Fort Ticonderoga’s 2017 War College of the Seven Years’ War (and a Quick Trip through Carillon Battlefield)

Several weeks ago I was fortunate enough to take part in Fort Ticonderoga’s twenty-second annual War College of the Seven Years’ War as a guest author. This was my first experience attending the War College, and I can confidently say that I plan on going again. The three day symposium took place from Friday, May 19, to Sunday, May 21, and consisted of lectures, book signings, and even a tour of some of the fort’s awe-inspiring artillery collection on display throughout the complex by curator Matthew Keagle. If you have not visited Fort Ticonderoga before, their massive inventory of 17th and 18th century cannon is well worth the visit alone. In fact, this August the staff and outside historians and interpreters will be conducting a symposium entitled, “New Perspectives on the ‘Last Argument of Kings’: A Ticonderoga Seminar on 18th-Century Artillery.” You can access the schedule and more information here.  I am saving up my pennies right now to go!

The War College’s Saturday and Sunday lecture lineups were superb. They included several lectures that focused on the colony of New France and France’s regular soldiers deployed in North America. I consider myself a French and Indian War historian, but I have never paid much attention to what transpired along the Mississippi River during the conflict. It is easy to forget sometimes that France’s claims on the continent included not just Canada, but south down the Mississippi River all the way to Louisiana. This region seems too far away from everything else to have served an important role during the war, but that simply was not the case. Thanks to Joseph Gagne (Laval University) and David MacDonald (Illinois State University, retired), I was introduced to events transpiring in the Illinois Country and Louisiana.

Other lectures were also given focusing on The Cherokee War (Jessica Wallace, Georgia College and State University) and even smallpox. David Kelton, University of Kansas, shared with us his work entitled, “Disease Diplomacy: How Rumors of Smallpox, Outbreaks, and Diabolical Schemes Shaped the Course of Empire in North America, 1755-1764.” His arguments targeted the myths of biological warfare conducted by the English against Native Americans. Another talk that I was excited for (it had a whole lot to do with my first book I authored) was a look at Ephraim Williams and the Bloody Morning Scout during the Battle of Lake George, presented by Gary Shattuck. Gary’s conclusions and judgements were in line with my own. He did not believe that Colonel Williams blundered his way into an ambush that left him and scores of men under him dead. It is always nice to see when historians reassess the decisions made and roles played by those who have been judged poorly by history. The photographs used in the presentation of the battlefield today were also very useful. Shattuck had a good eye for the terrain and gave me the best look at where the positions held by Baron de Dieskau’s French Regulars, Canadian militia, and Native Allies, in his opinion, most likely were (of course this is still up for debate).

Unfortunately, I needed to leave early and missed Sunday’s talks, which included Brady Crytzer discussing his new book on the Kittanning Raid of 1756, as well as a look at Cadwallader Colden, a colonial statesman from New York, and his experiences during the French and Indian War by John Dixon (College of Staten Island).  Matthew Keagle also conducted a talk on the dress and traditions of light infantrymen. I missed a good day.

On my way out of Fort Ticonderoga I stopped off at one of my favorite battlefields. Just outside the fort complex down the exit road is the Carillon battlefield, where on July 8, 1758, a massive British and provincial force under the command of James Abercromby continuously assaulted a fortified line of earthworks and abatis held by a much smaller French army under the leadership of the Marquis de Montcalm. By day’s end the French had emerged victorious, inflicting over 2,000 casualties within Abercromby’s force. The 42nd Regiment of Foot (The Black Watch), alone, lost well over 600 men. It was the bloodiest military engagement fought in North America prior to the Civil War, yet it is widely forgotten.

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Carillon Battlefield, Fort Ticonderoga, NY. Remnants of the French earthworks are visible in front of the treeline.

Today, the Carillon Battlefield is small, or at least the area that is easily accessible to the public is. Despite this, portions of Montcalm’s earthworks still remain (rebuilt by future armies making their way to the Heights of Carillon) and the spot is dotted with several monuments, including one for the Black Watch, as well as a reconstructed cross to mimic the one placed along the French lines by Montcalm to memorialize his victory and honor his men’s courage against such great odds. Other than this tiny open area, the rest of the battlefield is covered with a dense thicket making it difficult to explore. However, it is extremely peaceful and serene. If you look to the woods with your mind’s eye, you can almost see the waves of scarlet red moving relentlessly towards your position, and hear the shriek of the bagpipes, the crack of the drummer’s cadence, the rattling of musket fire, and the yells of men charging towards a probable death.

