- Historic Sites
Victory On Lake Champlain
Hundreds of miles from salt water, two tiny, improvised fleets hammered away at each other in one of the decisive naval engagements of the War of 1812
December 1963 | Volume 15, Issue 1
On April 11, 1814, the British army under Wellington fought the last battle of the Peninsular War at Toulouse. Less than a hundred days later—on July 12—the Governor General of Canada reported that the first brigade of this army had readied Montreal, ready to undertake offensive operations against the United States.
On April 11, 1814, the British army under Wellington fought the last battle of the Peninsular War at Toulouse. Less than a hundred days later—on July 12—the Governor General of Canada reported that the first brigade of this army had readied Montreal, ready to undertake offensive operations against the United States. The rapidity of the transfer demonstrated not merely the flexibility of sea power and the remarkable lechnical ability of the British Admiralty, but also the stoical endurance of the British soldiers, many of whom had been fighting for six years in the Peninsula and who had now been shipped directly from France to Canada without even a glimpse of their native land. The Allied governments who overthrew Hitler in 1945 did not even contemplate in closely similar circumstances an equally rapid transference of force against Japan.
The British government, as well as the British people, was in a dangerous mood. England seethed with resentment against the United States. From the British point of view America was that hypocritical country which, while preaching liberty and democracy, had stabbed England in the back at the moment when she was fighting for her life against the undisguised tyranny and limitless oppression of the Napoleonic Empire. England was the nation which had acted with studied moderation toward her newly emancipated daughter country. England had had, of course, to insist on enforcement of the rules of blockade and of visit and search; she had had to continue to reclaim deserters, for these were matters on which (so she believed) depended her national existence. But in every other way she had been most considerate; under the threat of war she had rescinded the Orders in Council, and yet America had persisted in fighting. England believed America to be a deliberate and dangerous mischief-maker; she believed that America hoped to snatch iniquitous fruits—perhaps to annex Canada—in England’s hour of peril. Now that hour had passed and another hour had struck, and America would receive the treatment she deserved.
And also—although this was not stressed—England now had her chance to salve her wounded vanity. The Guerrière and the Macedonian , the Java and the Peacock —even the capture of the Chesapeake had not compensated for the stunning loss of those ships in the opening months of the war. The contemporary letters of British statesmen, generals, and admirals all sound notes of righteous indignation while welcoming this opportunity to teach the Yankee never again to bring ridicule upon the majesty of the British Empire. A series of smashing blows would leave the United States prostrate, humiliated, and even, possibly, split into fragments. Already British statesmen, debating among themselves, were putting forward suggestions that the terms of a future peace should leave the British dominant on the Great Lakes, should guarantee some sort of independent Indian state, and should strengthen the Canadian control over the St. Lawrence estuary by the cession to Canada of some or all of the state of Maine; incidentally the possibility of the secession from the Union of the New England states was looked upon with distinct favor. The accumulation of British forces at Montreal was the first step toward achieving these results.
The blow was to be an overpowering one. Fifteen thousand British regulars were to make the advance along the obvious route from Montreal to the Hudson; they were men with six years’ experience of desperate yet victorious fighting against the best of Napoleon’s armies—they were the conquerors of the conquerors of Europe, and they were to march against one of the most vulnerable as well as one of the most important strategic points in the Union. Albany was a vital crossroads: north was the route from Montreal; west, the Mohawk route via Oneida to Ontario; and eastward, the route to Springfield and Boston. Mr. Madison’s government could hardly hope to put into the field against the advancing British army an opposing force half as numerous or of anything like the quality, and moreover the British were planning innumerable distractions lor the already distracted government. There was the stringent blockade of the American seaboard and the interminable naval competition on Lake Ontario and the frequent heavy land fighting on its shores. At the same time that the transports were landing the British brigades at Montreal, a British amphibious expedition was moving against Bangor, Maine; another dominated Long Island Sound; another was accumulating in the Chesapeake to threaten Washington and Baltimore; and British army officers were landing at the mouth of the Apalachicola to open negotiations with the Creeks and the Choctaws. When the main advance was to be supported by so many other wounding blows, it could hardly be doubted that the collapse or even the disintegration of the Union was near at hand.
