By Muriel Bristol | September 23, 2018
Continued from Milton’s Winter Soldier, Part One
Prior to the Declaration of Independence, Mount Independence had a less grandiose name: Rattlesnake Hill.
Two years previously, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys had surprised and captured Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775. He famously did so “In the name of Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” He was certainly an interesting man. He had rebelled against New York prior to the Revolution. He was a rebel’s rebel. The Revolution just sort of joined him. Guns from Fort Ticonderoga had been sledged to Boston, where they were used to expel the British from that city. Under threat of those guns, mounted on Dorchester heights, the British “evacuated” on their fleet to occupy New York City instead. (Boston celebrates a city government holiday on “Evacuation Day,” which is coincidentally also St. Patrick’s Day).
Fort Ticonderoga had been built by the French in 1755 and had seen better days. It stood on the New York side of the narrow bottom of Lake Champlain at its river outlet. It had been built with an eye to blocking any approach from the south (up the Hudson River from Albany and New York). Its strong defenses were less formidable when approached from the north (down Lake Champlain from Canada).
To improve those defenses, the Colonial forces built an ancillary fortress on Rattlesnake Hill in 1776. That was a sort of hilly semi-peninsula on the Vermont side (modern Orwell, VT) of the lake. They constructed also a rough military road, with log planking and bridges to span wet places, between there and Hubbardton, Vermont, and a pontoon bridge over to Fort Ticonderoga. News of the Declaration of Independence came there on July 18, 1776 and Rattlesnake Hill became Mount Independence.
British General Guy Carleton arrived there from Canada with his army in October 1776. He abandoned this initial invasion attempt when he saw the double-fortressed position with its approximately 12,000 defenders. Most of the Colonial forces dispersed to their homes for the winter not long after. Their enlistments had expired. Only a skeleton force of 2,500 remained to hold the forts over the winter.
The British planned a much more serious invasion attempt for 1777. They hoped to split New England off from the rest of the colonies. To accomplish this, General John Burgoyne’s army would proceed south across Lake Champlain from Canada and General Gage’s army would come north up the Hudson River from New York City. They planned to meet in Albany, control the Hudson River, and thus split the colonies in two.
All three Continental regiments of the New Hampshire Line marched westward from New Hampshire in May 1777 in order to reinforce Fort Ticonderoga’s skeleton garrison. It took them six or seven weeks to get there.
At the head of the Second Regiment, its commander, Colonel Nathan Hale (not the famous spy, but another one from Rindge, NH) rode on horseback with his staff. The Second Regiment’s national and regimental colors flapped in the breeze.
The colors they carried before them had been made in Boston in April 1777. The buff-colored national flag’s ring of thirteen interlocked state rings was based on a Benjamin Franklin design. It had also been used on Continental currency the year before. Its motto “We Are One” appeared in the center of the rings. The blue-colored regimental flag had a shield with “NH 2nd Regt” upon it and a banner or scroll appeared above with the motto “The Glory Not the Prey.” The two cantons were “mocks” or variations on the British Union Jack.
Colonial soldiers and engineers had built encampments for three brigades (enlarged or reinforced regiments) at Mount Independence in 1776. The defenses in progress there included a large shore battery, with a another horseshoe-shaped battery or citadel above it. They also built storehouses, workshops and had begun a star-shaped picket fort. Some of this work continued in the spring of 1777, including the beginnings of three new batteries along the peninsula’s eastern shore.
Mount Independence was as yet an unarmed and undefended construction project. When the New Hampshire regiments arrived, they joined the skeleton garrison of Fort Ticonderoga.
British General John Burgoyne and his army of 7,800 British and Hessian soldiers arrived soon after at nearby Fort Crown Point on June 30, 1777. It was unoccupied and his presence went unnoticed. He next had his troops drag cannons up onto the summit of Mount Defiance (Sugarloaf Hill), which overlooked both Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. (“Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go, he can drag a gun.” – British Major General William Phillips, as his men brought cannon to the top of Mount Defiance in 1777). The British occupation of Mount Defiance remained completely unnoticed until July 5, when some British-allied Indians lit a fire there.
The Colonial commander, General St. Clair, was completely surprised. British guns overlooked Fort Ticonderoga now, which made it completely untenable. He had little choice but to order an immediate evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga. The Colonial forces snuck out that night across the pontoon bridge to Mount Independence, under its British guns, and from there down the military log road to Hubbardton. They were headed for the Rutland, Vermont area.
