Saving the Battlefields Where America Was Forged

A Project of the Civil War Trust |  civilwar.org

Save 184 Acres of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Land Today!

A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

Jim Lighthizer

Dear Fellow Student of American History,

If you are anything like me, you’ll agree that the only thing better than learning about our history is saving our history!

And the only thing better than saving our history is being able to do it when every $1.00 you give is multiplied many times over.

Today, you and I have the chance to do “all of the above”: Learn, save, and multiply the power of your generosity by:

1. Saving 160 threatened Revolutionary War acres associated with the crucial 1777 Saratoga Campaign, specifically at the Battle of Fort Ann in New York state;

2. Saving 24 acres at Sackets Harbor, also in New York, where historians say the American Great Lakes fleet was saved, and which represents the first land we have ever had the chance to save that is associated with the War of 1812;

3. Saving these 184 acres at a jaw-dropping $22.04-to-$1 match of your donation dollar!

The bottom line: By sending your support today, Campaign 1776 can save $1,730,00 worth of hallowed ground for just $78,500! To say that another way, we’ve already identified 94.4% of the needed funds, and just need to raise the final 5.6%.

I know you are busy, but if you give me just the next two minutes, I will do my best to tell you why I believe you will want to make these two battlefields part of your own personal preservation legacy.

The Battle of Fort Ann was fought on July 8, 1777, just one year and four days after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, when our future as a nation was still very much in doubt.

It was a key moment in the larger Saratoga Campaign, as the British sought to slice our new nation in two, using the Hudson River to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies. 

British General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne’s army, slowed by an enormous baggage train, was still making arduous progress down the Hudson River Valley toward Albany, New York, and an anticipated link-up with other armies pushing from the west, as well as north from New York City.

In his new book 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, author Dean Snow says, “The three-pronged attack was expected to capture Albany and create a line of garrisons from New York City to Montreal that would split the colonies and facilitate the suppression of the American rebellion.”

It sounded like a good plan, and Burgoyne began the campaign with several important victories at Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga, and he dealt the Continentals defeats at the Battle of Hubbardton and at Skenesborough. 

It looked like Fort Ann would be the next post to fall to Burgoyne’s army. 

Instead, the soldiers that had fled from Fort Ticonderoga and Skenesborough chose to make a stand at Fort Ann, and engage Burgoyne’s army directly rather than continue their withdrawal.

Miscalculating, Burgoyne sent a small force of about 200 under Lieutenant Colonel John Hill to observe and attack the Continentals. After some preliminary probing actions on July 7, Captain James Gray and 300 Continentals moved in to attack Hill’s men in their camp at the base of Battle Hill.

Legendary historian Richard Ketchum, in his award-winning Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, describes what happened next far better than I ever could:

“. . . anything resembling a battle formation was out of the question, and visibility was virtually nil because of the thick woods and craggy ground. The rebels [Americans], slanting through the trees, crossed Wood Creek, turned Hill’s left, and worked their way behind him; he couldn’t see them but could tell from their voices that he would soon be surrounded, so he ordered his men up the precipitous slope to their rear – a critical move, as Burgoyne later described it (taking care that it should not sound like a retreat), that was executed ‘with the utmost steadiness and bravery.’” 

“Up on the ridge the hard-pressed recoats held out for two hours until their ammunition was exhausted, and were on the verge of having to surrender when an Indian war whoop was heard, signaling the approach of reinforcements. The British answered with three cheers. The frustrated rebels were forced to pull back, since their own ammunition was also gone, and they retired to Fort Ann with their wounded.”

“The rebels could not know that the war whoops had been delivered not by Indians but by a lone British officer, Captain John Money of the 9th Regiment . . . Luckily for the British, it worked.”

When the fight was over, each side claimed victory. But the battle at Fort Ann changed the momentum of the entire campaign. Americans soon resumed felling trees, obstructing creeks, and dismantling bridges, slowing Burgoyne’s progress to an even more sluggish crawl, and his army lost strength every hour until the tipping-point battle and surrender at Saratoga / Bemis Heights in October.

Above: Portion of Fort Ann battle map showing 160 acres to save in yellow.

There is an immediate threat to the Fort Ann battlefield, specifically Battle Hill, clearly visible on this battle map. A proposed granite and topsoil mine could impact portions of the battlefield associated with both British and Continental positions. Even worse, there is concern that, until more archeological work is done, the mining operation could disturb a mass burial ground for those who died in the battle.

This ground has been relatively untouched since the time of the battle. It would be a heartbreaking shame and a terrible loss to see this battlefield destroyed. Today, with your help, we can save more than half of the entire battlefield in one bold stroke.

Portion of Sackets Harbor battle map showing 24 acres to save in yellow

Looking at the next map, you will see our first-ever opportunity to save battlefield land associated with the War of 1812 – Sackets Harbor, New York, on Lake Ontario.

