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Outposts undefended. Fort on Mount Independence. Tardiness of Congress in supplying Men and Munitions.
St. Clair was an officer of acknowledged bravery and prudence, yet he was far from being an expert and skillful military leader. His self-reliance and his confidence in the valor and strength of those under him often caused him to be less vigilant than necessity demanded; and it was this fault, in connection with the weakness of the garrison, which gave Burgoyne his only advantage at Ticonderoga. He soon perceived, through the vigilance of his scouts, that St. Clair had neglected to secure those two important eminences, Mount Hope and Sugar Loaf Hill (Mount Defiance), and, instead of making a direct assault upon the fortress, the British general essayed to possess himself of these valuable points. When Burgoyne approached, a small detachment of Americans occupied the old French lines north of the fort, which were well repaired and guarded by a block-house. They also had an outpost at the saw-mills (now the village of Ticonderoga), another just above the mills, and a block-house and hospital at the entrance of the lake. Between the lines and the old fort were two block-houses, and the Grenadiers' Battery on the point was manned. The garrison in the star fort, on Mount Independence, was rather stronger than that at Ticonderoga, and better provisioned. The fort was supplied with artillery, strongly picketed, and its approaches were well guarded by batteries. The foot of the hill on the northwestern side was intrenched, and had a strong abatis next to the water. Artillery was placed in the intrenchments, pointing down the lake, and at the point, near the mouth of East Creek, was a strong circular battery. The general defenses of the Americans were formidable to an enemy, but the tardiness of Congress in supplying the garrison with food, clothing, ammunition, and re-enforcements, made them quite weak." Their lines and works were extensive, and instead of a full complement of men to man and defend them, and to occupy Sugar Loaf Hill and Mount Hope, the whole force consisted of only two thousand five hundred and forty-six Continentals and nine hundred militia. Of the latter not one tenth had bayonets. While at Crown Point, Burgoyne sent forth a pompous and threatening proclamation, intended to awe the republicans into passiveness, and confirm the loyalists in their position by a sense of the presence of overshadowing power.” In his proclamation the British commander set forth the terrible character of the Indians that accompanied him, greatly exaggerated their numbers, and magnified their eagerness to be let loose upon the republicans, whether found in battle array or in the bosom of their families. “I have,” he said, “but to give stretch to the Indian forces under my direction, and they amount to thousands, to overtake the hardened enemies of Great Britain and America. I consider them the same wherever they may lurk.” Protection and security, clogged with conditions, were held out to the peaceable who remained in their habitations. All the outrages of war, arrayed in their most terrific forms, were denounced against those who persisted in their
* It was generally believed, until Burgoyne appeared at St. John's, that the military preparations in progress at Quebec were intended for an expedition by sea against the coast towns still in possession of the Americans; and influenced by this belief, as well as by the pressing demands for men to keep General Howe and his army from Philadelphia, Congress made but little exertion to strengthen the posts on Lake Champlain. This was a fatal mistake, and it was perceived too late for remedy.
* This swaggering proclamation commenced as follows: “By John Burgoyne, Esquire, lieutenant general of his majesty's forces in America, colonel of the Queen's regiment of Light Dragoons, governor of Fort William, in North Britain, one of the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament, and commanding an army and fleet employed on an expedition from Canada,” &c. “From the pompous manner in which he has arrayed his titles,” says Dr. Thatcher, “we are led to suppose that he considers them as more than a match for all the military force which we can bring against them.”—Military Journal, p. 82.
General Washington, from his camp at Middlebrook, in New Jersey, issued a manifesto or counter proclamation, which, in sincerity and dignity, was infinitely superior to that issued by Burgoyne. He alluded to the purity of motives and devotion of the patriots, the righteousness of their cause, and the evident guardianship of an overruling Providence in the direction of affairs, and closed by saying, “Harassed as we are by unrelenting persecution, obliged by every tie to repel violence by force, urged by self-preservation to exert the strength which Providence has given us to defend our natural rights against the aggressor, we appeal to the hearts of all mankind for the justice of our cause; its event we leave to Him who speaks the fate of nations, in humble confidence that as his omniscient eye taketh note even of the sparrow that falleth to the ground, so he will not withdraw his countenance from a people who humbly array themselves under his banner in defense of the noblest principles with which he has adorned humanity.”
