Battle of Valcour Island

After a promotion to brigadier general by the Continental Congress and an American retreat from Quebec City to Montreal, Arnold served there as military commander for about a month. After a retreat from that city, he then presided over a delaying action north of St. John's, and then a retreat from there to Crown Point. By July 2nd, just 100 miles of water (the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain) separated Carleton and the British forces from the American army. To press their attack, the Brits needed watercraft.

The British disassembled some larger ships on the St. Lawrence River and moved them by land to St. Johns for reassembly; there they would join freshly-built smaller ships. All could then sail southward on Lake Champlain and attack the Americans, who were building their own ships at the other end of the lake at Skenesboro (present-day Whitehall). Understanding that the British planned to control the Lake Champlain / Lake George / Hudson River waterway complex and split the colonies in two, Arnold arrived there to manage the construction of a branch of America's fledgling navy in late July.

He didn't stay put for long. The energetic patriot cycled his time between Skenesboro, Fort Ticonderoga (where the ships were being outfitted) and nearby Mount Independence (where lake defenses were being built). Arnold soon traveled to Crown Point to take

of the island and the shoreline, effectively trapping the Americans until the next morning, when they would have to surrender or be completely destroyed. However, the British ships didn’t quite stretch all the way to the shore, and a narrow gap presented itself to Arnold. He had all his ships place a lantern deep in their sterns, had the men muffle their oars, and in the dead of night they silently slipped away in single file southward. Arnold's flagship was the last to leave. The next morning, the British were stunned to see no sign of the American ships, and immediately set out after them.

Arnold’s ships couldn’t outrace those of the British to the relative safety of Crown Point, so he anchored the remnants of his battered navy at Schuyler Island ten miles south for some quick repairs, then sailed to Split Rock to set up a second delaying action. The one-sided fight ultimately ended in Ferris Bay (present-day Arnold's Bay), with Arnold’s flagship and four gondolas beached and intentionally torched by the Americans. The men fled into the woods (Arnold last, as always) and eventually made it safely to Ticonderoga on October 14th, while a few American ships made it to Crown Point when the British broke off pursuit.

The British would take Crown Point, but it would be too late in the season to continue southward to attack Fort Ticonderoga, and they had to delay their plans until at least the next spring. The revolution thus gained precious time (ultimately eleven months) to regroup, thus setting the stage for Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton--and the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777.

command of the partially-built fleet, and sailed northward toward the British in late August. In early September more completed ships arrived, making the total twelve. The British, concerned about the Americans' presence on Lake Champlain, delayed their plans for four weeks.

Essentially acting as the first American admiral, Arnold sailed his fleet up the lake to a position about 20 miles south of St. John's. With no British warships in sight he moved south about 25 miles to Valcour Island.

On Sept. 24th, Arnold's ships anchored near the south end of the island, between its western edge and the shore, where they would be hidden from view unless the British sent scouting boats to explore the narrow channel. Arnold was confident they wouldn't, and waited patiently for the enemy fleet.

In early October, the weather was getting harsh, windy, wet and cold. Finally, on October 11th, 1776, the British appeared. Arnold's plan worked, and the enemy ships all sailed past the eastern side of the island and his own fleet, heading south. Since the wind was coming from that direction (and after Arnold baited the Brits with a cannonball or two) the enemy vessels had to tack against the wind to get into firing position, providing the Americans with a nice battle advantage.

The British advantage was greater, however, since its fleet had over twice the number of ships, with more cannon and some heavier cannonballs. The ever-perceptive Arnold knew instantly that he was outgunned. His only hope was to delay the enemy advance as long as possible, and his men fought valiantly despite taking heavy losses. As the sun fell and fighting ceased after six hours, the British anchored across the southern tip