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Forts Carillon & Ticonderoga

By James P. Millard

NOTE: This material is provided as a public service. America's Historic Lakes is not affiliated with Fort Ticonderoga. 
Contact the Fort for additional information.

Of all the fascinating and noteworthy historic sites to see in the Lake Champlain/Lake George region, Fort Ticonderoga is probably the most well known- and with very good reason. Ticonderoga is a true American treasure. Certainly the most familiar of the Revolutionary War era forts- Ticonderoga brings to mind tales of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys awakening the Commander in the middle of the night with the order to surrender his fort to Allen by virtue of the Authority of "the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" And yet, the story of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys is just part of the story of this place, actually a very small part of the history of this great fort.
Here, we will attempt to tell the tale of Fort Carillon, the important French fort, renamed Ticonderoga by the English conquerors. We will explore the significance of the forts' place in the history of the area, and we will highlight some details of the terrible Battle of Carillon. For this historic place is also hallowed ground- the final resting place of many who paid the ultimate sacrifice in trying to take this place or defend it from others who would claim it for their sovereign.

The Black Watch at the Storming of Carillon
Image from The Summer Paradise in History by Warwick Stevens Carpenter,

History of Fort Carillon/Ticonderoga

Fort Carillon

Concerned that the venerable fort of St. Frederic at Crown Point would be unable to resist the growing threat from the English to the South, the French under Marquis de Lotbinière begin construction of a larger fort on the peninsula at the mouth of the stream from Lake George in October, 1755.

 This location is chosen as it would protect against invasion either directly up the lake or across the short portage from Lake George. Hampered by corruption and graft, construction continues slowly through the winter and spring. By  mid-July, 1756, four bastions have been raised to a height of at least seven feet, and the fort bristles with cannon.

By fall the fort is still incomplete and an astonishing discovery is made. As more and more of the trees are cleared from the peninsula, the French realize that the fort does not effectively command the passage through the narrows of the lake. The fort has been built in the wrong location! To correct this error a redoubt, or small subsidiary fort, is built closer to the lake. It is known as the Grenadier Redoubt. By January, 1757 Fort Carillon, still only an incomplete structure of earth and logs, mounts 36 cannon and awaits the attack the French know will come.

Not content to sit and wait for the British, French forces under the command of the able Marquis de Montcalm mass at Ticonderoga and Crown Point. A huge invasion force, eight thousand strong, cross the portage, then sail down Lake George to take Ft. William Henry in April of 1757. The storied Battle of Fort William Henry takes place at the southern shore of the beautiful lake. Victorious, Montcalm brings his forces back to Carillon for the summer.

Lake George- Aerial view south. Photo by Doug Harwood

Stung by the loss of their northernmost outpost, the British determine to avenge the loss with a massive attack on the French. An army of 15,000 under the command of James Abercromby sails up Lake George in July, 1758. Montcalm, with a much smaller force, decides to face the attack, not in the fort itself, but to the West, on a hill known as the 'Heights of Carillon.' Here he constructs a massive breastwork of earth and logs. This treacherous abattis, a tangle of logs, brush and sharpened stakes is the place the French await the onslaught. Abercromby, never a good commander, is doomed from the start. The real leader of the Army, the excellent Lord Howe, is killed shortly after the expedition lands at the northern end of Lake George. Abercromby decides to mount a series of head on attacks-unsupported by artillery- straight into the face of the abattis. Beginning around 9:00 in the morning wave after wave of brave men go forth into the maw of death.

Wave after wave are cut down by the entrenched Frenchmen. Thousands die and are wounded. Finally, around 6:00 pm the final assault is made. The debacle at the log wall is complete. Disheartened and defeated, the mighty army hurries south to the base at the end of Lake George. The British outnumbered the French 4-1.
The Battle of Carillon is over.

Once again in July 1759 a massive British force sails forth from the southern shores of Lake George. This army, together with a force of some 9,000 that sail up the St. Lawrence to attack Quebec City, will finally achieve the ultimate goal of the King. The multi-pronged attack on New France is to force the French to pull Montcalm and his forces back to defend the main cities of the Province. 

Leaving only a small force of  2300 at Carillon and St. Frederic to fend off invasion from the south, Montcalm retires to Quebec to meet the British under Wolfe. Troops under General Jeffrey Amherst advance on Carillon. Brigadier Chevalier de Bourlamaque is now in command of Carillon. He is faced with certain defeat, knowing that his superiors are preoccupied with defense of the capitol, no relief will be available for the frontier forts. As the mighty British force advances from the south, Bourlamaque retreats to St. Frédéric at Crown Point, leaving behind a small force of 400 to delay the attackers and destroy Carillon behind them. Amherst takes the fort with a loss of 16 men killed, 51 wounded and 1 missing. The fort is now owned by the King of England.

Fort Ticonderoga

Now in control of the lakes, the French having abandoned Carillon and St. Frederic, Amherst sets out to make the water corridor wholly British. The French have blown the magazine at Ticonderoga but the fort is still serviceable, so Sir Jeffrey sets out to restore it while building a new, more massive fort to the north at Crown Point.

The restored fort holds a British garrison for the rest of the War and well into the peaceful period beyond the end of the Seven Years War. Diminished in importance, the fort is allowed to deteriorate, while the area around the lakes is settled by Colonists of English descent.

Within twenty years conflict again rears its head at the Ticonderoga peninsula. The British colonies are in revolt against the King. The American Revolution has begun. In a bold pre-dawn raid on May 10, 1775 a small group of rebels led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold surprise the token force at Ticonderoga. The commander, roused from sleep supposedly  by Allen's famous command to "Surrender in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress." Again the fort changes hands.

Fearing attack by from the North, the American rebels again fortify Ticonderoga and build another fort on the hill across the narrow lake. Together with Mt. Independence, Ticonderoga is a formidable obstacle to invasion from Canada. This is demonstrated in October of 1776, when the British under Carleton, fresh from defeat of Arnold at Valcour, turn back to Canada upon viewing the forts at Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence... 

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Use the links below for more information about historic Fort Ticonderoga:
Along the road, through the battlefield...
A photo montage of Ticonderoga monuments
Images of historic Fort Ticonderoga
Tour the recreated Fort

Click here to see a large image of the Ticonderoga ruins c. 1890
Ticonderoga circa 1890

Ruins of Fort Ticonderoga
See what was left of the original fort
Fort Ticonderoga
The Photographs
Take a virtual tour of the fort

Click here to see a large image of the Ticonderoga ruins c. 1890
Ticonderoga circa 1890

Images of Fort Ticonderoga by Jim Millard
A virtual tour of the fort in grayscale. Much more to come!
Mt. Defiance
See stunning views of Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence from atop the Mount

Photos Credit-
Library of Congress,
 Prints and Photographs Division, 
Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Map of the historic Ticonderoga, New York region. Click on the icons to learn more about the featured historic site.

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1 Warwick Stevens Carpenter, "The summer paradise in history" (General Passenger Department, The Delaware and Hudson Company, Albany: 1914.

Last modified: 11/10/2012

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