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Portraying a Citizen Army: 1775 at Ticonderoga

We all can picture the minute men of Lexington green on April 19th 1775. The image of armed patriot citizens, spontaneously fighting for their rights is indelibly burned into our collective memory of the American Revolution. This summer at Fort Ticonderoga we’re looking at the next chapter, what happened in the rest of 1775? How did we go from minutemen to an army so quickly? This summer we’ll explore with visitors the first American soldiers of the American Revolution.

While the image of farmers and shopkeepers suddenly taking up arms for their nascent country is a powerful one today, in terms of winning the war, we’re lucky it’s not the whole story. This American army didn’t just appear out of the ether, the groundwork was laid well before the shots heard around the world. The winter of 1775 was a very mild one, not unlike the winter of 2012. It was mild enough that the town militias of New England, including the famous minute companies of Massachusetts, drilled and trained all winter long. While certainly not regulars, by April 1775 they could hardly be called rabble in arms.

By April of 1775 the patriots of Massachusetts were itching for a fight. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress formally drafted their own Articles of War for the regulation of a new army on April 7th. By April 11th delegates were dispatched to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire to secure their military alliance in an upcoming war. There was plenty of tinder prepared for that spark of April 19th. Even so, the other New England colonies weren’t quite as ready to dive into war. Connecticut governor, Jonathan Trumbull eagerly corresponded with British General Gates in Boston, attempting to find a peaceful resolution. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress all but called Jonathan Trumbull a traitor when they found a copy of his last letter trying to negotiate peace on April 28th.

These efforts for peace were dwarfed by the mobilization for War. Even as Governor Trumbull worked for peace he led the Connecticut Provincial Assembly to create an army in their resolves of April 26th, 1775. Far from a spontaneous popular army, Connecticut’s resolves created seven regiments by drafting every one able-bodied man per four out of the colony’s militia. In other words, they conscripted 25% of the militia into a regular army for seven months of emergency service. The Assembly resolves required these citizen soldiers to bring all their own arms, clothing, and personal equipment. The colony resolved to supply food, ammunition, medicine, camp equipment and pay these soldiers a good wage. The colony of Connecticut reserved the right to impress weapons from citizens to supply this new army. To top it all off, the Provincial Assembly raised taxes to pay for this new army.

These patriots were certainly bold and idealistic, but they weren’t stupid. They knew that it would take an incredible amount of organization to mobilize an army for a rebellion. The Governors, Colonial Assemblies, and Committees of Safety throughout New England worked amazingly fast to assemble an army in 1775. However, by April 29th a report from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress listed only six 3-pounder cannons and one 6-pounder cannon mounted and ready for service. This was clearly not enough artillery to equip an army besieging Boston. Therefore, it’s not surprising that both Massachusetts and Connecticut eagerly funded expeditions to capture the guns of Fort Ticonderoga. Thus in less than a month after Lexington and Concord the Revolutionary War was rushing through the sally port into Fort Ticonderoga. One month after that Fort Ticonderoga would have its first regular garrison of citizen soldiers from Colonel Benjamin Hinman’s Connecticut Regiment.

For further reading check out:

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by David Hackett Fischer

Connecticut Soldiers at Fort Ticonderoga