A Heated Battle

By 12:30, according to Arnold’s personal account, the battle was getting quite heated. The British ships, those that were able to due to the wind, closed in and “continued a very hot fire with round and grape shot.” [9] Typically, round shot skipped over the water and buried itself in the hull or cut away at the oars, while grape shot flew threw the air in deadly squalls. When under fire, the soldiers first heard the sound of the guns, and then “spongers, loaders, rammers leaped upon their pieces, showered by spray and rocked by close misses.” [10] The guns that produced these blasts gave off a tremendous amount of smoke and noise, causing the deafening blasts to quickly darken the immediate area. The Congress itself was attacked by two of the British schooners and a ship which was packing eighteen pound guns. During the battle the Congress was hulled, or rammed, twelve times, and seven shots which were below the water level, but the men would just patch up the holes and keep fighting. By one o’ clock, the Philadelphia was careening over. Capt. George Pausch, in command of the Hessian units of the British Navy noted in a diary that she (the Philadelphia) “began to careen over to one side, but in spite of this, continued her fire.” [11] Shortly afterward the Philadelphia, commanded by Capt. Grant, had sunk to the bottom of the lake. The rebels, however, gave as good as they got. Capt. Pausch relates an incidence in his diary that tells of a cannonball hit the powder magazine of Lt. Dufais’ ship, almost killing all of his men. Pausch tells that a bateau, commanded by Lt. Smith of Artillery, took on board nine men while Pausch himself was took on the remainder forty-eight men, which caused his own ship to be dangerously close to sinking. The casualties from Lt. Dufais’ ship included a cannonier named Rossemer, who was shot; a sailor who lost his leg from the same ball that killed Rossemer; a drummer named Pillant and the ship’s pilot were also both killed in the blast. The battle thus continued until about five o’ clock, when the Carleton and the other British ships found that if they retreated to seven hundred yards, the gunboats having spent their ammunition, they would be out of the range of the rebel’s grape shot, which without the support of the main British fleet, outclassed those of the British. According to James Hadden of the Royal Artillery, “little more than 1/3 of the British fleet” was engaged on the eleventh. [12]

Therefore the British regrouped out of range and lined the ships across the lake in order to prevent the rebel fleet from escaping during the night. After dark on the 11th, Indians set fire to the Royal Savage. Also after dark, the weather took a change for the worse. This was fortunate for the rebels, because the addition of the cover of a storm added to the cover of night enabled Arnold, along with General Waterbury and Colonel Wigglesworth (whom Arnold considered “judicious, honest men and good soldiers,” nor would “do nothing without consulting [them]” to formulate a plan. [13] This plan involved slipping the ships one after another, through a gap in the British blockade. Because Pringle had lined his fleet one mile from the west shore to beyond Garden Island, he unwittingly left a large hole for Arnold’s fleet. Trumbull led the escape during the night of the 11th by hugging the western shore. The hooded lanterns used as signals on each rebel ship were not noticed by the British. A testament to Arnold’s bravery is that the Congress brought up the rear, which is the most dangerous position because there wasn’t another ship “watching his back.” A 220 year old legend of the battle tells that the British bombarded a rock early on the 12th because it looked like a rebel ship in the early morning light. Today that rock is still referred to as “Carleton’s Prize.” By the time the British discovered the rebels’ escape, made repairs, and gave chase on the 13th, twenty-four hours had slipped by due to either “Pringle’s inertia” or “Carleton’s procrastination.” [14]