United States and American History: The Raid of Fort Ticonderoga

About the raid of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, its place in United States history and the American Revolution.


May 10 It was Benedict Arnold, not Ethan Allen, who 1st conceived the attack on Fort Ticonderoga that took place this day. Told by Colonal Sam Parsons that the line at Cambridge had needed cannon, Arnold remembered some artillery pieces he'd seen at the New York fort. He estimated the quantity at about 80 heavy cannon, 20 brass guns, and 12 mortars. In Boston, he submitted a plan to the Committee on Safety which, reluctant to move armed forces into an area outside their jurisdiction, hastily sent it on to their New York counterparts.

Dr. Joseph Warren, however, was unable to wait. He persuaded the Massachusetts group to reconsider, and they then granted Arnold a colonel's commission, authorizing 400 men for the raid. Arnold, who left promptly to recruit his force, soon learned that Parsons, mulling over their talk, had gone to citizens in Connecticut with a similar proposal. They, too, had issued a commission: to Ethan Allen and the vigilante group (outlawed by New York for its subversive activities) he called his "Green Mountain Boys."

In a panic over the news, Arnold left his men far behind and galloped north in Allen's wake. At Castleton, N.Y., 20 mi. from the fort, he found them enjoying a pre-fight, Saturday-night drinking bout of rum and cider. Arnold challenged Allen's command. The huge outlaw guffawed, but he agreed that the arrogant Arnold could accompany him--provided Arnold gave no orders.

At 3 A.M., the 2 men co-stormed the fort, each one striving to be the 1st through the gate. Except for the startled sentry, who fled after his musket misfired, everyone else was sound asleep inside--49 men (many of them old and sick), with 24 members of their families.

Aroused by shrieks of "No quarter! No quarter!" Lieutenant Feltham, the dilapidated fort's 2nd-in-command, hurriedly awoke, grabbed his breeches, and met the boisterous attackers head-on as they stumbled up the stairs to his bedroom. The mountain men fell silent. With great presence of mind, Feltham coolly asked for their credentials. Colonel Arnold stepped forward, holding his paper from Massachusetts, and genteelly asked Feltham to give up. Allen was more forceful. Waving his drawn sword menacingly over the lieutenant's head, he demanded immediate surrender, without any shots being fired, or he'd kill every man, woman, and child there.

Feltham could not comply. Surrendering was the right of Captain Delaplace, the fort commander who--unknown to both Arnold and Allen--was still struggling into his uniform.

Delaplace, years later, still did not know to whom he should have turned over his sword. The "Who's in command here?" controversy went on for weeks. Arnold finally quit the service in disgust, with the official decision yet to be made. Ethan Allen, in his autobiography written 4 years after, carefully avoided any suggestion that Benedict Arnold had even been at the fort.

His account, rife with error and false recollection, included his famous request to surrender "In the name of the Great jehovah and the Continental Congress." The Tories pointed out that Ethan Allen had had no commission from either of these sources.

Allen's men, interviewed about this request later, could recall only that Allen's actual words were both profane and unprintable. Lieutenant Feltham, in his official report to superiors, recouched it as a demand for "immediate possession of the fort and all the effects of George, the 3rd."

The Continental Congress, embarrassed at not being told of the raid beforehand, gave serious thought to handing back the fort, since open revolt was in the planning stages as yet.

Ironic postscript: The captured cannon had to be left where they were. No transport capable of handling such heavy objects was available to haul them out.

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