The story of a visit to Fort Ticonderoga in 1872.
Part 3, The ruins.
After a short visit to the Fort Ticonderoga Hotel, Stoddard begins his tour of the Fort retracing the route, as he understood it to be, that Ethan Allen followed when capturing the Fort in 1775. In setting out on his tour Stoddard writes “From the south end of the hotel a path leads across the field, where, at its outskirts, we climb over the stone wall, and, following along under the locusts, a little way to the south… crossing the road we follow along up the stone fence over the very road pursued by Allen on that May morning nearly a century ago.” As Stoddard approached the Fort he noted “A great pile of stones mark the spot where once existed the entrance to the covered way where the sentry snapped his fusee at Allen. The walls are thirty-three inches apart, and can be easily traced to where they seem to enter the fort.”
Next after exploring the southeast corner of the Fort, Stoddard ventures out to the end of the Ticonderoga peninsula to view one of the site’s earliest fortifications. “Half way down the point of the promontory a rocky ledge crops out. Extending beyond is the remains of an old battery or covered way. On the brow of the promontory, commanding the lake for quite a distance, as it circles around, is the grenadier battery, a substantial looking, stone and earth fort, designed for heavy guns, having seven angles, the side fronting the water curved inward. It is said to have been the one commanded by Baron Dieskau in 1755.” Stoddard is indeed describing what is today referred to as the Lotbinière Battery, named for the French engineer who designed the Fort. It may have been the first real fortification at Ticonderoga constructed just prior to the construction of the main fortification that is the subject of Stoddard’s further explorations. The battery remains today a ruin, not terribly different from what Stoddard observed 140 years ago.
Upon returning to the Fort Stoddard remarks that the bastions each held underground rooms two of which have long since collapsed. Of one, however, Stoddard notes “to the north-east corner, you stand over the third, which is one of the best preserved portions of the ruins. To enter you climb down into the cellar, now nearly filled with broken stones and overrun with vines, and, stooping low, make your way through the opening before you. At one time a man could enter erect, but now stones stop the way, and earth and stones half fill the room beneath. It is a bomb-proof, about twelve feet wide by thirty long, with arched roof; the entrance at the south-west corner; at the south is a large sky-light; at the east end a small, chimney-like aperture; at each corner of this end are small circular rooms, with arched roof, one about seven the other ten, feet in diameter.” In his photographs and drawings, Stoddard usually titles this space as a magazine though he admits in his book that it is generally thought to be a bakery. Indeed this space, largely intact today, contains bake ovens constructed by the French in 1755.
Standing on the top of the northeast bastion after having climbed out of the ovens Stoddard remarks “At our feet is a deep ditch; in the center, on the north and west, are two high bastions commanding the approach from these directions; around them also flows the trench in which troops could be marched and massed at any desired point within the circuit. Outside the ditch, following its various angles, is the outer wall, once breast high, but now almost level with the plain, and the glacis slopes off toward Champlain on the north, and upward toward the old French lines at the north-west.
The “two high bastions” Stoddard refers to are the north and west demi-lunes constructed by the French in 1756. These structures provided additional protection and greater fields of fire for the Fort in the event of a siege.
Before leaving the outside of the Fort, Stoddard gives us a remarkable view of the Fort’s walls and officers’ barracks inside. This image not only provides a wonderfully-detailed view of a seldom seen part of the ruins, italso highlights Stoddard’s keen artistic eye in positioning his camera in a way to capture maximum depth and visual appeal for his stereoviewing audience. In approaching the barracks inside the Fort, Stoddard remarks “The walls of the barrack, on the west, where the commandant slept, are still standing.
After having examined the inside of the Fort, Stoddard ventures to the southern exterior side of the walls. He exits the Fort “out over the fallen bomb-proof room [in the south-west corner], down into the ditch, and, crossing at the left of the west bastion.” He proceeds around to the south side of the Fort where the land slopes dramatically down to the lake.
Pausing to note the sloping expanse and ruins below, Stoddard offers a final observation on what lays before him “Toward the west the surface of the promontory breaks suddenly away, descending nearly a hundred feet in its slope to the water’s edge. That ditch, in which stands the great, wavy elm, is said to have been a covered way to the lake. Alders and thorn-trees grow on the hillside; the red-plumed sumachs press up the steep, and clinging ivy, mounting upwards, where an enemy could not hope to climb, covers the gray rocks with a robe of living green. Across the valley is Mount Defiance, sloping gently to the north, up which, many years ago, Burgoyne’s men went, dragging the heavy cannon which greeted St. Clair, as he looked toward its summit, the morning after.” Even today the sumac and ivy can be seen in all the same colors observed by Stoddard.
With Stoddard’s visit toFort Ticonderoga’s ruins nearing its end, he takes a moment to reflect on the day’s adventure. “Seated here, on the western wall, of a summer afternoon the mind is entranced, and the spirit held captive, by the exquisite beauty of the scene. What harmonious combinations of strength and delicacy in the brilliant, rocky foreground, and dreamy, tender distance; what sparkling bits of light, of broad, sweet shadow, down in the depths of that radiant sea of haze, out of which gleams glittering gems, and bits of fallen sky. A long bridge stretches away across the lake, and a huge, white floating draw swings open and shut as the steamers come and go.” The bridge Stoddard mentions is the railroad bridge that spanned the lake between Ticonderoga and Shoreham, Vermont. The center of the bridge swung open to allow steamboats to pass. The bridge is visible in the distance and was in the open position when this photographed was taken.
To be continued…
Blog post by Christopher D. Fox, Curator