Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TICONDEROGA, N.Y. (AP) Before the Civil War and Antietam, the bloodiest battle fought on American soil was here, on a narrow but strategically vital strip of land between Lake Champlain and Lake George.

cally vital strip of land between Lake Champlain and Lake George.

A 15,000-strong British army sailed up Lake George 250 years ago this summer, intent on taking Fort Ticonderoga, France’s southernmost outpost in the region. The French — outnumbered nearly five to one, but well fortified — hastily built 8-foot-high log barriers as the enemy approached.

The name Ticonderoga still resonates among veterans of Scotland’s most revered military regiment, the Black Watch, but not because the fight went well for their predecessors in 1758.

Hacking through brush, felled trees and sharpened tree limbs that slowed their advance to a desperate crawl, the 42nd Highland Regiment and other redcoats were easy targets for French gunners firing from behind the barriers.

“They go in 1,000 strong and lose 500,” British author Stephen Brumwell said of the Black Watch casualties as he stood on the fort’s wind-swept ramparts, not far from where hundreds of his countrymen are buried.

Almost 2,000 British troops in all were killed, wounded or captured at Ticonderoga, along with some 440 Frenchmen.

Veterans of the Black Watch, which has been merged with other British military units after nearly three centuries as an independent regiment, will join British, Canadian and American active military personnel here in July for a memorial service marking the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Carillon, also known as the Battle of Ticonderoga.

The name Ticonderoga lives on at a desert base camp in Iraq named by a British unit.

“They still haven’t forgotten,” Mr. Brumwell, author of several books on the 18th-century British military in North America, said during a recent history conference. “For them, it’s a very poignant moment, this massive shedding of blood. The British are great fans of these glorious defeats.”

Ticonderoga, in northern New York near the Vermont line, has been a storied place since long before Europeans arrived on the continent, according to author and historian Fred Anderson.

Indians camped here while using the region’s system of lakes and rivers to trade and wage war.

“It’s one of those spots that draws our attention to the importance not only of these colliding empires, but to the people between them,” said Mr. Anderson, professor of history at the University of Colorado in Boulder, during the fort’s annual symposium on the French and Indian War (1754-1763), of which the Ticonderoga battle was a part.

The fort, named Fort Carillon by the French when they built it, was a key piece of a region bloodied by set-piece battles, sieges and forest ambushes involving redcoats, rangers, colonial Americans, French regulars, Canadian militia and numerous Indian tribes between 1755 and 1760. During the Revolutionary War, the fort changed hands twice between the British and Americans without any shots being fired.

The Ticonderoga battle, fought on July 8, 1758, saw about 3,200 French troops under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm turn back several frontal assaults on their defenses. The Black Watch was held in reserve, but the kilt-clad Highlanders couldn’t stay out of the fray and rushed the French lines without orders.

The British took the fort a year later after a siege and renamed it.

The valor of the Highlanders in the face of withering fire is commemorated with a memorial at the battle site, where visitors can view the original French lines, now grass- and tree-covered zigzagged mounds lining the wooded entrance to the grounds.

The battle will be re-enacted over two days — June 28-29 — during the fort’s Grand Encampment of the French and Indian War.

About 2,000 re-enactors from across the U.S., Canada, Britain and France are expected to participate, about twice as many as usually take part in the annual re-enactment weekend, said Nicholas Westbrook, executive director of Fort Ticonderoga.

The descendants of several key figures in the fort’s history are expected to attend, including those of the French commander during the 1758 battle, the Canadian-born engineer who designed the fortifications and a British general who served at Ticonderoga.

The mock battles will be held on a glen where volunteers have erected a 350-yard-long log barricade similar to the one the French built about three-quarters of a mile from the fort’s northwest wall.

The fort fell into disrepair after the American Revolution. Local farmers used its stones for building material. In the 19th century, the property was acquired by the Pell family, who reconstructed the fort as a tourist attraction 100 years ago.

Today, the fort is a national historic landmark that’s operated by a private, nonprofit organization.

Fort Ticonderoga is the host site of this year’s signature event for the state’s 250th Anniversary of the French and Indian War Commemoration Commission. This is the fourth year of a 6-year-long series of events highlighting New York’s role in the war that set the stage for the American Revolution.

The fort, which opened May 10, closes on Oct. 13.

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