But even the best plan of campaign is useless with a fool in command. Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada, was a fussy incompetent. For two years he had ignored the importance of the route via Lake Champlain, concentrating his efforts instead on Lakes Ontario and Erie, strfking at the branches instead of at the trunk, and ineffectually. He was a man of no foresight; he was surprised by the rapidity of the fall of the French Empire, by the suggestion of the advance upon Albany, by the arrival of the troops to carry it out. He was a timid man, too; no one can doubt that he was oppressed by the knowledge of what had happened to Burgoyne and his army during the last advance upon Albany, just as it seems likely that the Americans were deterred from offensive action on the St. Lawrence by the memory of the disasters which had overtaken Benedict Arnold and Montgomery. Between timidity and lack of foresight, the best two months of the campaigning season were entirely wasted.
The advance of any considerable force upon Albany from Montreal depended upon the use of Lake Chainplain lor the carriage of supplies, and even of artillery, if the wooden gun-carriages were not to rack themselves to pieces on the rocky trails through the forests, By Wellington’s most economical standard, a thousand men, marching unopposed over easy country, needed one ton of stores every day. Fighting their way over difficult country, using up ammunition and boots and clothing, with wounded demanding attention, the troops would easily treble their needs. Thus, fifteen thousand British soldiers, probing through serious opposition along the shores of Lake Champlain, would need forty-five tons of stores to reach them at the front every day; this was quite impossible by ox wagons even a few marches from their base. Water carriage was immeasurably easier, but water carriage demanded naval command of the lake; so, for that matter, did land carriage—without command of the lake the attenuated line of communications along the New York side would be constantly interrtipted by attacks launched from Vermont.
Naval command was absolutely essential, and this the British had enjoyed since the middle of 1813. At that time two American gunboats, pursuing some small British craft from Plattsburg up the Narrows toward the British naval base of Isle aux Noix, met with the fate that frequently overtook sailing craft in confined waters; having entered with a following wind, they were unable to beat out again and were overwhelmed by fire from the shores (the tourist can identify the spot easily enough just at the Canadian border). The transfer of these two vessels to the British flag gave the British a preponderance of force: the loss of their trained crews was a serious matter for the Americans.
The British naval authorities on the lake made prompt use of their superiority. They brought up from Quebec the crew of a British sloop of war to man their newly acquired vessels and swept the lake with their tiny but dominant navy. In the next two months they raided Plattsburg; they went up the Vermont side of Grand Isle to raid S wan ion; they threatened Burlington, to the fury of Thomas Macdonough, the senior American naval officer on the lake. Then Prevost lapsed vinto unexplainable torpor; the seamen from the oceangoing navy were returned to their ship, and naval construction on Champlain proceeded only very slowly, while Macdonough, despite his numerical inferiority, was able to exercise his little fleet in repeated cruises on the lake.
In addition, he was building as rapidly as he could—as rapidly as the limited resources of his district and the small assistance granted by the Washington government would permit. First he had to establish for himself a solid base, which he sited at Otter Creek, beside the present yacht anchorage of Basin Harbor. Here he coiud build in enclosed waters where batteries at the entrance could prevent interference by the British navy. To establish batteries he had Io have guns, and an eighteen-pounder was a lump of iron weighing more than two tons which somehow had to be dragged to the site over the portages from the Hudson. Fifty rounds of powder and shot for each gun weighed another half ton. Cannon, powder, and shot were materials of war that he could not make for himself, and it was a convenience that the new-fangled steamboat service up the Hudson meant fairly rapid delivery as far as Albany. The main-topsail alone of his proposed Saratoga called for four hundred square yards of heavy canvas, to be cut and hand-sewn on the spot, and there were anchors and cables and cordage that he had to obtain from distant points. Nearly everything else he won from the countryside. There was timber—green timber—all around him. Nails and bolts and fastenings were made for him by local smiths from local outcrops of iron smelted with local charcoal, while local sawyers sawed his planking in local saw pits. It was a remarkable feat, calling for the most careful organization through all the bitter winter weather. The result was that his twenty-six-gun Saratoga was launched in April of 1814 and was completed before the end of May. It was during that interval, with the opening of navigation, that the British came up the lake and found to their consternation that Macdonough’s shore batteries kept them at arm’s length while the nearly finished ship they could perceive through their telescopes (and which their spies could tell them about) far outmatched their own newly constructed Linnet .
