2. Driving to Peru Dock Boat Launch: Battle of Valcour II

Wind, landscape, and luck helped Benedict Arnold and his Rebel forces escape General Carleton and the British.

Listen to the Turning Point Trail Site 2 Audio Narration:


View of Valcour Island from the Peru Boat Launch

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 the 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.

Travel Tools:

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.

Local Bites:

Livinggoods- This family-friendly restaurant and brewery offer farm-sourced pizza, burgers, and more. 697 Bear Swamp Rd, Peru.

Pasqual’s  – Casual Italian restaurant and bar. 2931 Main St, Peru.


First-Hand Accounts:

General Carleton’s description of preparing for battle at Valcour:
“After we had, in this manner, got beyond the enemy and cut them off, the wind which had been favorable to bring us there– however entirely prevented our being able to bring our whole force to engage them, as we had a narrow passage to work up, ship by Ship, exposed to the fire of their whole line. The gunboats and Carleton only got up, and they sustained a very unequal cannonade of several hours, and were obliged to be ordered to fall back, upon finding that the rest of the fleet could not be brought up to support them.” – Guy Carleton to General John Burgoyne, October 11, 1776

Benedict Arnold’s description of the Battle of Valcour:
“…[A]t eight o’clock the enemy’s fleet…appeared off Cumberland Head. We immediately prepared to receive them. The gallies and Royal Savage were ordered under way, the rest of our fleet remained at anchor. At eleven o’ clock they ran under the lee of Valcour and began the attack. At half-past twelve the engagement became general and very warm. Some of the enemy’s ships and all their gondelos beat and rowed to within musket-shot of us. They continued a very hot fire with round and grape shot until five o’clock when they thought it proper to retire about six or seven hundred yards distance, and continued fire until dark. … On the whole I think we have had a very fortunate escape, and have great reason to return our humble thanks to Almighty God for preserving and delivering so many of us from our more than savage enemies.” –Benedict Arnold to General Philip Schuyler, October 12, 1776

General Carleton on the Rebels’ escape:
[On the night of 11 October] “We then anchored in a line opposite the Rebels within the distance of Cannon shot, expecting in the morning to be able to engage them with our whole fleet, but, to our great mortification we perceived at day break, that they had found means to escape us unobserved by any of our guard boats or cruisers, thus an opportunity of destroying the whole rebel naval force, at one stroke, was lost, first by the impossibility of bringing all our vessels to action, and afterwards by the real diligence used by the enemy in getting away from us.” – Guy Carleton to General John Burgoyne October 12 to October 15

Benedict Arnold on his escape to Crown Point:
“They kept up an incessant fire on us for about five glasses [2 1/2 hours], with round and grapeshot which we returned as briskly. The sails, rigging, and hull of the Congress were shattered and torn to pieces, the First Lieutenant and three men killed, when to prevent her falling into the enemy’s hands, who had seven sail around me, I ran her ashore in a small creek ten miles from Crown Point, on the east side, when after saving our small arms, I set her on fire with four gondolas with whose crew I reached Crown Point through the woods that evening.” –Benedict Arnold to General Philip Schuyler, October 15, 1777

General Carleton on the Rebels fleeing to Fort Ticonderoga:

“[On October 12] the wind sprung up fair and enabled us, after a long chase… Yesterday [October 13] to get up to the Rebels and in our second action, we have been much more successful. Their second in command Mr. Waterbury struck to us in the Washington Galley, but Arnold run that he was on board of on shore, and set fire to her and several others of his Vessels… The rebels upon the approach of the shattered little remains of their fleet, set fire to all buildings in and about Crown Point, abandoning the place and retired precipitately to Ticonderoga.” –Guy Carleton to General John Burgoyne, October 14, 1776

Thoughts by Riedesel on Carleton ending the campaign early:
“If we could have begun our last expedition four weeks earlier, I am satisfied that everything would have been ended this year; but not having shelter nor other necessary things, we were unable to remain at the other end of Lake Champlain. But I believe, and on pretty good grounds, that the whole affair will be terminated with another campaign.” –Baron Riedesel to Duke Carl, November 11, 1776