Warranted a midshipman on 24 February 1809 and still holding that rank, Edward J. Ballard served as fourth lieutenant in Chesapeake on 1 June 1813 when that American frigate challenged the British man of war HMS Shannon outside Boston harbor. Most of Chesapeake's crew had been recently recruited, and most of her officers were newly assigned to the ship. As a result of this inexperience and of the crew's lack of training as a team, the Americans were quickly bested in the ensuing battle. During the engagement, a cannon shot took off Ballard's right leg close to his body, and he died shortly afterwards. On 2 June 1813, the day following the action, the Navy Department -which had not yet heard of the action promoted Ballard to lieutenant.
The first Ballard, a small row galley, was built in 1813 at Vergennes, Vt., by Adam and Noah Brown during a race between the American and Royal Navies in constructing warships to achieve supremacy on Lake Champlain. The recent British victory over Napoleon's forces in Spain had freed many of Wellington's veteran troops for action in America, and England's strategy called for defeating the United States by a powerful thrust south from Canada down the Lake Champlain Hudson River corridor.
On 31 August 1814 the Governor General of Canada, Sir George Prevost, led between 11,000 and 14,000 men on a march into American territory. On 5 September, the "redcoats" reached Plattsburg, N.Y., the main United States base in that theater of operations, and promptly occupied the northern part of the town as the hopelessly outnumbered 1,500 Americans retired to a prepared position on the cliffs that form the southern bank of the Saranac River.
Meanwhile, Macdonough had stationed the small warships of his squadron in two lines across the entrance to Plattsburg Bay. Ballard, her sister row galleys, and the other small vessels of the American flotilla were in the second or inner line where they protected the beam ends of the larger American warships. On the morning of 11 September, the British fleet commanded by Commodore Downie sailed south past the tip of Cumberland Head, turned to starboard, and headed into the bay to attack Macdonough's warships, whose broadsides faced the Britishers' bows. By slowing Downie's advance, even the wind favored the Americans who, although anchored, were in the ideal tactical position athwart their opponents' bows. During the ensuing action, in which Ballard and the other galleys played a significant supporting role, Macdonough's force decisively defeated and captured Downie's fleet. The victory gave the United States absolute control of Lake Champlain and forced Prevost's army to retreat to Canada.
After a treaty of peace was ratified early the following year, Ballard was laid up at Whitehall, N.Y., where she was sold in July 1815.
James L. Mooney
16 December 2005