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Commodore Macdonough's Victory On Lake Champlain






HOW GENERAL PREVOST AND THE BRITISH RAN AWAY


THE United States is a country rich in lakes. They might be named by the
thousands. But out of this host of lakes very few are known in history,
and of them all much the most famous is Lake Champlain.

Do you wish to know why? Well, because this lake forms a natural
waterway from Canada down into the States. If you look on a map you will
see that Lake Champlain and Lake George stretch down nearly to the
Hudson River and that their waters flow north into the great St.
Lawrence River. So these lakes make the easiest way to send trade, and
troops as well, down from Canada into New York and New England.

Now just let us take a look back in history. The very first battle in
the north of our country was fought on Lake Champlain. This was in 1609,
when Samuel de Champlain and his Indian friends came down this lake in
canoes to fight with the Iroquois tribes of New York.

Then in 1756 the French and Indians did the same thing. They came in a
fleet of boats and canoes and fought the English on Lake George. Twenty
years afterward there was the fierce fight which General Arnold made on
this lake, of which I have told you. Later on General Burgoyne came down
Lakes Champlain and George with a great army. He never went back again,
for he and his army were taken prisoners by the brave Colonials. But the
last and greatest of all the battles on the lakes was that of 1814. It
is of this I am now about to tell you.

You should know that the British again tried what they had done when
they sent Burgoyne down the lakes. This time it was Sir George Prevost
who was sent, with an army of more than 11,000 men, to conquer New York.
He didn't do it any more than Burgoyne did, for Lieutenant Thomas
MacDonough was in the way. I am going to tell you how the gallant
MacDonough stopped him.

MacDonough was a young man, as Perry was. He had served, as a boy, in
the war with Tripoli. In 1806, when he was only twenty years old, he
gave a Yankee lesson to a British captain who wanted to carry off an
American sailor.

This was at Gibraltar, where British guns were as thick as blackbirds;
but the young lieutenant took the man out of the English boat and then
dared the captain to try to take him back again. The captain blustered;
but he did not try, in spite of all his guns.

In 1813 MacDonough was sent to take care of affairs on Lake Champlain.
No better man could have been sent. He did what Perry had done; he set
himself to build ships and get guns and powder and shot and prepare for
war. The British were building ships, too, for they wanted to be masters
of the lake before they sent their army down. So the sounds of the axe
and saw and hammer came before the sound of cannon on the lake.

MacDonough did not let the grass grow under his feet. When he heard that
the British were building a big frigate, he set to work to build a
brig. The keel was laid on July 29, and she was launched on August
16--only eighteen days! There must have been some lively jumping about
in the wildwoods shipyard just then.

The young commander had no time to waste, for the British were coming.
The great war in Europe with Napoleon was over and England had plenty of
ships and men to spare. A flock of her white-winged frigates came
sailing over the ocean and swarmed like bees along our coast. And an
army of the men who had fought against Napoleon was sent to Canada to
invade New York. It was thought the Yankees could not stand long before
veterans like these.

Down marched the British army and down sailed the British fleet. But
MacDonough was not caught napping. He was ready for the British ships
when they came.



And now, before the battle begins, let us give a few names and figures;
for these are things you must know. The Americans had four vessels and
ten gunboats. The vessels were the ship Saratoga, the brig Eagle,
the schooner Ticonderoga, and the sloop Preble. The British had
the frigate Confiance, larger than any of the American ships, the brig
Linnet, the sloops Chubb and Finch, and thirteen gunboats. And the
British were better off for guns and men, though the difference was not
great. Such were the two fleets that came together on a bright Sunday on
September 11, 1814, to see which should be master of Lake Champlain.

The American ships were drawn up across Plattsburg Bay, and up this bay
came the British fleet to attack them, just as Carleton's vessels had
come up to attack Arnold forty years before.

At Plattsburg was the British army, and opposite, across Saranac River,
lay a much smaller force of American regulars and militia. They could
easily see the ships, but they were too busy for that, for the soldiers
were fighting on land while the sailors were fighting on water. Bad work
that for a sunny September Sunday, wasn't it?

MacDonough had stretched his ships in a line across the bay, and had
anchors down at bow and stern, with ropes tied to the anchor chains so
that the ships could be swung round easily. Remember that, for that won
him the battle.

It was still early in the day when the British came sailing up, firing
as soon as they came near enough. These first shots did no harm, but
they did a comical thing. One of them struck a hen-coop on the
Saratoga, in which one of the sailors kept a fighting cock. The coop
was knocked to pieces, and into the rigging flew the brave cock,
flapping his wings at the British vessels and crowing defiance to them,
while the sailors laughed and cheered.

But the battle did not fairly begin until the great frigate Confiance
came up and dropped anchor a few hundred yards from the Saratoga. Then
she blazed away with all the guns on that side of her deck.

This was a terrible broadside, the worst any American ship had felt in
the whole war. Every shot hit the Saratoga and tore through her
timbers, sending splinters flying like hail. So frightful was the shock
that nearly half the crew were thrown to the deck. About forty of them
did not get up again; they were either killed or wounded. A few
broadsides like that would have ended the fight, for it would have left
the Saratoga without men.

On both sides now the cannon roared and the shots flew, but the British
guns were the best and the Americans had the worst of it. The commodore
was knocked down twice. The last time he was hit with the head of a man
that had been shot off and came whirling through the air.

"The commodore is killed!" cried the men; but in a trice he was up
again, and aiming and firing one of his own guns.

This dreadful work went on for two hours. All that time the two biggest
British vessels were pelting the Saratoga, and the other American
ships were not helping her much. Red-hot shots were fired, which set her
on fire more than once.

At the end MacDonough had not a single gun left to fire back. It looked
as if all was up with the Americans, all of whose ships were being
battered by the enemy. But Commodore MacDonough was not yet at the end
of his plans. He now cut loose his stern anchor and bade his men pull on
the rope that led to the bow anchor. In a minute the ship began to
swing round. Soon she had a new side turned to the foe. Not a gun had
been fired on this side. When the British captain saw what the Americans
were doing he tried the same thing. But it did not work as well with
him. The Confiance began to swing round, but when she got her stern
turned to the Americans she stuck fast. Pull and haul as they might, the
sailors could not move her another inch.

Here was a splendid chance for the men on the Saratoga. They poured
their broadsides into the stern of the Confiance and raked her from
end to end, while her position was a helpless one. The men fled from the
guns. The ship was being torn into splinters. No hope for her was left.
She could not fire a gun. Her captain was dead, but her lieutenant saw
that all was over, and down came her flag.

Then the Saratoga turned on the brig Linnet and served her in the
same fashion.

That ended the battle. The two sloops had surrendered before, the
gunboats were driven away by the Ticonderoga, and the hard fight was
done. Once more the Americans were victors. Perry had won one lake.
MacDonough had won another.

And that was not the whole of it. For as soon as the American soldiers
saw the British flag down and the Stars and Stripes still afloat, they
set up a shout that rang back from the Vermont hills.

Sir George Prevost, though he had an army of veterans twice as strong as
the American army of militia, broke camp and sneaked away under cover of
a storm.





Next: Four Naval Heroes In One Chapter

Previous: Commodore Porter Gains Glory In The Pacific



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