Wind, landscape, and luck help Benedict Arnold and his Rebel forces escape General Carleton and the British.
At about 8 a.m. on the morning of October 11, the British armada sailed past Valcour Island and spotted the Rebel ship Royal Savage, which Arnold had sailed out to bait the British into the narrow area between Valcour and the mainland of New York. Due to the strong northerly wind, most of the larger British ships couldn’t be turned to a position where they could engage their enemy, leaving much of the work to about 20 British gunboats, which hauled cannon at their bow. The Rebels began the offensive.
The opposing forces came within musket shot of each other, each sustaining significant casualties. The Royal Savage, one of Arnold’s largest ships, ran ashore at the southeast corner of Valcour Island. Then, about an hour after night fell and the fighting subsided, the Rebel ship Philadelphia sank. Badly battered, Arnold gathered his officers for a Council of War and they determined that it was best to escape while they still could. The British set fire to the Royal Savage, which provided the distraction that Arnold needed to slip past the guard boats on their southerly retreat in the dark of night.
The next morning, when cold wind from the north met the lake that was still holding on to summer temperatures, a dense fog formed. In the distance, Carleton thought he saw the outline of a ship and ordered an attack. He shot cannons at the vessel again and again, but the outline remained. When the sun cut through the fog, Carleton discovered, to his great embarrassment, that the outline was actually an island. It has been called Carleton’s Prize ever since. Meanwhile, Arnold had escaped several miles south to Schuyler Island, abandoning the ships Spitfire and Jersey along the way.
By the morning of October 13, the northerly wind subsided and a southerly wind prevailed, making travel south difficult for Arnold and his men who were growing weary. This provided an opportunity for Carleton to catch up. He captured the Washington as they chased the Rebels, eventually forcing Arnold to run his ships aground on the Vermont shoreline and set them ablaze to prevent the British from capturing them. He and his men then fled to Crown Point, set that fort on fire, and made off to Fort Ticonderoga, which was about 15 miles south of Crown Point.
Only four ships returned from Arnold’s fleet, but Carleton’s delay in following them provided the opportunity for the Rebels to raise reinforcements. An influx of local militia helped bring the total to nearly 12,000 troops, greatly outnumbering Carleton’s 8,000-man army.
The shelter of Bulwagga Bay, near present-day Port Henry and just north of Crown Point, provided an ideal rendezvous point for Carleton’s men that arrived in bateaux. The smoldering ruin of Crown Point that the Rebels had left behind turned into a small city as British troops began to arrive, but it was too late. On October 20, 1776, Carleton looked out to the Green Mountains of Vermont and saw snow on the mountaintops.
Carleton was outnumbered and soon the lake would freeze, cutting off their supply line from Canada, but he had achieved something. Even though he had not succeeded in unseating the Rebels from Fort Ticonderoga, he had constructed a formidable armada on the lake and all but eradicated the Rebel fleet. Having gained control of Lake Champlain, he was confident that the Rebels would be swiftly defeated after spring returned to thaw the waterways. The British offensive on Lake Champlain had ended for the 1776 season. Not everyone was pleased to hear that Carleton was headed back to Quebec without having captured Fort Ticonderoga—particularly General John Burgoyne. However, Carleton and his Germanic ally Baron Friedrich Adolph Riedesel believed the British would be able to easily quell the Rebel forces after the winter.
Begin playing track 2 after leaving Clinton Community College. Turn left at the sign for the Peru Dock Boat Launch. You can see Valcour Island and the lighthouse directly in front of you. The boat launch is a great place to dip your toes in historic Lake Champlain and see where the Battle of Valcour took place. You are now standing on the ground that witnessed the events that determined the outcome of the American Revolution.
Livinggoods- This family-friendly restaurant and brewery offers farm-sourced pizza, burgers, and more. 697 Bear Swamp Rd, Peru.
Pasqual’s – Casual Italian restaurant and bar. 2931 Main St, Peru.
General Carleton’s description of preparing for battle at Valcour:
Benedict Arnold’s description of the Battle of Valcour:
General Carleton on the Rebels’ escape:
Benedict Arnold on his escape to Crown Point:
General Carleton on the Rebels fleeing to Fort Ticonderoga:
Thoughts by Riedesel on Carleton ending the campaign early: