By July 6, 1777, British troops under General John Burgoyne had gained the high ground above Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. Significantly outnumbered, the smaller Continental force under General Arthur St. Clair retreated. In their haste, the Patriots left behind barrels of supplies, including gunpowder, flour, salt, and jerky.
The British took control of Fort Ticonderoga without firing a shot but, subsequently, clashed with Patriot forces on Lake Champlain in the Battle of Skenesborough and on land in the Battle of Hubbardton.
Continental forces retreating from Ticonderoga divided: one force followed a lake route to Skenesborough; the other followed a land route toward Hubbardton. British naval gunners bombarded and destroyed the American ships Enterprise, Gates, and Liberty in the Battle of Skenesborough on Lake Champlain. Burgoyne’s infantry regiments pursued the Continental force under Col. Pierse Long on land in the Battle of Hubbardton.
After the Battle of Skenesborough, Capt. James Gray worked hard to reorganize a Patriot force from the resulting confusion. He assembled 220 men and led them southward through a maze of difficult trails and dense forest, pursued closely by Lt. Col. John Hill’s 9th Regiment of Foot, carrying orders to defeat any retreating Patriots and take control of Fort Ann.
In the early morning hours of July 7, Gray’s men awoke ragged, demoralized, and famished, intensely regretful of forsaking their food and supplies at Fort Ticonderoga the day before. Nevertheless, Gray and his men formed a defensive perimeter north of Fort Ann. Their prospect of successfully defending the fort looked dire until Col. Henry Van Rensselaer unexpectedly arrived at the fort with 400 militiamen, elevating Patriot numbers that reinforced Gray’s force and reinvigorated morale.
The Battle of Fort Ann began on the morning of July 8 and lasted four hours. Patriot forces greatly outnumbered Hill’s regiment due to the arrival of Van Rensselaer’s men, who succeeded at putting significant pressure on the British flanks. Fighting in thick forest strained visibility and mobility, but the Patriots took advantage of the landscape, moving stealthily from tree to tree in order to approach the British position. Hill’s men improved their position by moving to a wooded hill. Suddenly, Indian war cries echoed throughout the woods. Believing a large British-Indian force had arrived, Patriots fell back to Fort Ann. In fact, it was only a small force under Capt. Money.
Despite their retreat, the Patriots believed they had been victorious in battle. However, they were running dangerously low on ammunition and were ultimately forced to abandon the fort and retreat further southward to Fort Edward upon the approach of a large force under General William Phillips.
The Battle of Fort Ann marked an important point in the Saratoga Campaign, the British attempt to secure the strategically important Hudson River valley. Patriot forces delayed General John Burgoyne on his march toward Saratoga and ensured a Patriot victory at Saratoga, which boosted American morale and secured French intervention.