Most of the sick and wounded were taken to bateaux boats at Skenesborough (now Whitehall, New York), while that was still possible. The baggage went there too.
Battle of Hubbardton
Colonel Seth Warner commanded the rear guard covering the Continental retreat toward Rutland, Vermont. His detail included his own Green Mountain Boys and Colonel Hale’s Second New Hampshire regiment. There were also some stragglers from other units, as well as some number of sick and wounded men.
Colonel Warner paused in Hubbardton, Vermont, on July 6, 1777, while the main force escaped down the Castleton road. He set his men to felling trees to make a obstacle of downward-facing branches on Monument Hill and to extend that position on either flank. The British did not appear that day and Colonel Warner decided to spend the night.
The next morning, July 7, at 5:00 AM, Colonel Warner’s pickets spotted approaching British scouts. There was an exchange of gunfire and the scouts retreated. A more substantial British force arrived at the bottom of Monument Hill at 6:30 AM. They attacked and were repulsed.
The British regrouped, attacked again, and were repulsed again. British General Fraser sent now for his Hessians. Meanwhile, his Grenadiers climbed the Pittsford Ridge beyond the Colonial east flank in order to block their escape route down the Castleton road.
The Hessian reinforcements arrived about 8:30 AM and counter-attacked on the Colonial northern flank, where the British were being hard-pressed. The Second’s commander, Col. Hale, and a detachment of seventy Second Regiment men were captured. Colonel Warner decided it was time to go. The Colonials withdrew across the Pittsford Ridge as best they could.
This is considered to have been a British victory, as they held the field when it was all over, but the rear guard had accomplished its mission. They forced the British to stop, deploy their forces, and fight. All of this took time, valuable time. After the battle, British General Fraser gave up his pursuit of the Colonial main body entirely.
The Battle of Hubbardton involved approximately 2,230 troops – 1,000 to 1,200 Americans, 850 British, and 180 Germans fighting for the British. It resulted in the deaths of 41 American, 50 British, and 10 German soldiers. Of the 244 wounded, 96 were American, 134 British, and 14 German. The British took 234 American prisoners. Total casualties, including prisoners, were roughly 27 percent of all participating troops.
Milton’s Private Enoch Wingate was wounded during this rear guard action. Captain Rowell’s next muster roll listed him as one of sixteen men that had been “Missing since July 7th.”
The Second New Hampshire Regiment continued to regard the captured Colonel Hale as its commander. His name headed all their paperwork, until as late as January 1779, when Lt. Colonel George Reid was listed as commander. Hale died in captivity in September 1780.
The fancy Regimental flags also went missing. They had been packed away with the baggage on the bateaux at Skenesborough to go down river. The British got the lot.
And next came Bemis Heights? Yes.
To be continued in Milton’s Winter Soldier, Part Three
Concord Monitor. (2017, May 23). NH Gets Its Flags Back. Retrieved from www.concordmonitor.com/New-Hampshire-Gets-Its-Flags-Back-9404052
CRW Flags. (2018, July 25). Second New Hampshire Regiment, Continental Line. Retrieved from www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us%5Enhrcl.html
Fort Ticonderoga. (2018). Fort Ticonderoga: America’s Fort. Retrieved from www.fortticonderoga.org/
Fort Ticonderoga. (2018). Mount Defiance. Retrieved from www.fortticonderoga.org/history-and-collections/places/mount-defiance
National Archives. (n.d.) Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (NARA microfilm publication M804, 2,670 rolls). Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
State of Vermont. (2018). Hubbardton Battlefield. Retrieved from historicsites.vermont.gov/directory/hubbardton/history
State of Vermont. (2018. Hubbardton Battlefield. Post-Visit Exercise: Using Primary Sources to Learn about the Battle. Retrieved from historicsites.vermont.gov/sites/historicsites/files/Documents/directory/hubbardton/Hubbardton%20Battlefield%20Post%20Visit%20Primary%20Sources%20Exercise%5B1%5D.pdf
State of Vermont. (2018). Mount Independence. Retrieved from historicsites.vermont.gov/directory/mount_independence
Wikipedia. (2018, September 16). Ethan Allen. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Allen
Wikipedia. (2018, September 13). Fort Ticonderoga. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Ticonderoga
Wikipedia. (2018, July 20). Mount Defiance (New York). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Defiance_(New_York)
Wikipedia. (2018, June 20). Mount Independence (Vermont). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Independence_(Vermont)
Wikipedia. (2018). Nathan Hale (Colonel). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Hale_(colonel)