Ticonderoga invested by the British. Council of War in the American Camp. The British on Mount Defiance.
hostility. But the people at large, and particularly the firm republicans, were so far from being frightened, that they treated the proclamation with contempt, as a complete model of pomposity." On the 2d of July the right wing of the British army moved forward, and General St. Clair believed and hoped that they intended to make a direct assault upon the fort. The small American detachments that occupied the outposts toward Lake. George made but a feeble resistance, and then set fire to and abandoned their works. Generals Phillips and Fraser, with an advanced corps of infantry and some light artillery, immediately took possession of Mount Hope, which completely commanded the road to Lake George, and thus cut off all supplies to the patriot garrison from that quarter. This accomplished, extraordinary energy and activity were manifested by the enemy in bringing up their artillery, ammunition, and stores to fortify the post gained, and on the 4th Fraser's whole corps occupied Mount Hope.” In the mean while Sugar Loaf Hill had been reconnoitered by Lieutenant Twiss, the chief engineer, who reported that its summit had complete command of the whole American works at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, and that a road to the top, suitable for the conveyance of cannons, though difficult, might be made in twenty-four hours. It was resolved to erect a battery on the height, and, by arduous and prolonged labor, a road was cleared on the night of the 4th. The Thunderer, carrying the battery train and stores, arrived in the afternoon, and light twelve pounders, medium twelves, and eight-inch howitzers were landed. So completely did the enemy occupy the ground between the lake, Mount Hope, and Sugar Loaf Hill, that this important movement was concealed from the garrison; and when, at dawn on the morning of the 5th, the summit of Mount Defiance’ glowed with the scarlet uniforms of the British troops, and heavy artillery stood threateningly in their midst, the Americans were paralyzed with astonishment, for that array seemed more like the lingering apparitions of a night vision than the terrible reality they were forced to acknowledge. From that height the enemy could look down into the fortress, count every man, inspect all their movements, and with eye and cannon command all the extensive works of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. St. Clair immediately called a council of war, and presented to them the alarming facts, that the whole effective strength of the garrison was not sufficient to man one half of the works; that, as the whole must be constantly on duty, they could not long endure the fatigue; that General Schuyler, then at Fort Edward, had not sufficient troops to re-enforce or relieve them; that the enemy's batteries were nearly ready to open upon them, and that a complete investment of the place would be accomplished within twenty-four hours. It seemed plain that nothing could save the troops but evacuation, and the step was proposed by the commander and agreed to by his officers. It was a critical and trying moment for St. Clair. To remain would be to lose his army, to evacuate would July 6, be to lose his character. He chose to make a self-sacrifice, and at about two o'clock 1777 on the following morning the troops were put in motion. As every movement of the Americans could be seen through the day from Mount Defiance, no visible preparations for leaving the fort were made until after dark, and the purpose of the council was concealed from the troops until the evening order was given. It was arranged to place the baggage, and such ammunition and stores as might be expedient, on board two hundred bateaux, to be dispatched, under a convoy of five armed galleys, up the lake to Skenesborough (Whitehall), and the main body of the army to proceed by land to
* Gordon, ii., 205.
* This title was given to it by General Fraser, in allusion to the hope they entertained of dislodging the Americans.
* I was informed by an old man, ninety years of age, residing at Pittsford, not far from the battle-ground at Hubbardton, that the British gave the name of Mount Defiance to Sugar Loaf Hill on the day when they erected their battery upon it, for from that height they defied the Americans either to resist or dislodge them. The old man was one of the British regulars under Burgoyne, but soon afterward deserted to the Continentals.
Retreat of the Americans from Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. Imprudence of Fermoy. Pursuit by the Enemy.
the same destination, by way of Castleton. The cannons that could not be moved were to be spiked; previous to striking the tents, every light was to be extinguished; each soldier was to provide himself with several days' provisions; and, to allay any suspicions on the part of the enemy of such a movement, a continued cannonade was to be kept up from one of the batteries in the direction of Mount Hope until the moment of departure. These arrangements were all completed, yet so short was the notice that a good deal of confusion ensued. The garrison of Ticonderoga crossed the bridge to Mount Independence at about three o'clock in the morning, the enemy all the while unconscious of the escape of their prey. The moon was shining brightly, yet her pale light was insufficient to betray the toiling Americans in their preparations and flight, and they felt certain that, before daylight should discover their withdrawal, they would be too far advanced to invite pursuit. But General De Fermoy, who commanded on Mount Independence, regardless of express orders, set fire to the house he had occupied as the troops left. The light of the conflagration revealed the whole scene and every movement to the enemy, and the consciousness of discovery added to the confusion and disorder of the retreating republicans. The rear-guard, under Colonel Francis, left the mount at about four o'clock in the morning, and the whole body pressed onward in irregular order toward Hubbardton, where, through the energy and skill of the officers, they were pretty well organized after a halt of two hours. The main army then proceeded to Castleton, six miles further, and the rear-guard, with stragglers picked up by the way, were placed under the command of Colonel Seth Warner, and remained at Hubbardton until some, who were left behind, should come up. Here a desperate, and, to the Americans, a disastrous battle was fought the next morning, the details of which will be given hereafter. As soon as the movement of the Americans was perceived by the British, General Fraser commenced an eager pursuit with his pickets, leaving orders