Introduction - Weak Against the Strong

The Battle of Lake Champlain is a jewel to contemplate. It is a battle of the weak against the strong, the farmer against the professional soldier. This battle shows what a small, untrained group of men can do to a large, trained navy, during the heat of combat. It portrays a kind father trying to be gentle to a rebellious child, and what that child can do. Sir Guy Carleton, the British commander, could have annihilated the rebels in the lakes area many times but did not. As Carleton slowly built his fleet for the coming campaign season, he allowed Benedict Arnold, the commander of the rebels, to do the same. Arnold was able to accomplish this only after persuading Congress not to abandon New York north of Albany. At this point, the morale of the rebels was so low that Carleton could have easily invaded and cut New England from the rest of the colonies, but he didn’t. [1]

On the 11th, Arnold disregarded the orders of Horatio Gates, the rebel commander of the Northern department, which included “not ‘assume wanton risk’ nor to ‘make a display’ of his power.” [2]. It was originally Gates’ plan to keep the fleet for defensive and offensive measures in the future. Arnold, however, was unable to resist the temptation of using the fleet he built to fight the British. Royal Savage and Enterprise were sent as decoys to lure British to the main body of the American fleet. The day was clear and the wind was out of the North. Lady Maria was at the lead of the British fleet. Had Carleton sent out reconnoiters, the British could have known exactly where the rebels were hiding. Lady Maria passed Valcour Island at full sail, and completely missed the rebel fleet hiding in the strait between the island and the mainland. Indians in league with the British began a musket fire at the rebels from the Island, but were out of effective range. Arnold had four hours to arrange his fleet as the British tried desperately to turn around and face the rebel fleet, but they hadn’t expected to meet the Americans so soon and the wind was against them. Due to Chief of Operations Capt. Pringle’s mismanagement, the smaller boats got into range before the bigger boats. However, a few British bateaux and the Carleton were able to conquer the wind and moved (without orders) towards the enemy fleet. [3]