The Battle of Lexington and Concord may have been the site of the “shot heard ‘round the world”, but the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga was the moment that showed the British—and other countries—that this was a rebellion that would not be immediately quelled.
Although the colonists had pulled off a victory at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, it did have the distinct feeling a victory claimed by the skin of their teeth. After fewer than 80 militia members faced off against 700 British troops, leaving eight colonists dead and nine wounded, an additional 3,000 militia descended upon Concord to protect the colonists’ cache of weapons.
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Although the newly reinforced militia managed to drive the British off, the Redcoats left the field with only around 250 casualties, despite being outnumbered by over 2,000 militia members. So, though the world took note of the colonists, there was a distinct feeling that there would be a long road to any form of independence.
Less than a month later, the Siege of Boston, which would continue for nearly a year, was already a deadlock. Desperate for a way to end the siege, limit British access to supplies, and ensure their own ability to get food and weapons, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress authorized Benedict Arnold—not yet a British double agent—to attack Fort Ticonderoga.
Fort Ticonderoga had been a major asset during the French and Indian War, when it served as a stopping point between British-American and French-Canadian territories, but had waned in importance during the first skirmishes of the Revolutionary War, which had broken out in more southern areas.
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The fort was still home to a cache of weapons, including larger-format artillery like cannons and mortars of which colonists were in desperate need. Benedict Arnold knew of these caches and spread word amongst the rebelling colonists.
Militias in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire all contributed funds and volunteers to Arnold. He received 100 pounds, light ammunition, horses, and 400 men to march on the fort.
Thanks to the word spreading, by the time Arnold left for the fort, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were also on their way to Ticonderoga. Eventually, the two leaders came to an agreement for some form of joint command, although their deal remains unclear to this day.
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On May 9, 1775, Allen and Arnold began their approach on the fort. With only a few boats available for them to cross Lake Champlain, Allen, Arnold, and 83 members of the Green Mountain Boys made the first crossing in the early hours of May 10.
Fearing that dawn would rise before the rest of their troops could travel across the lake, the 85 men began their attack. A sentry fled after his gun misfired, and the Americans quickly made their way inside the fort.
Able to corral troops before they even fully awoke, the Green Mountain Boys found themselves in charge within minutes. Captain William Delaplace rose and surrendered his sword, giving it and the fort over to Allen and Arnold.
No one was killed, and only one colonist suffered a minor injury. When the rest of the Green Mountain Boys arrived, they began plundering its inhabitants and their food supplies.
Arnold, terrified that the fort that they had so easily captured would find all its valuable supplies in the hands of the Green Mountain Boys instead of their true destination with the Revolution, retreated into the captain’s headquarters and reported the plunder to Congress. He also began taking inventory of the weapons and equipment.
Arnold must have been relieved when the Green Mountain Boys found themselves utterly bored after drinking Captain Delaplace’s private stash of liquor. With his co-leader (or rival) gone, Arnold was able to begin building gun carriages to transport weapons to the front of the war.
But when the Massachusetts Congress sent assistance to Arnold in the form of Colonel Benjamin Hinman, they also told Colonel Arnold that he was to report to Hinman. Arnold, still frustrated by the way that Allen had usurped his mission to Fort Ticonderoga, disbanded his command and resigned his commission.
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On his way home, having spent over a thousand pounds on claiming Fort Ticonderoga, Arnold received word that his wife had died. Although Arnold later rejoined the Continental Army as a colonel, this was one of many times that he felt that the colonists passed him over for recognition and promotion.
Fort Ticonderoga did play key roles in the Revolutionary War afterwards—its guns, shipped to Boston, were the final straw for the British. Once the artillery was placed around Dorchester Heights, the Redcoats and their supporters evacuated.
Arnold also led another attack from the fort at the Battle of Valcour Island, and helped protect the fort from British recapture throughout 1776.
The minor skirmish, which left just one injured man, broke a siege, ruptured British communication in the region, and led the Earl of Dartmouth to say its loss was “very unfortunate indeed”. Sometimes, small victories cause major changes.