Some bold spirits in Connecticut conceived the project of surprising the old forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, already famous in the French War. Their situation on Lake Champlain gave them the command of the main route into Canada so that the possession of them would be all- important in case of hostilities. They were feebly garrisoned and negligently guarded, and abundantly furnished with artillery and military stores so needed by the patriot army.
At this juncture Ethan Allen stepped forward, a patriot, and volunteered with his “Green Mountain Boys.” He was well fitted for the enterprise. During the border warfare over the New Hampshire Grants, he and his lieutenants had been outlawed by the Legislature of New York and rewards offered for their apprehension. He and his associates had armed themselves, set New York at defiance, and had sworn they would be the death of any one who should try to arrest them.
Thus Ethan Allen had become a kind of Robin Hood among the mountains. His experience as a frontier champion, his robustness of mind and body, and his fearless spirit made him a most desirable leader in the expedition against Fort Ticonderoga. Therefore he was appointed at the head of the attacking force.
Accompanied by Benjamin Arnold and two other officers, Allen and his party of soldiers who had been enlisted from several States, set out and arrived at Shoreham, opposite Fort Ticonderoga on the shore of Lake Champlain. They reached the place at night-time. There were only a few boats on hand, but the transfer of men began immediately. It was slow work. The night wore away – day was about to break, and but eighty- three men, with Allen and Arnold, had crossed. Should they wait for the rest to cross over, day would dawn, the garrison wake, and their enterprise might fail.
Allen drew up his men, addressed them in his own emphatic style, and announced his intention of making a dash at the fort without waiting for more force.
“It is a desperate attempt,” said he, “and I ask no man to go against his will. I will take the lead, and be the first to advance. You that are willing to follow, poise your firelocks!”
Not a firelock but was poised!
They mounted the hill briskly but in silence, guided by a boy from the neighborhood.
The day dawned as Allen arrived at a sally port. A sentry pulled trigger on him, but his piece missed fire. He retreated through a covered way. Allen and his men followed. Another sentry thrust at an officer with his bayonet, but was struck down by Allen, and begged for quarter. It was granted on condition of his leading the way instantly to the quarters of the commandant, Captain Delaplace, who was yet in bed.
Being arrived there, Allen thundered at the door, and demanded a surrender of the fort. By this time his followers had formed into two lines on the parade ground, and given three hearty cheers.
The commandant appeared at the door half dressed, the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his shoulder. He gazed at Allen in bewildered astonishment.
“By whose authority do you act?” exclaimed he.
“In the name of the Continental Congress!” replied Allen, with a flourish of his sword, and an oath which we do not care to subjoin.
There was no disputing the point. The garrison, like the commandant, had been startled from sleep, and made prisoners as they rushed forth in their confusion. A surrender accordingly took place. The captain and forty-eight men who composed his garrison were sent prisoners to Hartford, in Connecticut.
And thus without the loss of a single man, one of the important forts, commanding the main route into Canada, fell into the hands of the patriots.
Monday Morning Perspective:
“Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. “ – Tom Landry
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Theodore M. Hesburgh
Ethan Allen would have certainly preferred to have his entire military force encamped outside the perimeter of Fort Ticonderoga before the sun rose that morning. But given the challenges of ferrying the men across Lake Champlain, he was faced with a tough decision.
Allen demonstrated keen leadership skills by being unafraid to execute his plan in the face of challenges. Today, leaders will frequently “bow out” citing a lack of resources or a staffing issue. Allen faced both of these challenges as he stormed into the Fort at the break of day. He understood that his plan wasn’t going 100% according to plan, but he utilized the element of surprise and the conviction of his men to tip the scales of fate back in his favor. In doing so, his conviction inspired his men, and they captured a strategically important victory that led the patriot army to its eventual victory, and our nation to independence.
Allen’s victory at Fort Ticonderoga may not be the most memorable moment in American history, but without it our nation’s history may have been written very differently. Remember that each day you are challenged to act to overcome obstacles may not be the greatest day of your life, but it may very well give the directional heading for the remainder of your legacy. Never be afraid to act boldly.
Have a safe and wonderful Independence Day! Happy 4th of July!
© Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.
*Short Story is an adaptation of Washington Irving’s “The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga”.