Bloodless triumph for young America
Late on a May night in 1775, moonlight fell on the sleeping town of Bennington Vermont. The only persons in town not yet gone to bed were Ethan Allen and some of his Green Mountain Boys. They were gathered in Catamount Tavern discussing Concord and Lexington, and the war just begun with England.
How best could they help the Colonies' cause? Should they send men to Massachusetts? Or to Hartford, Connecticut, where troops were already gathering? Nothing was settled that night; but the next day, as if fate had answered the challenge, Ethan Allen's brother rode up from Hartford. He said the Colonial authorities wanted the Green Mountain Boys to mobilize (gather) and attack Fort Ticonderoga in upper New York, along Lake Champlain.
Fort Ticonderoga was an old post of the French and Indian War of the 1750s. It stood on the western shore of Lake Champlain and was manned by a garrison of British troops. Besides containing valuable military supplies, it was an important link in the natural lake route between Canada and the colonies (at this time period, the area around the fort was mostly forest, with some small villages nearby, the nearest large towns were St John's in the North of the lake, and Albany, at the base of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers.
Ethan Allen, "Colonel to his men, immediately dispatched a rider to call the Boys from nearby farms and villages. When the men gathered, Allen shouted to them "We're going on a big wolf hunt, but a bigger one then ever!"
Off the men marched to Lake Champlain. More and more men joined the march. At Castletown, not far from the fort, they halted. A young lad, Noah Phelps reported that the fort was manned by fifty British troops, and in some places, the walls were weak. But the fort had already withstood attacks from larger forces, so Allen sent a runner off for more Boys.
With reinforcements from Massachusetts and Connecticut, they were almost 200 strong when they rallied at Shoreham, two miles from the fort by water.
Men were sent in search of boats. Two days passed, and still there were no boats. A new complication arose upon the arrival of an officer who said he had been commissioned by Massachusetts authorities to lead the expedition. He was none other then Colonel Benedict Arnold, the man who in later years would betray the revolution to the British. Allen and his Boys would have none of the pompous Colonel Arnold, but rather then endanger the mission, Allen let Colonel Arnold walk with him at the head of the men.
Finally two boats were secured. In the darkness, eighty-three men, all that the boats could be hold, climbed aboard and the boats crossed the lake and landed just out of sight of the fort.
Once the men were landed, the boats returned for another load of troops. Allen led his Boys toward the silent, sinister barricades. His men were poorly armed and he knew that only by surprise could the fort be taken.
When he had reached a break in the south wall, the tall commander drew his sword and rushed through the breech at a dozing sentry. The surprised soldier raised his musket and pulled the trigger. The gun only clicked- it had misfired. The sentry ran across the parade ground, shouting alarm. The Green Mountain Boys followed close behind their leader, screaming blood-curdling war cries.
A Redcoat came running from the guardhouse, bayonet fixed. Allen felled him with the flat of his sword. Then holding its point to the soldier's throat, he bellowed, "Where is your commander?"
The British soldier pointed to the stairs leading to an upper story barracks.
Colonel Allen dashed up the stairs shouting, "Come out of there, all of you!"
A lieutenant appeared and bravely stood his ground, demanding, "By what authority have you entered His Majesty's Fort?"
In answer, Allen roared "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!"
The astonished lieutenant led Allen to the fort's commander. Knowing his soldiers had been surprised in their beds, the commander had no choice but to surrender. Fort Ticonderoga was in American hands.
The first enemy objective of the Revolution had been taken, without a single shot being fired or a life lost.
The cannon taken at Ticonderoga were rushed to George Washington's army, which was besieging Boston, and when placed on the Dorchester Heights, compelled British General Thomas Gage to order a withdrawal of British forces to Halifax in Canada. Thus one wilderness victory led to another at Boston.