Commodore Macdonough's Victory On Lake Champlain


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.