Benedict Arnold, Portrait, Illustration

Benedict Arnold commanded the first fleet of American ships during the Revolutionary War, during the Battle of Valcour Island. Although the British won the battle, Arnold and his men won a significant long-term tactical advantage, because the British were unable to launch an invasion of New York in the fall of 1776. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Valcour Island

October 11, 1776

The Battle of Valcour Island was fought on October 11, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. It was part of the Canada Campaign and ended in a British victory, but American forces led by Benedict Arnold prevented the British from launching an invasion of the Hudson River Valley.

Advertisement

Battle of Valcour Island Summary

The Battle of Valcour Island was fought from October 11 to October 13, 1776, on Lake Champlain. It was part of the Canada Campaign of 1775–1776. After the Continental Army failed to capture Quebec, it was forced to retreat back out of Canada by British forces under the command of General Guy Carleton. During the retreat, the Americans captured a few ships and destroyed others, in an effort to slow down the British advance. Once the Americans reached Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point, they fortified the forts and pulled the ships together to form a small fleet. Brigadier General Benedict Arnold was placed in command of the first American naval force, and he also oversaw the construction of some new ships for his fleet. By October, Carleton received significant reinforcements and built a new fleet of ships to transport his army down to Lake Champlain. Arnold was determined to slow the British advance, so he placed his ships on Lake Champlain in strong defensive positions. The British ships attacked and the battle raged, but Arnold and his men were able to slow the British. However, most of the American ships were lost as they retreated to Crown Point. When Arnold and his men reached Crown Point, they destroyed the fort and retreated to Fort Ticonderoga. However, the delay forced the British to put off an invasion of the Hudson River Vally until the spring of 1777.

Battle of Valcour Island, Ships Fighting in the Straight, Painting

This painting by Henry Gilder depicts the ships between Valcour Island (left) and Grande Isle (right). Image Source: Royal Collection Trust.

Advertisement

Quick Facts About the Battle of Valcour Island

  • Also Known As: The battle is also called the Battle of Valcour Bay, the Battle of Lake Champlain, and the Battle of Valcour on Lake Champlain.
  • Countries Involved: The countries involved were the United States of America and Great Britain.
  • Date Started: The fighting started on October 11, 1776.
  • Date Ended: The fighting ended on October 13, 1776.
  • Location: The battle was fought in Valcour Bay, a narrow straight that runs between the mainland of New York and Valcour Island.
  • Who Won: Great Britain won the Battle of Valcour Island.
  • American Revolutionary War Campaign: The battle was part of the Canada Campaign of 1775–1776.

Key Events in the Battle

  • British ships sailed onto Lake Champlain on October 9.
  • Arnold positioned his ships in a line, near the northern tip of Valcour Island.
  • It took the British two days to find Arnold’s fleet.
  • Arnold sent two ships to draw the attention of the British fleet, but both ships came under heavy fire. The crews were forced to abandon the ships and both of them ran aground.
  • The rest of the British fleet moved into position to attack the rest of Arnold’s ships. Strong winds slowed their progress, but they were in position by early afternoon.
  • Both sides opened fire, and both sides sustained damage to their ships.
  • Arnold’s ship was hit and sank around 6:30 pm. He boarded another ship and took it as his flagship.
  • As daylight faded, Arnold realized he could not keep up the fight. Too many of his ships were damaged or had been lost.
  • That night, Arnold sailed for Crown Point in the darkness and escaped.
  • The next morning, Carleton was furious and sent his fleet in pursuit.
  • Strong winds slowed the progress of both fleets, so the British chased after Arnold for two days.
  • During the retreat, Arnold had his men run some of the ships aground or burned them so the British could not capture them and put them to use.
  • Most of Arnold’s men climbed into small boats to continue their escape.
  • They finally reached shore, where Arnold ran his flagship aground and burned it. All the smaller boats were also destroyed.
  • Arnold and his men completed their journey to Crown Point on foot.
  • Before he evacuated Crown Point, Arnold ordered the destruction of the fort.
  • Arnold and his men retreated to Fort Ticonderoga.

Battle of Valcour Island, British Pursue Arnold's Ship Congress, Painting

This painting by Ernst Haas depicts the British in pursuit of Benedict Arnold on his flagship, Congress, during the Battle of Valcour Island. Image Source: Archive.org.

Advertisement

Interesting Facts About the Battle of Valcour Island

  • It is considered to be one of the first naval battles of the American Revolutionary War.
  • The British fleet was under the command of Captain Thomas Pringle.
  • When Arnold reached Crown Point, he learned that four of his ships had actually escaped and sailed to Crown Point.

Important Leaders and Casualties

Prominent American Military Leaders

Prominent British Military Leaders

  • Guy Carleton
  • Thomas Pringle

Estimated Casualties

  • The total estimated casualties at the Battle of Valcour Island were around 250 killed, wounded, or missing.
  • The Americans suffered around  200 casualties.
  • The British suffered around 40 casualties.

Results of the Battle of Valcour Island

  • The outcome of the battle was a British victory.

Significance

The Battle of Valcour Island is important because Arnold and his fleet stalled the British advance and kept them from launching an invasion of the upper Hudson River Vally. The British were forced to take up winter quarters and spent time planning the invasion, which is known as Burgoyne’s Campaign of 1777. The purpose of the campaign was to capture the New York Colony, which would allow the British to cut New England off from the Southern Colonies. However, the campaign ended in disaster for the British, when the Americans stopped them at the end of the Saratoga Campaign. The victory convinced the French to recognize the American Colonies as an independent nation and to provide military support against the British.

Timeline of the Battle of Valcour Island

This timeline shows how the Battle of Valcour Island fits into the events of the Canada Campaign of 1775–1776.

Advertisement
  • May 10, 1775Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
  • June 27, 1775 — Continental Congress Authorized Invasion of Canada
  • September 5, 1775 – Skirmish at Isle Aux Noix
  • September 5, 1775 – Skirmish at Fort St. John
  • September 10, 1775 — Skirmish at Fort St. John
  • September 13, 1775 — Arnold’s Expedition to Quebec City Begins
  • September 17, 1775 Siege of Fort St. John Begins
  • September 25, 1775Battle of Montreal (Longue-Pointe)
  • October 15, 1775 — Skirmish at Montreal
  • October 18, 1775 — First Battle of Fort Chambly
  • November 3, 1775 — Siege of Fort St. John Ends
  • November 13, 1775 — Americans Capture Montreal
  • November 14, 1775 — Arnold Expedition Arrives at Quebec City
  • November 15, 1775 — Skirmish at Plains of Abraham
  • November 19, 1775 — Naval Skirmish at Sorel
  • December 31, 1775Battle of Quebec
  • May 6, 1776 — Skirmish at the Plains of Abraham
  • May 15, 1776 — Battle of the Cedars
  • May 25, 1776 — Battle of Saint-Pierre
  • June 8, 1776 — Battle of Three Rivers
  • June 14, 1776 — Occupation of Sorel
  • June 16, 1776 — Second Battle of Chambly
  • June 24, 1776 — Skirmish at Isle Aux Noix
  • July 24, 1776 — Skirmish at Sorel River
  • October 11, 1776 — Battle of Valcour Island

Video of the Battle of Valcour Island

Advertisement

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Battle of Valcour Island
  • Coverage October 11, 1776
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Valcour Island, Canada Campaign, American Revolutionary War, War for Independence
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date September 24, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 18, 2022