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Book Review, NRJ 62.1

February 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

The Battle of Lake Champlain: A “Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory”

John H. Schroeder

The War of 1812 has captivated the minds of British and American citizens alike since it occurred over 200 years ago. Many scholarly works focus on the entirety of the war or the events around New Orleans in 1815. John Schroeder, a professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Milwuakee, a student of nineteenth-century America and its military history, successfully discusses a significant battle in the war effort. His work, The Battle of Lake Champlain: A “Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory,” places the events on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, New York in the larger context of the war. Schroeder argues that the roles of the commanders and the strategies allowed for the unexpected American victory and that these events changed the outcome of the war.

Schroeder strongly supports his opinion by comparing the American and British effectiveness in the battles on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, the lead up to the battle, and the aftermath of the battle. In examining the commanders of the two sides, Schroeder analyzes their strengths and weaknesses and their impacts on the outcomes of the events on Lake Champlain. The American commander Thomas MacDonough, although young, was able to inspire and rebuild the naval troops on Lake Champlain as well as outsmart the British forces in the battle on September 11, 1814 by working with the other commanding officers of the American forces in the area. On the British side, George Downie led the naval forces as a seasoned naval commander from the Napoleonic Wars, yet he was new to the area during the 1814 campaign season and was unable to work with other British officers. The Americans took advantage of the confusion of the new British officers and their inability to work together. As the battle waged, the British ineffectively implemented their plan, while the Americans effectively took charge through their commanding officers and streaks of luck that played out allowing them to take the day. These same factors further affected the outcomes of the war. As Schroeder effectively describes, the outcome of this battle in the Champlain Valley allowed the Americans to successfully negotiate with a war weary Britain.

Schroeder is able to support this thesis so strongly through the use of primary source evidence and battle plans. His analysis relies on the writings of MacDonough, Downie, the American and British forces, writings of the council in Ghent and numerous other sources that aid in recreating the events leading up to the battle, the battle of September 11, 1814 itself, and the results of the American victory in the Champlain Valley. Schroeder uses the appropriate images and maps to represent the battle and those involved. He, however, could have also used more images of the battle itself. Although these images would be artistic in nature, these images would offer striking examples of what the battle could have looked like and further evidence of the impact of the battle on American history.

The Battle of Lake Champlain is an excellent work that compellingly argues the role of the battle in the overall position of the War of 1812 and the effect this battle had on ending the war. His use of sources offers a deeper look into the commanders themselves and the strategies that worked or did not work in the battle.  Beyond exploring the Battle on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, Schroeder’s work offers the necessary depth of background of the event of the War of 1812 and the complexities of its outcome. This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning about Lake Champlain and its role in the War of 1812.

  •  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015
  • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xiii + 164 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, table, notes, bibliography, index. $26.95
  • ISBN: 9780806146935

Reviewed by Allyson Ropp, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum


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