Parent Category: American Revolution Reference
Category: Burgoyne's Invasion of 1777
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A hundred years ago, the shores of Lake Champlain were for the most part a wilderness. What few settlements did exist were mostly grouped about the southeast corner of the lake, into which emigration had naturally flowed from the older New England States. And even these were but feeble plantations,[17] separated from the Connecticut valley by lofty mountains, over which one rough road led the way.

Burgoyne's companions in arms have told us of the herds of red deer seen quietly browsing on the hillsides; of the flocks of pigeons, darkening the air in their flight; and of the store of pike, bass, and maskelonge with which the waters of the lake abounded. At one encampment the soldiers lived a whole day on the pigeons they had knocked off the trees with poles. So the passage of the lake must have seemed more like a pleasure trip to them than the prelude to a warlike campaign.

On his way up the lake, Burgoyne landed at the River Bouquet, on the west shore, where for some days the army rested.

To this rendezvous, large numbers of Indians had come to join the expedition. It was indispensable to observe the customs which had always prevailed among these peoples when going to war. So Burgoyne made them a speech, gave them a feast, and witnessed the wild antics of their war dance.

He forbade their scalping the wounded or destroying women and children. They listened attentively to his words, and promised obedience; but these commands were so flatly opposed to all their philosophy of war, which required the extinction of every human feeling, that Burgoyne might as well have bidden the waters of the lake flow backward, as expect an Indian not to use his scalping-knife whenever an enemy lay at his mercy.

Still, it is to Burgoyne's credit that he tried to check the ferocity of these savages, and we would also charitably believe him at least half ashamed of having to employ them at all when he saw them brandishing their tomahawks over the heads of imaginary victims; beheld them twisting their bodies about in hideous contortions, in mimicry of tortured prisoners; or heard them howling, like wild beasts, their cry of triumph when the scalp is torn from an enemy's head.

While thus drawing the sword with one hand, Burgoyne took his pen in the other. He drew up a paper which his Tory agents were directed to scatter among the people of Vermont, many of whom, he was assured, were at heart loyal to the king. These he invited to join his standard or offered its protection to all who should remain neutral. All were warned against driving off their cattle, hiding their corn, or breaking down the bridges in his way. Should they dare disobey, he threatened to let loose his horde of savages upon them. Such a departure from the rules of honorable warfare would have justified the Americans in declaring no quarter to the invaders.

Well aware that he would not conquer the Americans with threats, Burgoyne now gave the order to his army to go forward. His view of what lay before him might be thus expressed: The enemy will, probably, fight at Ticonderoga. Of course, I shall beat them. I will give them no time to rally. When they hear St. Leger is in the valley, their panic will be completed. We shall have a little promenade of eight days, to Albany.

On June 29 the army was near Ticonderoga. This day Burgoyne made a stirring address to his soldiers, in which he gave out the memorable watchword, "_This army must not retreat._"

The next day, Frazer's corps landed in full view of the fortress. The rest of the army was posted on both sides of the lake, which is nowhere wider than a river as the fortress is approached. The fleet kept the middle of the channel. With drums beating and bugles sounding, the different battalions took up their allotted stations in the woods bordering upon the lake. When night fell, the watchfires of the besiegers' camps made red the waters that flowed past them. But as yet no hostile gun boomed from the ramparts of Ticonderoga.

What was going on behind those grim walls which frowned defiance upon the invaders? General Gates was no longer there to direct. General St. Clair[18] was now in command of perhaps four thousand effective men, with whom, nevertheless, he hoped to defend his miles of entrenchments against the assaults of twice his own numbers. His real weakness lay in not knowing what point Burgoyne would choose for the attack, and he had been strangely delinquent in not calling for reinforcements until the enemy was almost at the gates of the fortress itself.

Burgoyne knew better than to heedlessly rush upon the lines that had proved Abercromby's destruction.[19] He knew they were too strong to be carried without great bloodshed, and meant first to invest the fortress, and after cutting off access to it on all sides, then lay siege to it in regular form.