Sackett’s Harbor was the principal U.S. naval base and shipyard on Lake Ontario. Its capture would give the British strategic control of both Lakes Ontario and Erie, and relieve the pressure of the American land offensive directed against Upper Canada. 

On May 27, 1813, an American scout vessel sighted a squadron of six British warships, and reported the news of their approach to Sackets Harbor. 

The British convoy first made for the southern shore of Horse Island, but were fired on by the Albany County Militia encamped there. The British commanders had the boats change course for a landing on the north shore. As approximately 900 British and Canadian soldiers landed, the outnumbered militia troops retreated across the causeway that connected the island to the mainland and joined the New York militia posted there to resist the expected British advance. Well after daybreak, with any hope of surprise lost, the British advanced across the causeway and deployed along the beach with bayonets fixed. 

For the Americans, nothing went as planned. After delivering only a sporadic fire, the militia broke and retreated in disorder through the woods to an area south of the village, followed closely by the British and Canadians. Just outside the defensive works, American regulars stubbornly fought an effective delaying action that inflicted heavy casualties on the British before withdrawing into the fortifications. 

Just as all seemed lost, several hundred militia soldiers rallied and formed a new line, and these re-formed troops advanced against the British right flank. Watching the maneuver through his field glass, Major General Sir George Prevost, overall British commander of the attack, realized the threat and, after concluding that his force could neither win a decisive victory before sunset nor hold the ground gained, he ordered his units to return to the ships. 

The British attempt to capture the naval base and ordnance depot was defeated, and the Americans maintained naval superiority on Lake Ontario. Before the end of the war, more ships had been built for the U.S. Navy at Sackets Harbor than any other lake, ocean port, or harbor.  

Horse Island

Satellite view of Horse Island, Sackets Harbor battlefield. (Courtesy Google Earth)

Today, you and I have the chance to save ALL of Horse Island, creating never-before-dreamed-of interpretive opportunities, while adding significant acres to the existing state historic site.

I know that asking you to help save these two sites is asking a lot, especially as we still must raise significant funds to also save Maxwell’s Field at Princeton, where George Washington turned the tide of the American Revolution.

But as so often happens, we cannot always control when and how a preservation opportunity unfolds. When a landowner is ready to sell, we cannot say to them, “Can you please come back in a couple of years? We’ve got a lot on our plate right now.” If we did that, then of course we should expect that landowner to sell to the highest bidder, which, as you know, is often a developer, a mining operation, or even another private buyer looking to make a quick buck.

I know I am asking you and our fellow Campaign 1776 members to make a sacrifice, but when you look at it from the point of view of the patriots who fought, bled and died on these battlefields, I hope you agree that I am not asking too much.

I’m not asking you to grab a musket, powder horn and a few lead balls and get into the battle line . . . I’m only asking you to send whatever aid you can spare today to make sure those patriots are not forgotten.

I’m not asking you to leave the comfort of your home to go on an arduous campaign with me. . . I’m only asking you to consider sharing some of your life’s success so that future generations will have a chance to learn about the great stories of our nation’s founding, where those events actually took place.

And I’m not asking you to do more than you want to do. I’m only asking you to answer your own personal “call to arms.” Ask yourself: “How important is this hallowed ground to me? How much do I want to save all of these threatened battlefields from America’s crucial first century?”

With every acre you and I save, my friend, I truly believe that we are making our country and our world a better place. 

We need more places like this where Americans – as well as people from all over the world – can go to learn about — and be inspired by — the story of how our freedom was won.

And to be able to save places like Fort Ann and Sackets Harbor – especially at a $22.04-to-$1 match – well, obviously, I would hate to lose an opportunity like this.

I wish that I was a lottery winner, or that I was otherwise independently wealthy, so that I could personally give all of the money to save these places, and never have to ask you. But I am not a wealthy man and, at almost-age-71, I still come to work every day, albeit at the greatest job in the world. 

Duty requires me to bring opportunities like these to your attention, but there is no duty that requires you to respond or help. I cannot compel you to give a single cent. But of course, I pray that my words have been enough to convince you to help

Your support, your involvement, and your level of generosity is 100% up to you. And all I can ever ask is that you weigh how important it is to you personally to save these battlefields so that either you can visit them yourself, or that future generations will have the chance to learn from this hallowed ground.

Then, you tell me, in the form of your gift today, how much that land, its history, and its heroes are worth to you. I will be grateful for any help that you can send today. I can never thank you enough for your stalwart support for this historic effort.

I remain, very sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. Please browse our website for more information on these two crucial efforts. As we kick off another historic year preserving our nation’s most important battlefields, I thank you for all you are doing to help to save our country’s history! You are making a lasting difference, and I salute you.