Remembering bloody Ticonderoga battle

History is replete with strange turns of fate that have altered the course of nations and events. The premature death of a British brigadier general on July 6, 1758, may have cost the British the Battle of Ticonderoga along Lake Champlain. In a new book, titled The Epic Battles for Ticonderoga, 1758 (SUNY Press, 2008), William R. Nester, a professor at St. Johns University, delves into the sad story Ticonderoga, the 18th centurys biggest bungled battle. He also examines the skirmishes and raids that preceded it, the roles of various individuals on both sides of the conflict, and the great battles lasting impact. Today, the name Ticonderoga evokes images of Ethan Allen and the American Revolution; it also lives on as a class of U.S. Navy battle cruisers. But the current spelling of the familiar name is much older. It evolved from an ancient Iroquois word tekontar__n, meaning the place between two waters. The Iroquois used the quasi-mystical word to describe a specific place that rises as a rocky peninsula above Lake Champlains southwestern shore. According to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, in July 1609 French explorer Samuel de Champlain joined a war party of Algonquin, Huron, and Montagnais who paddled up the lake with 24 canoes in search of their enemy the Mohawk Iroquois. Champlain and his war party confronted a group of Mohawk warriors at Ticonderoga, where Champlain killed three Mohawk with his arquebus. Thus were established French allies and enemies that endured for nearly two centuries. In the summer of 1758, on the Ticonderoga peninsula the old border between the British colony of New York and New France British Gen. James Abercromby ordered a reckless frontal assault of the heavy, entrenched French fort atop the headland while outnumbering them four to one. The fateful day of July 8, however, would go horribly wrong, ending with 2,000 British casualties and Abercrombys surviving forces making what some described as a pell-mell retreat. The year 1758 was also notable for the death of Viscount Brig. Gen. Lord George Augustus Howe at the July 6 Battle of Trout Brook. The battle site, more like a skirmish, was located off todays Route 9N in Ticonderoga just south of the rotary monument. Howe remains notable in the annals of military history as the pioneer of the concept of light infantry. The brigadiers tragic end occurred just two days before the big assault on the Carillon (Ticonderoga) fort. The young nobleman was described as the best officer in the British Army. The death of Howe was a severe blow to the morale of Abercrombys attacking army. According to 19th century historian Francis Parkman, [Lord Howe], who was then in his thirty-fourth year, had the qualities of a leader of men. The army felt for him from general to drummer-boy. He was its soul; and while breathing into it his own energy and ardor, and bracing it by stringent discipline, he broke through the traditions of the service and gave it new shapes to suit the time and place. Howes body was transported by wagon to Albany and interred in St. Peters Episcopal Church. He was key to establishing Rogers Rangers and outfitting them for guerrilla-style attacks on the French in the weeks leading up to the July 1758 assault. Not often mentioned in accounts of Lord Howes death, his younger brothers, William and Richard, also distinguished themselves as high ranking British officers during the American Revolution. A bleak year would pass before the British returned to capture the Carillon fort of the French and officially rename it Fort Ticonderoga. A few odd facts noted by Nester: The Ticonderoga battle made its mark in the arts of both war and peace. Its deep line trenches and earthworks foreshadowed the bloody Western Front warfare of World War I and it evoked one of literatures best ghost stories, Robert Louis Stevensons 1887 ballad Ticonderoga. Stevensons spooky ballad is based on an equally eerie Scottish folktale linked to the 1758 battle.

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