Fort Ticonderoga was a British fort at the onset of the American Revolution. It was captured on May 10, 1775, by colonial militia led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. The cannon and artillery were eventually taken to Boston, where they were used to fortify Dorchester Heights during the Siege of Boston, which forced the British to evacuate the city.
After the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the colonial militia forces chased the British back to Boston and surrounded the city. The Siege of Boston had begun but the provincial militia did not have the cannon and artillery needed to bombard the British and them out of Boston. It was well known throughout New England that there were cannon and artillery at the British forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and even before the first shot was fired at Lexington, plans had been set in motion by Connecticut to conduct an expedition to capture Ticonderoga. In those first days of the war, some of the colonies were still fighting with each other over land and even for the glory and spoils of war. Not long after Connecticut launched their expedition, with Ethan Allen as its field commander, Massachusetts did the same. Benedict Arnold was in command of the Massachusetts expedition. Along the way, the two expeditions joined together. The British at Ticonderoga and Crown Point were not aware war had broken out and were not expecting an attack of any kind.
Engraving of Ethan Allen demanding the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga (Wikimedia). See full image »
Facts About the Date and Location of the Battle
- Fort Ticonderoga is located in Essex County, New York. It was built by the French during the French and Indian War and was originally called Fort Carillon.
- It was strategically located on high ground between Lake Champlain and Lake George.
- There are several explanations of where the name Ticonderoga comes from. Contemporary accounts say it comes from the Iroquois word for “between two waters” or “where the waters meet.”
- By 1775, Fort Ticonderoga had fallen into disrepair and was home to a small garrison of British troops. The fort was manned by about 50 soldiers and had roughly 80 pieces of artillery.
- The battle took place on May 10, 1775.
Facts About the Prelude to the Battle
- In March 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress sent a lawyer, John Brown, and a guide, Peleg Sunderland, into Canada. Massachusetts knew war with Britain was possible and wanted them to see how the French Canadians under British rule and Indians might respond. They also wanted to know what kind of condition Fort Ticonderoga was in. Brown’s assessment was the fort should be immediately taken if there was war. He also recommended the Green Mountain Boys, a militia force from the New Hampshire Grants, would be the ideal military force.
- At that time, the Green Mountain Boys were under the command of Ethan Allen and may have actually been planning to take Ticonderoga even before Brown suggested it to the Provincial Congress.
- On April 26 Colonel Samuel Holden Parsons was riding from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Hartford Connecticut when he crossed paths with Benedict Arnold and Connecticut’s Second Regiment of Foot Guards. Arnold and his men were on their way to join the militia forces that surrounded Boston. Parsons told Arnold the militia needed cannon and artillery. Arnold told Parsons there were cannon and artillery at Ticonderoga.
- When Parsons reached Hartford he met with Samuel Wyllys and Silas Deane and discussed the idea of putting an expedition together to take Ticonderoga. He also met with Thomas Mumford, Adam Babcock, and Christopher Leffingwell. They determined the Green Mountain Boys were the right outfit for the expedition, and they began to secure provisions.
- On April 28, they were able to procure a loan from Connecticut to fund the expedition. That same day, Parsons, Deane, and Leffingwell met with Edward Mott and asked him if he would lead the expedition. Mott agreed. Mott left Hartford the next day with five men with orders to raise an army to carry out the plan. On their war to the Grants, they stopped in several small towns and recruited men to join the expedition. When they stopped in Salisbury, they met with Ethan Allen’s brother, Heman, who was then sent ahead to inform his brother of the plan.
- Benedict Arnold arrived at Cambridge on April 29. He met with Joseph Warren and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety and recommended they send a force to capture Ticonderoga.
- Heman Allen arrived in Bennington on May 2.
- On May 3, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety approved Arnold’s plan and gave him a commission as a Colonel. He was given the authority to raise no more than 400 men for the expedition. The Committee also provided him with horses, gunpowder, ammunition, and money. Arnold was instructed to pick up provisions in Deerfield, west of Cambridge.
