Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, & the Green Mountain Boys – Capture of Fort Ticonderoga

 
 

Fort Ticonderoga, located on the southern shores of Lake Champlain, New York City, was very vital during the Indian and French War as well as the American Revolutionary War because of its strategic location between the Thirteen Colonies and the British controlled territories to the north, it held control over major trade routes to Canada and was popularly referred to as “the gateway to the continent.”

It was 1775 and the American forces did not have enough ammunition to take Boston successfully from the British, Fort Ticonderoga, however, had a full stock of ammunition; howitzers, mortars, and canons, which the Continental Army desperately needed.

However, the fort lacked appropriate security; a few British soldiers were stationed there, among them some who had serious injuries and posed no real threat to Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold’s band of Green Mountain Boys when they attacked.

Fort Ticonderoga from Mount Defiance. Photo: Mwanner / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Arnold had only recently been conferred the title of Colonel by the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts and was given the go-ahead to raise 400 troops to take over the fort with a budget of £150, some horses, gunpowder, and ammunition.

He then teamed up with Ethan Allen, the leader and founder of the Green Mountain Boys, a militia which was initially formed to protect landowners rights against theft as there was no law or authority to that effect in the region.

They initially referred to themselves as the “New Hampshire Boys” because they operated in New Hampshire but were tagged the “Green Mountain Boys” by the media.

An engraving of Benedict Arnold after John Trumbull by H.B. Hall, published 1879

After escaping a close encounter with death at the hands of the New York authorities, Ethan received a proposition from Benedict Arnold asking for assistance from the Green Mountain Boys in the siege of Fort Ticonderoga which he eagerly agreed to.

The Siege began on the eve of May 9. Ethan and Arnold’s forces met at the agreed rendezvous in Hand’s cove at about 11:30 pm; about two hundred and thirty highly spirited Green Mountain Boys made up the majority of this assembly.

Flag of the Green Mountain Boys – Amber Kincaid CC BY 2.5

Ethan, however, had some difficulty in procuring the boats which they planned to sail across the lake, and by the time the boats did arrive, it was 1:30 am.  Even then, the boats were still too little to carry everyone across.

The first group of eighty-three men then departed, with Ethan and Arnold amongst them. They landed near the garrison and the boats were immediately sent back to transport the rest, commanded by Colonel Seth Warmer.

A print depicting Ethan Allen’s Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775

It took an awfully long time to get the boats to Hand’s cove and back. It was almost dawn and there was still no sign of incoming boats. The whole military operation had hinged on the element of surprise; an advantage they would lose if they continued to wait for the rest of their men.

Desperate and out of options, Ethan and Arnold made a decision to act with what they had, with the hope that they would be rejoined with their reinforcements as the battle progressed.

Engraving depicting Ethan Allen at the capture of Fort Ticonderoga – 1775

They led the army in three ranks toward the right of the garrison and found a sentry posted there on lookout duty. Immediately the sentry saw the group approaching, and he fired at them but missed, and the group charged towards his position.

The sentry took off into the garrison and hid. With most of the residents in the fort asleep, the Americans let out three shots from their firearms, which sent a wave of panic across the now waking inhabitants.

A view of the restored Fort Ticonderoga

Being accustomed to trench warfare, most of the British sentries were equipped with bayonets and one of them made to strike a soldier in the American ranks; he made contact but only managed to injure the lad slightly.

He was immediately disarmed by a blow to the head at which point he pleaded to be taken captive rather than killed as did all the other sentries. After collecting their weapons, Ethan and Arnold demanded the location of the commanding officer in charge of the garrison.

The sentries readily provided the information, sending them up a flight of stairs on the west side of the garrison which led them to the quarters of Captain William Delaplace, the commandant of the garrison, Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham, and the other senior officers.

Fort Ticonderoga, formerly Fort Carillon. Photo: Charny / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Feltham and his fellow officers were awakened by the stomping sound of boots as they raced up the stairs and realizing that the garrison was under siege, he quickly alerted the captain, who was still in his chambers.

Feltham then demanded to know under whose authority they had attacked the fort. He was given the reply, “in the name of Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” Upon hearing this, Delaplace emerged from his chambers and surrendered his weapon, with all the other officers under him following suit.

The fort had been captured with little violence and no deaths. Ethan’s Green Mountain Boys made to plunder the stores of liquor and other provisions despite interjections from Arnold. Their loyalty was to Ethan who, on the other hand, made no objections to the looting.

In a letter written by William Delaplace to the General Assembly of the Governor and the Company of the English Colony of Connecticut, he accounted for a hundred and fifty men under the command of Ethan Allen present during the raid and requested British intervention and protection of the forty-men taken captive.