HANCOCK, John. Letter signed (''John Hancock,'' with flourish), as PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS, to General Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818) Philadelphia, 30 April 1777. 1 page, folio, careful repairs to losses along margins (slightly affecting two words), tanned, recipient's docket on verso.
HANCOCK, John. Letter signed ("John Hancock," with flourish), as PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS, to General Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818) Philadelphia, 30 April 1777. 1 page, folio, careful repairs to losses along margins (slightly affecting two words), tanned, recipient's docket on verso.
HANCOCK ORDERS ST. CLAIR TO TAKE CHARGE AT TICONDEROGA IN LIGHT OF "THE APPROACH OF THE ENEMY"
With British General John Burgoyne and a powerful army on the march south from Canada, Hancock directs St. Clair to defend this critical American fortress on Lake Champlain: "The Congress having received Intelligence of the approach of the Enemy towards Ticonderoga, have thought proper to direct you to repair thither without delay. I have it therefore in Charge to transmit the enclosed Resolve [not included], and direct that you immediately set out on the receipt hereof."
The Americans had held the fort since May 1775 when Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold carried out their daring and famous raid. The victory--one of the few enjoyed by the Continentals in the early stages of the war--had as much psychological as strategic importance. To possibly lose it to the British just two years later was an unappetizing prospect. St. Clair's chances did not look bright. He took command of the garrison's 2,500 ragged troops on 12 June. Burgoyne's much stronger and well-disciplined force of over 7,000 British and Hessian troops attacked from the west via Mount Hope and from the east across Lake Champlain. Sensing he was about to be surrounded, St. Clair made the difficult decision to abandon the fort on 5 July and retreat southward. Not even a month into his command, St. Clair was forced to surrender America's most prized fortress. "Although St. Clair was not of Maj. Gen. caliber, he used sound military judgment in not risking his command in the defense of this untenable position and showed rare moral courage in ordering the withdrawal...Not even a good major general could have done more" (Boatner, 956, 1107).
Ironically, the loss of the fort may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Americans. News of its easy capitulation convinced General William Howe that Burgoyne's force could manage without his assistance, and Howe turned his attention to Philadelphia instead of moving up the Hudson to link up with Burgoyne and St. Leger. Even George III got carried away when he learned of St. Clair's retreat, shouting "I have beat them! I have beat all the Americans!" (Boatner, 1107) But just two months later it was Burgoyne who was trapped and surrounded at Saratoga, and with his surrender the Americans had a victory that changed the course of the war.