- The Connecticut expedition, which had split up to avoid suspicion, crossed from Massachusetts into the New Hampshire Grants on May 3 and most of the troops reached Bennington the same day. A council of war was held at the Catamount Tavern, which was generally considered the headquarters of the Green Mountain Boys. The Green Mountain Boys agreed to join Mott’s forces. The council decided to move ahead with the expedition, and again to split into groups for the journey north. They agreed to meet up in Castleton, which was about 60 miles north of Bennington.
- Arnold and his servant left Cambridge on May 4 and headed to Deerfield. On May 6, he stopped for the night at Williamstown, where he probably heard about the Connecticut expedition.
- The Connecticut expedition arrived at Castleton on May 7, where another council of war was held on May 8, and roles were assigned for the attack. Mott was named Chairman of the Committee of War. Ethan Allen was named Field Commander. James Easton was named Second in Command to Allen, and Seth Warner was named Third in Command.
- Around 4:00 in the afternoon on May 8, Benedict Arnold arrived at Castleton and tried to take control of the expedition. The Green Mountain Boys laughed at him and refused to follow his command.
- Arnold argued with Allen over who had the authority to command the attack. Arnold believed his commission from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress gave him the authority.
- The expedition also needed more troops, so Major Samuel Beach was sent on a ride through the countryside and towns to recruit more men.
- On May 9, plans to acquire boats to transport the force across Lake Champlain. Two groups were sent out. Samuel Herrick was sent with a small group to Skeenesborough to capture boats. Allen also sent Asa Douglas north to see if he could acquire boats.
- By the evening of May 9, a force of 200 to 300 men had gathered at Hand’s Cove in Shoreham on the east side of Lake Champlain and directly across from Ticonderoga.
Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys (Library of Congress). See full image »
Facts About Key Participants in the Battle
- Colonial forces were led by Ethan Allen, James Easton, and Seth Warner, although some accounts also give credit to Benedict Arnold for sharing command with Allen.
- Colonial forces were largely made up of members of the Green Mountain Boys. Militia from Connecticut and Massachusetts also participated.
- Fort Ticonderoga was under the command of Captain William De La Place. His second in command was Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham.
Facts About Key Events of the Battle
- As dawn started to break on May 10, Herrick had not arrived with any boats, and Asa Douglass had not been able to procure enough to transport all of the men across the lake. It took nearly 90 minutes to transport 83 men, including Allen, across the lake. With the sun coming up, Allen was concerned they would be spotted, so he decided to take action.
- At some point, Allen and Arnold argued again about the command. Allen agreed to allow Arnold to enter Fort Ticonderoga with him at his left side but did not relinquish command.
- Around 4:00 in the morning, Allen’s men marched on Ticonderoga.
- When they reached the fort, they found the front gate was unlocked and no one was guarding it. They quietly entered and found one British regular on duty. They quickly overpowered him.
- Allen lined his men up on the parade grounds of the fort and shouted three “Huzzahs.” This woke the garrison. A sentry attacked Easton, but Allen deflected the attack with his sword. Allen demanded the sentry take him to the commandant’s headquarters.
- According to Allen, he banged on De La Place’s door and demanded him to show himself. When De La Place asked upon whose authority, Allen’s account says he responded, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”
- According to the account of Lieutenant Feltham, Allen and Arnold pounded on his door, not De La Place’s, and demanded the British surrender. They mistakenly thought he was the commandant of the fort.
- Regardless, when De La Place emerged from his quarters, he ordered his men to stand down and surrender the fort.
Facts About Casualties of the Battle
- One member of the colonial militia was injured, and one was captured.
- One member of the British garrison was injured, and all were captured.
Facts About Result and Aftermath of the Battle
- It was the first American victory of the American Revolution and it boosted morale throughout the colonies.
- Arnold and Allen continued to argue over who was in charge – and who received credit for taking the fort – as did Massachusetts and Connecticut.
- The Americans captured a large supply of munitions and roughly 80 pieces of artillery.
