British Lieutenant James Wintersmith created this map of the American Works, captured in July of 1777. Though not shown in his drawing, Pennsylvanians build rows of soldiers’ huts just inside these works, whose foundations testify to their presence event today.
The 4th Pennsylvania Battalion, along with the other regiments of their brigade, completed their fortifications along the Old French lines by early September in 1776. Officers and men had lived in tents since they encamped on this hill in July. With the works finished, Colonel Anthony Wayne issued the order to begin building better housing to shelter the men of the regiment. The regimental orderly book records on September 14th, 1776 the succinct command to begin construction.
The Colos. Next wish is to see the officers and soldiers as comfortably accommodated with regard to their encampments and Lodging as the Nature of the campaign will admit.
Fort Ticonderoga’s September event, “Lodging as the Nature of the Campaign will Admit,” kicked off an on-going project to reconstruct and experiment with possible interpretations of the housing created by the regiment from these orders. The soldiers’ huts produced by this project will serve as new interpretive spaces, as well as a laboratory to learn about these semi-permanent structures which covered the bare Heights of Carillon off to the west of Fort Ticonderoga.
The Pennsylvanian’s camp on the Heights of Carillon is unusual. Many famous Continental Army Encampments like Valley Forge or even Mount Independence could use logs from the forests cleared for the camp. The Pennsylvanians had to use mill sawn boards from the Army’s sawmill on the LaChute River.
A couple essential facts stood out in researching these huts which informed interpretation of other details. The location of the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion’s huts shaped much of their construction. Unlike many other Continental Army encampments, which were begun deliberately in wooded areas, the Pennsylvanians built their huts on ground already cleared of timber since the 1758 battle. In fact, years of military construction had pushed the wood line miles west into what today is the town of Ticonderoga. The diary of chief engineer, Colonel Jeduthan Baldwin records on August 17th1776, “went into the woods near the Saw mill by a Spring where we had a fine dinner.” The saw mill stood on the lowest falls of the LaChute river, now a public park in Ticonderoga. Close to the wood line, the saw mill was ideally located to rip-saw logs (felled, sectioned, and skidded from the woods) into boards and beams for the construction of military works across the Ticonderoga camp. With the Heights of Carillon bare of timber, this saw mill provided the lumber for the construction of Pennsylvania soldiers’ huts.
Commissioned by General Lafayette after the campaign, this map of 1777 engagements at Ticonderoga clearly shows the location of the saw mill.
In his orders to construct huts Colonel Anthony Wayne did not mention materials. However, his orders to leave the huts on November 23rd, specifically state, “Any Soldier who demolishes any of the Hutts or carries away any of the Boards or Timber of them shall receive 100 Lashes.” The source of these boards and timber must have been the saw mill. Previously in the summer, Captain John Lacey procured boards from the saw mill to augment his tent. He recalled in his memoires, “I had procured some Boards from the Saw Mill, made a good and Drie floor, raised the sides of my Tent two Boards high.” This recollection is corroborated by the journal of Massachusetts Lieutenant Henry Sewell, who the following summer wrote on June 20th, “went to the mills & got slabs to build us a house.” Unfortunately, there are no receipts for the purchase of this timber. The lumber used to build these huts may have remained property of the army. Briefly encamping at Sorrell, during the retreat from Canada on May 15th, 1776, Massachusetts Colonel Elisha Porter noted in his diary, “Drew huts and pitched them in confusion.” The way in which he described “drawing” huts and throwing them up is similar to how he would have drawn tools from Continental Army stores, which were to be returned when work was completed. Colonel Anthony Wayne went to great lengths to keep these huts, and their materials, in the property of the Army. As Colonel Wayne took command of the whole army at Ticonderoga and regiments prepared to march home he ordered them to leave huts intact.
The commanding Officers of those Regiments now under marching Orders are not only to be accountable for the Huts of their respective Regiments, but Col: Wayne declares he’ll not allow them to march if their Huts are demolish’d.
-Col. Anthony Wayne’s Orderly Book November 24, 1776
The Pennsylvanians’ hut sites from 1776 survive today in long rows as if lines of tents in an army camp were replaced by huts. The foundations indicate huts about 10’x10′ set up to 2′ into the ground.
The location of the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion’s huts on the Heights of Carillon informs more about their construction than materials. Foundations of these soldiers’ huts remain just inside the French Lines today. A matter of yards behind the earthworks of the French Lines rows of soldiers’ hut foundations remain. The ground of these hut sites has not been excavated archaeologically. These foundations have remained largely untouched and should remain preserved as they are for future generations. Merely surveying the hut foundations from the contemporary ground’s surface shows some variability in size. Surviving foundations fall between ten feet by ten feet and ten feet by twelve feet. Though erosion and leaf litter fills in much of these huts foundations, they remain relatively deep even today. Without excavation, measurement from the surface indicates these huts were set approximately two feet into the ground. The exact reason for digging these huts below ground level is unknown, though the reconstruction project has yielded some interesting possible benefits. The practice is not without outside precedent, as contemporary Germanic plates about tents and soldiers’ shelters show dug out foundations inside some tents. This also coincides with descriptions of earthen chimneys. Captain John Lacey, described tent augmented with boards, including a, “a chimney & fireplace at the back end with Sods of Dirt or Earth,” in his memoirs.
