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his own character, to insist upon an opportunity of giving his reasons for his sudden evacuation of a post, which, but a few days before, he, by his own letters, thought tenable, at least for a while. People at a distance are apt to form wrong conjectures, and if General St. Clair has good reasons for the step he has taken, I think the sooner he justifies himself the better. I have mentioned these matters, because he may not know that his conduct is looked upon as very unaccountable by all ranks of people in this part of the country. If he is reprehensible, the public have an undoubted right to call for that justice which is due from an officer, who betrays or gives up his post in an unwarrantable manner.
Having stated the various measures adopted by Washington for the aid of the Northern army at this critical juncture, we will leave him at his encampment in the Clove, anxiously watching the movements of the fleet and the lower army, while we turn to the north, to explain the mysterious retreat of General St. Clair.
PARTICULARS OF THE EVACUATION -INDIAN SCOUTS IN THE VICINITY OF THE FORT- OUTPOSTS ABANDONED BY ST. CLAIR BURGOYNE SECURES MOUNT HOPE INVESTS THE FORTRESS SEIZES AND OCCUPIES SUGAR HILL-THE FORTS OVERLOOKED AND IN IMMINENT PERIL DETERMINATION ΤΟ EVACUATE PLAN OF RETREAT -PART OF THE GARRISON DEPART FOR SKENESBOROUGH IN THE FLOTILLA - ST. CLAIR CROSSES WITH
THE REST TO FORT INDEPENDENCE A CONFLAGRATION REVEALS HIS RETREAT THE BRITISH CAMP AROUSED FRASER PURSUES ST. CLAIR BURGOYNE WITH HIS SQUADRON MAKES AFTER THE FLOTILLA-PART OF THE FUGITIVES OVERTAKEN-FLIGHT OF THE REMAINDER TO FORT ANNE SKIRMISH OF COLONEL LONG RETREAT TO FORT EDWARD ST. CLAIR AT CASTLETON -ATTACK OF HIS REAR-GUARD FALL OF COLONEL FRANCIS -DESERTION OF COLONEL HALE ST. CLAIR REACHES FORT EDWARD-CONSTERNATION OF THE COUNTRY
· EXULTATION OF THE BRITISH.
IN the accounts given in the preceding chapter of the approach of Burgoyne to Ticonderoga, it was stated that he had encamped four miles north of the fortress, and intrenched
1 Letter to Schuyler, 18th July, 1777,
himself. On the 2d of July, Indian scouts made their appearance in the vicinity of a block-house and some outworks about the strait or channel leading to Lake George. As General St. Clair did not think the garrison sufficient to defend all the outposts, these works with some adjacent saw-mills were set on fire and abandoned. The extreme left of Ticonderoga was weak, and might easily be turned; a post had therefore been established in the preceding year, nearly half a mile in advance of the old French lines, on an eminence to the north of them. General St. Clair, through singular remissness, had neglected to secure it. Burgoyne soon discovered this neglect, and hastened to detach Generals Phillips and Fraser with a body of infantry and light artillery, to take possession of this post. They did so without opposition. Heavy guns were mounted upon it; Fraser's whole corps was stationed there; the post commanded the communication by land and water with Lake George, so as to cut off all supplies from that quarter. In fact, such were the advantages expected from this post, thus neglected by St. Clair, that the British gave it the significant name of Mount Hope.
The enemy now proceeded gradually to invest Ticonderoga. A line of troops was drawn from the western part of Mount Hope round to Three Mile Point, where General Fraser was posted with the advance guard, while General Riedesel encamped with the German reserve in a parallel line, on the opposite side of Lake Champlain, at the foot of Mount Independence. For two days the enemy occupied themselves in making their advances and securing these positions, regardless of a cannonade kept up by the American batteries.
St. Clair began to apprehend that a regular siege was intended, which would be more difficult to withstand than a direct assault; he kept up a resolute aspect, however, and went about among his troops, encouraging them with the hope of a successful resistance, but enjoining incessant vigilance, and punctual attendance at the alarm posts at morning and evening oll-call.
With all the pains and expense lavished by the Americans to render these works impregnable, they had strangely neglected the master key by which they were all commanded. This was Sugar Hill, a rugged height, the termination of a mountain ridge which separates Lake Champlain from Lake George. It stood to the south of Ticonderoga, beyond the narrow channel which connected the two lakes, and rose precipitously from the waters of Champlain to the height of six hundred feet. It had
been pronounced by the Americans too distant to be dangerous. Colonel Trumbull, some time an aide-de-camp to Washington, and subsequently an adjutant, had proved the contrary in the preceding year, by throwing a shot from a six-pounder in the fort nearly to the summit. It was then pronounced inaccessible to an enemy. This Trumbull had likewise proved to be an error, by clambering with Arnold and Wayne to the top, whence they perceived that a practicable road for artillery might easily and readily be made. Trumbull had insisted that this was the true point for the fort, commanding the neighboring heights, the narrow parts of both lakes, and the communication between. A small, but strong fort here, with twenty-five heavy guns and five hundred men, would be as efficient as one hundred guns and ten thousand men on the extensive works of Ticonderoga.1 His suggestions were disregarded. Their wisdom was now to be proved.
