A Mountain with Many Names
Mount Defiance, at 853 feet above sea level, rises 758 feet over Lake Champlain. Known as “Rattlesnake Mountain” to the French army that began building Fort Carillon (Fort Ticonderoga) in 1755, this mount was called “Sugar Loaf Hill” by the British. In 1776, after the 13 American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, the American army changed the name to “Mount Defiance." The mount overlooks Lake Champlain and the outlet of the La Chute River, which flows out of Lake George to the west and wraps around the north side of the mountain before emptying into Lake Champlain.
Where a goat can go, a man can go, and where a man can go he can pull a gun up after him.
-- General William Phillips, Royal Artillery
Mount Defiance was used to the advantage of the armies that attacked and defended Ticonderoga during the French & Indian War and American Revolution. In 1758 British engineers and Connecticut provincial troops viewed Ticonderoga’s fortifications from the slopes of this mount prior to the July 8th Battle of Carillon. During the battle, Mohawk Indians allied to the British army, positioned themselves on the mount’s lower slopes to fire at French Marine and militia troops entrenched across the La Chute River.
During the American Revolution, numerous officers and engineers proposed plans to fortify this position, but because some believed the summit to be inaccessible to an enemy force, actual work to defend the summit never happened. In July 1777, the British army invaded New York by sailing south on Lake Champlain from Canada. As the force under General John Burgoyne began encircling Ticonderoga, British Royal Artillery troops succeeded in hauling two 12-pound cannon to the top of the mount. The threat posed by these guns contributed to the American army’s decision to abandon Ticonderoga during the night of July 5-6.
The Fort is Bombarded
Following the capture of Ticonderoga in early July 1777, General Burgoyne left about 1,000 British and Brunswick troops to guard the fort and Mount Independence. On September 13th, two detachments of about 500 American soldiers each launched an attack on Ticonderoga to free American prisoners, destroy British provisions, and, if possible, attack the fort and Mount Independence. On the morning of September 18th, the Americans converged on Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. A contingent of forty men silently scaled Mount Defiance, attacked the blockhouse, captured all the British soldiers guarding it, and began firing one of the 12-pounder cannon at Fort Ticonderoga. One of the other 12-pounders was hauled down the mountain and used to force the surrender of the sawmill constructed at the waterfall adjacent to the park in the present-day town of Ticonderoga. Over the next few days, the bombardment continued with little effect.
Without reinforcements and additional supplies, the American forces realized a direct attack on the Forts would not be successful. Though they withdrew on September 22nd, the American forces did succeed in taking nearly 300 British prisoners and releasing 118 American prisoners. They also destroyed 150 bateaux and burned several outbuildings. This raid marked the last attack on Ticonderoga and the only time that Fort Ticonderoga ever came under direct fire from artillery. Less than a month later, the British army capitulated at Saratoga. By early November, the small British garrison at Ticonderoga burned the remaining structures and retreated to Canada.
Ticonderoga was characterized then as “the key to the continent.” Mount Defiance was the key to Fort Ticonderoga!
Mount Defiance Today
Guests to Fort Ticonderoga can visit Mount Defiance as part of the fort package, which provides one of the most spectacular views in the northeast. You can see up and down the Champlain basin, and get an aerial view of Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. It is a grand location for appreciating the great water highway which stretches from Montréal to New York City.