The 1788 book, “Was ist jedem Officier wahrend eines Feldzugs zu wissen nothig. Mit zehen Kupferplatten,” illustrates some field housing practices, including wooden tents. These are shown simply as boards laid up against a ridge pole. This matches some 1776 descriptions of quickly improvised housing. This image also shows a plan for a dug out foundation in a tent with a fireplace, much like evidence for the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion’s huts.
Taken together, the rough dimensions the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion’s huts and their construction using saw milled boards as well as timber are known. Every other aspect of the construction of these huts is a matter of interpretation. The 1776 encampment of the Continental Army at Ticonderoga included a broad spectrum of soldiers’ housing, with overlapping terminology. General Orders from October 3rd 1776 include mention of an odd General Court Martial case, charging two officers of Colonel Winds New Jersey Regiment for, “ungentlemanlike behavior for setting fire to a Bow house belonging to Ensign Ross of the same Regt.” This would appear to describe some sort of house or hut built of branches or pine boughs. The journal of Connecticut surgeon, Lewis Beebe described more substantial housing on Mount Independence in a September 29th journal entry. He wrote, “In general the Regt. Have built Log Huts, & some of the officers have good framed houses, so that we live much more comfortable than in tents…”
With simply timber and boards it is possible that the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion’s huts were simply boards laid upon a central ridge pole, like a tent. The journal of Lieutenant Henry Sewell described this construction on Mount Independence in his diary on September 4th, saying, “The regt. Employ’d building wooden tents and without tools too-almost.” However, the labor needed to dig out the relatively deep foundations of the soldiers’ huts on the Heights of Carillon could indicate that Pennsylvania soldiers put more labor into the framing of their huts. Based on this Fort Ticonderoga’s interpretive staff tried building framed houses, covered with boards as one interpretation to test. This interpretation is has some corroborating evidence.
Based on the evidence at hand, the Soldiers’ Hut Building Project has experimented first with timber frame construction. Initially, this seemed like far more labor than was practical. However, the after the practice of framing the first hut, the joinery for the second proceeded very rapidly, hinting that this may well have been their basic design in 1776.
As early as April 8th, 1776 Massachusetts Colonel Elisha Porter, wrote of similar construction near the Ticonderoga camp. “Built us a fine house and covered it with boards which we brought from-ye landing.” Later in the summer on Mount Independence, Colonel Porter’s journal went into more construction detail. On August 7th, 1776 he wrote, “Got most of ye timber for my house hewed this day.” The following day he noted, “In ye afternoon got my house almost raised.” In less than a week he wrote, “Got nails and shingled my house.” If an archaeological investigation of the Pennsylvania soldiers’ hut sites revealed large numbers of nails or if receipts surfaced for procuring nails for soldiers’ huts, it would be very solid evidence for timber framed houses covered in boards. However, the absence of nails may not be evidence against timber framed construction. Similar houses, build around Fort Crown Point in 1759, were described in an October 1759 letter from provincial soldier William Gavit to his brother.
I Shall jest Acquaint You that I have
Been Building as Well as You and Have Got a Snug Little House the Dementions are as follows
it is 9 feet Square 6 feet Hig[h] Sharp Rough
it is Studed 3 feet Apart and Not Having Nails I cut a G[ro]ve in the
Studs With a Chissel and So put in My Clabboards Being Very Good
About 10 inches broad and Raisd a Side at A time and Cicured the
Rough with the Same and
Peg[ge]d them on and have a fine stove.
The reconstruction project has not only shown that it is possible to cut tenons with a hatchet, in practice this has proved by far the fastest tool.
While far from certain, there is plenty of precedent for timber framing soldiers’ huts to make it a viable interpretation. The reconstruction of these huts has experimentally shown this as a viable method of construction. Provided with milled boards and timber (as was procured from the Sawmill) the mortise and tenon joints required for basic timber framing can be achieved with simple soldiers’ axes and a handful of carpentry tools: hammer, chisel, and handsaw. Joinery for the reconstructed huts was gleaned from simple post and beam construction, though further study of surviving period coarse structures may yield different techniques.
Colonel Wayne’s orderly book on May 12th, mentioned, “boards for the tents.” Captain John Lacey of the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion, said he set the trend of officers flooring their tents in boards by the summer of 1776. It is likely this practice carried over to these semi-permanent huts as well.
