A dramatic print of Macdonough’s brilliant victory on Lake Champlain, the last great American naval victory of the War of 1812.
For much of the War of 1812 the British had viewed events in America as something of a sideshow, vastly less significant than the war against Napoleon in Europe. After Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba in early 1814, the British were free to concentrate the full force of their military on the war in America. They put the United States on the defensive with major thrusts up Chesapeake Bay against Baltimore and Washington, and up the Mississippi against New Orleans, and—our present concern—down the Lake Champlain corridor. The offensive ultimately failed, safeguarding independence and ensuring that the war would end in a draw.
In mid-1814 Governor-General of Canada George Prevost assembled a huge army comprised of Regulars who had served in Europe under Wellington, described by one writer as “the largest and most battle-tested British force ever to assemble in North America” (Borneman, p. 200) In a reprise of General Burgoyne’s 1777 campaign, Prevost led his army down the west side of Lake Champlain. They were supported on the lake by a small fleet under Captain George Downie, sailing in the 37-gun HMS Confiance. The invasion was halted on September 11 at Plattsburgh, New York, where the Americans won a decisive victory through a combination of Prevost’s timid generalship and the brilliant tactics of American naval commander Thomas Macdonough. Following the surrender of Downie’s fleet Prevost retreated with his force to Canada, marking the last time the United States was threatened with invasion from the North.
This view shows Plattsburgh Bay as seen looking roughly south from Cumberland Head, which divides the bay from the main body of Lake Champlain. The battle is at its height, with the Confiance in the center being battered by the USS Eagle and Macdonough’s flagship the Saratoga, the latter largely hidden by the Confiance and cannon smoke. To the right the HMS Linnett attempts to support the Confiance while itself taking fire from a flotilla of American gunboats, while at left British gunboats flee the fire of the USS Ticonderoga and Preble. On shore in the right background parts of Plattsburgh are aflame, while American batteries provide artillery support for the battle on the bay.
Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography tells us that painter Hugh Reinagle was born in Philadelphia around 1790 and died in New Orleans in 1834.
“He studied under John J. Holland, and became known as a landscape-painter, working in oil and water-colors. For many years he was engaged as a scene-painter in New York, and produced also a panorama of New York, which was exhibited in that city. In 1830 he went to New Orleans, where he died of cholera four years later. He was one of the original thirty members of the National academy of design, and exhibited there, in 1831, a “View of the Falls of Mount Ida.””
Olds, Bits and Pieces, #298. Stauffer, American Engravers, #3134. Stokes, American Historical Prints, #1814-F8 (plate 42-b). Background from Walter Borneman, 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. For a more detailed account of the battle see Capt. Walter Rybka, “Naval Battle of Plattsburgh Bay,” in Sea History no. 148 (Autumn 2014), available on line at http://seahistory.org/assets/Naval-Battle-of-Plattsburgh-Bay-Walter-Rybka-SH-148.pdf.
A rich, dark impression, ever so slightly toned, with a few minor marginal repairs including a mended edge tear extending ½” into image at upper left.