ARRT-Richmond 5/19/21 Meeting Notes
Pre-Guest Speaker Notes:
ARRT-R’s next meeting is scheduled for 7/21/21 at 6:30 p.m. This is a zoom meeting! Sign in
details will be provided in the May newsletter. Thanks again to Peggy Watson for
allowing us to utilize the Osher network.
Dr. Robert A. Selig will be our July 21st speaker, presenting virtually on “Do You Believe in Magic? Spells and Witchcraft during the American War of Independence”.
Dr. Selig is a historical consultant who received his Ph. D. in history from the Universitat Wurzburg in Germany in 1988. He has published a number of books on the American War of Independence such as Hussars in Lebanon! A Connecticut Towns and Lauzan’s Legion during the American Revolution, 1780-1781 and a translation of A Treatise on Partisan Warfare by Johann von Ewald. Dr. Selig is a specialist on the role of French forces under Count de Rochambeau during the American Revolutionary War and serves as a project historian to the National Park Service for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
Guest Speaker – Jack Kelly – “Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty”
Mr. Kelly is an award-winning author and historian. His books include “Band of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America’s Independence”, which received the DAR History Medal. He is also the author of “The Edge of Anarchy”, “Heaven’s Ditch”, and “Gunpowder” and is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in Nonfiction Literature. Kelly has appeared on The History Channel, National Public Radio, and C-Span. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Mr. Kelly believes “Valcour” is the most important, unknown battle of the American Revolution.
Mr. Kelly considers “Valcour” to be unknown because of the instrumental role Benedict Arnold played in the battle and that covering a battle that occurs on water is very complicated.
In the spring of 1776, the American Army after returning from Canada was suffering through a
small-pox outbreak that rendered a substantial amount of its manpower combat in-effective.
American leaders knew that if the British regained naval superiority on Lake Champlain they could use the lake as a highway allowing them to transport men and supplies south to Fort Ticonderoga. If the British re-took Fort Ticonderoga they could more south down the Hudson Valley to Albany and then on towards New York City. Control of the lake might also allow British forces to move east off the lake into New Hampshire and towards Boston.
The naval threat on Lake Champlain caused an arms race as both the Americans and British hurried to build fleets.
The three American general officers leading the effort where General Philip Schuyler, General Horatio Gates, and General Benedict Arnold. General Schuyler provided logistical expertise including moving naval stores to the lake. General Gates provided administrative experience that allowed him to handle the small pox outbreak, improve morale, and impose stricter discipline on the army. General Arnold brought sailing experience and was a proven combat leader who was able to inspire the men serving under him. In addition, Arnold was familiar with the area based upon his experience traveling through the area before the war.
In 1776 Gates and Arnold got along well. General Gates was serving as the Army’s operational commander and appointed General Arnold as it’s “Fleet Commander”. In this role General Arnold was responsible for building the fleet and leading it into battle.
“Building a Fleet in the Wilderness” required logistical feats such as moving naval stores through the woods and trails of eastern New York and enticing skilled labor to move from the Atlantic coast to the shores of Lake Champlain.
American fleet construction was centered on row galleys and gunboats while the British under General Carleton labored to construct a frigate, “Inflexible”.
In late August, Arnold moved the American Fleet north in an effort to locate Carleton’s fleet. However on September 30th Arnold moved his fleet south to the west-side of Valcour Island. This move offered protection from bad weather and allowed Arnold to hide his inferior force from the British.
On October 11th the British fleet passed Valcour Island to the east. Once the British fleet was south of the island Arnold began the battle forcing the British fleet to maneuver north. Combat lasted for hours but eventually British naval superiority began to win the day. Near sunset, the Inflexible was finally able to join the fight and the American fleet was defeated. During the night Arnold sailed south with what was left of his fleet.
While Arnold lost the battle on October 11th his efforts caused Carlton to stop at Crown Point for 2 weeks. Once the first snow reached Lake Champlain at the end of October, Carleton made the decision that the campaign was over and moved his army back north to Canada.
In the eyes of Mr. Kelly if Arnold hadn’t built a fleet which he lead tenaciously at “Valcour”
Carlton would have sailed south and seized Fort Ticonderoga. From Fort Ticonderoga, Carleton could have then moved south down the Hudson, meeting the Howe brothers in New York, and assisting in the destruction of Washington’s Army. This would have ended the American Revolution in last months of 1776.