The British pursued the retreating Patriot force southward from Fort Ticonderoga in July 1777, clashing with the Patriots at the Battle of Hubbardton, the Battle of Skenesborough, and eventually, the Battle of Fort Ann. Initially outnumbered, the British managed to hold their position near Fort Ann until sizable reinforcements arrived and pushed the Patriots south to Fort Edward. As part of the Saratoga Campaign, the Battle of Fort Ann played a significant role in the British attempt to secure strategic control over the Hudson River Valley.
By July 6, 1777, British troops under Lieutenant General John Burgoyne had gained the high ground of Sugar Loaf (today known as Mount Defiance) above Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. Outmaneuvered and significantly outnumbered, the smaller Continental force under General Arthur St. Clair retreated. In their haste, the Patriots left behind barrels of supplies, including gunpowder, flour, salt, jerky, and their largest cannon.
The British took control of Fort Ticonderoga without firing a shot but, subsequently, clashed with Patriot forces on Lake Champlain in the Battle of Skenesborough and on land at the Battle of Hubbardton.
Continental forces retreating from Ticonderoga divided: one force followed a lake route to Skenesborough; the other followed a land route toward Hubbardton. British naval gunners bombarded and destroyed the American ships Enterprise, Gates, and Liberty in the Battle of Skenesborough on Lake Champlain. Burgoyne’s infantry, spearheaded by General Simon Fraser, pursued the Continental landbased force and overtook St. Clair's rearguard at Hubbardton. During the subsequent Battle of Hubabardton, American forces under the overall command of Colonel Seth Warner, fought a desperate delaying action, but were eventually sent to flight.
After the Battle of Skenesborough, Captain James Gray worked hard to reorganize a Patriot force from the resulting confusion. He assembled nearly 170 men and led them southward through a maze of difficult trails and dense forest, pursued closely by Lieutenant Colonel John Hill’s 9th Regiment of Foot, carrying orders to defeat any retreating Patriots and take control of Fort Ann.
In the early morning hours of July 7, Gray’s men awoke ragged, demoralized, and famished, intensely regretful of forsaking their food and supplies at Fort Ticonderoga the day before. Nevertheless, Gray and his men formed a defensive perimeter about one-half mile north of Fort Ann, where they skirmished with the enemy. Their prospect of successfully defending the fort looked dire until Colonel Henry Van Rensselaer unexpectedly arrived at the fort with 400 militiamen, elevating Patriot numbers that reinforced Gray’s force and reinvigorated morale.
The Battle of Fort Ann began on the morning of July 8 and lasted four hours. Patriot forces greatly outnumbered Hill’s regiment due to the arrival of Van Rensselaer’s men, who succeeded at putting significant pressure on the British flanks. Fighting in thick forest strained visibility and mobility, but the Patriots took advantage of the landscape, moving stealthily from tree to tree in order to approach the British position. Hill’s men improved their position by moving to a wooded hill. Suddenly, Indian war cries echoed throughout the woods. Believing a large British-Indian force had arrived on their flank, Patriots fell back to Fort Ann. In reality, it was only a small force under Captain John Money of the 9th Regiment of Foot. Never-the-less, the ruse worked
Despite their retreat, the Patriots believed they had been victorious in battle. However, they were running dangerously low on ammunition and were ultimately forced to abandon Fort Ann and retreat southward to Fort Edward, upon the approach of a large force under General William Phillips.
The Battle of Fort Ann marked an important point in the Saratoga Campaign, the British attempt to secure the strategically important Hudson River Valley. Patriot forces delayed General John Burgoyne on his march toward Saratoga, stretching the British supply line and manpower pool to the max, which ensured a Patriot victory at Saratoga, while also boosting American morale and securing French intervention.