"Land between the waters"
"The voice of protest, of warning, of appeal is never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum, echoed by the press and too often by the pulpit, is bidding all men fall in step and obey in silence the tyrannous word of command. Then, more than ever, it is the duty of the good citizen not to be silent."Charles Eliot Norton
True Patriotism, 1898
In the 1600s, France and England both laid claim to the North American wilderness. Timber and fur promised great wealth; new land expanded the empire. The two powers fought for domination in the New World with little thought for the Native people of the territory.
The French built fortifications to protect the water highways that served their fur trade network. The Ticonderoga peninsula, which the French called "Carillon" (pronounced Car-ee-own), lay at the outer edge of the French empire. A chain of British forts along the Hudson River protected the growing population of colonial New York and New England.
By the mid-1700s, the "no-man's-land" of mountains and swamps around Lake George had become a wilderness battleground for the two European superpowers.
Tension escalated in the fall of 1755 after the French defeat in the battle of Lake George. Racing the approaching winter, the Michel Chartier Lotbinière began construction of Fort Carillon where it could command either invasion route the British might take: down the headwaters of Lake Champlain or over the two-mile portage from the outlet of Lake George. Here in 1758, the Marquis de Montcalm's small force repelled a massive British attack and devastated the 42nd Highland ("Black Watch") regiment.
Lord Jeffery Amherst led a powerful assault on Carillon in 1759. The French garrison withdrew after blowing up the powder magazine, leaving Amherst to rebuild the fort he renamed "Ticonderoga." Ticonderoga is an Iroquois word meaning "Land between the waters".
Just three weeks after Lexington and Concord, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold converged on Ticonderoga with the same idea. In a bold dawn raid on May 10, 1775, they took the Fort from the British, giving America its first victory in the struggle for independence.
At age 8, Stephen H.P. Pell, a Grandson of William Ferris Pell found an 18th-century tinderbox among the ruins of the old fort. The artifact ignited his desire to restore the site to its former glory. Reconstruction began in 1908, President William Howard Taft celebrated the opening of the museum the next year.
The star-shaped fortress was the ultimate defensive weapon of the 18th-century. Lotbinière reproduced the form at Carillon with barracks sufficient for a winter garrison of 400 men. Built first of logs reinforced with earth, the bastions were eventually faced with stone quarried nearby. Sloping earth embankments, or glacis, protected the "covered way" below the walls. As an outer ring of defense, abatis were made of brush and saplings to entangle foot soldiers.
Unlike similar European fortifications which sheltered existing towns, the wilderness fort housed mainly military personnel. The support structures for Fort Carillon lay outside the walls. Storage buildings, bake ovens, a blacksmith shop, brick kiln, brewery, and other buildings dotted the slope below the fort. The hospital stood near the tip of the peninsula. Wharves to the north and south provided landing places for supplies. Sawmills on La Chute River cut lumber for the buildings and bateaux.
Attacked six times in two wars, Fort Ticonderoga never suffered a direct assault on its walls. Three times the outer defenses held against enemy troops. Twice, the Fort fell when it proved impossible to maintain the supply lines that flowed along the wilderness waterways.
Within the protective walls of Fort Ticonderoga, barracks surround the Place of Arms where soldiers practiced their drill. Four bastions sheltered the basic necessities of life in the event of a siege. The northeast bastion housed a bakery, whose ovens could provide the entire garrison with bread. The powder magazine occupied the southeast bastion, along with a deep ice storage room. The secure storage area in the southwest bastion could double as a dungeon when needed. The cistern in the northwest bastion still serves its original function. Imposing stone demi-lunes reinforce the bastions, creating an additional layer of the defense on the landward sides of the Fort.
Touchstones to the past within the walls include one of the gun barrels hauled from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in Henry Knox's "noble train of artillery" in the winter of 1775-76 and a shattered mortar hauled from Lake Champlain — years after it exploded during gunnery practice.
Rings of defense surrounded Fort Ticonderoga. redoubts to the north and west of the fort extended the reach of artillery. A battery on Mount Hope covered the portage road down from the outlet of Lake George.
Tent cities behind the "French Lines" half a mile to the west sheltered summer garrisons numbering thousands of men. Bateaux laden with food, tools, and munitions arrived at the landings of both lakes. Beef cattle grazed on the open meadows of the peninsula. Soldiers cut marsh hay on both shores of the lake to feed their stock through winter.
During the American Revolution, Mount Independence offered a better defense against attack from the north, so the Americans fortified the ridge and built a floating bridge to connect the mount to the Fort.
The French and Americans believed Mount Defiance too steep to scale. But General Burgoyne reclaimed Fort Ticonderoga for the British simply by ordering cannon into position in July of 1777.
In the Fort Ticonderoga museum, the personal possessions of the famous and not-so-famous bring history's momentous events to life. Maps and engraved powder horns show how people saw this place more than two centuries ago. The hollow silver bullet that concealed Clinton's message to Burgoyne recalls the chill felt by a spy caught in enemy territory. Entrenching tools, ice creepers, camp stoves, and medical equipment bring to mind the grim realities of duty on this wind-swept point.
Wisdom And Freedom produced by WORLD NEWSSTAND