It was a strange naval engagement, this fleet action on an inland lake, strange in many ways.1 One of the opposing fleets was constructed mainly by house carpenters—a jerry-built fleet manned by plowboys and herdsmen. And, this miserable fleet and its crew of country yokels was captained by a brigadier general, who, a few years later would turn arch-traitor and renounce his allegiance to a cause for which he had fought both courageously and well. In spite of all these paradoxical factors, however, the battle was joined in the best American naval tradition. Although a small engagement of seemingly little importance, it provided the colonists with time and thus exerted a profound effect on the outcome of the Battle of Saratoga, the first great American victory of the Revolution, considered by many to be the decisive battle of the war.
* Editor’s note: Historians differ on Arnold’s route of escape from the British fleet, but there is some evidence to confirm the fact that he may have passed, not through the British line, but around the northern end of Valcour Island and then straight down the main channel in a southerly direction.
Common sense would also point to this route, as only a few British vessels were sent to guard the waters on the northern side of Valcour while the bulk of the British fleet was firmly stationed a few rods south of Valcour, thence westerly to shoals on the mainland and constituted an impenetrable line.
W. C. Watson’s account, written in 1874, adds the following, “The intense darkness of the night was deepened by a storm of sleet and rain.” If true, this storm, plus the fact that whatever current exists flows northward, would have aided Arnold in the crucial period at the beginning of his escape.
1. See L. J. Bolander, “Arnold’s Retreat From Valcour Island,” U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1929, pp. 1060–1062.
See also R. G. Skerrett, “Wreck of the Royal Savage Recovered,” U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 1935, pp. 1646–1652.
See also E. G. Farmer, “Skenesborough: Continental Navy Shipyard,” U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October 1964, pp. 160–162.