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The Engagement of October 11th. Scribner's - February 1898. by Carleton Chapman
 

Lieut. James Hadden's Account
of the
Battle of Lake Champlain

 


An eyewitness account of the extraordinary events on Lake Champlain between October 11-13, 1776

transcribed by James P. Millard from

Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books: A Journal Kept in Canada and Upon Burgoyne's Campaign in 1776 and 1777, by Lieut. James M. Hadden, Roy. Art1

 

About 11 o'clock this morning One of the Enemies Vessels was discover'd, and immediately pursued into a Bay on the Eastern [Western-jpm] shore of the Lake, where the rest of their Fleet was found at an Anchor in ye form of a Crescent, between Valcour Island and the Continent. Their Fleet consisted of 3 Row Gallies, 2 Schooners, 2 Sloops, and 8 Gondolas, carrying in all 90 Guns. That of the British carried only 87 Pieces of Ordnance including 8 Howitzers. The pursuit of this Vessel was without order or regularity, the wind being fair to go down [up-jpm] the Lake enabled us to overtake the Vessel before she cou'd (by Tacks) get in to the rest of their Fleet; but lost to us the opportunity of going in at the upper end of the Island and attacking the whole at once. The Vessel which proved to be the Royal Savage taken by them from St. John's last year, carrying 14 Guns, was run on shore and most of the Men escaped on to Valcour Island, in effecting which they were fired upon by the Gun Boats, this firing at one object drew us all in a cluster and four of the Enemies Vessels getting underway to support the Royal Savage fired upon the Boats with success.

An order was therefore given by the Commanding Officer for the Boats to form across the Bay: this was soon effected tho' under the Enemies whole fire and unsupported, all the King's Vessels having dropped too far to Leeward. This unequal combat was maintained for two Hours without any aid, when the Carlton Schooner of 14 Guns 6Prs got into the Bay and immediately received the Enemies whole fire which was continued without intermission for about an hour, when the Boats of the Fleet towed her off, and left the Gun Boats to maintain the conflict, this was done 'till the Boats had expended their Ammunition when they were withdrawn, having sunk one of the Enemies Gondolas, (Killed or Wounded Seventy Men) and considerably dammaged others. Being small objects the loss in the Gun Boats was inconsiderable, 20 Men, (a German Gun Boat blown up). Each Gun Boat carried 1 Gun in the Bow (or Howitzer) 7 Artillery Men, and 11 Seamen, the whole under an Artillery Officer. It was found that the Boat's advantage was not to come nearer than about 700 yards, as whenever they approached nearer, they were greatly annoyed by Grape Shot, tho' their Case could do little mischief. Each Boat had 80 Rounds of Ammunition, 30 of which were Case Shot, & cou'd not be used with effect.

The Boats were now form'd between the Vessels of the British Fleet, just without the Enemies Shot; being withdrawn a little before Sunset & the Royal Savage blown up: this last was an unnecessary measure as she might at a more leisure moment have been got off, or at all events her stores saved, and in her present position no use cou'd be made of her by the Enemy, Night coming on & determination to make a general attack in the morning. The Rebels having no land force, the Savage's took post on the Main & Valcour Island, thus being upon both Flanks they were able to annoy them in the working of their Guns, this had the effect of now & then obliging the Rebels to turn a Gun that way, which danger the Savages avoided by getting behind trees. The Boats having received a small supply of Ammunition were unaccountably order'd to Anchor under the cover of a small Island without the opening of the Bay.

The Enemy finding their force diminish'd and the rest so severely handled by little more than 1/8 the British Fleet determin'd to withdraw towards Crown Point, and passing thro. our Fleet about 10 o'clock at Night effected it undiscover'd; this, the former position of the Gun Boats wou'd have probably have  prevented. All the Enemies Vessels used Oars & on this occasion they were muffled. This retreat did great honor to Gen'l Arnold, who acted as Admiral to the Rebel Fleet on this occasion; The wind changing prevented the success of his attempt and making but little way in the night, they were scarcely out of sight when their retreat was discover'd at day break; the British Fleet stood after them, and gain'd ground considerably 'till the violence of the wind and a great swell obliged both Fleets to Anchor: towards evening the weather was more moderate & the Fleet proceeded, the Boats using their Oars to make head against the Wind; the Rebel Vessels gaining little way when under Sail from the Violence of a contrary Wind and thinking we were at an Anchor remain'd so all Night, and tho. the British Fleet gained but little by a contrary conduct that little enabled them to overtake the Enemy next day when the wind proved fair, our Ship & Schooners  being better Sailers first came up with the Rebel Fleet and retarding their movements 'till the whole were in sight. Three  of the Stern-most Vessels struck their Coulours, in one of which was Brig'r Gen'l Waterbury their second in Command, Arnold ran his own Vessel & 5 others on shore and set fire to them, the three foremost only escaped to Tyconderoga; as did Gen'l Arnold with most of the Crew's of the burnt Vessels.

Next morning the Rangers & Indians landed and took possession of Crown Point, evacuated by the Enemy the preceding Night. Two or three days afterwards the Army arrived and took post on Crown Point, and Windmill Point immediately opposite to it at the distance of about 1400 yards: the Lake here narrowing into a River. Gen'l Carlton thank'd the Officers &c for their spirited conduct, and Gen'l Burgoyne gave out the following order to the Army on the occasion.

 

Camp at Sandy Creek, Lake Champlain  16th Oct'r 1776


Lieut. Gen'l Burgoyne having received intelligence of the late victory obtained by the Commander in Chief in Person, takes the first moment to communicate to the army, that of Sixteen Vessels of which the Rebel Fleet consisted before the Action Three only escaped, all the rest being taken or destroyed. The importance of the conquest is not greater to the National cause than is the glory atchieved to his Majesties Arms, conspicuous by the general Bravery of the Officers & Men.

It is a part of magnanimity to spare publick demonstrations of triumph upon the present occasion, but it is not doubted the Army will be affected with every sentiment the Brave are accustomed to feel, for great and glorious examples.
 

  Finis.

Upon the whole the British Fleet was fully a match for the Enemy, and the exertions were those of individuals, no orders being given to withdraw the Boats 'till their Ammunition was expended, and the impossibility of a supply, made a reserve for a second Action absolutely necessary to prevent the Fleet fighting in detail. The Enemy not knowing this circumstance and fortunate changes of Wind completed their Ruin. The Sailors in the Gun Boats in general shew'd a backwardness, and the gallantry of the rest was only conspicuous in Capt'n Dacres commanding the Carlton Schooner. The Com'r in Chief was on Board the Commodore, which prevented that Vessel attempting to get into a partial engagement...

Sources/notes:

1 James Hadden. Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books: A Journal Kept in Canada and Upon Burgoyne's Campaign in 1776 and 1777, by Lieut. James M. Hadden, Roy. Art. Edited by Horatio Rogers. (Albany: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1884)

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