RECAP: Yesterday, or rather in the year 1776, the British drove the Americans out of Quebec. They wanted to attack Fort Ticonderoga, but then winter set in. Rather than continue fighting, it was time for a cup of hot chocolate and stories around the campfire. The war could wait until next year . . .
On July 5, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surprised American General Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair had been put in charge of Fort Ticonderoga after most of the Continental Army moved south to join George Washington’s forces. He was expecting a British attack, so when it came, that wasn’t any surprise. The surprise occurred when General St. Clair looked up. He saw a sight that must have made him shit his pants.
The British had secretly and silently deployed artillery at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (now called Mount Defiance).
This was Fort Ticonderoga’s Achilles’ Heal. We all have one. Even fortresses. This fort was surrounded by high ground and mountains. Sugar Loaf Mountain stood just a mile away from the fort, and was easily within artillery range. The presence of British cannon on that high ground left the Americans sitting ducks.
A cannon pointing in the general direction of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Mt. Defiance) and the outfall of the La Chute River.
That night General St. Clair made a very wise move. He gathered his troops and slunk away, abandoning the fort. And so, the British took back the “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga without firing a single cannon shot.
This was the beginning of General Burgoyne’s Saratoga Campaign. This campaign was named after the General’s favorite brand of cigarettes, which he chain-smoked every waking hour.
Burgoyne hoped to reunify Canada with the American colonies, while dividing the Colonies by isolating New England. It was thought by the British that the main revolutionary fervor came from New England. So by isolating New England, it was theorized that the remainder of the colonies could be quickly and easily subjugated.
And perhaps that’s true, for Southerners don’t know how to think without the help of New England politicians.
General St. Clair’s retreating forces were pursued by General Burgoyne. Some escaped, but others were taken prisoner. Those who escaped, along with other men, were led by Colonel John Brown right back to Fort Ticonderoga. He wasn’t about to let them get away with running from the Brits.
Cannon at the upper ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga.
On September 18th, 1777, they surprised the British defenders of the fort. Brown and company captured artillery pieces and hundreds of enemy prisoners. They destroyed shipping and the outer works of the fort. They freed 100 American POW’s. And they nearly recaptured the fort itself.
The British held the fort, but were shaken. Or, they were shaken, but not stirred. No one knew it at the time, but this would be the last major assault on Fort Ticonderoga.
Meanwhile, General Burgoyne had led his invading troops south to the Hudson River valley. He was running out of Saratogas and needed to replenish his supply quickly. There they engaged in a series of battles against American defenders under Generals Horatio Gates and, once again, Benedict Arnold. His troops got shot all to hell up by the Americans. It was frustrating, and he was having a nicotine fit.
Finally, Burgoyne made it to the town of Saratoga itself. There at last, he found his favorite brand of cigarettes. And he sat back to enjoy them, while watching thoroughbred racing at the local track. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by American troops. The gig was up. He was forced to surrender at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777.
General Burgoyne, very unhappily surrendering his Saratogas.
This was a monumental victory for the Americans. It surprised the entire world. Nobody expected anything like this. What a bunch of smarty-pants the Americans were. Now the world took the American Revolution seriously. And this victory convinced France to join the American side, and provide crucial help in the war. Who knows, maybe they thought they could get Canada back.
The British abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in November, 1777, but not before destroying as much of it as possible. Did I mention that it’s great fun to demolish things? The Revolutionary War then shifted southward, and Fort Ticonderoga became forever irrelevant to all but historians. And tourists. And purveyors of souvenir shops, selling cheapjack crap.
This beautiful greensward is part of a dry moat that surrounded Fort Ticonderoga. During lulls in the war, this is where the officers engaged in sporting games of golf, croquet, and other gentlemanly pursuits.
After the war, it was plundered by local settlers for wood and stone, and fell into labefaction. And within a hundred years it was nothing but a pile of ruins. No one cared about Fort Ticonderoga. All they wanted was houses to live in. Ungrateful sots.
Daguerreotype of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.
Restoration efforts began in 1900, and now Fort Ticonderoga is back to its old 18th century glory. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction. And who knows, maybe it’s part of a secret CIA plot to once again invade Canada.
But Fort Ticonderoga helps to explain why Canada and the United States are separate nations. It was used for invasions both north and south, in attempts to unify. But that thin connecting thread between the St. Lawrence valley and Hudson River valley was not enough to overcome geographical isolation.
Culture, mindsets, and political attitudes developed independently north and south. Even if an invasion had been successful, it would have been very challenging to bring the two peoples together in heart and mind. Canadians are way too polite. And we Americans are way too rude. It just wouldn’t have worked out.
And after the revolution, Loyalists in the new United States were persecuted. Many fled north to Canada. Understandably, they had kind of a sour attitude toward the idea of unification.
“Halt, who goes there?” this cannon seems to say.
We tried once more during the War of 1812, to swallow up the lands to the north. Doncha’ just love good ol’ American Greed? But we were roundly defeated in this effort, while at the same time Canadian identity cemented in strength. They said, “Fuck-all this! We are Canadians! Go the hell home, Yankees!”
This ensured we will always have a Canada, separate and independent from us.
And isn’t it handy to have this foreign jurisdiction? In the 19th century, Canada gave runaway slaves a place of refuge. During the idiotic, insane Vietnam War, runaway conscientious objectors also found a place of refuge in Canada. These days, when prescription drug prices get out of hand, we can smuggle something cheaper across the border to save our lives.
Canada has been our strong friend and ally for many years. I hope it stays that way, and that it always remains independent. We need this ally and counterpoise as much as we, and they, once needed Fort Ticonderoga.
War is an ugly hell. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be prettied up a touch with artistic cannon designs.