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New York-New York

June 15, 2010

New York, New York, what a wonderful experience! The Southern Colorado History Teacher’s whirlwind tour is winding down. We have Saratoga and Fort Ticonderoga today, the post office and airport tomorrow and then home!

Well were do we begin today’s history lesson? After along-long drive we arrived at Fort Ticonderoga around 11:00 am. We first we met our tour guide who explained the history behind the fort. The name “Ticonderoga” means “Land between the Waters.” This fort has history in the French and Indian War as well as the Revolutionary War. It was built by the French to defend and repel any attack or invasion by British forces from the sea.

Monument to the Brave French Forces who Defeated to Stronger British Force

In 1756 British General Amherst led 16,000 men against the defending French force of around 3,500.  It was here that the myth was formed of the “impenetrable and undefeatable” fort. The French met and defeated the overwhelming yet poorly led British. The French would abandon the fort to the British in 1759 after blowing up the powder magazine leaving the British to rebuild and occupy it.  

The British would control the fort until the Revolutionary War when Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold raided the fort and took it without losing a single man. The forts reputation of being impenetrable led to its downfall. The British left a single sentry on duty and the Americans charged though the open date. It was a spectacular early victory for the Americans in their quest for independence.

The Americans thought that Mount Defiance which stood to the fort’s south was too steep to scale and put cannons on it. But General Burgoyne ordered cannons put in place saying “Where a man can go a mule can go and where a mule can go cannons can go.” When the Americans saw that the British had succeeded in placing cannons in that strategic location they decided to abandon the fort without a shot. Both the American Generals in charge of the fort and the theater of war were relieved of command because of this event, in spite of this choice being the best military decision possible.

Next it was off on a two hour ride to Saratoga Battlefield. British General Burgoyne believed that the Hudson River Valley was the major strategic artery of the northeastern area in America. This was the centerpiece of the British plan in 1777. This plan called for his army to move south from Canada through this area to Albany, New York. A smaller force led by Colonel St. Leger was to march east from Lake Ontario and meet in Albany. This force would then join up with General Howe Headquartered in New York City and put down the rebellion.

But Howe moved his force to the Patriot capital at Philadelphia. Therefore those troops which should have been available to support Burgoyne were unavailable. Burgoyne’s force consisted of 4,200 British regulars, 4,000 German soldiers fighting for the British, and about 1,000 loyalists, Indians, and Canadians. The 1st major objective was Fort Ticonderoga which fell on July 6. Then moving south the British were slowed by rough terrain and American delaying tactics led by General Philip Schuyler.

Colonel St. Leger then stopped his advance in order to lay siege to the American position at Fort Stanwix. When he learned that General Benedict Arnold was leading a rescue force for the Americans he dropped his siege and retreated towards Canada. Another British force of 900 men was almost wiped out.

Ignoring these British setbacks, Burgoyne decided to push on towards Albany. On September 13th the British crossed the Hudson River and found an American force of roughly 9000 men entrenched at Bemis Heights 4 miles north of Stillwater village. The road to Albany squeezed through an opening between the hills and the river and the Americans artillery commanded any approach.The British had two choices; they could either run the gauntlet or attempt to drive the Americans out of their defensive positions. They chose to fight.

The Battle of Saratoga was actually two battles fought about three weeks (18 days) apart on September 19 and October 7, 1777. Together these battles are regarded as a turning point in the war. The battles were fought on the same ground just nine miles south of Saratoga New York. The first battle called The Battle of Freeman’s Farm swayed back and forth for over 3 hours. The British lines began to falter before the arrival of German forces turned the tide and forced an American withdraw. This was a small tactical victory for the British but it came at a cost of very high causalities. Shaken by the tough victory Burgoyne ordered his men to entrench and wait for reinforcements which would not come.

After nearly 3 weeks the situation was dire for the British due to dwindling supplies and the arrival of new America troops to the area. Faced with the decision of advance or retreat Burgoyne chose to advance. On October 7th the British sent out a reconnaissance in force to test the American left flank. The Americans attacked in 3 columns at around 3 pm. Both British flanks were driven back and before they could rally General Benedict Arnold rode onto the field and led one American Brigade commanded by General Learned against the Germans in the center of the British line forcing a general withdraw from the Freeman farm.

The Americans, seeing success attacked in force after several savage attacks against the Balcarres Redoubt on the Freeman farm, the Germans collapsed. Only darkness ended the fighting and saved the British from immediate disaster. The British left their campfires burning to mask their withdraw as they began their retreat northward. They had suffered 1000 causalities against the Americans 500. After a tough march in rain and mud the British camped at the fortified position on the heights near Saratoga. It was here that an American Army of over 17,000 men surrounded the exhausted British and forced them to surrender on October 17, 1777.  

Saratoga became one of the most decisive victories in American and world history! News of Burgoyne’s surrender was instrumental in formally bringing France into the war as an American ally. French formal participation changed the war to a global conflict. This battle also resulted in Spain contributing to the war on the American side.

Today was one of the golden days for me n this trip. It has been circled on my calendar along with the Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty and Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame days. And in this respect it did not disappoint! I am a Revolutionary War buff which seems strange for someone from Colorado. We do not cover this war or this era in the manner that we should in Colorado. I can understand the reasoning since we are a western state and Colorado was still occupied by Native Americans along with a few Spanish at this time in history. But it is an extremely important part of our history as a nation.

I grew up moving and living in different parts of the country (and world for that matter) since my dad was in the Air Force. I believe that this is the reason that I appreciate all areas and time periods of our history. I actually lived in upper state New York for 4 months when I was in the 4th grade. We covered this period of American history and I loved it. We went to a Colonial town/fort (I don’t remember it’s name) where they dressed in character and ran it as if they were living in that time much like Sturbridge Village or the Farmer’s Museum.

It is extremely important for our students make connections with the past. We watched several groups of students at Fort Ticonderoga as they reacted and interacted together. I was amazed at how excited they were, running around with there newly purchased muskets, long rifles, pistols. They held impromptu mock battles and showed a real enthusiasm for being there. Isn’t that what history should be about, excited to learn about our past, learning about all the people who have sacrificed so that we can be free, discovering that history can and should be fun?

I know Pueblo does have lots of places such as the El Pueblo Museum, the Aircraft Museum, the railroad Museum, and the Steel Mill museum just to name a few where kids can learn about the past and also have fun. But what a blast it would be to bring a group of kids out east so they can discover for themselves about this area and it’s historic past. We are planning on bringing a group of 20 – 30 students to New York and Washington D. C. next summer. After visiting these two historic battlefields today I will do everything I can to add them to our trip’s itinerary!

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2 comments

  1. There are other places in Pueblo as well–the Southeastern Heritage Center across the street from the Union Depot (full of lots of interesting things), the nearby Railroad Museum, a point on the Riverwalk on Union Avenue that discusses the fact that this used to be the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and, of course, the statues of the Medal of Honor winners from Pueblo. They are all a short walk apart. Maybe you can even get the students to buy you coffee at Wireworks while you’re down there!


  2. Thanks Cody,

    I have taken my kids to the Railroad Museum before, but unfortunately the railroad tracks were under water and we didn’t get to ride the train (even though we paid for it). 😦



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