for his brigade to follow. At daylight he unfurled the British flag over Ticonderoga, and before sunrise he had passed the bridge and Mount Independence, and was in close pursuit of the flying patriots." Majorgeneral Reidesel and Colonel Breyman, with their Germans and Hessians, soon followed to sustain Fraser, while Burgoyne, who was on board the Royal George, prepared for an immediate pursuit of the bateaux and convoy by water. The Americans placed great reliance upon their strong boom at Ticonderoga, and regarded pursuit by water as almost impossible; but the boom and bridge were speedily cleft by the enemy. Long before noon a free passage was made for the gun-boats and frigates, and the whole flotilla were crowding all sail to overtake the American bateaux. These, with the baggage and stores, were all destroyed at Skenesborough before sunset. The evacuation of Ticonderoga, without efforts at defense, was loudly condemned throughout the country, and brought down a storm of indignant abuse upon the heads of Generals St. Clair and Schuyler, for much of the responsibility was laid upon the latter because he was the commander-in-chief of the northern department. The weakness of the garrison, the commanding position of the enemy upon Mount Defiance, where they could not be reached by the guns of the fort, and the scarcity of stores and ammunition, were not taken into the account, and, consequently, the verdict of an excited public was very unjust toward those unfortunate officers. Washington had placed great reliance upon them both ; nor did the event destroy his confidence in their ability and bravery, yet he was perplexed,” and
* This was the third time in consecutive order that the fortress was captured by an enemy to the garrison without bloodshed, namely, in 1759, by the English under General Amherst; in 1775, by the New England provincials under Colonel Ethan Allen, and now (1777) by the British under Lieutenant-general Burgovne.
†. chief thus wrote to General Schuyler on hearing of the disaster: “The evacuation of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence is an event of chagrin and surprise not apprehended nor within the compass of my reasoning. I know not upon what principle it was founded, and I should suppose it would be still more difficult to be accounted for if the garrison amounted to five thousand men in high spirits, healthy, well supplied with provisions and ammunition, and the Eastern militia were marching to their succor, as you mentioned in your letter of the 9th [June] to the Council of Safety of New York.”
Washington's Recommendation of Arnold. Acquittal of Schuyler and St. Clair of Blame. Return to Ticonderoga.
clearly foresaw that some other leader would be necessary to inspire sufficient confidence in the minds of the Eastern militia to cause them to turn out in force to oppose the progress of Burgoyne. Accordingly, he recommended Congress to send an “active, spirited officer to conduct and lead them (the militia) on.” But Congress went further. Unwisely listening to and heeding the popular clamor, they suspended St. Clair from command, and appointed Adjutant-general Gates to supersede General Schuyler. St. Clair did not leave the army, but was with Washington at the battle of Brandywine. By a general court-martial, held in the autumn of 1778, he was acquitted of all blame, with the highest honor, and this decision was fully confirmed by Congress in December following. The noble conduct of General Schuyler toward Gates, and his continued patriotic efforts in behalf of his country after suffering the injustice inflicted by Congress, have been mentioned in another chapter. After the lapse of several months the public mind was brought to bear with calmness upon the subject, and, before the close of the war, both generals were fully reinstated in the confidence of the people. * Our historic picnic upon the mountain-top is ended, and, being well rested, let us “gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost,” and descend to the village of “Ty,” by the way of the military road which was made impromptu by General Phillips for his cannon, up the northern slope of Defiance. Very slight traces of it are now visible, and these consist chiefly of a second growth of timber, standing where the road was cut. We parted with our guide at the foot of the mountain. Our boy-driver and the vehicle had disappeared, and we were obliged to walk in the hot sun to the village. Our good tempers were not at all improved when we learned the fact that the stage from Lake George had passed nearly an hour before, and that no conveyance could be procured until toward evening to take us to the fort, unless the boy, who had not returned, should make his appearance; and where he had gone was a mystery. Dinner at the Pavilion was an event only a half hour in the future, and two miles in distance stretched between us and the viands. So we stopped grumbling, trudged on, and, whiling away the moments by pleasant conversation, we reached the Pavilion in time to take our places at table, too much heated and fatigued, however, to enjoy the luxuries set before us. Our Boston friends left that afternoon, but we tarried until two o'clock the next morning, when we departed on the Burlington for Whitehall. The air was cool and the sky unclouded when we left Ticonderoga. The moon had gone down, and it was too dark to see more than the outlines of the romantic shores by which we were gliding, so we took seats upon the upper deck and surveyed the clear heavens, jeweled with stars. The Pleiades were glowing in the southern sky, and beautiful Orion was upon the verge of the eastern horizon. Who can look upward on a clear night and not feel the spirit of worship stirring within' Who can contemplate those silent watchers in the firmament and not feel the impulses of adoration'
“I know they must be holy things
* In his letter to Congress (from which this sentence is quoted), dated at Morristown, July 10th, 1777, Washington continues, “If General Arnold has settled his affairs, and can be spared from Philadelphia, I would recommend him for this business, and that he should immediately set out for the northern department. He is active, judicious, and brave, and an officer in whom the militia will repose great confidence. Besides this, he is well acquainted with that country, and with the routes and most important passes and defiles in it. I do not think he can render more signal services, or be more usefully employed at this time, than in this way. I am persuaded his presence and activity will animate the militia greatly, and spur them on to a becoming conduct.” Arnold was sent accordingly, and his signal services at Bemis's Heights we have already considered.