It was a decisive moment. The British had temporary command of the lake but insufficient troops on the spot. A strong landing force could have destroyed everything at Otter Greek so that the British command of the lake would have remained unchallenged for at least the rest of the year, but there was no landing force with the fleet. Doubtless there could have been one, at this, the vital point, but to have provided it would have called both lor prevision and resolution on the part of Prevost, and he was conspicuously lacking in both these qualities. If he had started in February scraping together every available man, denuding if necessary the other fronts, the blow could have been struck, but as it was the opportunity was gone forever. It had lasted for ten precious days, from May 10, 1814. By May 20, the Saratoga was ready to fight, and the British had to take shelter at Isle aux Noix and set about building a still bigger ship that would outmatch her; meanwhile Macdonough began the construction of a twenty-gun ship, the Eagle , and by good kick or good judgment—or by both combined, as so often happens in history—the design he selected was such that she was completed ten invaluable days before her British rival, the Confiance .
Thus, at the very moment that the British army was arriving in Montreal, Prevost discovered that he could not make his decisive advance. He first had to recover command of Lake Champlain; he had to pay for the wasted winter. He had neglected to provide a landing force, and he had neglected to build the navy which would have preserved his freedom of action. If instead of his Linnet he had built a Confiance , or, better still, two Confiances , Macdonough could never have emerged from Otter Creek and Prevost’s advance could have started in July. He had forgotten the experience of the past year, when a complete ship’s company was brought up from a ship of war in the St. Lawrence; more excusably, he had forgotten the experience of 1776, when a ship brought up in sections and launched as H.M.S. Inflexible had won the battle of Valcour Island over Benedict Arnold’s extempori/ed navy. For the present campaign the men and materials could have been found; during 1814 the British completed a threedecker of one hundred guns on Lake Ontario, where naval superiority was not vital as it was on Champlain.
But now the mischief was done; time lost coidd never be regained, and Prevost’s invincible brigades wailed idly at the Canadian border while the British shipwrights worked on the Confiance , and the American shipwrights worked on the Eagle , and while Macdonough made t he utmost use of his newly won naval power. American troops who had gathered in Burlington were ferried across to Plattsburg, where, solidly entrenched, they might possibly delay the British advance, unless Prevost (assuming he had command of the lake) should decide merely to “contain” them and push on for Albany. Macdonough swept the lake, cruising unhampered, and exercising his men on the sunlit waters where now a thousand pleasure craft navigate without a thought for the vital summer of 1814. He had need of vigilance; some of the Americans along the border could not resist the temptation of cash profits. For supplies Prevost was willing to pay good prices in hard money, following the admirable system Wellington had established. Wellington had found during his invasion of France that the French farmers hastened to sell their cattle and foodstuffs to British commissaries rather than submit to confiscation by the penniless French armies; similarly, American farmers greatly preferred English gold to American promises. The beef that the British troops needed was driven on the hoof along a hundred forest trails from America to Canada. Nor was it only beef that Prevost was prepared to buy; during that June and July Macclonough’s cruisers twice deterted rowboats laboriously towing strange rafts northward past Isle La Motte. Boats and rowers escaped, the crews abandoning their rafts, which proved on examination to be made up of a complete set of masts and topmasts for the Confiance .
So the British had to find their own masts—at this distante it is impossible to discover how much delay this imposed—while the calm before the storm lay over the lake, except for idle skirmishing at the border. Elsewhere there was violent action; first Chippewa and then Lundy’s Lane, in Ontario: then the British raids on Washington and on Bangor, Maine. On August 15 Macdonough launched his Eagle ; on August 25 the senior British naval officer on the lake, Pring, launched the Confiance ; and on August 29, under orders from the War Department, three quarters of the American troops at Plattsburg marched oft to Lake Ontario, two hundred miles over the mountains to Sackett’s Harbor, from the vital and strategic point to one of minor interest. The residue left in Plattsburg was composed mostly of unorganized raw recruits, but the local militia had a keener sense of the strategic importance of Plattsburg, and in this desperate moment patriotism asserted itself despite the local yielding to the temptation to drive profitable bargains with John Bull. The traditional objection to service in another state was forgotten, and Macdonough ferried over the Vermont militia; the New Yorkers came marching in, and within a few days the llimsy entrenchments along the Saranac River, where it passed through Plattsburg, were fully manned again.
