September, 1814: Battle of Lake Champlain Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

After the defeat of Napoleon I in early 1814, the British government sent the duke of Wellington’s veterans to Canada and instructed Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost to conquer the Lake Champlain Valley for incorporation into the British empire. British shipbuilding efforts on the lake slightly outmatched those of the Americans. However, the recently arrived Captain George Downie had little time to create unit cohesion among his hastily assembled crews. Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s squadron lay anchored with spring lines to each vessel’s anchor cables so each could be turned 180 degrees within its mooring lines. There were four major vessels on each side, and the British had eleven row galleys and gunboats and the Americans ten. The principal combatants were Downie’s thirty-seven-gun Confiance and Macdonough’s twenty-six-gun Saratoga. Downie fell early in the battle, leaving his fleet leaderless. With the outcome in doubt, Macdonough wound his ship so the port guns could be employed, and this fresh broadside allowed him to destroy resistance on the British flagship. Only a few gunboats escaped. Macdonough lost 52 killed and 58 seriously wounded. British casualties included 54 dead, 116 wounded, and the remainder prisoners of war. Also captured were a frigate, a brig, two sloops of war, and several gunboats.

After the defeat of Napoleon I in early 1814, the British government sent the duke of Wellington’s veterans to Canada and instructed Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost to conquer the Lake Champlain Valley for incorporation into the British empire. British shipbuilding efforts on the lake slightly outmatched those of the Americans. However, the recently arrived Captain George Downie had little time to create unit cohesion among his hastily assembled crews. Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s squadron lay anchored with spring lines to each vessel’s anchor cables so each could be turned 180 degrees within its mooring lines. There were four major vessels on each side, and the British had eleven row galleys and gunboats and the Americans ten. The principal combatants were Downie’s thirty-seven-gun Confiance and Macdonough’s twenty-six-gun Saratoga. Downie fell early in the battle, leaving his fleet leaderless. With the outcome in doubt, Macdonough wound his ship so the port guns could be employed, and this fresh broadside allowed him to destroy resistance on the British flagship. Only a few gunboats escaped. Macdonough lost 52 killed and 58 seriously wounded. British casualties included 54 dead, 116 wounded, and the remainder prisoners of war. Also captured were a frigate, a brig, two sloops of war, and several gunboats.

Engraving from a late nineteenth century painting of the Battle of Lake Champlain. (F. R. Niglutsch)

Because the British lacked naval superiority, Prevost withdrew his ground forces back to Canada. This defeat contributed to the British decision to end the war and restore territory to its prewar status.

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