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Battle of Fort Anne plaque

The Battle Hill plaque commemorating the Battle of Fort Anne sits in the rock face along Route 4.

FORT ANN | The Battle of Fort Anne, long seen as a minor skirmish in the Revolutionary War’s Champlain Valley campaign, was actually a turning point that led to the defeat of Gen. John Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga on Oct. 17, 1777.

That was part of the findings of a research project performed over the past year by Binghamton University’s Public Archaeology Facility.

Dr. Michael Jacobson, who led the team, said documents from the period tell a different story than originally thought and suggest that the majority of the gun fighting during the July 1777 battle was closer to Battle Hill than originally thought.

Research also indicates the event was a two-day battle, July 7 and 8, 1777, with the second day including the arrival of the 6th Albany Militia to back up the 15th Massachusetts and 2nd and 3rd New Hampshire regiments.

The first day saw 300 Continental troops attack the British camp at the base of Battle Hill. The British withdrew to the top of the hill.

The next day’s fighting took place in much the same area, with the British again pulling back to the summit of Battle Hill, but the Continental Army, believing reinforcements were arriving, withdrew to Fort Edward.

“Fort Anne was more important to the campaign than people thought,” Jacobsen said last week in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. He said the research group drew its findings from a variety of writings from the time period.

“I think a lot of people look at the Battle of Fort Anne as a one-day skirmish, but really we are taking a closer look at the second-day actions,” Jacobsen said. “The Continental Army actually attacked the British on the second day. People look at the battle as a loss for the Continentals because they withdrew, but really, it changed the course of the campaign.”

The researchers didn’t have to work too hard to convince Town Historian Virginia Parrott.

“If Fort Ann didn’t happen, we might not have had the surrender at Saratoga, which was so important,” Parrott said. “This area is so important. What happened in Fort Ann was the key to future fighting.”

The research was funded by a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program. The funding came through a grant applied for by Fort Ann American Legion.

Both Jacobson and Christine Milligan of the American Legion said the next step will be to apply for a grant to do an archaeological dig on Battle Hill.

The battle site is historically significant, Jacobson said, because it is where Colonial troops delayed Gen. Burgoyne’s advance to Saratoga, helping to ensure an American victory at the Battles of Saratoga in the fall of 1777.

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Until Fort Anne, Burgoyne had scored successive victories at Fort Ticonderoga, Hubbardton, Vermont, and Skenesborough.

The Continental Army withdrew first at Fort Anne, but the battle slowed Burgoyne’s advance substantially.

“I think when people look at the Champlain Valley campaign, they tend to look at Fort Ticonderoga and Hubbardton, but it may turn out that Fort Ann is just as important.

More plans

There is also a documentary of the battle in the works.

In August, WCNY television, which is doing a series on lost battlefields of the Revolutionary War, came up to the region and filmed and visited Battle Hill. They interviewed Milligan and a number of other residents and toured the battlefield.

Milligan said that along with the research done by Binghamton, the American Legion post received posters, brochures and a fifth-grade school curriculum, which the Legion hopes to implement in the school next year.

“It’s just a one-day lesson plan, but it is important,” Milligan said.

Extensive research

Since 2008, the Public Archaeology Facility has conducted historical and archaeological research on some of New York’s Revolutionary War battlefields. The battles are related to two of the Revolutionary War’s major campaigns that crossed New York: Gen. John Burgoyne’s campaign of 1777 and the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign of 1779.

The Public Archaeology Facility has conducted research at the Fort Anne battlefield, Fort Stanwix/Oriskany, Chemung and the Newtown battlefield.

The Fort Anne battlefield area, including Battle Hill, is one of the few untouched areas on the way from Fort Ticonderoga to Fort Edward. Much of the area where the Champlain Valley portion of the Revolutionary War was fought has been dug up and paved over by the building of towns, such as Whitehall and Fort Ann, and the construction of Route 4.

In his book, “The Birth of the Republic,” author Edmund Morgan said Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga “was a great turning point of the war because it won for Americans the foreign assistance which was the last element needed for victory.”

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You can read Bill Toscano’s blog at poststar.com/app/blogs or his updates on Twitter, @billtoscano_ps.

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