On September 2, with summer nearly over, there arrived at Isle aux Noix one of the unfortunate men of history, Captain George Downie, R.N. He had come to supersede Pring and take command of the British squadron on Champlain, and he was to hold that command for nine unhappy days. Prevost was clamoring for action, despite the fact that he had been informed some time back that Confiance could not be ready before September 15. Her guns were in, but her magazine was still under construction; she had her masts, but her rigging was not set up. The sailors destined to man her and some of the accompanying gunboats were still arriving. But Prevost, after this wasted summer, would not wait another week; perhaps he feared the consequences of a winter campaign on the Hudson, for New York, an easy day’s drive in a modern automobile, was a month’s steady marching away. He had put his army in motion from the Canadian border on the last day of August, and from the moment of Downie’s arrival Prevost began to send letters to fsle aux Noix that were most offensive in tone, demanding action on the part of the navy. Downie displayed no lack of energy; he acted with desperate haste. The Confiance was hauled out into the stream, and while the artificers worked at completing her construction and outfitting lier lor sea, the boats ol the squadron set about towing her against wind and current onto the lake. The laborious business took two days, and then at last the squadron dropped anchor in the narrows between Isle La Motte and Chazy. This was the night of September 8; it was only then—with the mechanics still at work—that the men could be given their stations at the guns.
Prevost had arrived in Plattsburg two days before, to find Brigadier General Alexander Macomb and his motley army drawn up behind their defenses, and Macdonough with his squadron anchored in Cumberland Bay, at long cannon shot from both Plattsburg and Cumberland Head. The Eagle had joined him a week earlier; the rest of his force had had the freedom of the lake since the end of May.
For two days Prevost had been studying the situation. A successful attack by Downie on the American squadron would result in isolating Macomb in Plattsburg, and thai wotdd involve his inevitable—and probably prompt—surrender. If Downie were to take station .south of Cumberland Head, cutting off the entrance of supplies, Macomb and Macclonough would be starved out and forced into action, especially if Prevost were to drag guns round the northern shore of Cumberland Bay and harass Macdonough at his anchorage. But no plan suited Prevost that involved the expenditure of time, not with winter at hand. Perhaps if he had assaulted the works at Plattsburg the very night of his arrival, before the Americans had fully settled in, he might have won a resounding success—the infantry who under Wellington had stormed Badajoz in the Peninsular War were hard men to stop; but the American militiaman behind breastworks was a different kind of soldier from the American militiaman in the open field. A repulse would have been an ominous opening for Prevost’s campaign. Having (rightly or wrongly,) allowed his best opportunity to go by, Prevost insisted on an attack by Downie, an instant, immediate attack; he went so far as to send a cavalry officer down to Chazy to keep an eye on Downie’s proceedings.
September 9 was spent at anchor in getting the British squadron into better order; a headwind on September io granted another day of grace, but even so, the mechanics were still hard at work when at midnight the wind came fair from the northeast, and Downie hove up his anchors and came gliding down the lake to his death. Sunday, September 11: dawn must have revealed a hint of mist here and there on the surface of the lovely lake. The first scarlet and the first gold must have been showing in the forests all around.
At five o’clock in the morning, with only a hint of daylight so far, the thunder of artillery echoed round the lake. Downie was “scaling” his guns, exploding blank charges in them to blow their bores clear of dirt and rust; very necessary with guns long disused, but in this case with the further purpose of informing Prevost that the fleet was on its way. The day before, Prevost had written that he had held his troops in readiness from six in the morning to storm the Plattsburg works, to co-operate with the naval attack that had not come; there can be no doubt that Downie expected Prevost to attack today, but Prevost stayed idle in his lines. Nobody can tell what the result would have been if Prevost had attacked, but it is hard to believe that an assault, made without artillery preparation against works held by enthusiastic soldiers long accustomed to the use of firearms, could have succeeded. Had it done so, it would have been unnecessary for Downie to enter Cumberland—or Plattsburg—Bay, with all the tactical disadvantages that implied; instead, the naval battle could have been fought while the American squadron, in probable confusion, was hurriedly trying to escape. But Prevost, as his letters show, had contemplated a simultaneous attack by land and water under a double disadvantage—an unprepared infantry assault while the naval squadron beat its way close-hauled round Cumberland Head. It was a proof of muddled thinking on Prevost’s part; as matters turned out, second thoughts saved him from making the assault, which, whether it failed or succeeded, could only have been followed, after the naval defeat, by retreat.