- Matthew Lyon celebrated by firing off a 13-pound mortar called “Old Sow.”
- Allen and the Green Mountain boys supposedly celebrated by drinking 90 gallons of rum they found in the fort.
- On May 10, Allen sent his cousin, Seth Warner, on an expedition to Crown Point, about seven miles north of Ticonderoga, to capture the fort. He was delayed by a storm on May 11, but tried again on May 12 and easily took the fort, which was defended by a handful of British troops.
- On May 10, Allen sent for Captain Remember Baker to join him at Ticonderoga. As Baker made his way there, he and his party met up with two boats full of British troops. The troops were reinforcement headed to Crown Point. Baker captured the troops and boats. He arrived at Crown Point on May 12, just in time to help Warner take control of it.
- Samuel Herrick eventually captured a schooner at Skeenseborough and arrived at Ticonderoga with it on May 11. Arnold outfitted the schooner with guns and called it Liberty. After some of Arnold’s recruits arrived, Arnold used the Liberty and some other small boats to raid Fort St. John, which was north of Fort Ticonderoga on the Richelieu River. Arnold captured Fort St. John and a British sloop, which was renamed Enterprise.
- When Arnold found out British reinforcements were headed to Fort St. John, he abandoned the fort. As he sailed back to Ticonderoga, he passed Allen and some of his men, who were sailing in the opposite direction, and wanted to take Fort St. John themselves. Arnold warned Allen the British were on their way, but Allen ignored him. Allen reached the fort and occupied it for one night. The British reserves arrived the next morning and chased him off with a cannon bombardment. Some of Allen’s men were captured.
- With the victories, the Americans essentially controlled the Hudson River Valley.
- When Congress found out about the capture of the fort, there was concern that it may have ruined any chance at reconciliation with Congress. Congress asked Allen to take the cannon and artillery to the southern end of Lake George so that inventory could be taken. Allen refused the request and argued that removing the weapons from the fort would leave the fort defenseless and leave the colonists in the western territories vulnerable to attack. As long as the cannon and artillery remained at the fort, it could be used to control traffic on Lake Champlain.
- John Brown took the British flag that had flown over the fort and went to Philadelphia, where he presented it to the Continental Congress.
- Congress eventually changed its stance on removing the cannon and artillery from Fort Ticonderoga when it decided to use the fort as a staging point for the planned invasion of Quebec. Congress asked Connecticut Governor John Trumbull to send troops to reinforce the fort.
- When the Connecticut troops, under the command of Colonel Benjamin Hinman, arrived, Allen relinquished command. At first, Arnold refused to recognize Hinman’s authority and threatened to take the ships under his command and surrender them to the British. Hinman was able to convince Arnold’s men to join his ranks and avoided mutiny. Arnold left and went to Albany, New York. From there, he sent letters to Congress, informing them of his views on the situation at Ticonderoga.
- When the reinforcements arrived, the Green Mountain Boys left and returned to their homes and farms in the New Hampshire Grants.
- Allen wanted to press on into Canada and wrote to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He said that Canada could be taken easily and offered to raise a regiment Massachusetts would provide commissions and pay. Allen also wrote a similar letter to the New York Provincial Congress.
- Allen and Seth Warner rode to Philadelphia and met with the Continental Congress. Allen proposed his plan to invade Canada to Congress. Congress agreed, and on July 4, 1775, the Green Mountain Boys were mustered into the Continental Army and told they could name their own officers. Allen was passed over as commander of the regiment. Seth Warner was named Lieutenant Colonel. Allen was also passed over for the rank of captain and lieutenant. Warner’s new regiment was officially known as “Colonel Warner’s Regiment in the Service of the United Colonies.”
- The cannon and artillery from Ticonderoga were eventually retrieved by Henry Knox and taken to Boston where they were used to fortify Dorchester Heights and other areas around the city. Once Dorchester Heights was fortified the British were forced to evacuate Boston.
- Fort Ticonderoga stayed under the control of the Americans until July 6, 1777. The British recaptured it on their march to Saratoga.