Thomas Macdonough - War of 1812 - Lake Champlain Campaign

Lake Champlain Campaign

On 24 July 1813 Macdonough was promoted to the rank of master commandant.

When the War began in 1812, there were only two American naval vessels on Lake Champlain, the Growler and the Eagle, each carrying ten guns with a crew of fifty. On 3 June 1813 the two vessels were pursuing a British gunboat but were caught up in a strong current that prevented them from maintaining their heading and position, giving the advantage to British forces, resulting in their capture. The loss of the two and only American vessels on the lake gave undisputed control of this strategic waterway to the British. This prompted MacDonough to begin the construction of the corvette Saratoga and new sloop Eagle and several gunboats at the shipyard in Otter Creek at Vergennes, Vermont. While construction was underway, the Ticonderoga, a steamboat, was being converted to a warship carrying seventeen guns.

In 1814 the ice covering Lake Champlain, which usually lasted well into May, began melting and breaking up early in April. Macdonough feared that the British, who he assumed by now knew of the ship construction going on there, would use the opportunity to capture or destroy the vessels being built. Having learned of Macdonough's ship building activity the British constructed a heavily armed brig and five large gunboats at 'Isle Aux Noix' over the winter. As Macdonough had predicted, British forces attempted to navigate the lake. Because of unfavorable winds, the British commander Daniel Pring, whose forces were based at Isle Aux Noix in upper Lake Champlain, didn't complete the 65 mile journey to Otter Creek until May 14. Upon arrival, Pring situated his squadron in the lake just off Otter Creek with eight galleys and a bomb sloop, preventing the American forces' passage north and to the sea. For one hour, Commander Pring maintained a heavy fire. However, Macdonough had learned of the attack beforehand from his observers on land, and had prepared a defense in anticipation of this likely event. Using the guns of his ships, he had them landed on shore at the mouth of Otter Creek. Macdonough constructed an artillery battery with which he repelled the attack and drove the Royal Navy back to Isle Aux Noix in Canadian waters by autumn. With the way now clear, Macdonough's squadron sailed out of Otter Creek and made its way to Plattsburgh, New York, where it anchored just off shore in anticipation of the next and inevitable British advance.

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