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It lies north and south, open to the
southward. Its eastern boundary is called Cumberland Head. The British
vessels, starting from below, in a channel too narrow to beat, must
come up with a north wind. To insure that this should be ahead, or
bring them close on the wind, after rounding the Head,--a condition
unfavorable for attack,--Macdonough fixed the head of his line as far
north as was safe; having in mind that the enemy might bring guns to
the shore north of the Saranac. His order thence extended southward,
abreast of the American works, and somewhat nearer the Cumberland than
the Plattsburg side. The wind conditions further made it expedient to
put the strongest vessels to the northward,--to windward,--whence they
would best be able to manoeuvre as circumstances might require. The
order from north to south therefore was: the brig "Eagle," twenty
guns; the ship "Saratoga," twenty-six; the "Ticonderoga" schooner,
seven, and the sloop "Preble," seven.

Macdonough's dispositions being perfectly under observation, Captain
Downie framed his plan accordingly.[427] The "Confiance" should engage
the "Saratoga;" but, before doing so, would pass along the "Eagle,"
from north to south, give her a broadside, and then anchor head and
stern across the bows of the "Saratoga." After this, the "Linnet,"
supported by the "Chub," would become the opponent of the "Eagle,"
reduced more nearly to equality by the punishment already received.
Three British vessels would thus grapple the two strongest enemies.
The "Finch" was to attack the American rear, supported by all the
British gunboats--eleven in number. There were American gunboats, or
galleys, as well, which Macdonough distributed in groups, inshore of
his order; but, as was almost invariably the case, these light vessels
exerted no influence on the result.

This being the plan, when the wind came northeast on the morning of
September 11, the British stood up the lake in column, as follows:
"Finch," "Confiance," "Linnet," "Chub." Thus, when they rounded
Cumberland Head, and simultaneously changed course towards the
American line, they would be properly disposed to reach the several
places assigned. As the vessels came round the Head, to Downie's
dismay no co-operation by the army was visible. He was fairly
committed to his movement, however, and could only persist. As the
initial act was to be the attack upon the "Eagle" by the "Confiance,"
she led in advance of her consorts, which caused a concentration of
the hostile guns upon her; the result being that she was unable to
carry out her part. The wind also failed, and she eventually anchored
five hundred yards from the American line. Her first broadside is said
to have struck down forty, or one fifth of the "Saratoga's" crew. As
in the case of the "Chesapeake," this shows men of naval training,
accustomed to guns; but, as with the "Chesapeake," lack of
organization, of the habit of working together, officers and men, was
to tell ere the end. Fifteen minutes after the action began Captain
Downie was killed, leaving in command Lieutenant Robertson.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF LAKE CHAMPLAIN]

The "Linnet" reached her berth and engaged the "Eagle" closely; but
the "Chub," which was to support her, received much damage to her
sails and rigging, and the lieutenant in charge was nervously
prostrated by a not very severe wound. Instead of anchoring, she was
permitted to drift helplessly, and so passed through the American
order, where she hauled down her colors. Though thus disappointed of
the assistance intended for her, the "Linnet" continued to fight
manfully and successfully, her opponent finally quitting the line; a
result to which the forward battery of the "Confiance" in large
measure contributed.[428] The "Finch," by an error of judgment on the
part of her commander, did not keep near enough to the wind. She
therefore failed to reach her position, near the "Ticonderoga;" and
the breeze afterwards falling, she could not retrieve her error.
Ultimately, she went ashore on Crab Island, a mile to the southward.
This remoteness enabled her to keep her flag flying till her consorts
had surrendered; but the credit of being last to strike belongs really
to the "Linnet," Captain Pring. By the failure of the "Finch," the
"Ticonderoga" underwent no attack except by the British gunboats.
Whatever might possibly have come of this was frustrated by the
misbehavior of most of them. Four fought with great gallantry and
persistence, eliciting much admiration from their opponents; but the
remainder kept at distance, the commander of the whole actually
running away, and absconding afterwards to avoid trial. The
"Ticonderoga" maintained her position to the end; but the weak
"Preble" was forced from her anchors, and ran ashore under the
Plattsburg batteries.

