When we go shopping online today, we take for granted a whole network of planes, trains, and automobiles that can deliver whatever we order fast. Such convenience would have been miraculous in the early months of 1776. Colonel Benedict Arnold commanded about 1200 soldiers outside of Quebec, each in desperate need of food and basic supplies. Back in the fall of 1775, a fleet of large and small boats embarked from Ticonderoga down Lake Champlain with food coming from New England and New York. However, when the Lake froze solid enough, it turned into a road.
Teams of oxen pulled the majority of the sleds down the ice road North into Canada in the early winter of 1776. General Philip Schuyler, who commanded the Northern Department of the Continental Army from Albany, wrote to Walter Livingston to expedite the movement of supplies to Quebec on February 24, 1776:
By a litter just received from General Wooster, I find that there will be a Scarcity of provisions in Canada for our Troops, and he presses me to send him immediately what is at Tyconderoga. I have accordingly ordered 400 Barrels of pork to be sent on; the expense of which will amount to a very considerable sum, and yet that Quantity will not be sufficient to last until the Lake are passable by Water. I therefore propose that you should immediately purchase 100 or 150 of the largest and best Stall fed Cattle you can procure but as these cannot be sent on without carrying with the necessary forage to serve them on their Journey.
General Philip Schuyler continued his letter to Walter Livingston with details on how to equip this oxen train of supplies into Canada. Schuyler understood that this venture required proper sleds, good drivers, and cattle, as well as enough feed to keep them healthy. If any piece of this oxen train was absent, it could cut the lifeline for American soldiers in Canada.
I propose that you should purchase ox sleds or any others in the Country that are shod with Wood; one to every four Oxen, which would suffice to carry their Forrage and four Barrels of pork, or more from Fort George—If you can get the sleds, forage and Chains you will immediately purchase the Oxen and send them on, hiring Drivers to bring them to this Place, from whence I will cause Soldier’s to go with them to Montreal…You’ll observe that all the Oxen must be shod And this should be done by the people from whom you purchase them.
Just as vehicles do not run without fuel, oxen could not pull without feed. In the midst of a food shortage for soldiers, Schuyler made sure to note, “Forrage and four Barrels of pork,” on each sled. Just like supply trucks laden with extra cans of fuel for the journey, oxen might not reach the American Army in Canada withoupacking their food as well. During summer months, Oxen could graze on pastures for much of their feed. Additional feed would be given to oxen or cattle inside stalls within their barns. At the same time farmers cut their hay fields, raking, turning, and drying the hay in the sun before it was bundled and stored in large barns. To an army reliant on oxen for transportation in the winter of 1776, this hay was as vital as the barrels of salted pork they hauled. General Philip Schuyler wrote to his cousin, Assistant Deputy Quarter Master General Harmanus Schuyler on March 4, 1776 about protecting this vital resource:
I hope the Hay is particularly taken Care of and that you have applied to the commissary officer for a Centinel Night and Day upon it—If the Hay is wasted all our Operation are at an End.
With great waterways frozen solid, teams of oxen and the tools and supplies to keep them driving but were vital to the Northern Continental Army in the winter of 1776. On a road of ice, oxen could pull heavy loads as fast as their drivers could walk with them. Oxen were footed on uneven and rough terrain, and were not fussy about the feed they were given. Two hundred and forty-two years ago, you would have seen Ticonderoga hustling and bustling with massive cattle ready to execute the resupply of a struggling American Army.
Join Fort Ticonderoga on March 24, 2018 and see the army logistics in action as cattle haul materials around the site during our Ordered to Join the Northern Army in Canada living history event!