Fought Pirates Essay
The young American naval lieutenant Macdonough had a wealth of experience. He had fought Barbary pirates and had seen action against the British at Gibraltar. He was well known for facing down a Royal Navy captain who had attempted to impress a sailor from an American merchant ship. Saratoga, his flagship, was a brig which carried 26 guns and 250 crewmen.
The vast majority of his armament consisted of carronades–a short barrelled light weapon, cheap to produce and fire which had an effective range of 500 yards. However, its low velocity and large throw weight earned it the nick-name ‘smasher’. Rather than passing through an enemy vessel, punching two neat holes, it broke through, propelling clouds of splinters at the crew. Lt Macdonough selected it because the prime target on the lake was smugglers who slipped up and down the lake in small, usually unarmed craft.
Eagle, the flotilla’s second combatant, was constructed in 19 days and launched by her captain, Lieutenant Robert Henley, who had just arrived. She had 20 guns and was crewed by 142. Ticonderoga, a sloop-of-war, was smaller yet mounted with 17 guns with a crew of 115. The remaining vessel was the cutter Preble, withseven guns and a crew of 43. The size of the guns varied downward according to the size of the vessel.
A loose meandering tangle of 10 armed guns boats, 60 feet in length, contained one or two small guns. They remained safely behind the American fleet that Macdonough had moored a mile and half out into Cumberland Bay in a line off Crab Island. He would fight from a static position, just like the Army, being too weak to take to the open water of the lake. The two American officers in charge of the fate of their nation before a massive invasion knew there was no regular Army formation between them and Baltimore, Maryland, over 700 miles to the south. The cavalry was not coming.
Sir George Prevost’s plan was to engage both the American Army and Navy, destroy them and winter at the southern end of Lake Champlain. He knew that peace talks were underway since August in Ghent, which he expected to settle the war in England’s favour; that is, if he used his force well. He was concerned with the naval support on Lake Champlain that was provided by Admiral Sir James Yeo.
The two men did not get along. Royal Navy Captain Daniel Pring, who had commanded the efforts to date on the lake, suggested that a frigate should be built at the Canadian boat yard on the Richelieu River near St-Jean. Knowing the American naval capability, he convinced his leaders that such a large and well-armed vessel could dominate any engagement. However, Royal Navy Captain James Downie was brought quickly from the Great Lakes and made commodore of the Royal Naval Fleet, which would be in support of the ground attack on 1 September.
While Downie took orders from the Royal Navy, he was under operational command of Sir George Prevost for the duration of the invasion. His fleet was impressive because of his flagship alone. Confiance was a beautiful brute one third larger in every way over the Saratoga. In particular, her great advantage came in armament. She sported the latest Congreve 24-pound cannon. William Congreve, Director of Ordnance at Woolwich Arsenal in England, was the foremost expert of his day and this was his latest design.
The British flagship had 37 cannons and crew of 270. Many believe that there were actually 400 on board. Also short of qualified sailors, Prevost had provided the 39th Regiment of Foot to crew the big ship. Linnet was Daniel Pring’s brig, which carried 16 cannon and a crew of 99. There were two other vessels, sloops-of-war which had been captured from the Americans two years before, which were converted to Royal Navy use. They were now the Chub and Finch and both carried 11 guns and a complement of 40. The 11 gunboats that followed up the lake to Cumberland Bay were armed with 24-pound cannons and rowed by 70 men. In all, it was believed that the British had 1,000 men afloat to the American 800. Accurate figures are unknown because of the infusion of soldiers from both sides. Few surviving records, other than the original numbers that are listed in builder’s records, are known.