Battle of Skenesborough Summary
The Battle of Fort Skenesborogh was a minor military engagement between the United States and Britain that took place on July 6, 1777, during the Saratoga Campaign of the American Revolutionary War. After the British captured Fort Ticonderoga, American forces fled to several locations, including Skenesborough. The British pursued them, attacked Skenesborough on July 6, and forced the Americans to abandon their positions. The Americans retreated to Fort Anne, and the British continued to chase after them.
This map shows the location of Skenesborough, south of Ticonderoga. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Quick Facts About the Battle of Skenesborough
- Also Known As: The Battle of Skenesborough is also known as the Fall of Skenesborough or the Skirmish at Skenesborough.
- Date Started: The Battle of Skenesborough started on Sunday, July 6, 1777.
- Date Ended: The battle ended on July 6, 1777.
- Location: The siege took place at Skenesborough, New York, on the shores of Lake Champlain.
- Military Campaign: The battle was part of the Saratoga Campaign.
- Who Won: Britain won the Battle of Skenesborough.
The Battle of Skenesborough Overview and History
In the fall of 1776, British forces pushed the American Northern Army out of Canada, from Quebec City all the way to Lake Champlain in New York. The British forces, under the command of Guy Carleton, chased after the Americans but were delayed by the Battle of Valcour Island. At that battle, a small American navy, led by Benedict Arnold, gave the army enough time to take refuge at Fort Ticonderoga and other fortifications. By the time the British broke through it was too late in the year to continue the chase. The British withdrew and in November and December 1776 they started to plan their next campaign against the United States.
Planning the Saratoga Campaign
Over the course of the winter of 1776–1777, General John Burgoyne developed the play for the British military campaign, which would be carried out in the spring of 1777. The plan, known as Burgoyne’s Campaign, called for a large force, under his command, to move south out of Canada and into western New York. A second force, led by Barry St. Leger, would move into the Mohawk River Vally. Finally, a third army, under the command of General William Howe, would move north out of New York City. Burgoyne believed if the plan was successful, the British would be able to take control of the Hudson River Valley and then isolate New England from the rest of the colonies, effectively cutting the United States in two. It would allow the British would be able to restore order to New England and the other colonies would fall in line.
Burgoyne Begins His Campaign
Burgoyne assembled his army and sailed from St. John’s on June 14. The army traveled south, crossed Lake Champlain, and toward Fort Ticonderoga. The fort was under the command of Arthur St. Clair, and General Philip Schuyler, his superior, ordered him to hold the fort as long as he could. While St. Clair waited for Burgoyne to arrive, he made plans for his garrison of around 3,000 men — regulars and militia — to escape.
Siege of Fort Ticonderoga
On July 1, British forces arrived north of the fort. Some crossed Lake Champlain on boats, others marched down the side of the lake. British infantry led by General Simon Fraser took control of the heights on Mount Defiance, which was called Sugar Loaf at the time, and started to move artillery into position. However, St. Clair was unaware the British had control of the heights. The position provided the British with an opportunity to fire down on the fort with their artillery. The Americans were alerted to the British presence when they spotted campfires burning on the heights on the night of July 5.
The next day, St. Clair called his officers together for a Council of War and they decided to evacuate the fort. Late in the night of July 5th, into the early morning of July 6th, the Americans evacuated Fort Ticonderoga. St. Clair has his men load supplies and artillery onto boats and sent them in the direction of Skenesborough. The rest of the army crossed to Mount Independence and then marched down the Hubbardton Road.
British Pursue the American Forces
Burgoyne sent forces out from his main body to pursue the Northern Army and ordered ships to sail toward Skenesborough. He also garrisoned Fort Ticonderoga and the surrounding locations with around 900 men, which decreased the strength of his army as he prepared to move on to Albany.
The American forces, under the command of Captain James Gray, sailed to Skenesborough and took defensive positions when they arrived. They also stretched an iron chain across the river in an effort to keep British ships from sailing in too close.
British Attack Skenesborough
Skenesborough was a small town located on the southwest shore of Lake Champlain that had been founded by Captain Philip Skene. It was the first settlement on Lake Champlain, and Skene built mills and an iron foundry there. At the time the American Revolutionary War started, Skene was a Loyalist. After the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775, American forces led by Benedict Arnold captured Skenesborough and later used its resources to build ships he used in the Battle of Valcour Island.
The British ships arrived on July 6 and shot down the iron chain with well-placed shots from their cannons. They sailed in, landed troops, and engaged the Americans. The Americans were quickly overwhelmed, destroyed their fortifications, along with some ships and boats, and retreated further south to Fort Anne.
The British were able to capture some American troops, as well as supplies, artillery, and ships that were not destroyed. A portion of the British force followed the retreating Americans to Fort Anne, while the rest waited for Burgoyne to arrive.
Timeline of the Battle of Skenesborough
This timeline shows how the Battle of Skenesborough fits into the events of the Saratoga Campaign.
- July 2–July 6, 1777 — Siege of Fort Ticonderoga
- July 6, 1777 — Battle of Skeneseborough
- July 7, 1777 — Battle of Hubbardton
- July 8, 1777 — Battle of Fort Anne
- August 2, 1777 — Siege of Fort Stanwix
- August 6, 1777 — Battle of Oriskany
- August 16, 1777 — Battle of Bennington
- September 19, 1777 — First Battle of Saratoga, Freeman’s Farm
- October 7, 1777 — Second Battle Saratoga, Bemis Heights
- October 17, 1777 — Surrender of Burgoyne’s Army