October 11th is the anniversary of the most important naval battle of the American Revolution. It was fought on a fresh-water lake (Lake Champlain) by an American force consisting of fifteen small vessels, commanded by an army general, Benedict Arnold, who became America’s most notorious traitor. Opposing it was a larger British flotilla, firing a weight of metal almost twice that of the Americans. Not surprising, therefore, the British destroyed the American fleet and decisively won the battle of Valcour Island.
Why then is it such an important battle? Because to deal with the threat posed by this rag-tag American fleet, the British expended precious time to assemble their own naval force, costing them the opportunity to invade the United States along the route of the Hudson River during the campaign of 1776. After their victory, they retreated to Canada, regrouped, and waited until the next spring to begin driving southward. By then the Americans were better prepared and the invaders were unsupported because the main British army in America had left New York. As a result, the Americans forced the surrender of the invading force at Saratoga, New York. This victory, in turn, convinced France to ally itself with the United States, broadening the American Revolution into an international conflict and stretching British resources to the breaking point. Thus a little-remembered naval battle changed the course of the war and led directly to American victory.