The British General Phillips, on taking his position, had regarded the hill with a practised eye. He caused it to be reconnoitred by a skilful engineer. The report was, that it overlooked, and had the entire command of Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Independence; being about fourteen hundred yards from the former, and fifteen hundred from the latter; that the ground could be levelled for cannon, and a road cut up the defiles of the mountain in four and twenty hours.
Measures were instantly taken to plant a battery on that height. While the American garrisons were entirely engaged in a different direction, cannonading Mount Hope and the British lines without material effect, and without provoking a reply; the British troops were busy throughout the day and night cutting a road through rocks and trees and up rugged defiles. Guns, ammunition, and stores, all were carried up the hill in the night; the cannon were hauled up from tree to tree, and before morning the ground was levelled for the battery on which they were to be mounted. To this work, thus achieved by a coup de main, they gave the name of Fort Defiance.
On the 5th of July, to their astonishment and consternation, the garrison beheld a legion of red coats on the summit of this hill, constructing works which must soon lay the fortress at their mercy.
In this sudden and appalling emergency, General St. Clair called a council of war. What was to be done? The batteries from this new fort would probably be open the next day by
1 Trumbull's Autobiography, p. 32.
that time Ticonderoga might be completely invested, and the whole garrison exposed to capture. They had not force suflicient for one-half the works, and General Schuyler, supposed to be at Albany, could afford them no relief. The danger was imminent; delay might prove fatal. It was unanimously determined to evacuate both Ticonderoga and Mount Independence that very night, and retreat to Skenesborough (now Whitehall), at the upper part of the lake, about thirty miles distant, where there was a stockaded fort. The main body of the army, led by General St. Clair, were to cross to Mount Independence and push for Skenesborough by land, taking a circuitous route through the woods on the east side of the lake, by the way of Castleton. The cannon, stores and provisions, together with the wounded and the women, were to be embarked on board of two hundred bateaux, and conducted to the upper extremity of the lake, by Colonel Long with six hundred men; two hundred of whom in five armed galleys were to form a rear-guard.
It was now three o'clock in the afternoon; yet all the preparations were to be made for the coming night, and that with as little bustle and movement as possible; for they were overlooked by Fort Defiance, and their intentions might be suspected. Every thing, therefore, was done quietly, but alertly; in the mean time, to amuse the enemy, a cannonade was kept up every half hour toward the new battery on the hill. As soon as the evening closed, and their movements could not be discovered, they began in all haste to load the boats. Such of the cannon as could not be taken were ordered to be spiked. It would not do to knock off their trunnions, lest the noise should awaken suspicions. In the hurry several were left uninjured. The lights in the garrison being previously extinguished, their tents were struck and put on board of the boats, and the women and the sick embarked. Every thing was conducted with such silence and address, that, although it was a moonlight night, the flotilla departed undiscovered; and was soon under the shadows of mountains and overhanging forests.
The retreat by land was not conducted with equal discretion and mystery. General St. Clair had crossed over the bridge to the Vermont side of the lake by three o'clock in the morning, and set forward with his advance through the woods toward Hubbardton; but, before the rear-guard under Colonel Francis got in motion, the house at Fort Independence, which had been occupied by the French General de Fermois, was set on fire by his orders, it is said, though we are loth to charge him with such indiscretion; such gross
and wanton violation of the plan of retreat. The consequences were disastrous. The British sentries at Mount Hope were astonished by a conflagration suddenly lighting up Mount Independence, and revealing the American troops in full retreat; for the rear-guard, disconcerted by this sudden exposure, pressed forward for the woods in the utmost haste and confusion.
The drums beat to arms in the British camp. Alarm guns were fired from Mount Hope: General Fraser dashed into Ticonderoga with his pickets, giving orders for his brigade to arm in all haste and follow. By daybreak he had hoisted the British flag over the deserted fortress; before sunrise he had passed the bridge, and was in full pursuit of the American rear-guard. Burgoyne was roused from his morning slumbers on board of the frigate Royal George, by the alarm guns from Fort Hope, and a message from General Fraser, announcing the double retreat of the Americans by land and water. From the quarter-deck of the frigate he soon had confirmation of the news. The British colors were flying on Fort Ticonderoga, and Fraser's troops were glittering on the opposite shore.
Burgoyne's measures were prompt. General Riedesel was ordered to follow and support Fraser with a part of the German troops; garrisons were thrown into Ticonderoga and Mount Independence; the main part of the army was embarked on board of the frigates and gunboats; the floating bridge with its boom and chain, which had cost months to construct, was broken through by nine o'clock; when Burgoyne set out with his squadron in pursuit of the flotilla.
We left the latter making its retreat on the preceding evening toward Skenesborough. The lake above Ticonderoga becomes so narrow that, in those times, it was frequently called South River. Its beautiful waters wound among mountains covered with primeval forests. The bateaux, deeply laden, made their way slowly in a lengthened line; sometimes under the shadows of the mountains, sometimes in the gleam of moonlight. The rear-guard of armed galleys followed at wary distance. No immediate pursuit, however, was apprehended. The floating bridge was considered an effectual impediment to the enemy's fleet. Gayety, therefore, prevailed among the fugitives. They exulted in the secrecy and dexterity with which they had managed their retreat, and amused themselves with the idea of what would be the astonishment of the enemy at daybreak. The officers regaled merrily on the