August 26, 2014
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Exactly 200 years ago, New York State was being invaded by a large British Army via Lake Champlain. I was reminded of this because recently I heard an NPR radio broadcast recreating the invasion of Washington, D.C. two hundred years ago in August. The British Army, fresh from beating Napoleon at Waterloo, marched into Washington and burned the White House and Capitol buildings.
Meanwhile, the British Army and Navy were at Lake Champlain, attempting the same sort of invasion of New York that had failed when Burgoyne tried it in 1777. General George Prevost, governor-general of Canada, commanded a veteran army which vastly out-numbered the Americans, especially as the bulk of the American army was sent to defend Sacket’s Harbor on Lake Ontario, in the mistaken belief that it was the British target. Prevost decided to wait for the British Navy to defeat the Americans before joining battle, but the American Navy under Commander Thomas MacDonough, prevailed in a battle in Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. The American Army, under General Alexander Macomb, consisted mostly of untrained militia, with one section of regulars, under Major John E. Wool, of Schaghticoke and Troy. After an indecisive engagement near the Saranac River, west of Plattsburgh, the British Army retreated. Prevost felt he couldn’t prevail in the end without naval support. The threat of invasion was over. The peace treaty ending the war was signed at Ghent, Belgium in December.
Where were the Schaghticoke militia units in all of this? The 8th Brigade, under General Gilbert Eddy, with Michael Vandercook of Pittstown as brigade Major, was called out on September 8. The Schaghticoke regiment of the brigade was commanded by Colonel William Knickerbacker. According to a 1936 article in the Albany “Evening News”, the call for the draft went out; the men assembled at Henry Vandercook’s Inn and put slips of paper with their names in a hat. Every fourth slip of paper drawn was opened, and the man whose name appeared drafted for service. I do not know how accurate this account is, as much of the rest of the story was not, but in any case, the 2200 men began to march north on September 13, first goal Granville. Three solid days of rain ensued, with the march halted at Speigletown. The newspaper account stated they reached Granville two weeks later. My notes and the pension application of several men who served state that they reached Granville on September 18. Whatever the case, the battle had occurred on September 11. As soon as that word reached the Brigade at Granville, it was disbanded and the men sent home.
The anniversary of the battle of Plattsburgh is celebrated every year, but this year will be special as it is the Bicentennial. I suggest you consult this website, and make a trip up the Northway to at least view the reenactment on land and lake. http://www.champlain1812.com/documents/2014finalschedule_8_2014.pdf There is also a small museum about the battle and a wonderful monument to Commander MacDonough near where the Saranac River enters the Lake Champlain.