"The Artillery never gained more honour" - Purple Mountain Press

"The Artillery never gained more honour"


by Douglas R. Cubbison

Excerpt from Chapter Six:
"where a man can go he can drag a gun":
Advance upon Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence, May-July 1777
(Footnote numbers appear in the book.)

At the same time as Phillips worked to emplace his cannon on Sugar Loaf Mountain, the commander of the accompanying German forces, Gen. Friederich von Riedesel, landed his soldiers north of Larabee Cove, and began a movement to the east, around Mt. Independence. In effect, von Riedesel was to surround Mt. Independence and "put the cork" in the bottle to interdict any American retreat from either Mt. Independence by road or south down Lake Champlain to Skenesborough. Unfortunately for Burgoyne's plans, von Riedesel first had to traverse East Creek, a barely navigable waterway located to the north and east of Mt. Independence. East Creek is deep enough near Lake Champlain that it cannot be forded, and von Riedesel had to portage bateaux to enable him to cross the creek. This, coupled with steep ascents and descents, marshy ground, heavy woods, an almost utter lack of existing roads, together with American artillery fire from the redoubts across Lake Champlain, impeded considerably the speed of von Riedesel's movement. To cover this maneuver, the German general placed Pausch's artillery in a battery directly across from the Americans. Information on this battery is distinctly limited, although American Maj. Gen. St. Clair noted it on a map of Ticonderoga. Given this indication, it appears that Pausch got his cannon into operation, and that this battery had at least some effect at diverting American attention from Burgoyne's dual outflanking maneuvers. Still, the convoluted terrain had greatly delayed von Riedesel, who remained several days short of interdicting the American rear.

While von Riedesel was still laboring to bypass Mt. Independence, Phillips' efforts atop Sugar Loaf Mountain would pay dividends almost immediately. Historians have provided various accounts of how the American ascertained that the British had seized Sugar Loaf, to include the fanciful rendition by Lieutenant Digby: "But here the commanding officer was reckoned guilty of a great oversight in lighting fires on that post, tho I am informed, it was done by the Indians, the smoak of which was soon perceived by the enemy in the Fort." Some histories contain accounts of a premature artillery discharge. Most likely, it proved impossible to screen such a large working party engaged in moving extremely heavy artillery pieces up difficult terrain, while simultaneously constructing an access road and artillery battery. On the morning of July 5, the American garrison at Ticonderoga was well aware that the British were atop the mountain. Chaplain Enos Hitchcock with the American garrison succinctly noted: "the enemy discovered on the mount S.W. of Ti."

Capt. Moses Greenleaf with Col. Francis's Massachusetts Continental Regiment similarly recorded, "Saturday July 5th.at 12 oClock Spy'd a party of the British troops on the Mountains which overlooks Ti." Greenleaf's account is particularly revealing, for he suggests that a British working party was observed atop Sugar Loaf, and he mentions no smoke or cannon firing.

That night the American evacuated Fort Ticonderoga and Mt. Defiance in haste. The American withdrawal was poorly planned, hastily executed, and bore all the hallmarks of an absolute panic. Phillips' twin 12-pounders had not fired a single round yet, and the American Army had at least a day or two's grace period before the guns went into action. That should have provided them with more than sufficient time to have organized a more effective evacuation. In the event, Gen. St. Clair clearly lost his nerve at the mere presence of the looming cannon mouths, and essentially vanished from the scene.139 The mere occupation of Sugar Loaf by the British Artillery had resulted in the precipitous collapse of the principal American defensive position on the Lake Champlain-Hudson Valley corridor.

"The Artillery Never Gained More Honour" highlights the efforts and contributions of the British Corps of Artillery in the Valcour Island campaign of 1776 and the Saratoga Campaign of 1777, recounting the participation by both the British Royal Artillery and that of the Hesse Hanau Artillery, who served as hired allies of the British. This history focuses on the tactical, logistical, and command functions of the Royal Artillery by making considerable use of primary sources, many of them utilized for the first time in this study. It concludes with a detailed examination of the British artillery pieces used during this campaign and makes an effort to identify the current location of all documented Saratoga artillery pieces. Artillery buffs and students of the War for American Independence will find this book to be of interest.

Meet Douglas Cubbison, the command historian for the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York.

See the INDEX of this book.

198 pages, illustrated, 8.5 x 11, index, 2008
$19.00, paperback--A Purple Mountain Press original

Copyright © 2008 Purple Mountain Press. All rights reserved.