Book Review: The Battle of Lake Champlain: A "Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory"

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by John H. Schroeder

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 164. Illus., maps, table, notes, biblio., index. $26.95. ISBN: 0806146931

The Actual “Decisive Battle” of the War of 1812

In this outstanding work Prof. Schroeder (emeritus Wisconsin at Milwaukee), a former professor at the Naval War College and author of Matthew Calbraith Perry, Commodore John Rodgers, and other works on early nineteenth century history, gives us detailed account of the Navy’s victory on Lake Champlain on September 11, 1814. The battle, in conjunction with the much smaller land action at nearby Plattsburgh, reversed a series of devastating American defeats, and convinced the British to agree to a compromise peace.  Nevertheless, despite it’s importance, Lake Champlain has largely been overshadowed in historical memory by Andrew Jackson’s lopsided, post war victory at New Orleans four months later.

Schroeder opens with a chapter reviewing the operations in the Northern Theatre in 1812 and 1813, when very poorly organized and led American forces largely bungled efforts to invade Canada. This is followed by a chapter on events in the Champlain Valley from the start of the war, which is followed by one on the British invasion of New York in late August of 1814 and occupation of Plattsburgh on September 6. 

The next chapter discusses the critical naval action on Lake Champlain on September 11th, during which an American squadron of four small ships and ten gunboats decisively defeated a somewhat stronger British squadron, while greatly outnumbered American troops and militiamen managed to hold on to Plattsburgh. This ended British chances of sustaining an advance beyond Plattsburgh, and they soon retired.

Schroeder uses two chapters to discuss the “repercussions” of the American victory, one on its effects on the U.S. and Canada, and one about the impact on the peace talks then under way in Europe, where news of the battle prompted the British to accept peace on the basis of status quo ante bellum. Schroder concludes that the battle was arguably the decisive event of the war. He discusses why it was overshadowed by that at New Orleans, largely because the latter, which came after the peace had been signed but before news of that peace had crossed the pond, allowed Americans to pretend they had ended the war with a victory.  

Schroeder writes a lively battle piece, including some good profiles of several participants in these events on both sides, and various aspects of logistics, military policy, and naval operations which may be unfamiliar to many readers.

 

Note: A volume in the University of Oklahoma “Campaigns and Commanders Series”, The Battle of Lake Champlain is also available as an e-pub.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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