Learning About New York Part XIII

Plattsburg, the county seat of Clinton county, is about 150 miles north from Albany, and 120 from Ogdensburg, on the St. Lawrence. It is situated on both sides of the Saranac River, at its entrance into Cumberland Bay. It has an active trade, and manufactories of various kinds. Population about 3,000. It is celebrated for the battle in the war of 1812--15, between the Americans and British, Sept. 11, 1814, in which the Americans were victorious, under General Macomb on land, and Commodore Macdonough on the lake, after a hard fought battle. Commodore Downie, the commander of the British fleet, was killed in the action, and was buried in the graveyard in this place, where there is a monument erected to his memory.

On the 1st of Sept., 1814, Gen. Prevost, the British governor, having received a large reinforcement, principally veterans from the armies of Spain, established his headquarters at Champlain, fifteen miles distant from the American lines. His force amounted to about 15,000 men, and his instructions were to penetrate into the United States by way of Plattsburg. Gen. Macomb made every exertion to oppose his progress. The militia of Washington, Warren, Clinton and Essex counties were ordered out en Masse. The militia and volunteers from the counties of Vermont bordering, on the lake came in great numbers. The British force, under Sir George Prevost, advanced with caution toward Plattsburg. The American troops retired to the south side of the Saranac, took up the bridges, made breastworks of them, and guarded the Fordways. The following account is from Perkins' History of the War:

The American fleet, under Commodore Macdonough, lay at anchor in the bay, on the right flank of the American lines, and two miles distant. Great exertions had been made by both parties to produce a superior naval force on this lake, the Americans at Otter Creek and the British at the Isle aux Noix. On comparing their relative strength on the 11th of September, the American fleet consisted of the Saratoga, flag ship, mounting 26 guns; Eagle, 20 guns; Ticonderoga, 17 guns; Preble, 7 guns; six galleys, of two guns each, 12 guns; four of one, 4 guns, making in the whole 86 guns, and 820 men. The British fleet consisted of the frigate Confiance, flag ship, mounting 39 guns; Linnet, 16 guns; Cherub, 11 guns; Finch, 11 guns; five galleys, of two guns each, 10 guns; eight, of one, 8 guns, making in the whole 95 guns, and 1,020 men.

The British land forces employed themselves from the 7th to the 11th, in bringing up their heavy artillery, and strengthening their works on the north bank of the Saranac. Their fortified encampment was on a ridge a little to the west of the town, their right near the river, and their left resting on the lake, one mile in the rear of the village. Having determined on a simultaneous attack by land and water, they lay in this position on the morning of the 11th, waiting the approach of their fleet. At eight o'clock the wished for ships appeared under easy sail, moving round Cumberland head, and were hailed with joyous acclamations. At nine they anchored within three hundred yards of the American squadron in line of battle; the Confiance opposed to the Saratoga, the Linnet to the Eagle; thirteen British galleys to the Ticonderoga, Preble, and a division of the American galleys. The Cherub assisting the Confiance and Linnet, and the Finch aiding the galleys. In this position, the weather being perfectly clear and calm, and the bay smooth, the whole force on both sides became at once engaged. At an hour and a half after the commencement of the action, the starboard guns of the Saratoga were nearly all dismantled. The commandant ordered a stern anchor to be dropped, and the bower cable cut, by means of which the ship rounded to and presented a fresh broadside to her enemy The Confiance attempted the same operation and failed. This was attended with such powerful effects that she was obliged to surrender in a few minutes. The whole broadside of the Saratoga was then brought to bear on the Linnet, and in fifteen minutes she followed the example of her of her flag ship. One of the British sloops struck to the Eagle; three galleys were sunk, and the rest made off; no ship in the fleet being in a condition to follow them, they escaped down the lake. There was no mast standing in either squadron, atthe close of the action, to which a sail could be attached. The Saratoga received fifty-five round shot in her hull, and the Confiance one hundred and five. The action lasted without any cessation, on a smooth sea, at close quarters, two hours and twenty minutes. In the American squadron, fifty-two were killed and fifty-eight wounded. In the British, eighty-four were killed and one hundred and ten wounded. Among the slain was the British commandant, Commodore Downie. This engagement was in full view of both armies, and of numerous spectators collected on the heights bordering on the bay to witness the scene. It was viewed by the inhabitants with trembling anxiety, as success on the part of the British would have opened to them an easy passage into the heart of the country, and exposed a numerous population on the borders of the lake to British ravages. When the flag of the Confiance was struck, the shores resounded with the acclamations of the American troops and citizens. The British, when they saw their fleet completely conquered, were dispirited and confounded.

At the moment of the commencement of the naval action, the British, from their works on shore, opened a heavy fire of shot, shells and rockets upon the American lines. This was continued with little interruption until sunset, and returned with spirit and effect, At six o'clock the firing on the part of the British ceased, every battery having been silenced by the American artillery. At the commencement of the bombardment, and while the ships were engaged, three desperate efforts were made by the British to pass the Saranac, for the purpose of carrying the American lines by assault, With this view, scaling-ladders, fascines, and every implement necessary for the purpose, were prepared. One attempt was made to cross at the village bridge, one at the upper bridge, and one at the ford-way, three miles above the works. At each point they were met at the bank by the American troops and repulsed. At the bridges, the American regulars immediately drove them back. The ford was guarded by the volunteers and militia. Here a considerable body of British effected a passage, and the militia retired into the neighboring woods, where their operations would be more effectual. A whole company of the 76th regiment was here destroyed, three lieutenants and twenty-seven men taken, and the captain and the rest of the company killed. The residue of the British were obliged to recross the river with precipitation and considerable loss.

At dusk the British withdrew their cannon from the batteries, at nine sent off all the artillery and baggage for which they could procure transports, and at two the following morning the whole army precipitately retreated, leaving their sick and wounded behind. Great quantities of provisions, tents entrenching tools and ammunition were also left. Much was found concealed in the ponds and creeks and buried in the ground. Their retreat was so sudden, rapid and unexpected that they arrived at Chazy, a distance of eight miles, before their departure was known to the American general. The light troops and militia were immediately ordered out in pursuit, but were unable to make many prisoners. Upward of three hundred deserters came in within two or three days after the action, who confirmed the account of Prevost's precipitate flight, and assisted in discovering the property they had concealed and left behind. The American loss on land, during the day, was thirty-seven killed and eighty-two wounded and missing. General Macomb's official report estimates the British loss, in land and naval forces, since their leaving Montreal, in killed, wounded, prisoners, deserters and missing, at twenty-five hundred.
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Learning About New York State Part XIII
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. In two volumes By John Warner Barber ... and Henry Howe ...Cincinnati, H. Howe, 1861.
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