The Battle of Valcour Island October 11-12, 1776

by Walter Mow 

Did a defeat save the American Revolution? It has been postulated that the Battle of our Island, though a resounding British victory saved the American Revolution. How you ask? The short answer is that it bought time for the unprepared rebels. I know, that begs another question, again how, but that requires a bit more explanation.

The Americans under the command of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold controlled Lake Champlain by holding the fort at Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga plus controlling all the vessels on the lake; having confiscated the best for their own use while burning all other usable craft as they retreated to Crown Point after a failed invasion of Canada.

In order to advance from Canada to the Hudson River, the British had to wrest control of Lake Champlain from American hands. The lack of roads forced the British to halt its advance on the fort at Crown Point at Fort Saint-Jean. With all vessels on the lake in the hands of the Americans, the British had to build a naval force, sparking what became an arms race between the opposing forces. It put the British building vessels at Fort Saint-Jean at the north end of the lake and the Americans at Skenesborough at the south end of the lake.

The British would muster 25 vessels against the Americans 15, in the narrow confines between the west side of Valcour Island and the west shore of Lake Champlain the Americans lay in wait. In what became a two day battle the Americans would lose all her vessels to British gunfire, be captured or scuttled. It was a total and complete victory for the British, General Sir Guy Carleton now held the upper hand on Lake Champlain.
So how did this defeat have any bearing on the Revolution? Weather, the British lost the summer to ship building and the season for campaigning was fast coming to an end. He held his troops at Fort Saint-Jean and Montreal in winter quarters, deciding to wait until spring to renew the advance down the lakes to the Hudson River.

I chose not to relate the whole story, it is one of trials and tribulations; in the face of great odds, in a wilderness setting, a near miraculous effort to build, position, fight, escape and finally be defeated by an over-whelming force is the stuff of greatness. I recommend all who love history and our great nation read about this battle that so influenced the American Revolution.

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