Macdonough had been thinking perfectly clearly. If Downie was rash enough to attack—or unfortunate enough to be compelled to do so—Macdonough had taken every precaution to make it a disaster. By the time Macdonough was sixteen—he had entered the Navy at fourteen—Nelson had won two great victories, at the Nile and at Copenhagen, both over fleets at anchor in confined waters. Macdonough, during his long service in the Mediterranean as one of ‘Treble’s boys,”∗ must have heard the tactics of those battles discussed in every detail, and in Cumberland Bay he showed that he had profited by those lessons. Both at the Nile and at Copenhagen, Nelson had attacked a line of anchored vessels from the windward end, eating them up from the tail like a mongoose with a snake; Downie was to be allowed no such opportunity. Macdonough anchored his squadron so that the fair wind that brought Downie from the narrows of Isle La Motte would be foul for him as he rounded Cumberland Head. Downie would be aunable to reach the windward end of the line, and no attack made upon the leeward end could achieve any progress up the line. Against Nelson neither the French nor the Danes had been able to reinforce the end of the line that was attacked; Macdonough made eleborate arrangements, with springs on his cables and with anchors ready astern, to be able to direct his fire in any direction and to bring fresh broadsides to bear at any weak point in his line. And the battle was fought exactly as he had planned.
∗ On September 12, 1803, soon after war broke out between the United States and Tripoli, Commodore Edward Preble arrived at Gibraltar in the Constitution , flagship of a squadron that included the frigate Philadelphia , two brigs, and three schooners. Preble himself was only forty-two at the time, but the average age of his officers was barely over twenty; when he saw the list he exclaimed: “Nothing but a pack of boys!” But in the next year Preble’s tautly yet fairly run squadron became their training school, and “Preble’s boys” developed into a highly skilled cadre of professionals who justified their commander’s faith in them: during the War of 1812 they were the Navy’s backbone. Among their number, besides Macdonough, were Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Isaac Hull, David Porter, and Charles Stewart. All rose to the rank of commodore, and all served their country with distinction.
Downie paused for a moment off Cumberland Head as he reconnoitered the position. There was no sign of any activity on the part of Prevost, but Downie was under express instructions—couched in insulting terms —to attack immediately, even though he was now in such a position that in the course of time Macdonough would be compelled to come out into the open lake at a disadvantage. Macdonough had displayed uncanny prevision in foreseeing that Downie would not be allowed to wait for anything of the sort. It is just possible to guess with what anguish Downie gave the orders that filled the British sails and sent the British squadron into disaster.
In weight of metal and in numbers the forces were fairly evenly matched; it is worth noticing that neither squadron, in this battle that was to affect history so profoundly, could fire a combined broadside equal to that of the British three-decker on Lake Ontario. The smallest ship of the line—and England had a hundred in commission on the high seas—could have pounded Macdonough’s squadron into fragments in an hour’s work. There has been endless discussion regarding the relative strength of the two forces, with long guns weighed against carronades, big ships against little ships. It has been grudgingly agreed that the American squadron was the more ready for battle, and the British squadron the more suitable for fighting on the open lake instead of in the confined waters of Cumberland Bay. So it is one of Macdonough’s principal claims to fame that he induced, or compelled, the British to fight at that time and in that place.
Downie brought his Confiance round Cumberland Head, and struggled without success to reach the head of the American line; a foul—and failing—wind forced him to anchor opposite the American center. As his ship steadied in her position, he fired that first broadside which every captain tried to conserve to the last possible moment, because the guns had been loaded in peace and quiet, under the inspection of officers, and quoins—wedge-shaped blocks—carefully inserted beneath the breeches for point-blank range. It did frightful damage to the Saratoga , but from then on the balance of the battle turned in favor of the Americans. One British sloop was so badly knocked about that she could not let go her anchor, but drifted into the American line, and was forced to surrender. Another could not keep close enough to the wind and never reached her allotted position, running aground helplessly on Crab Island; either of these ships might have tipped the scale, for the little Preble , badly battered, had her cables shot away so that she drifted to leeward and went ashore, luckily within the American lines. As it was, Confiance and Linnet were steadily worn down by Saratoga and Eagle . In the heat of action superior drill and discipline played their parts; the effect of constant drill showed itself when the American gunners went on loading and firing steadily, despite the disorder around them, while the British fire slackened. Not only were British guns being damaged and British gunners killed, but the shaken men, with insufficient drill to make them into automata, were serving their guns badly. The hot guns, leaping madly in their carriages at each discharge, tended to fire high, and by jarring the quoins loose accentuated this effect when nobody was steady enough to drive the quoins home again. And several of the guns were improperly loaded. Wads or shot were put in before the powderfifty years later the same phenomenon was observed in many of the muzzle-loading small arms picked up on the battlefields of the Civil War. With a wad rammed home into a gun before the powder, so that the touchhole was blanked, it called for impossible steadiness to diagnose the trouble and make use of a “worm”- a gigantic corkscrew—to withdraw the wad; the gun was merely left to fall silent.
