In Vermont, a Valiant Stand for Freedom | History | Smithsonian

In Vermont, a Valiant Stand for Freedom

At Mount Independence, heroic Americans held off the British in a confrontation that changed the course of the Revolutionary War

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"Mount Independence," says archaeologist David Starbuck, "is the most intact site of the Revolution. So much is sitting right here on this mountain." Writer Richard Wolkomir, in search of the history that lies on this outcropping overlooking Lake Champlain, follows Starbuck on a trek into 18th-century America.

In the summer of 1776, more than 100,000 soldiers — regiments from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — gathered atop this hill and built an imposing fort.

Their presence here would prove crucial to the outcome of the war. In October of that year, from this fortification christened Mount Independence, American troops would deter a huge British fleet bearing down Lake Champlain. (The British plan was to push down the lake to Albany before winter, cutting off New England from the rest of the Colonies. Had that plan been implemented, the British might well have defeated the Colonists.)

Seeing the troops massed above the lake, the British retreated to Canada to pass the winter. The price for the American rebels who held the Mount was high: in that winter of 1776-77, the Americans suffered terribly from exposure and disease. "It was," says one historian, "worse than Valley Forge."

With the arrival of summer, the British did indeed press down Champlain, overrunning the fort. The battle had been lost, but the war won: that precious year of delay laid the groundwork for General Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga in October 1777.

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