As per the remains of Pennsylvania soldiers’ huts, interpretive staff and volunteers set the frame of the reconstructed huts down into a two foot deep foundation. This foundation was lined in boards, both to support the frame, but also to serve as a floor inside. Earlier in the campaign, Captain John Lacey’s tent included, “a good and Drie floor,” made from boards he procured from the sawmill. This and other descriptions of board floors in tents from diaries and orders in the Northern Department in 1776 and 1777 made the board floor in the soldiers’ huts a reasonable interpretation. After raising the frame and sheathing the lower walls with boards, dirt excavated for the reconstructed hut was filled back in around the walls. Right away it became apparent just how insulating the ground could be. In the rapidly cooling weather of the fall of 1776, this may have been a large concern. The earthen sill created to the back of the hut created the perfect location to build a fireplace. The naturally clay rich soil in the Lake Champlain valley easily shapes into a simple hearth. With boards or sticks creating a frame to the back of the hut, dirt excavated from the foundation was mounded up creating a substantial chimney. This experiment in the recreated soldiers’ huts coincides with Captain Lacey’s description of, “a chimney & fireplace at the back end with Sods of Dirt or Earth,” in his tent. Accounts from Mount Independence indicate just how common chimneys and fireplaces were in soldiers’ huts. Lieutenant Henry Sewell among several other accounts from 1776, noted in his diary on September 20th, “Began to build a chimney.” The following day he wrote, “Finish’d the chimney & mov’d into our new hut.” Unfortunately, Sewell’s account nor other officers on Mount Independence give any further details.
Thus far the hut floors have stayed dry. The sill created at the back of each hut creates the perfect place to build a fireplace, much like the fireboxes dug into earthen camp kitchens commonly used.
An initial concern about the foundation of these reconstructed huts was flooding. Many visitors pointed out this potential problem during the September, “Lodging as the Nature of the Campaign will Admit” event. This potential problem has thus far been prevented by simple ditches cut around the huts for drainage. This coincides with later regulations for cutting drainage ditches around tents in the 1779 published version of Baron Von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. Despite driving rainstorms, the initial reconstructed soldiers’ huts still have dry floors, a testament to utility of the original foundations near the French Lines.
Above the framing, two different styles of roofing have been tried in the reconstructed huts. Contemporary German images of board tents show board roofs created by laying boards vertically against a central ridge. Accounts of these from the journals of Lieutenant Henry Sewell and Colonel Elisha Porter from 1776 indicate this practice. Reconstructing a soldiers’ hut with boards set vertically requires a central ridge beam joined at the top of roof rafters. Even mill sawn lumber does not line up perfectly, creating gaps between the boards. To avoid this, boards had to be overlapped. Conversely, descriptions of huts from Mount Independence describe shingles, which would have been set in horizontal courses. Henry Sewall’s journal entry on October 10th,1776 stated, “Went in the woods & made shingles.” The following day, he “Finish’d shingling our house.” Similarly, Colonel Porter wrote, “Got nails and shingled my house,” on August 14th, 1776. With boards as the principle construction material, they could have been nailed horizontally, each board overlapping the previous board, in the manner of shingles or clapboards. The second of the two reconstructed huts has been roofed in this manner for comparison. Without definite orders either way, each style is possible. In the short time both huts have been up together, laying roofing boards horizontally has yielded fewer leaks. However, time and further research will tell more.
The first hut experimented with roofing the soldiers’ hut with boards set vertically as was common on temporary wooden tents. This roof construction is very quick, but requires a lot of nails. It has proven a little leaky in driving rain.
Based on the few solid pieces of information, dimensions and materials, there are many possible and documentable interpretations of the Pennsylvania soldiers’ huts to try. Thus far on the reconstructed huts mill sawn boards have only been nailed in place. Future reconstructions will have to try notching and pegging boards as in the 1759 account. Siding boards have only been butted up together; at least one future hut will try overlapping the boards like clapboards. The first two reconstructed soldiers’ huts used mill sawn timber for the frame. The third will incorporate hand hewn timber, as accounts of the saw mill on the LaChute River only directly mention boards and slabs. One nagging question is the presence or omission bunk racks inside the huts. None of the sources about the hut construction at Ticonderoga have yielded mention of bunks or any sleeping arrangements inside. Soldiers may well have simply laid on the board floors, possibly even dirt floors, but research will continue. Beyond creating interpretive spaces, specific to the Ticonderoga, the long-term project of reconstructing Pennsylvania soldiers’ huts provides a laboratory to turn speculation into experimentation. It is an opportunity to learn more about temporary military construction that was not designed to last into posterity. As Fort Ticonderoga delves into this style of military architecture visitors, young and old, get to join us in the laboratory as this interesting experiment continues.
The second soldiers’ hut experimented with setting roofing boards overlapping horizontally like courses of oak shingles. With a little notching to make the boards overlap nicely, this has produced an excellent roof. The goal building these is to keep experimenting with interpretations of the evidence available and bring visitors into the fun of this process.