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French & Indian War: Fort Ticonderoga

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French & Indian War: Fort Ticonderoga

Plan of Fort Ticonderoga and surrounding area

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Fort Ticonderoga - Design & Construction:

During the early colonial era, with the French settling Canada and the British occupying New York, Lake Champlain became a key theater of operations during conflicts between the two. At the lake's southern end, it narrows near where the La Chute River (Ticonderoga Creek) enters from Lake George. The strategic significance of the location was recognized as early as 1691, when Pieter Schuyler constructed a small wooden fort on the western shore near Ticonderoga Point. With the outbreak of the French & Indian War in 1754, the control of the lake became critical as both sides moved troops into the area.

Following their defeat at the Battle of Lake George in September 1755, the Governor of Canada, Marquis de Vaudreuil, sent Michel Chartier de Lotbinière to build a fort at Ticonderoga. Dubbed Fort Carillon, work commenced that October and proceeded through the next three years. A star-shaped fort based on the designs of Vauban, Carillon was intended to control the southern part of the lake and prevent British access to its waters. As a result, it featured strong defenses on its land side which included walls that were seven feet high and fourteen feel thick as well as extensive an extensive glacis and dry moat.

Within the fort, three barracks buildings, four storehouses, and a bakery were constructed. To protect the fort's powder supply, a magazine was carved into the bedrock beneath one of its bastions. On the fort's lake side, a wooden palisade was built to enclose a landing area and additional storehouses. In 1756, an additional redoubt was constructed in this area when it was realized that the main fort had been sited too far west to effectively cover the narrows of the lake. When completed in 1758, the fort was surveyed by the principal French field commander, the Marquis de Montcalm.

Fort Ticonderoga - French & Indian War:

Assessing the fortifications with his engineers, Montcalm criticized Carillon's size, the quality of its construction, as well as the height of its buildings. Having launched his successful campaign against Fort William Henry from Fort Carillon in 1757, Montcalm prompted the British to plan an attack on the new fort the following year. Moving up Lake George, 16,000 British troops led by Major General James Abercrombie arrived near the fort on July 6. Having been alerted to the British approach, Montcalm's 3,600 men quickly worked to expand the fort's defenses.

Adding lines of entrenchments and abatis, Montcalm's men were able to repel Abercrombie's frontal assaults on July 8. Attacking these lines, Abercromby sought to overwhelm the defenders and did not order his artillery into the fight. In the battle that ensued, the British were repulsed with almost 2,000 casualties. Dubbed the Battle of Carillon, the fighting occurred away from the fort itself and its guns played only a minimal role. After further expanding the fort's defenses, Montcalm withdrew the bulk of the garrison as winter approached.

The following spring, Montcalm, who faced a severe manpower shortage, elected not to reinforce the fort. Instead, he issued instructions to the garrison's commander, Brigadier General François-Charles de Bourlamaque, to destroy the fort and retreat in the face of a British attack. In July, the new British commander, Major General Jeffery Amherst, advanced on the fort with 11,000 men. Sending away all but 400 of his men, Bourlamaque withdrew to the fort. Occupying the outer defenses, Amherst captured the fort after a brief fight. The French attempted to destroy the fort before leaving, but only damaged the magazine.

Taking possession on June 27, 1759, the British renamed fortification Fort Ticonderoga. While work commenced in 1759 and 1760 to improve and repair the fort, it saw no further combat during the war as the action moved north into Canada. Following the war's end in 1763, the garrison was severely reduced and the fort began to fall into disrepair. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in April 1775, the fort remained a quiet backwater with a garrison of only 48 men.

Fort Ticonderoga - American Revolution:

Seen as a key defensive position by the Americans, two expeditions were mounted in 1775, to capture it. Led by Colonels Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, the groups encountered each other in the wilderness and after some disagreement decided to work together. Moving forward, they successfully stormed the fort on May 10, 1775, and captured Captain William Delaplace's garrison. Becoming a hub of activity, Fort Ticonderoga served as the jumping off point for the American invasion of Canada in July 1775. Late that year, Colonel Henry Knox arrived and removed many of the fort's guns for use in the siege of Boston.

Transporting the fort's guns through the snow, Knox's artillery train played a key role in forcing the British to abandon the city. 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 saw Major General John Burgoyne launch a major invasion down the lake. In anticipation of the British attack, efforts had been made to fortify nearby Mounts Independence and Hope.

While these efforts strengthened the American position, Mount Defiance, which overlooked the fort, was left undefended as the garrison commander, Brigadier General Arthur St. Clair, lacked the men to fortify it. Arriving at the fort with 7,800 men, Burgoyne quickly emplaced guns on Mount Defiance. Recognizing the fort was vulnerable, St. Clair ordered it abandoned and withdrew south on July 5, 1777. Moving in, the fort was lightly garrisoned and formed a link in the supply line for Burgoyne's advancing army.

In September, troops under Colonel John Brown raided the fort and succeeded in freeing 118 American prisoners and capturing 293 British soldiers. Following the British defeat at Saratoga, the fort was largely abandoned in November 1777. While it remained a base for the occasional British raiding party, it never again possessed strategic significance.

Fort Ticonderoga - Preserved

Passing through several hands, the fort property was purchased by William Ferris Pell in 1820. In 1909, efforts were made by the Pell family to restore the fort and it opened later that year in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the discovery of Lake Champlain by European explorers. Founded in 1931 by Stephen Pell, the Fort Ticonderoga Association now oversees the fort and its restoration.

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