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This dramatic aerial photograph, taken in May 2003 by guest contributors Doug and Mark Harwood, clearly shows the strategic importance of Mount Independence. At center left can be seen the Ticonderoga peninsula, the promontory extending from the upper right of the photo is Mt. Independence. The two peninsulas were connected by a floating bridge during the Revolution. To the right, outside of the photo is Mt. Defiance. The British sealed the fate of the American fortresses when they dragged cannon to its summit.

MOUNT INDEPENDENCE
Orwell, Vermont
(click here for map)

By James P. Millard

NOTE: This material is provided as a public service. America's Historic Lakes is not affiliated with the Mt. Independence State Historic Site. 
Contact the site for additional information.

Just across a narrow strait from Ticonderoga lies another promontory that juts into the lake from the eastern shore. Here in June of 1776, American troops under the command of General Philip Schuyler built a massive fortress to prevent invasion from Canada. Named by the troops themselves Mount Independence in honor of the newly signed document they were fighting for, this complex of batteries, blockhouses and parapets was deemed necessary due to Ticonderoga's southerly posture and poor condition at the time.

The Lake Champlain/Lake George corridor had always been the key to the south for invading armies, and the American rebels knew that soon the King would send his troops south down the lake. Sure enough, a fleet under Sir Guy Carleton, fresh from his defeat of Benedict Arnold's gallant navy at Valcour approached the fortresses in October 1776. By then, some three brigades had been stationed upon the mount, and it fairly bristled with cannon. Carleton was faced with a large shore battery, a well-designed parapet, or horseshoe shaped battery, and a star-shaped picket fort garrisoned by some 12,000 troops.

The season was late, Carleton was intimidated by the impressive sight of the combined fortresses- he turned his fleet around and sailed back to Canada. This bought the rebels precious time to prepare for a future invasion they knew would come.

The Americans reduced dramatically the size of the forces occupying the Mount. By winter of 1776-1777, some 2,500 troops remained. Those who stayed behind suffered terribly. Decimated by illness and the cold, hundreds succumbed to smallpox or froze to death. In the spring, the garrison was reinforced slightly but the huge complex was not sent nearly enough troops to prepare an adequate defense. In July another mighty British force, this time commanded by General John Burgoyne appeared north of the forts. Intelligence reports showed that a huge army had embarked from the ships and was approaching the forts on each side of the lake- British regulars on the New York side, and German Hessian (Braunschweig) troops under Baron Riedesel on the side we now know as Vermont.

In addition the British had wisely performed what imprudent American generals had deemed "impossible"- hauled cannon to the summit of Mt. Defiance. Their position was now untenable, American commander Arthur St. Clair did the only thing possible in light of this hopeless position- retreat, and save the forces to fight again. Some forces retreated down the lake in what few ships were available, the bulk of the army fled south along the crude roads towards Skenesborough.

They were pursued to Hubbardton, where a heroic rear guard action was fought. Another decisive battle was fought at Bennington. Burgoyne inexplicably chose to continue south in pursuit through the "drowned lands" of Wood Creek rather than travel the proven route south down Lake George. Finally, several months later, British and American troops met at Saratoga. Here the American forces proved victorious over the exhausted and woefully over-extended British army. Some British and Hessian troops remained at the fort until November, when they burned the complex upon hearing of Burgoyne's surrender.


Fort Ticonderoga from Mount Independence
 

Wording on the monument at entrance to Mount Independence
 

MOUNT INDEPENDENCE
BASTION OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR+

Fortification was begun in June of 1776, and
THE NAME MOUNT INDEPENDENCE WAS BESTOWED
FOLLOWING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
lIEUT. coL. jEDUTHAN BALDWIN WAS THE CHIEF
CONSTRUCTION ENGINEER. HERE THE EXHAUSTED
AMERICAN ARMY, NORTHERN DEPARTMENT, WAS
STATIONED AFTER WITHDRAWING FROM ITS 
DISASTROUS CANADIAN CAMPAIGN. BUILT ON A 
ROCKY PLATEAU AND STOUTLY FORTIFIED, THE
POST WAS A NATURAL STRONGHOLD FACING ANY
APPROACHING FOE FROM THE NORTH. WITHIN ITS
RUGGED CONFINES THOUSANDS OF NEW ENGLANDERS,
MANY SUCCUMBING TO ILLNESS AND LACK OF 
SUPPLIES, WERE QUARTERED. because OF ITS
COMMANDING POSITION AND FORMIDABLE BATTLE
WORKS, WHICH MADE IT MORE POWERFUL AT THE 
MOMENT THAN IMPAIRED TICONDEROGA, IT CHECKED
FOR A YEAR A BRITISH THRUST SOUTHWARD, UNTIL
AT THE FALL OF ITS COMPANION FORTRESS
ACROSS THE CHANNEL IT WAS EVACUATED IN THE 
EARLY MORNING DARKNESS OF July 6, 1777.  this
CRITICAL YEAR OF REPRIEVE GAVE THE AMERICAN 
FORCES TIME TO ORGANIZE FARTHER SOUTH, MEET
AND DESTROY general Burgoyne AT SARATOGA,
WIN FRENCH SUPPORT, AND EVENTUALLY SUBDUE
GENERAL CORNWALLIS AT Yorktown, FULFILLING
THE PROPHECY OF THE MOUNTAIN'S NAME.
-------------------

erected BY
Vermont SOCIETY 
SONS OF THE American REVOLUTION
IN OBSERVANCE OF THE
BICENTENNIAL YEAR OF INDEPENDENCE, 1976

 



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