* Arrival at Whitehall or old Skenesborough. Historical Notice of the Place. Capture of Major Skene and his People.
Just as the day dawned tiny spiral columns of vapor began to rise from the lake, and before sunrise we were completely wrapped in a dense fog. After passing the bay south of Mount Independence, the lake becomes very narrow, and the channel is so sinuous that our vessel proceeded very cautiously in the dense mist. At the Elbow, half a mile from Whitehall Landing, a rocky point containing “Putnam's Ledge” projects from the west, and occasions such a short and narrow turn in the lake, that it is with much difficulty large class steam-boats make their way through. It can only be done by the use of hawsers attached to the bow and stern, and this process requires an annoying delay. We reached Whitehall, at the mouth of Wood Creek," at the head of the lake, about seven in the evening, and found comfortable quarters at a well-conducted temperance hotel near the landing.”
This is ancient Skenesborough, and was a point of considerable importance during the wars on our northern frontier, from 1745 till the close of the Revolution. Here armies halted, and provisions, ammunition, and stores were collected and distributed. A picketed fort was erected here during the French and Indian war, upon the brow of the hill east of Church-street. Soon after the peace of Paris, in 1763, Philip K. Skene, an English major under half pay, purchased several soldiers' grants located here, and, to make his title secure, procured a royal patent. He effected a small settlement at this point, and named it Skenesborough, which title it bore until after the Revolution. He had procured a second patent, and became possessor of the whole of the land comprised within the present township of Whitehall, except four thousand acres on its eastern border. He was a magistrate of the crown, the owner of black slaves, and was sometimes honored with the title of governor, on account of having held the office of Lieutenant-governor of Crown Point and Ticonderoga. In addition to a stone residence, he erected another stone edifice, one hundred and thirty feet long, for a military garrison and depôt, upon the spot used as a garden by the family of the late Judge Wheeler. Near the east end was an arched gateway, the key-stone of which is now in the north basement wall of the Baptist Church, and bears the initials “P. K. S.,” and date “ 1770.”
Skenesborough was a point included in the programme of operations against Ticonderoga, in the expedition under Colonel Allen in 1775. The council held at Castleton, where Allen was appointed commander-in-chief, resolved to send thirty men, under Captain Herrick, to surprise Skenesborough, capture the son of the proprietor (the latter was then in Europe), his negroes and tenantry, seize all the boats and other vessels that might be found there, and hasten down the lake with them to Shoreham. The surprise was so complete, that the plan was all accomplished without bloodshed. Major Skene the younger was captured while out shooting; the twelve negroes and fifty tenants were secured, and the governor's strong stone buildings were taken possession of by the captors. In the cellar of his house was found the body of the wife of the elder Skene, where it had been preserved many years to secure to the husband an annuity devised to her “while she remained above ground !” The Amer
* In the older histories and in the geographies of the state of New York the whole narrow part of Lake Champlain south of Ticonderoga was called respectively Wood Creek and South River. For fifty years these names for that portion of the lake have become obsolete, and as historians write for the future, they should be careful to note these changes, so as not to mislead the student. Mr. Headly carelessly observes, when speaking of the retreat from Ticonderoga, that “their long procession of boats began by moonlight to wind up Wood Creek,” &c. Again, speaking of Putnam's position when he attacked the French and Indians in their canoes, he represents the place as upon “Wood Creek where it falls into the lake.” The fact is, the spot is upon the lake, about a mile below where Wood Creek proper “falls into the lake.” He says again, “A whole fleet of canoes, filled with soldiers, was entering the mouth of the creek.” The mouth of the creek being a cascade, it would have been difficult for the canoes to enter it. Wood Creek proper rises in French Pond, in Warren county, and, flowing by Fort Anne in a deep and sluggish stream, receives the waters of the Pawlet, and falls into Lake Champlain at Whitehall.
* Whitehall is a growing and flourishing village. It is within a rocky ravine at the foot of a high emimence called Skene's Mountain, at the mouth of Wood Creek and the northern terminus of the Champlain Canal and Rail-road. It has a beautiful agricultural country behind it, and the natural scenery in the vicinity is very picturesque. The Indian name of the locality, when the whites first explored the neighborhood, was Kah-cho-qua-na, which, literally interpreted, is, “place where dip fish.”