|Ticonderoga (left) and Niagara (right)|
When it comes to eighteenth-century fortifications in North America, writers often lean towards extreme hyperbole. Louisbourg, Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Niagara, and West Point have all been described as "the Key to a Continent." Suffice it to say that many strategists labeled their next target or theater of war as, "the key to the continent". Leaving aside these grandiose visions, I would like to compare the defensive records of two prominent fortifications during the 1754-1815 period. Fort Ticonderoga (originally French Ft. Carillon) and Fort Niagara. Both of these fortifications repeatedly changed hands in the course of this era, and were roughly handled by their occupiers and attackers.
According to European conventions, fortifications were primarily in place to delay the enemy long enough for relief to arrive. For a massive citadel such as Lille in Europe, a siege of forty days might be normal. There were many instances where this system permitted the besieged to hold out against the besieger, such as the sieges of Prague and Olmütz in the European Seven Years War. I have addressed the topic of siege generally in this era in a different post, so let's focus in on Niagara and Ticonderoga. First, we will examine the fortifications themselves, before moving on their military record as defensive positions.
First of all, there are broad similarities between the two positions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both were sites were selected as defensive positions by French explorers or engineers. Both use local high ground and water to make approaching the fort costly, and limit avenues of attack. Both sites benefit from the use of waterways, to speed communications and reliving forces.
|A period map showing the Carillon positions of 1758|
|Plan of Niagara during the War of 1812 era|
|Detail from above image of Ft. Carillon|
|Plan of Fort Niagara, dating from 1755|
|French troops garrison Ticonderoga|
|Reenactors depict the defense of Carillon in 1758|
|Reenactors portray the 1759 siege|
|British map of the siege|
|A French soldier near the Dauphin battery, Niagara|
Fort Ticonderoga was also besieged in 1759, by a much larger army than Prideaux's 5,000 men at Niagara. Jeffrey Amherst and approximately 11,000 men moved to attack Ticonderoga in July of 1759. French commander, François-Charles de Bourlamaque, despite having nearly the same amount of men (3,500) as Montcalm the previous summer, retired to the fortress as soon as the British troops landed on July 22nd. Deciding that defending Ticonderoga was hopeless, Bourlamaque withdrew all but 400 of his men on the 23rd of July. This garrison held out for three days, before blowing up the "Gibraltar of the North" and evacuating on the 26th.
|The South Redoubt at Niagara|
|American troops garrison Ticonderoga in 1777|
|Brunswickers garrison Ticonderoga|
|View towards Ft, George during the War of 1812|
How can we evaluate this record? Ticonderoga has the distinction of warding off two attacks (1758, 1777) completely, however, neither attack was prepared to formally siege the fortress with proper amounts of artillery. Both fortresses were successfully surprised (1775, 1813), although Niagara, as a result of the redoubts, was able to temporarily resist the surprise. Niagara was successfully besieged after a siege of 15 days (1759), which allowed relief forces to arrive. Ticonderoga was abandoned by its defenders in the face of larger forces three times (1759, July 1777, November 1777), and managed to resist a siege for 3 days in 1759 before being abandoned. On the whole, it seems that Niagara is more defensible, while Ticonderoga rightfully plays a more prominent role in American memory. Both places remain an integral part of American military history.
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 (West Point) Letter to George Washington from John Adams, 6 January 1776 (Niagara) “Reflections on the Present State of Affairs at Home and Abroad,” by A. Y[oung], Esq., author of the “Theatre of the Present War in North America,” London, 1759; (Ticonderoga) Edward Hamilton, Fort Ticonderoga: Key to a Continent; (Louisbourg) Fairfax Davis Downey, Louisbourg: Key to a Continent.
Duffy, Fire and Stone, 103-4.
 Carroll Lonergan, Ticonderoga: Historic Portage, 25.
 Pierre Pouchot, Mémoires sur la dernière guerre de l'Amérique Septentrionale : entre la France et l'Angleterre, Vols 1-3, (Yverdon, 1781). English translations of this memoir have been available since the early nineteenth century, the most recent was published in 2004 by the Old Fort Niagara Association.
 Letter from von Hille, September 28th, 1777.
 Letter to Riedesel from Ernst Schröder, September 26th, 1777.
 Letter from von Hille, September 28th, 1777.