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Monument to the 42nd Regiment of Foot, “The Black Watch,” dedicated in 1997.

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Fields just outside the exit of Carillon Battlefield and Fort Ticonderoga, where Abercromby’s men formed their ranks and repeatedly advanced against Montcalm’s fortified line.

Fort Ticonderoga and the Carillon Battlefield are a must-see for any history buff.

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ERW Weekender: Bunker Hill Monument & Museum

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Katie Turner Getty. 

Towering over Charlestown, Massachusetts, its foundation set in sacred battleground soil, the Bunker Hill Monument is a 221 foot obelisk commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill. The cornerstone of the monument was laid by the Marquis De Lafayette in 1825, fifty years after the battle was fought on June 17, 1775.

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Bunker Hill Monument (author collection)

Although the land surrounding the monument has been greatly developed since the battle, visitors today can get still get a sense of the 18th-century landscape just by walking through Charlestown and climbing the hill to reach Monument Square. Approaching visitors are greeted by the statue of Colonel William Prescott, the gray granite of the monument serving as an impressive backdrop behind him. Continue reading

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A Visit to Moores Creek

Moores Creek-trail mapThe Moores Creek battlefield manages to look simultaneously well manicured and primordial. Encompassing only 87 acres, it’s a landscape from before the dinosaurs that happens to have a rubberized pathway winding through its tall, thin pines.

Tucked away in a forest some 22 miles northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina, the battlefield sits along a darkwater creek that spills its banks into even darker patches of swamp. This is Moores Creek itself, where, in February 1776, Patriots and Loyalists squared off with muskets, broadswords, and a pair of cannons. (And, yes, I did say “broadswords.”) Continue reading

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Memorial Day

Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this country. I wanted to take the moment to remember all those who gave their life in service to this country. Thank you!

The picture below is of Chalmette National Cemetery, which is now preserved by the National Park Service, as part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. In total, over 15,300 United States veterans are interred there, serving in armed conflicts from the War of 1812 through the Vietnam War.

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Chalmette National Cemetery (author collection)

In the theme of the Revolutionary War Era, in which this blog is dedicated, one of the most famous quotes to come out of any soldiers’ mouths about giving their life for the cause of American independence was from Nathan Hale.

Hale, about to be executed for espionage, uttered the now famous words;“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Or can you think of another one?

 

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Jefferson Memorial

 

 

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Photo taken on May 11th. 

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After Eutaw Springs

Part Two
Click here for Part One.

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Daughter’s of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) Monument, Eutaw Springs Battlefield (author collection)

In many ways, the battle of Eutaw Springs was a disappointment for both commanders.  Greene’s troops at one point broke through the British lines, but they recovered, and the Americans failed to drive them off the field.  Stewart, in a letter to Cornwallis, wrote that there were two things he would regret the rest of his life: the loss of an early morning supply gathering party and his lack of cavalry.  Having them, he felt, would have enabled him to decisively defeat Greene.  Probably both commanders, and many of their officers, reflected upon these events and second guessed themselves for the rest of their days.  Although both armies fought well at Eutaw Springs, a clear cut victory eluded both of them. Continue reading

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Ankle Deep In Blood: The Jason Russell House

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome back historian Katie Turner Getty. Biography of Ms. Getty is below the post. 

On April 19, 1775, the placid farm of fifty-eight-year-old Jason Russell of Menotomy erupted into carnage when he, along with eleven other Americans, were shot and bayonetted by British soldiers in his home and yard.

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Jason Russell House (author collection)

As American militia and minutemen poured in from surrounding towns, the British—fatigued yet furious—found themselves under increasingly heavy musket fire. As they pulled back from Concord and retreated to Boston, the main column passed near Russell’s house which stood near the battle road. Russell had just returned home after secreting his family at a nearby farm. Unbeknownst to him, American minutemen and British soldiers would soon converge upon his property and a desperate battle would occur within the walls of his own house.

