticonderoga, Burgoyne was hampered by difficult terrain and American efforts to slow his march.  As the campaign season wore on, his plans began to unravel following a defeat at Bennington and St. Leger's failure at the Siege of Fort Stanwix.  Increasingly isolated, Burgoyne was forced to surrender his army after being beaten at the Battle of Saratoga that fall.  The American victory proved a turning point in the war and led to the Treaty of Alliance with France.

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