Warren County Historical Society Presents …

“REWIND”

September 16, 2014

 

Senator Betty Little sent out an email to her constituents reminding them of the 200th celebration of the War of 1812 with a link for people to further explore the importance of the Battle of Plattsburgh in that ‘Second War for Independence,’ the War of 1812.

We are sharing Betty Little’s letter, the links to which she refers, and a brief history of the Battle of Plattsburgh. We encourage you to follow the links to more history, events, and photographs. Visit: www.champlain1812.com and www.kentdelordhouse.org for more information, an events calendar, and other museums and web sites.

The following material was prepared by the Kent-Delord House Museum in Plattsburgh. The Kent-Delord house was the British headquarters during the Battle of Plattsburgh. Today it stands out as a fine museum exhibiting the 1812 era.

 

War of 1812 – Battle of Plattsburgh

The Battle of Plattsburgh, also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, ended the final invasion of the northern states during the War of 1812. A British army under Lieutenant General Sir George Prévost and a naval squadron under Captain George Downie converged on the lakeside town of Plattsburgh, which was defended by American troops under Brigadier General Alexander Macomb and ships commanded by Master Commandant Thomas MacDonough. Downie’s squadron attacked shortly after dawn on 11 September 1814, but was defeated after a hard fight in which Downie was killed. Prévost then abandoned the attack by land against Macomb’s defenses and retreated to Canada, stating that even if Plattsburgh was captured, it could not be supplied without control of the lake.

2014 marks the Bicentennial of the Battle of Plattsburgh, throughout the year Plattsburgh commemorates 200 years of peace with a series of special events, historic reenactments and culinary delights.

Etching of Battle at Plattsburgh.

Etching of Battle at Plattsburgh.

 

In September of 1814, fifteen thousand British regulars fresh from victories in the Napoleonic Wars invaded New York from Canada, along with a flotilla of Royal Navy ships on Lake Champlain. Their intent was to reach New York City and divide our infant nation in two. Twenty five miles south lay the village of Plattsburgh and Cumberland Bay defended by 32 year old General Macomb’s 1500 regulars and a small hastily built fleet of out-gunned vessels commanded by Commodore Thomas Macdonough, only 30 years old himself.

Thomas MacDonough portrait.

Thomas MacDonough portrait.


On the morning of September 11th the armies clashed in tiny Plattsburgh with Sir George Prevost in command of the redcoats. At the same hour the British fleet rounded Cumberland Head where they met the anchored Americans poised and ready. A fierce battle ensued on land and water devastating both sides. A dying wind left the British unable to maneuver giving the Americans the advantage. Within three hours the British colors were struck and their commander Captain Downie lay dead. Seeing his fleet defeated, General Prevost withdrew his troops back to Canada.

The totally unexpected American victory thwarted the British plans to control Lake Champlain and led to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812 on Christmas Eve, 1814.

2014 marks the Bicentennial of the Battle of Plattsburgh, throughout the year Plattsburgh commemorates 200 years of peace with a series of special events, historic reenactments and culinary delights.

The Battle of Plattsburgh Chronology

During the spring and summer of 1814, military activities increased on Lake Champlain. On the American side, Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough and a work crew were building a naval fleet on Otter Creek in Vergennes, Vermont. An army of 5000 American soldiers gathered in Plattsburgh under the command of General George Izard. Starting in May, the Americans began building fortifications on Cumberland Head and on the peninsula between Lake Champlain and the Saranac River south of Plattsburgh. These fortifications consisted of two blockhouses and three forts: Fort Scott on the lake shore, Fort Moreau (the principal fort) in the center, and Fort Brown on the river.

The British meanwhile began gathering a large army at Chambly, Quebec, just north of the border. This buildup, under the command of General Sir George Prevost, was made possible by the British victory over Napoleon in the Spanish peninsula. Wellington’s veterans were shipped directly to Canada. By August 1814, approximately 16,000 had been landed. The British also began building ships in the Richelieu River.

 

MacDonough Monument, downtown Plattsburgh.

MacDonough Monument, downtown Plattsburgh.

The American cause very nearly suffered a disastrous blow at the end of August, when the War Department in Washington ordered General Izard and the major part of his army to Sacketts Harbor on Lake Ontario to meet what officials in Washington felt would be the main British attack. Brigadier General Alexander Macomb took command of the troops remaining in Plattsburgh.

At the time of all this activity, Plattsburgh was a community with 78 houses, a court house, four taverns, 13 stores, and 11 shops and offices, including two newspapers. Its industry consisted of a tannery, two saw mills, a grist mill and a fulling mill which produced woolen fabric. Militarily, Plattsburgh was the gateway to the Champlain Valley, and it contained large quantities of military supplies.

General Macomb developed a strategy to make the best use of his limited resources. He converged his whole command into a tight defense force around the village. To accomplish this, he abandoned the defenses on Cumberland Head and concentrated efforts on the three forts and two blockhouses south of the village. They had been placed to form an impregnable barrier across the narrow peninsula between the lake and the river. After manning the forts and blockhouses, Macomb divided up the remainder of the small army into two groups of 100 and 300 men. Their mission was to spy on the British and to harass the British advance by obstructing roads, destroying bridges and abatising the woods. (Abatis were barriers of felled trees.)

 

© September 16  2014, Warren County Historical Society

 

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