The War of 1812

The United States Navy Schooner Ticonderoga

       The USS Ticonderoga was originally intended as a commercial steamboat, and was in the process of being built by the Lake Champlain Steam-boat company when it was purchased by the US Navy for $1,200 (the equivalent of $14,700 today). Although they had originally intended for the Ticonderoga to remain a steamboat, Captain Thomas Macdonough decided that it was in the Navy’s best interest to “abandon the idea of fitting” the Ticonderoga with the technology because he found it unreliable based on his observances of the steamboat Vermont, saying “I have scarcely known the Steam Boat, now running here, to pass the Lake without something happening to her” (Chronicles 302). As such, the Ticonderoga was rigged for sails as well as twenty guns, and launched on May 12, 1814.
       At the same time that the Ticonderoga was launched, the British fleet on Lake Champlain, lead by Captain Daniel Pring, was headed towards Otter Creek, near Vergennes, with the intent to block the channel into the lake. Because of “southerly winds” the British were delayed and reached the mouth of the creek on May 14th, at which point the American fleet, including the Ticonderoga, was awaiting them. “‘Gun boats commenced cannonading at day break with great effect, and at five AM the (British) Linnet was swept within range for the purpose of covering. . .[a] landing’ of gunboat crews to storm the American battery” (NAC as cited in Chronicles 303). The British fleet was outnumbered and retreated after only two hours of contact with the Americans.
       On May 26, the Ticonderoga, along with the Saratoga, Preble, President, Montgomery, and six galleys, left Otter Creek for Plattsburgh, New York, to the north. Macdonough continued norther and used his fleet to block Point au Fer to prevent the British from accessing the lake from Montreal. The Americans also destroyed “two spars intended for masts” that were being smuggled into Canada for the British, and sent more volunteers into Canada in July to destroy more smuggled masts.
       Later in the summer, the majority of the troops were drawn away from the Point au Fer, leaving only 2,000 fit soldiers - along with 900 ill with dysentery and typhus - under the command of 32-year-old Brigadier General Alexander Macomb to protect the forts at Plattsburgh from the impending British attack. Macomb called in support from the surrounding area and withdrew the Saratoga, Eagle, and Ticonderoga to Plattsburgh. As the British edged south both parties shifted their positions strategically, eventually placing the American fleet just off Cumberland Head in “an elaborate anchoring pattern” which would “permitted each vessel to be turned 180 degrees... allowing fresh guns from the opposite side of a ship to bear on the enemy” (Chronicles 308). This final fleet was comprised of the Saratoga, Ticonderoga, Eagle, Preble, six galleys, and four gunboats (Chronicles 308).
       At 5:15am on September 11th, 1814, the British Confiance, Linnet, Chub, Finch, Yeo, and others engaged the American line. The battle raged all day, with human and vessel casualties on both sides. The Ticonderoga proved vital as it held its own against the Finch, led by Acting Lieutenant William Hicks. The Finch was a “light sloop” and therefore no match for the heavy schooner Ticonderoga, her “fore stay cut away–main boom nearly cut through. . .and nearly all [her] running rigging cut away” (Hicks, as quoted in Chronicles 311). The Finch took on water and ran aground on Crab Island, where it was attacked by the patients of the island’s hospital.
       The Ticonderoga was swiftly borne down upon by four active British gunboats, which it repulsed valiantly, despite the disappearance of of the acting first lieutenant, John Stansbury. His body was found in the lake two days later, bisected by a cannonball (History of the Navy as cited in Chronicles 313). The American Borer attempted to aid the Ticonderoga but was attacked by and lost three men. Lieutenant Stephen Cassin, now commanding the Ticonderoga, exacted his revenge by removing the leg of the commander of the British gunboat Murray via cannonball. Through strategic maneuvering around the shoals and islands of the lake, the Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and Eagle outlasted and outgunned the much larger British fleet, eventually forcing the surrender of the shattered British flagship Confiance as well as that of the slowly-sinking Linnet.
       Civilians on the shore of Cumberland Head celebrated the American victory by blowing horns and banging pots and pans, eliciting fruitless cannonfire from the remnants of the sorely-defeated British fleet (History of Cumberland Head, as cited in Chronicles 314). British Governor-General Prevost promptly removed himself from his station at Plattsburgh, leaving the forts under the control of the American Brigadier General Alexander Macomb. Macomb’s decision to remain at Plattsburgh with the Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and Eagle during the British occupancy would have led to a very different outcome, as British troops had already managed to make their way down the Saranac River towards the American forts. Had the British won the naval battle, the forts on the shores would have fallen quickly. As it was, the lake and its forts remained in American hands, and the remaining British ships slunk away in the dark early hours of the morning on September 12th.
       After the battle, the badly-damaged Ticonderoga was moored in the East Bay on Poultney River, along with the Saratoga, Eagle, Allen, and British ships Confiance and Linnet. The Ticonderoga, along with some others, was let sink to the bottom of the channel around 1820 and by 1825 all such wrecks had been sold to salvagers. In 1858 Whitehall recovered the Ticonderoga as part of their bicentennial celebration, and the hull of the ship remains on display at the Skenesboro Museum today.