In our nation's history, there have been a handful of instances where the fate of our country rested on the shoulders of a single commander. On September 11, 1814, thirty-year-old Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough faced disaster. Fourteen thousand battle-hardened British soldiers, the largest invading force on American soil in its history, had crossed the Canadian border and were moving on Plattsburgh. Macdonough realized that the 1,200 army regulars and 2,700 untried militiamen would be no match for the enemy in the coming assault and would quickly be swept aside, leaving the passage south wide open. The only chance he had was to defeat the superior naval force heading his way.
Macdonough had already performed Herculean feats in just under two years after arriving to command the "nonexistent" fleet. Having built from scratch the 26-gun sloop of war Saratoga, 17-gun schooner Ticonderoga, 16-gun brig Eagle, 7-gun Preble, and 10 gunboats, he now positioned them to confront the British ship Confiance, at 37 guns the largest warship ever built on the Lake. Together with his enemy's other vessels, the 16-gun brig Linnet and 11-gun schooners Chubb and Finch, plus ten gunboats, Macdonough was facing a superior enemy force led by Royal Navy Captain George Downie, a competent and experienced commander.
Macdonough realized he had to defeat the British naval force and take control of the lake to stop the devastation a British victory would bring. How he defeated his enemy and caused the invasion force to turn back, ending any hope of British victory, is the stuff of legend and is why I have expended so much effort to gather the world's leading scholars and historians together to clarify for the first time every aspect of this historic battle.
This canvas, similar in size to that shown below, will stand forever as the definitive depiction of that critical point at which the fate of the nation was changed forever.