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six hundred men commanded by Captain Long, of New Hampshire, the flotilla started for Skenesborough. The moon shone brightly as the boats left Ticonderoga, and later the sun rose upon a beautiful day. Little apprehension was felt, as pursuit was supposed to be practically impossible. Although the army was retreating, the progress of this portion of the forces was not a doleful one, the music of drum and fife enlivening the occasion. Dr. James Thacher, a surgeon, who was on board one of the ships, in his journal describes this voyage, saying: "Among the hospital stores, we found many dozen of choice wine, and breaking off their necks we cheered our hearts with the nectareous contents."
Skenesborough was reached at three o'clock in the afternoon, and in less than two hours the Americans were startled by the sound of British guns firing upon the galleys at the wharf. The bridge, boom and chain, erected at such great expense of time and money, had delayed the enemy only a few hours. The Royal George, the Inflexible, and a number of gunboats under Captain Carter, had pursued in haste, Burgoyne accompanying the expedition, and had almost overtaken the American fleet. Three regiments, the Ninth, Twentieth and Twenty-first, were disembarked at the head of South Bay to occupy the road to Fort Edward.
The American officers attempted to rally their men, but this was found impossible. More than "the nectareous contents" of the hospital stores was needed now to cheer the hearts of the soldiers. A panic prevailed and at first the troops fled in all directions, each man seeking his own personal safety.
HORTLY after midnight, on the morning of July
6, 1777, the American garrison at Ticonderoga crossed the bridge to Mount Independence, on the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain, where General St. Clair had hoped, if hard pressed, to make his last stand for the defence of this important post; but his earlier plans did not take into account the possibilities of British cannon mounted on Mount Defiance, six hundred feet in height. To remain meant either surrender, or the sacrifice of many lives with no possibility of winning a victory, or even of holding Ticonderoga. At this juncture St. Clair's only hope was to escape from the net slowly but surely being drawn around him. After the troops had crossed, the bridge was destroyed, many of the cannon having been spiked.
When St. Clair reached Mount Independence he found General Roche de Fermoy asleep, instead of superintending the evacuation of that portion of the works, the task entrusted to him. With the approach of dawn the movements here of necessity were hurried. De Fermoy, contrary to express orders, set fire to his house as he was leaving about two o'clock in the morning, and the illumination helped to give warning of the retreat. Smith, in "The St. Clair Papers," says of the French officer that he was one of the worst of the foreign adventurers connected with the American army.
To Col. Ebenezer Francis, commanding the Eleventh Massachusetts regiment, was entrusted the command of the American rear guard, made up of "chosen men," to quote from Burgoyne. He was a good disciplinarian, a man of imposing stature, who had commanded a regiment on Dorchester Heights earlier in the war.
Just as the rear of the American army left Mount Independence, about four o'clock in the morning, the advance guard of the enemy arrived, composed of Brunswick troops. A few shots were exchanged, but the German soldiers did not attempt pursuit. St. Clair made a forced march over an unfinished road through the wilderness, twenty-four miles, to Hubbardton, which he reached at one o'clock Sunday afternoon. The retreat began in great confusion. On the way, St. Clair encountered and dispersed a British raiding party under Captain Fraser, taking three British and five Canadian prisoners and twenty head of cattle.
In the confusion of departure two artillerymen deserted, taking a small boat and crossing the lake. About three o'clock that morning they notified General Fraser that the American army was retreating. At first Fraser thought this was a ruse employed to bring British troops within range of the American guns, but he sent an officer to notify General Burgoyne, who was on board the Royal George, of the report received; and ordered the men of his own brigade, without noise or delay, to equip themselves and proceed to a designated place, there to await further orders. Taking an engineer and a small party, Fraser proceeded to investigate the report of the deserters, and found it to be true. The colors of the Ninth regiment were planted on the old French redoubt, and a guard was posted to watch the stores abandoned at Ticonderoga.
Planks were secured and a bridge was extemporized, enabling Fraser to reach Mount Independence. Evidently the British General had a very unpleasant experience in restraining the desire of the soldiers to ap