To this end, Frazer's corps was moved up to within cannon-shot of the works. His scouts soon found a way leading through old paths,[20] quite round the rear of the fortress, to the outlet of Lake George. This was promptly seized. After a little skirmishing, the enemy planted themselves firmly, on some high ground rising behind the old French lines, on this side; thus making themselves masters of the communication with Lake George, and enclosing the fortress on the rear or landside. While this was going on, on the west shore, Riedesel's Germans were moved up still nearer Mount Independence, on the Vermont shore, thus investing Ticonderoga on three sides.

A more enterprising general would never have permitted his enemy to seize his communications with Lake George, without making a struggle for their possession, but St. Clair appears to have thought his forces unequal to the attempt, and it was not made. The disaster which followed was but the natural result.




[_Pen and ink sketch by a British officer._ A-B, Ticonderoga. C-D-E, Mount Independence. F, Barracks. G, Mount Defiance. H, Bridge joining the fortress proper with Mount Independence. I, American Fleet. K, Outlet of Lake George. O, British Fleet. P, Three-Mile Point. Q, First Landing Place of Burgoyne. R, The Germans. T-U, Position taken on Mount Hope. W, Second Position of same Troops at U. Z, Portage to Lake George.]


Just across the basin formed by the widening of the outlet of Lake George, a steep-sided mountain rises high above all the surrounding region. Its summit not only looks down upon the fortress, in every part but overall its approaches by land or water. Not a man could march without being distinctly seen from this mountain. Yet, today, the eye measures its forest-shagged sides, in doubt if they can be scaled by human feet. Indeed, its ascent was so difficult that the Americans had neglected to occupy it at all. This is Mount Defiance, the most commanding object for miles around.


Burgoyne's engineers could not help seeing that if artillery could be got to the top of this mountain, Ticonderoga was doomed. They reconnoitered it. Though difficult, they said it might be done. St. Clair's timidity having given them the way to it, the British instantly began moving men and guns around the rear of the fortress and cutting a road up the mountainside. The work was pushed forward day and night. It took most of the oxen belonging to the army to drag two twelve-pounders up the steep ascent, but when they were once planted on the summit, Ticonderoga lay at the mercy of the besiegers.


When St. Clair saw the enemy getting ready to cannonade him from Mount Defiance, he at once gave orders to evacuate the fortress[21] under cover of the night. Most of the garrison retreated over the bridge leading to Mount Independence, and thence by the road to Hubbardton. What could be saved of the baggage and army stores was sent off to Skenesborough, by water. Hurry and confusion were everywhere, for it was not doubted that the enemy would be upon them as soon as daylight should discover the fortress abandoned. This happened at an early hour of the morning. The British instantly marched into the deserted works, without meeting with the least resistance. Ticonderoga's hundred cannon were silent under the menace of two. Burgoyne was now free to march his victorious battalions to the east, the west, or the south, whenever he should give the order.


[17] FEEBLE PLANTATIONS. No permanent settlements were begun west of the Green Mountains till after the conquest of Canada. After that, the report of soldiers who had passed over the military road from Charlestown on the Connecticut River to Crown Point brought a swarm of settlers into what is now Bennington County. Settlement began in Rutland County in 1771.

[18] GENERAL ARTHUR ST. CLAIR, of Scotch birth, had been a lieutenant with Wolfe at Quebec; he resigned and settled in Pennsylvania; served with our army in Canada; made brigadier, August 1776; major-general, February 1777.

[19] ABERCROMBY lost two thousand men in assaulting these lines in 1758. Since then they had been greatly strengthened.

[20] THROUGH OLD PATHS. The Indians had passed this way centuries before the fortress was thought of.

[21] ST. CLAIR seems to have waited just long enough for the defense to become difficult, to admit its impossibility. He chose the part of safety rather than that of glory.

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