Luck declared itself for the winning side as usual; Downie was killed at the opening of the battle, and Macdonough lived through the most imminent dangers. Had Downie lived and Macdonough died, the battle might have ended differently. And, thanks to Macdonough’s careful arrangements before the action, both the Saratoga and the Eagle were able to turn themselves around in the course of the battle and present the other, undamaged broadside to the enemy, with immediately noticeable effect. Then the Confiance , with only four guns out of fifteen still serviceable on her port side, attempted the same maneuver; her stern anchor had been shot away, and the new spring line which her crew ran out to her bow cable (a remarkable feat under fire) could not turn her completely, but only exposed her bows to raking fire. Helpless, and already so full of water that her wounded below decks were in danger of drowning, she was compelled to surrender, and the Linnet , after heroically enduring fifteen minutes’ more battering, followed her example. All the British squadron was captured, save for the few gunboats which fled under oars back to Isle aux Noix, and America dominated Lake Champlain; that very night, his communications in grave peril, Prevost led his men back in a hurried retreat, and the great offensive was over. Albany and New York and Boston were safe.
News of the capture of Washington, D.C., on August 24 had reached Europe on September 27, and the acting Foreign Secretary in London magnanimously informed the peace commissioners at Ghent that despite this success, despite even the excited predictions of Ross and Cochrane regarding Baltimore, despite the massing of Prevost’s army at Montreal, the British government had no intention of increasing its demands, and would even modify them. (See “The Peace of Christmas Eve” in the December, 1960, A MERICAN H ERITAGE .) England would still insist on a clause (whose terms were still vague) in the coming treaty whereby the British government would have the right to supervise the relations between the United States and the American Indians; England would retain a foothold on the New York side of the Niagara River, but she would be satisfied with the cession of that part of the state of Maine as far as the Aroostook instead of insisting, as before, on the cession of Maine as far as the Penobscot; America, of course, was to yield up what conquests she had made on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes. In view of the severity of these terms the American commissioners would be given the opportunity of referring home, but if the commissioners rejected the terms, then negotiations would be broken off instantly. The American commissioners experienced an unhappy three weeks; they could not bear the thought either of rupturing negotiations or of yielding American territory. On the other hand, as the British pointed out, these were moderate terms when offered to a country on the point of dissolution. Negotiations once broken off could only be resumed on a basis far more severe—and at this moment Prevost was probably marching down the Hudson and New England had probably seceded from the Union.
And then, on October 21, the news arrived of the Battle of Lake Champlain and of Prevost’s retreat. After that, it was easy enough. It took only three days for the American commissioners to cease temporizing and to return a flat refusal to all proposals for the cession of American territory; nor was the refusal followed by the promised instant rupture of negotiations. The British commissioners stayed on in Ghent as if the threat had never been made. “This unfortunate adventure on Lake Champlain,” as the Colonial Secretary, Lord Bathurst, called it, had changed the whole atmosphere of negotiations.
It really was a change of atmosphere. America had built a fleet that had beaten a British fleet in a pitched battle; she had proved that she was by no means moribund. The rallying of the Vermont militia to the defense of Plattsburg, which Macdonough had made possible, proved that there was no disloyalty at the moment of the supreme test, despite the widespread trading with the enemy. Even though the French Empire had fallen, leaving America exposed without allies to the British attacks, America had fought back apparently undismayed, and effectively. Macdonough’s victory had profoundly changed the military situation, but it was just as important that America had won back the respect of her great antagonist; human experience throughout the ages proves that nothing so facilitates negotiations as mutual respect. Impressment and the slave trade, seizures during the blockade and the limitation of the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase, all the disputed points were glossed over at Ghent under these new conditions; agreement was so speedily reached, and in such terms, as to leave the spectator wondering why the war had ever been fought. The real delay arose because of bickering among the American commissioners over the final treaty terms, and because of the negotiation of a few technical points. It was a tragic delay, for it was on the very day that peace was signed that Sir Edward Pakenham and his redcoat army were preparing to march on New Orleans, beyond recall.