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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

September 11

The Battle of Lake Champlain

By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)

  • On September 11, 1814, an American squadron of 14 vessels under Captain Macdonough defeated a British force of 16 vessels under Captain Downie on Lake Champlain. This force supported an invasion of New York by a land force under Sir George Prevost, a precipitate retreat of which was the result of the battle.

  • PARADING near Saint Peter’s flood

    Full fourteen thousand soldiers stood;

    Allied with natives of the wood,

    With frigates, sloops, and galleys near;

    Which southward, now, began to steer;

    Their object was, Ticonderogue.

    Assembled at Missisqui bay

    A feast they held, to hail the day,

    When all should bend to British sway

    From Plattsburgh to Ticonderogue.

    And who could tell, if reaching there

    They might not other laurels share

    And England’s flag in triumph bear

    To the capitol, at Albany!

    Sir George advanced, with fire and sword,

    The frigates were with vengeance stored,

    The strength of Mars was felt on board,—

    When Downie gave the dreadful word,

    Huzza! for death or victory!

    Sir George beheld the prize at stake,

    And, with his veterans, made the attack,

    Macomb’s brave legions drove him back;

    And England’s fleet approached, to meet

    A desperate combat, on the lake.

    From Isle La Motte to Saranac

    With sulphurous clouds the heavens were black;

    We saw advance the Confiance,

    Shall blood and carnage mark her track,

    To gain dominion on the lake.

    Then on our ships she poured her flame,

    And many a tar did kill or maim,

    Who suffered for their country’s fame,

    Her soil to save, her rights to guard.

    Macdonough, now, began his play,

    And soon his seamen heard him say,

    “No Saratoga yields, this day,

    To all the force that Britain sends.

    “Disperse, my lads, and man the waist,

    Be firm, and to your stations haste,

    And England from Champlain is chased,

    If you behave as you see me.”

    The fire began with awful roar;

    At our first flash the artillery tore,

    From his proud stand, their commodore,

    A presage of the victory.

    The skies were hid in flame and smoke,

    Such thunders from the cannon spoke,

    The contest such an aspect took

    As if all nature went to wreck!

    Amidst his decks, with slaughter strewed,

    Unmoved, the brave Macdonough stood,

    Or waded through a scene of blood,

    At every step that round him streamed:

    He stood amidst Columbia’s sons,

    He stood amidst dismounted guns,

    He fought amidst heart-rending groans,

    The tattered sail, the tottering mast.

    Then, round about, his ship he wore,

    And charged his guns with vengeance sore,

    And more than Etna shook the shore—

    The foe confessed the contest vain.

    In vain they fought, in vain they sailed,

    That day; for Britain’s fortune failed,

    And their best efforts naught availed

    To hold dominion on Champlain.

    So, down their colors to the deck

    The vanquished struck—their ships a wreck—

    What dismal tidings for Quebec,

    What news for England and her prince!

    For, in this fleet, from England won,

    A favorite project is undone;

    Her sorrows only are begun—

    And she may want, and very soon,

    Her armies for her own defence.