Known as the “Gibraltar of North America, Fort Ticonderoga sat at the confluence of Lake Champlain and Lake George, situated so as to control the site of a river portage between the two bodies of water. Originally built by the French between 1755 and 1758, the fort was later captured by the British in 1759.
By 1775, Fort Ticonderoga had become a backwater post for the British military and was falling into a state of disrepair. During the American War for Independence, however, the fort would find new importance as the site of several key events.
The most famous of these occurred on May 10, 1775, when Ethan Allen and his band of Green Mountain Boys, accompanies by Benedict Arnold and a group of New England miltia, silently rowed across Lake Champlain from present-day Vermont and captured the fort in a swift, late-night surprise attack. When the British garrison commander demanded to know upon whose authority Allen was acting, the daring Vermonter allegedly replied: “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”
More important than the fort itself, was the vast trove of artillery that fell into American hands after Allen’s and Arnold’s victory. In late 1775, George Washington sent one of his officers, Colonel Henry Knox, to gather that artillery and bring it to Boston. Knox and his men built special sleds to haul the heavy guns over frozen rivers and the snow-covered Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. When the guns arrived outside Boston in March 1776, they were trained upon the British army occupying the city. The Redcoats had no choice but to flee. The future of the American cause looked bright.
Fort Ticonderoga remained firmly in American hands until the Saratoga Campaign of 1777, when a British army under the command of General John Burgoyne targeted the fort during an offensive aimed at Albany, New York.
Burgoyne’s men placed their artillery atop the unoccupied high ground of the nearby Mount Defiance. On July 5, 1777, the American garrison abandoned the fort without firing a shot.
After Burgoyne’s crushing defeat at Saratoga in October 1777, the fort slipped into irrelevance, no longer playing a major role in the war as the focus of British military operations moved south.