Another Discipline

Our work is, of course, based on structural engineering. We often work in historic preservation and maybe a little bit into the technical aspects of architecture. Our work occasionally drifts into straight-up history, as this blog does as well. We’re continuing our restoration work at Fort Ticonderoga, with John G. Waite Associates, Architects, and The Fort Ticonderoga Association, and the picture above gives me the opportunity to talk about the history of this site a bit. (Engineer – Ellen Key – provided for scale.)

First, the reason the fort matters: it packed a lot of history into about twenty years. There is a natural, almost-all-water route between Montreal and New York, following the line of the Hudson River, Lake George, Lake Champlain, and the St. Lawrence River. The site of Fort Ticonderoga blocks the valley where you would haul your boats between the two lakes. It was built by the French army (as Fort Carillon) during the French and Indian War (for people not from the US, that’s the North American colonial counterpart to the Seven Years War, which resulted in the British taking over most of the French colonies here), 1755-1757. In 1758, the French defenders drove off a British army; in 1759 the British came back and captured and renamed the fort. In 1775, American rebels seized the fort; in 1777 the Americans abandoned it to the British and then made a failed attempt to retake it. After the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, the British abandoned the fort as well as their idea of invading the colonies from the north. That was the end of the fort’s use as a fort: it was in ruins by 1900, and has been restored since.

The plaque on the entrance to the fort’s parade ground (the “place d’armes”) uses language a bit too flowery for my tastes, but it’s accurate. The cast of characters listed on it, re-ordered:

French:

  • Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, a general in the French army, was based in the fort during a portion of his time in the French and Indian War; he surrendered the fort to British.
  • François Gaston de Lévis was Montcalm’s second in command, and was a key part of the 1757 victory over the British.

British:

  • Richard Montgomery (1), a British officer, took part in both battles at the fort between the French and British. See “Americans” below for his later career.
  • Robert Rogers, a British officer, took part in capturing Ticonderoga from the French. He settled here but then briefly fought with the British during the American Revolution and permanently left the colonies (except for some time as a prisoner) in 1777.
  • Jeffery Amherst, a British general, led the army that seized the fort from the French in 1759.
  • Guy Carleton, a British general, led the army that eventually won Ticonderoga back from the American rebels.
  • John Burgoyne, a British general, led the Saratoga campaign.
  • John Andre, a British major, was part of (and later head) of the British secret service in North America during the Revolutionary War. He was captured by the Americans in Quebec in 1775, freed in 1776, captured and executed as a spy for his part in Arnold’s change from the Continental Army to the British in 1780. Most likely he was at Ticonderoga during his initial 1775 arrest, as he was transported south.

American:

A couple of notes: first, many of those men are better known for other aspects of their lives. For example, Philip Schuyler was a successful politician. Second, it’s probably worth mentioning that Gates, St. Clair, and Montgomery were born in the United Kingdom (as then defined) and had settled in the colonies. The American Revolution was, in many ways, a civil war.

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