Earlier that day, twenty-six-year-old Gideon Foster had set off from Danvers with a company of minutemen. The men had set a scorching pace and made the sixteen mile journey to Menotomy in four hours, running half the way.[1] Upon arriving, Foster’s men joined others from Lynn, Beverly, Salem, Dedham, and Needham.[2]  Some took cover behind trees and others in Russell’s yard, where a breastwork was constructed out of shingles.

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The Fight at the Jason Russell House, bicentennial painting by Ruth Linnell Berry (1974). Appearing with permission from the Arlington Historical Society.

The men focused their attention on the approaching main column of British troops and fired upon them. Capt. Israel Hutchinson, a seasoned French and Indian War veteran, warned that flank-guards would likely be traversing the fields alongside the road[3], helping the main column to pass unmolested. But before the men could reconsider their position or move to a more defensible location, the flank-guard was upon them, trapping the men against the main column.

In a frantic search for cover, many of the men bolted into Russell’s house. Jason Russell, too, attempted to dash inside but was slowed by his lame leg.[4] He was shot twice and fell on his doorstep. The soldiers tore inside the house in hot pursuit of the men, bayonetting Jason Russell’s body eleven times as they passed.

Once inside the house, the Americans had no choice but to fight for their lives in rooms with no egress, in very close quarters, against raging, bayonet-wielding soldiers. It was a bloodbath. With two rooms on the bottom floor, a narrow stairwell, and two rooms on the top floor, Jason Russell’s house offered very little refuge.  Soldiers outside the house hailed musket fire into the windows.

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Sign depicting what happened at the Jason Russell House on April 19, 1775

With nowhere else to go, several men rushed into the cellar. What at first would seem to be an ill-advised hiding spot turned out to be the only sanctuary that Russell’s home could offer. Taking position near the bottom of the stairs, the men raised their muskets and shot dead the first soldier who descended.[5] Any other soldiers who attempted to follow were met with blazing musket fire. Holes left by musket balls are still visible in the stairwell, attesting to the firestorm.

Soon, the house grew quiet. All of the men who had sought safety in the house had been killed, with the exception of the men who took refuge in the cellar. The British ransacked the house then left.[6]

In 1835, sixty years after the bloodbath at Russell’s house, a memorial was erected in Danvers to commemorate the townsmen who lost their lives in Menotomy that day. Danvers lost the second highest number of men, after Lexington[7], and all of them at Jason Russell’s house. Foster, the commander of the company of minutemen who had ran halfway to Menotomy, was by then the last surviving Danvers veteran of the war. Aged eighty-six, he addressed the crowd assembled for the dedication of the monument and recounted the events of April 19th:

On that morning, more than one hundred of my townsmen hastened to the field of battle…ready to offer their lives on the altar of their liberties. Seven of those who thus started in the prime of life and vigor of manhood, ere that day’s sun descended in the west, were numbered with the dead.[8]  

Foster called the dedication of the memorial “One of the happiest days and most pleasing events of my life.”[9]

In total, twelve Americans were killed at Jason Russell’s house.  Jason’s wife, Elizabeth, returned home to find her husband dead. He and the other fallen Americans, their bodies riddled with musket balls and slashed by bayonets, had been laid out on the floor in the kitchen, the blood from their wounds pooling around them. Elizabeth later said that “the blood in the room was almost ankle deep”.[10]

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Musket ball damage to the staircase of the Russell House

 

 

 

*Biography: Katie Turner Getty is a lawyer, history enthusiast, and lifelong resident of Boston. She holds an A.A. from Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a B.A. in History from Wellesley College, and a J.D. from New England Law Boston. She can often be found exploring historic sites both on and off the Freedom Trail.

*Sources*

The Jason Russell House is located at 7 Jason Street in Arlington, Massachusetts. Their website is http://www.arlingtonhistorical.org/visit/jason-russell-house/ 

[1] Daniel P. King, An Address Commemorative of Seven Young Men of Danvers. (Salem, 1835), 28.

[2] Arlington Historical Society http://www.arlingtonhistorical.org/learn/articles/the-battle-of-menotomy/

[3] J.W. Hanson, History of the Town of Danvers (Danvers, 1848), 107.

[4] Samuel Abbot Smith, West Cambridge 1775, 3rd ed. (Boston, 1864),  38. https://archive.org/details/westcambridge17700smit

[5] Ibid., 38.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hanson, 91.   

[8] King, Appendix, 27.

[9] King, 28.

[10] Smith, 39.

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