History/Travel

Battle Hill at 50 MPH

Located on Route 4 in Fort Ann, New York between the Champlain Canal and Battle Hill is an unusual monument to the Revolutionary War battle that took place here on July 8, 1777.  You’d be forgiven if you miss it as you cruise on past at highway speed.  I only knew about it from a rest area attendant who described exactly what to look for.  As with many historical markers, it tells a story if you stop long enough to listen.

While the tablet is barely noticeable as you speed along, Battle Hill is of course much larger, and the land above the highway sign is in the beginning stages of historic preservation.  For now, there’s only this simple marker, mounted on the ledge cut into Battle Hill in 1927, when cars came by much less frequently than they do now.  The tablet is decorated with American flags, which serve both as a tribute to those who fought here and as a way to visually find the tablet recessed into the ledge as you’re driving by.  I had to double back and park across the highway from the sign in a small pull-off.

The Battle of Fort Anne started with defeat and retreat, as the Continental Army (mostly New Hampshire met) retreated from Fort Ticonderoga and then Skenesborough.  General Burgoyne hoped to cut off this retreat and landed 200 soldiers let by Lieutenant Colonel John Hill.  The American’s made a stand at Fort Anne, bolstered by the arrival of reinforcements led by Colonel Henry Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who provided key leadership in the battle despite being wounded.

While not the largest battle in the war, Fort Anne served to delay the British on their march to take Albany and create an unbroken water route from Canada to Manhattan.  This delay was critical for the Americans.  It’s was Burgoyne’s biggest mistake; instead of sailing his army right down Lake Champlain and Lake George and storming into Albany, he got sidetracked chasing retreating soldiers.  He won the battle, but helped lose the war as the delays of Fort Anne and defeat at Bennington set the stage for a larger defeat at Saratoga.  That set the dominoes in motion as the French would eventually join forces with the Americans, upping the ante significantly.

Two interesting footnotes from the Battle of Fort Anne were the use of deception on both sides.  The Americans planted a fake deserter who convinced the British that the Americans had more than 1000 soldiers at Fort Anne waiting for them, which led them to wait for reinforcements instead of attacking.  Not to be outdone, when the British were running out of ammunition and on the verge of being overrun in the battle, a British quartermaster named John Mone used Indian war cries to make the Americans think that a much larger force of reinforcements were rushing in.  This allowed most of the British to retreat safely.  I’ve read about some of these events, but as with everything a visit helps you get a lay of the land and if you’re lucky hear the whispers of history over the roar of the traffic wizzing by.

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