August 1, 2010

Local history buff reveals new theory on Battle of Valcour

Staff Writer

PLATTSBURGH — History has told us that Benedict Arnold used the cover of night to lead his small, battered fleet around the battle line of the larger British fleet following the 1776 Battle of Valcour.

Each vessel followed a lantern placed at the stern of the boat in front of it as Arnold's flotilla passed between the British armada and New York shoreline sometime in the night of Oct. 11, only to be discovered by the British miles down the lake the next morning.

There is no doubt that the Battle of Valcour played a significant role in the future direction of the Revolutionary War.

Although the British soundly defeated the Americans, Arnold's naval strategies helped force the British back into Canada for the winter, giving the Americans much-needed time to prepare for the next year's major victory at Saratoga Springs.


David Glenn has lived on Lake Champlain for nearly five decades and has a bird's-eye view of the battle site from his beach property.

An avid history buff of the historic battle, Glenn has spent countless hours researching the battle and reconstructing in his mind what happened during the fighting and subsequent American retreat.

"I've seen how that channel behaves out there," Glenn said from his home as he talked about his theory on Benedict Arnold's escape. "For me, it just didn't add up" that the Americans snuck by the British line heading south through the channel.


Historians have used reports from participants of the battle to form their theories of Arnold's escape on a southern route along the New York shoreline.

But Glenn believes a lot of those reports may have been submitted to British authorities and the British press to cover up mistakes they may have made during the battle.

"As my mentor Addie Shields always told me, you've got to find the original, primary sources if you want to uncover the truth," Glenn said of his relationship with the former Clinton County historian, who died in late 2009.


In his interpretation of those primary reports from the battle, Glenn paints a different picture that suggests the Americans turned back north following the battle and rounded Valcour Island before heading south toward Crown Point and Ticonderoga.

For one thing, British Commander Guy Carlton sent Lt. James Dacres back to England following the battle to deliver his report of what took place. Dacres, commander of the British schooner Carlton, was injured during the battle and unconscious for most of the action.

The London Gazette published an article on the battle five weeks after the action took place, relying mostly on information gained from Dacres's return to the motherland.


A well-known map of Lake Champlain was updated at the time to reflect the British description of the battle, including the location of each fleet's vessels and the apparent escape route used by Arnold and his flotilla.

"The map agrees completely with verbal descriptions in the Carlton letters (delivered by Dacres)," Glenn said.

"But what if it did not agree with other primary sources? What were we left with to believe?"

Those primary sources described the wind as calm on the evening of the 11th. The American fleet had to escape by rowing their vessels, and many of the troops were new arrivals and would not have had the skills to row quietly, especially after the day's exertion.

The vessels would not be able to follow one another in a straight line at a uniform speed, Glenn also noted. With as many as five types of sailing vessels, they would have all moved at varying speeds.

The night was pitch black with no moon from 6 p.m. on. Primary sources did not describe any presence of fog or rain or other factors that would have further blanketed the Americans' retreat.


In his research, Glenn has cited several other factors that suggest the Americans escaped to the north and around Valcour rather than to the south and through the British defense line.

He has written a book on the subject, which he calls "Benedict Arnold's Battle of Valcour: Myths and the British Cover Up," and is seeking a publisher for the volume, which he believes will shed a new light on an important chapter in the American strategy on Lake Champlain.

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