Retreat to Fort Edwards
Journal of Dr. James Thacher,
[July] ~4th.—By reason of an extraordinary and unexpected event, the course of my Journal has been interrupted for several days. At about 11 o'clock, in the night of the sth instant, I was urgently called from sleep, and informed that our army was in motion, and was instantly to abandon Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. I could scarcely believe that my informant was earnest, but the confusion and bustle soon convinced me that it was reals true, and that the short time allowed demanded my utmost industry. It ~vas enjoined on me immediately to collect the sick and wounded, and as much of the hospital stores as possible, and assist in embarking them on board the batteaux and boats at the shore.
Having with all possible despatch completed our embarkation, at 3 o'clock in the morning of the 6th, we commenced our voyage up the South bay to Skeenesborough, about 3o miles. Our fleet consisted of five armed gallies and two hundred batteaux and boats deeply laden with cannon, tents, partisansinvalids and women. We were accompanied by a guard of six hundredmen, commanded by Colonel Long, of New Hampshire. The night was moon light and pleasant, the sun burst forth in the morning with uncommon lustre, the day was fine, the water's surface serene and unruffled. The shore on each side exhibited a variegated view of huge rocks, caverns and cliffs, and the whole was bounded by a thick, impenetrable wilderness. My pen would fail in the attempt to describe a scene so enchantingly subGme,The occasion was peculiarly interesting, and we could but look back with regret, and forward with apprehension. We availed ourselves, however, of the means of enlivening our spirits. The drum and fife afforded us a favorite music; among the hospital stores we found many dozens of choice wine and we cheered our hearts with the nectareous contents.
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, we reached our destined port at Skeenes~on,ugh, being the head of navigation for our "allies. Here we were unsuspicious of danger, but behold! Burgoyne himself was at our heels. In less than two hours we were struck with surprise and consternation by a discharge of cannon from the enemy's fleet on our "allies and batteaux lying at the wharf. By uncommon efforts and industry they had broken through the bridge, boones and chain, which cost our people such immense labor, and had almost overtaken us on the lake, and horridly disastrous indeed would have been our fate It was not long before it was perceived that a number of their troops and savages had landed and were rapidly advancing towards our little party.
The officers of our guard-now attempted to rally the men and form them g battle array; but this was found impossible, every effort proved unavailin. I and in the utmost panic they were seen to fly in every direction for personal I safety. In this desperate condition, I perceived our officers scampering for their baggage; I ran to the batteau, seized my chest, carried it a short distance, took from it a few articles, and instantly followed in the train of our retreat I ing party. We took the route to Fort Ann through a narrow defile in the woods, and were so closely pressed by the pursuing enemy that we frequently heard calls from the rear to "march on, the Indians are at our heels." Hav marched all night, we reached Fort Ann at 5 o'clock in the morning, when we found provisions for our refreshment. A small rivulet called Wood Creek is navigable from Skeenesborough to Fort Ann, by which means s of our invalids and baggage made their escape; but all our cannon [and] pro visions and the bulk of our baggage, with several invalids, fell into the enemy's hands.
On the 7th instant, we received a small reenforcement from Fort Edvard by order of Major General Schuyler, and on discovering that a detachment of the enemy under command of Colonel Hill had arrived in our vicinity, a party from our fort was ordered to attack them in their covert in the woods The two parties were soon engaged in a smart skirmish, which continued for several hours and resulted greatly to our honor and advantage; the enemy being almost surrounded, were on the point of surrendering, when our ammunition being expended, and a party of Indians arriving and setting up the war whoop, this being followed by three cheers from their friends the English, the Americans were induced to give way and retreat. One surgeon, with a wounded captain and twelve or fifteen privates, were taken and brought into our fort. The surgeon informed me that he was in possession of boo_ etc., taken from my chest at Skeensborough, and, singular to relate, some of the British prisoners obtained in the same manner, and had in their pockets a number of private letters which I had received from a friend in Mssachu setts, and which were now returned to me.
Fort Ann being a small picket fort of no importance, orders were given to set it on fire, and on the 8th we departed for Fort Edward, situated about 3o miles southward on the banks of the Hudson River.
General St. Clair, with his main army from Ticonderoga, took a cir cuitous route through the woods to Hubbardtown and Castleton, in the New Hampshire Grants, and being pursued by a strong detachment from Burgoyne's army, his rear guard, commanded by Colonel Francis, was ove taken, and on the 7th instant a very close and severe engagement took place in which bloody conflict the brave Colonel Francis fell with other valuate officers, while fighting with distinguished gallantry. The Americans ma an honorable defense, and finally a secure retreat. We lost in this acti about three hundred, in killed, wounded and prisoners. The enemy, according to estimation, about two hundred. On the 11 th, General St. Clair arrived here [Fort Edward] with the remains of his army, greatly distressed and worn down by fatigue.
General Schuyler is commander at this post; he has a small army continentals and militia, and is making every possible exertion, by taking up bridges, throwing obstructions in the roads and passes by fallen trees, etc., to impede the march of Burgoyne's army towards Albany. He has also issued a spirited proclamation to counteract the effects of that from General Burgoyne.
The abandonment of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence has occasioned the greatest surprise and alarm. No event could be more unexpected nor more severely felt throughout our army and country. This disaster has given to our cause a dark and gloomy aspect, but our affairs are not desperate, and our exertions ought to be in proportion to our misfortunes and our agencies. The conduct of General St. Clair on this occasion has rendered him very unpopular, and subjected him to general censure and reproach; there are some, indeed, who even accuse him of treachery; but time and calm investigation must decide whether he can vindicate himself as a judicious and prudent commander. There is much reason to suppose that neither the strength of Burgoyne's army nor the weakness of our garrison were properly considered or generally understood. It must be universally conceded that when the enemy had effected their great object by hoisting cannon from tree to tree till they reached the summit of Sugar-Loaf Hill, the situation of our garrison had become perilous in the extreme. General Schuyler is not altogether free from public reprehension, alleging that he ought in duty to have been present at Ticonderoga during the critical period.
It is predicted by some of our well informed and respectable characters that this event, apparently so calamitous, will ultimately prove advantageous, by drawing the British army into the heart of our country, and thereby place them more immediately within our power.