The fight thus resolved itself into a contest between the "Saratoga"
and "Eagle," on one side, the "Confiance" and "Linnet" on the other.
The wind being north-northeast, the ships at their anchors headed so
that the forward third of the "Confiance's" battery bore upon the
"Eagle," and only the remaining two thirds upon the "Saratoga." This
much equalized conditions all round. It was nine o'clock when she
anchored. At 10.30 the "Eagle," having many of her guns on the engaged
side disabled, cut her cable, ran down the line, and placed herself
south of the "Saratoga," anchoring by the stern. This had the effect
of turning towards the enemy her other side, the guns of which were
still uninjured. "In this new position," wrote Lieutenant Robertson,
"she kept up a destructive fire on the "Confiance," without being
exposed to a shot from that ship or the "Linnet." On the other hand,
Macdonough found the "Saratoga" suffer from the "Linnet," now relieved
of her immediate opponent."[429]

By this time the fire of both the "Saratoga" and "Confiance" had
materially slackened, owing to the havoc among guns and men. Nearly
the whole battery on the starboard side of the United States ship was
dismounted, or otherwise unserviceable. The only resource was to
bring the uninjured side towards the enemy, as the "Eagle" had just
done; but to use the same method, getting under way, would be to
abandon the fight, for there was not astern another position of
usefulness for the "Saratoga." There was nothing for it but to
"wind"[430] the ship--turn her round where she was. Then appeared the
advantage attendant upon the defensive, if deliberately utilized. The
"Confiance" standing in had had shot away, one after another, the
anchors and ropes upon which she depended for such a manoeuvre.[431]
The "Saratoga's" resources were unimpaired. A stern anchor was let go,
the bow cable cut, and the ship winded, either by force of the wind,
or by the use of "springs"[432] before prepared, presenting to the
"Confiance" her uninjured broadside--for fighting purposes a new
vessel. The British ship, having now but four guns that could be used
on the side engaged,[433] must do the like, or be hopelessly
overmatched. The stern anchor prepared having been shot away, an
effort was made to swing her by a new spring on the bow cable; but
while this slow process was carrying on, and the ship so far turned as
to be at right angles with the American line, a raking shot entered,
killing and wounding several of the crew. Then, reported Lieutenant
Robertson, the surviving officer in command, "the ship's company
declared they would stand no longer to their quarters, nor could the
officers with their utmost exertions rally them." The vessel was in a
sinking condition, kept afloat by giving her a marked heel to
starboard, by running in the guns on the port side, so as to bring the
shot holes out of water.[434] The wounded on the deck below had to be
continually moved, lest they should be drowned where they lay. She
drew but eight and a half feet of water. Her colors were struck at
about 11 A.M.; the "Linnet's" fifteen minutes later. By Macdonough's
report, the action had lasted two hours and twenty minutes, without
intermission.

[Illustration: THE BATTLE OF LAKE CHAMPLAIN.
_Drawn by Henry Reuterdahl._]

Few combats have been more resolutely contested. The "Saratoga" had
fifty-five round shot in her hull; the "Confiance," one hundred and
five.[435] Of the American crew of two hundred and ten men,
twenty-eight were killed and twenty-nine wounded. The British loss is
not known exactly. Robertson reported that there were thirty-eight
bodies sent ashore for interment, besides those thrown overboard in
action. This points to a loss of about fifty killed, and James states
the wounded at about sixty; the total was certainly more than one
hundred in a ship's company of two hundred and seventy.

There was reason for obstinacy, additional to the natural resolution
of the parties engaged. The battle of Lake Champlain, more nearly than
any other incident of the War of 1812, merits the epithet "decisive."
The moment the issue was known, Prevost retreated into Canada;
entirely properly, as indicated by the Duke of Wellington's words
before and after. His previous conduct was open to censure, for he had
used towards Captain Downie urgency of pressure which induced that
officer to engage prematurely; "goaded" into action, as Yeo wrote.
Before the usual naval Court Martial, the officers sworn testified
that Downie had been led to expect co-operation, which in their
judgment would have reversed the issue; but that no proper assault was
made. Charges were preferred, and Prevost was summoned home; but he
died before trial. There remains therefore no sworn testimony on his
side, nor was there any adequate cross-examination of the naval
witnesses. In the judgment of the writer, it was incumbent upon
Prevost to assault the works when Downie was known to be approaching,
with a fair wind, in the hope of driving the American squadron from
its anchors to the open lake, where the real superiority of the
British could assert itself.[436]

Castlereagh's "chances of the campaign" had gone so decidedly against
the British that no ground was left to claim territorial adjustments.
To effect these the war must be continued; and for this Great Britain
was not prepared, nor could she afford the necessary detachment of
force.



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