Historians recognize the taking of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 as one of the first great American military victories of American Revolution. As early as the fall of 1776, however, there were hints from the fort’s commander that, owing to a lack of men, the Americans may not be able to hold the spot. General Anthony Wayne (1745-1796) wrote in November 1776: “We shall be hard pushed for time and materials, to put this place in any tolerable state of defence.”
In February 1777 Wayne reported “I have done everything in my power to render this place tenable—by surrounding the Works with wide and good Abbettus [abbatis, a type of breastwork defense]—I have also provided timber for two Block Houses—which will be erected in a few days—and dropt the Notion of Pickets as we could not man them.” Wayne somewhat underestimated Ticonderoga’s readiness.
Captain James Gray, who had only recently arrived at Ticonderoga from New Hampshire after a journey “through the woods” during which he was obliged to walk with his horse carrying his baggage “because the wagon cannot get through the woods,” left a first hand account in letters home.
“I have just received news from Ticonderoga that the British Troops are landed at Crown Point; this I believe to be depended upon as a fact, so that we are now preparing for Battle,” he wrote in a letter dated June 26, 1777. “Gen. St. Clair has the Command of the Troops in this department. We have fit for duty about 3000 men and about 1000 unfit for duty, by reason of disorders that are incident to Camp life. The 18th I was ordered, with my Company, to take command of this post, where we are to keep Garrison within the stockade. How long we shall remain here I can’t say.”
The length of his stay was 10 more days, interrupted when forward elements of John Burgoyne’s much larger British army reached the Fort. On July 6, 1777, a general retreat to Fort Edward was ordered.
Most of the Americans left from Mount Independence (across Lake Champlain) down the road toward Hubbardton, VT, but a second group of about 600 men with arms escorted the sick, wounded, and camp followers under sail down Lake Champlain to Skenesboro (now Whitehall). The British forward elements were hot on their trail as Burgoyne had ordered his troops to press the advantage rather than remain in battle formation.
They caught up with the Americans in three places: At the Battle of Hubbardton on July 7, that same day at Skenesboro, and at the Battle of Fort Anne the next day.
The Americans had just arrived and were portaging in Skenesboro to Wood Creek when Burgoyne’s boats arrived on favorable winds and opened fire. In this disarray of this attack, the American’s supplies were lost. The Americans set a fire that nearly destroyed Skenesboro and headed for Fort Anne.
On the back of a roster for entitled “the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment of Foot, in the service of the United States, commanded by Col. Alexander Scannel, Ticonderoga, June 28, 1777,” which Captain Gray had apparently carried, he wrote:
Sunday, 6th July 1777, – Retreated from Sheensboro’ & lost all my money, Baggage, &c. Lodged in the woods at Night.
“Monday, 7th, – Got into Fort Ann at 6 in ye morning; everything in the utmost confusion; nothing to eat.
General Philip Schuyler had sent 400 New York militia under Henry Van Rensselaer to Fort Anne to meet those retreating from Ticonderoga. As the Americans regrouped they realized they now outnumbered their pursuers and turned to attack. Captain Gray was at the center of the action and tells the rest of the story:
At 11 o’clock A.M. [the same morning I arrived] was ordered to take the Command of a party upon a scout and marched with 150 men besides 17 Rangers; had not marched from Garrison into the woods more than half a mile, after detaching my front, Rear and flanking Guards, when we met with a party of Regulars and gave them fire, which was Returned by the enemy, who then gave back. I then pursued them with close fire till they betook themselves to the top of a mountain. At the foot of this mountain we posted our selves and continued our fire until 6 P.M., when a reinforcement of 150 more joined me; but night approaching obliged me to return with my party to Garrison, after finding one of my party killed and 3 wounded, and three of the enemy killed by our first fire.
Tuesday Morning, 8th, – Myself, with Capt. Hutchins, with the same number of men, marched to the aforesaid mountain and attacked the enemy very warmly. The engagement lasted about 2 hours, at which time the Commander of yo Garrison sent Colo. Ransleur [Colonel Van Rensselaer] with a small party of militia to reinforce us. We then advanced (firing) up the hill, where we found the enemy’s surgeon dressing a Capts Leg. Those, with two of their wounded soldiers, we took and sent in, and a number of our own people, men & women, who were the day before cut off by the enemy, we retook.
At last, finding out ammunition gone and none to be had in Garrison, ordered off my wounded and some of the dead, and formed a retreat. Much fatigued when I returned and found no refreshments, neither meat or drink; immediately a Council was called and the prisoners who were retaken brot upon examination, who gave information that an express just arrived before we made this second attack and gave the enemy intelligence that a reinforcement of 2000, with Indians, were near at hand to join them, at which time they were to make a general attack upon us.
It was then determined upon to retreat to fort Edward, after setting fire the Garrison. Accordingly, the wounded were sent off, except one, who was one of my own Company; him the Surgeon thot proper not to order off, that he would soon expire, or that if he was likely to live, the enemy, when they took possession, would take care of him. This I knew not of till we were ordered to march, at which time I turned back alone (my Company being gone) to the rear of the Army, where I found him. I then picked up a tent & fastened it between two poles, laid him upon it, and hired four soldiers to carry him. I took their four guns with my own and carried them to fort Edward; this was about 3 o’clock P.M.; rained very hard; distance from fort Ann to Fort Edward, 14 miles; arrived at Fort Edward at 10 in the Evening; no Barracks nor Tents to go into; therefore laid down in the rain and slept upon the ground; the fatigue of this day I believe I shall always remember.
Colo Ransleur, wounded; Capt Weare, wounded; Ensign Walcutt, killed; Isaac Davis, a sergeant in my company, killed. Our loss in the two skirmishes about 15; the Enemy’s unknown.