Fort Ticonderoga is a large eighteenth-century fort built at a strategically important narrows in Lake Champlain where a short traverse gives access to the north end of Lake George in the state of New York, USA. The fort controlled both commonly used trade routes between the English-controlled Hudson River Valley and the French-controlled Saint Lawrence River Valley. The name "Ticonderoga" comes from an Iroquois word tekontaró:ken, meaning "it is at the junction of two waterways". Fort Ticonderoga was the site of four battles over the course of 20 years.
In 1755, the French began construction of Fort Ticonderoga at this time it was known as Fort Carillon. The name "Carillon" comes from a former French officer of Spanish descent, Pierre de Carrion, who established a trading post at the site in the late 17th century. Construction on the star-shaped fort proceeded slowly through 1756 and 1757. The fort's primary goal was to control the south end of Lake Champlain and to prevent the British from getting a toe hold on the lake. The French and Indian War was beginning, and France wanted to contain the British colonies on the eastern coast of North America.
The fort is located on the west side of Lake Champlain, on a bluff overlooking the lake. Although its objective—controlling the lake—would suggest that the fort be built as close to the lake as possible, it was actually sited back from the edge of the bluff, so that it could be built on rock, the better to prevent an attacker from undermining the fort's walls.
In 1757 the French launched a very successful attack upon Fort William Henry from the nearly complete Fort Carillon.
On July 8, 1758 the British, under General James Abercromby, staged a frontal attack against hastily assembled works outside the fort's main walls (which were still under construction) in the Battle of Carillon. Abercrombie tried to move rapidly against the few French defenders, opting to forgo field cannon, he relied upon his 16,000 troops. The British were soundly defeated by 4,000 French defenders. This battle gave the fort a reputation for invulnerability, although the fort never again repulsed an attack. The 42nd Regiment of Foot (the Black Watch) was especially badly mauled in the attack on Fort Carillon, giving rise to a legend involving the Scottish Major Duncan Campbell.
The terrifying reputation of the Native Americans, for the most part allied to the French, is thought to have provoked the wave of panic that apparently overtook British troops retreating in great disorder by day's end. French patrols later found equipment strewn about, boots left stuck in mud, and many wounded on their stretchers left to die in clearings. In fact, few Natives were actually present during the battle, a large contingent of them having been sent by French governor Vaudreuil on a useless mission to Corlar. The misdirection of Indian fighters gave Montcalm all the more reason to pester at his rival Vaudreuil, complaining that his actions had cost them the opportunity to completely destroy the retreating British (who would later regroup south of Lake George).
No longer considered a "front line" fortification, Ticonderoga was not well-maintained by the Crown and manned by a token force. On May 10, 1775, the British garrison of 22 soldiers was surprised by a small force of Vermonters who called themselves the Green Mountain Boys, and were led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, who entered the fort through a breach in the wall. Allen was known for saying, "Come out you old Rat!" to the English soldiers . Allen later claimed that he demanded to the British commandant that he surrender the fort "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!"; however, his surrender demand was made to a junior officer, not the commandant, and no other witnesses remembered Allen uttering such a phrase. Not a single shot was fired. The colonies obtained a large supply of cannons and powder, much of which was hauled 300 miles by Henry Knox during the winter of 1775-1776, to Boston, to support the Siege of Boston. The fort itself was marginally defensible, but at least provided shelter and an excellent view of the surrounding waterways.
In 1776, the British returned from Canada and moved down Lake Champlain under General Carleton. A ramshackle fleet of American gunboats delayed the British until winter threatened (see: Battle of Valcour Island), but the attack resumed the next year under General Burgoyne.
Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go, he can drag a gun
- Maj. Gen. William Phillips, as his men brought cannon to the top of Mt. Defiance in 1777
The colonials quickly withdrew across the Lake to Fort Independence on the Vermont side of the Lake. They soon abandoned that fort as well and retreated south to Saratoga. Seth Warner, now the leader of Vermont Republic's Green Mountain Boys, having conducted the American rear guard the previous year as the Americans retreated from Quebec to Ticonderoga, showed his prowess and cool headedness by very nearly defeating the pursuing British. The rear guard led by Americans Warner, Francis and Titcomb demonstrated significant effectiveness in this defensive maneuver. Warner almost certainly would have defeated the larger British force had it not been for the arrival of the flanking German troops sent by Burgoyne. This rear guard action is known as the skirmish at Hubbardton and it ultimately allowed Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair to retreat to Saratoga with the majority of the Ticonderoga force. This set up the ultimate defeat of Burgoyne later that year in Saratoga. In total 67% of Warner's troops made it through the rear guard battle and effectively stopped the British pursuit.
The fort is privately owned and was restored in 1909. It is maintained as a tourist attraction, opening for the season on May 10th every year, closing in late October. Re-enactments of the French and Indian War period are held annually. Since it is privately owned and is very well-maintained, the federal government has never tried to make the fort a part of the National Park System, though it can be surmised (and would probably be publicly demanded) that the government would take over the site should any unforeseen economic situations occur.
The fort was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 Included in the landmarked area are three land masses, including one promontory across Lake Champlain from the fort, in Vermont.
The town of Ticonderoga, New York, located on Lake George in the area where the fort stands, also carries its name.