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Plattsburgh, New York

By James P. Millard

Photos by Roger Harwood

Before the US Air Force closed its base there in 1995, Plattsburgh, New York had enjoyed the reputation of having  the longest continuously occupied military base in the country.  While doing research for my books on Fort Montgomery in Rouses Point, New York, I discovered a fascinating document that tells us much about Plattsburgh Barracks and conditions at the base for soldiers shortly after the Civil War. Of particular interest for this writer was the fact that the stone building shown above housed, not only barracks for enlisted men, but the post hospital as well. I have transcribed pages 63-65 in their entirety (headings, emphasis and formatting are mine).


Washington, May 1, 1875



  Plattsburgh Barracks

"This post is situated on the west side of Lake Champlain, about one mile from the village of Plattsburgh, New York, latitude, 44°41′ north; longitude 3° 38′ east; and 186 feet above the sea. The Saranac, a small river rising to a range of lakes forty miles southwest, enters the lake at this point. This vicinity was first occupied by United States troops in 1812. Troops were stationed here from 1812 to 1825, from 1840 to 1846, from 1848 to 1852, from 1859 to 1861, and from 1865 to the present [1875]. The post was established in June, 1838.
(Click for map)

   The geology of the vicinity may be briefly presented as follows, the strata being given from above downward:
1. Drift of sand and gravel, depth 25 to 30 feet.   2. Trenton limestone, 400 feet. This is the surface rock of Plattsburgh and Lumberland [sic, should be Cumberland] Head, and includes two varieties—one black and close-grained, taking a fine polish; the other gray and crystalline.  3. Birdseye limestone, 50 feet.   4. Chazy limestone, 130 feet.    5. Calciferous sandstone, from 250 to 300 feet. The soil of the vicinity is sandy, and not productive unless fertilizers are used extensively.

   The post is situated on a sandy plain 25 rods from the lake and 90 feet above its level, the buildings being arranged around a square parade of 200 feet each side. The principal buildings are substantially constructed of uncut limestone."

The  Enlisted Men's Barracks and Hospital

   "The barracks for the enlisted men were erected in 1838-'40, and consist of a building two and a half stories high, 200 feet long by 26 feet wide, containing eighteen rooms. On the second floor are three large and commodious sleeping rooms  for each company. They are warmed by stoves, well-lighted and ventilated by windows, and contain 420 cubic feet of air-space per man. Each bunk is arranged  for two occupants. A camp privy for each company and one for the hospital are located 100 feet distant from the barracks A capacious company kitchen adjoins each mess-room and occupies a portion of the first floor of the building. In the eastern end of this building, four rooms on the lower floor are set apart for the use of the hospital department, and are occupied as office, dispensary, ward-room, and kitchen. The arrangement of the barracks and hospital is shown in Figure 11.

Click the thumbnails to see larger images of the Soldier's Barracks

   1, first story; 2, second story; A, hospital kitchen; B, ward; C, office; D, dispensary; E, company kitchen; F, mess-room; H, sergeants' room; I, company office; M, hospital bath-room; K, storm-shed; P, piazza; L L, dormitories. Height of rooms on first floor, 10 feet; on second floor, 10 feet, 6 inches."

Other Post Buildings

   "The quarters of the non-commissioned staff and also the quarters of the company laundresses, located outside of the inclosure [sic] of the post, are three old wooden buildings, each one and a half stories high. The first of these buildings is divided into three rooms, one 20 feet by 12 feet and two 12 by 12 feet, and occupied by the non-commissioned staff, hospital-steward, and matron. The other buildings toward the north, containing two rooms and two attics each, are occupied by laundresses. A new wooden building, 80 by 20 feet, has been erected on the south side of the barracks, and 20 feet distant from the inclosure [sic]. This is occupied by four families, affording to each two rooms 16 by 14 feet, with air-space of 1,568 cubic feet.

Aerial view of Plattsburgh Barracks- photo by Guest Contributors Roger and Doug Harwood   The building assigned to the use of the commissioned officers is composed of the same materials as the main building, and is 70 feet long 25 feet wide, two and a half stories high, and contains 16 rooms. The building is erected at right angles with the main building and 20 feet distant. In its rear is an open veranda. It is intended for eight sets of quarters.

   The headquarters of the post is a small one-story building 24 by 18 feet. a portion of which is set apart for the purpose of a library and reading-room for the use of the command

   The commissary storehouse is a two and a half story wooden building, 40 feet long and 18 feet wide, divided into two store-rooms and an office.

   On the east side is a one-story building, 60 by 16 feet, used for a carpenter's shop, with the exception of a small portion on the western end, which is set apart for a sutler's store.

   The guard-house is a wooden building, 50 by 15 feet, and divided into three rooms and two cells. The front room, 13 by 12 feet, is used as a guard-room; adjoining are the cells designated for prisoners sentenced to solitary confinement. The cells are 4½ feet wide and 10 feet long with a grated window, 1 foot square, near the top of the wall, and a similar grating in the door for ventilation. A small opening from the top of the cell serves to allow a part of the foul air to escape. These cells are found to be unsuitable for the purpose by reason of defective ventilation and bad arrangement for warming the rooms in cold weather. Adjoining the guard-room is a room 27 by 14 feet, used as a "lock-up" for prisoners. This apartment could be improved by more ample ventilation.

   The hospital is in the building occupied as soldier's barracks, the men's quarters being immediately over the sick-ward, as shown in Figure 11. Though rather inconvenient, this arrangement will answer the purpose for a command of two companies. The hospital is warmed by coal-stoves and well ventilated. Two rooms, each 10 by 10 feet, are used for office and dispensary.

   The ward contains eight beds; superficial area, 792 feet; air-space per bed, 990 cubic feet. A room for bathing and lavatory purposes has been erected in rear of the building and adjoining the ward. The hospital sink is 100 feet distant, and kept in good condition. This privy is constructed on the system of earth-closets, the result proving quite satisfactory. The substance used as an absorbent is dry coal-ashes, (sifted,) which is regularly applied to each deposit in a sufficient quantity, and is found to be a good deodorizer.

   The school-house is an old one-story building, situated at the northeast corner of the post.

   The ice-house is a wooden building, 10 by 12 feet, with a stone wall 10 feet deep below ground, and frame building 8 feet high above the surface. An ample supply of ice is obtained from Lake Champlain during the months of January and February, and is found to be of excellent quality.

   The library contains a good supply of the most desirable of the daily and weekly journals; stationery and materials for writing are supplied gratis to members of the command.

   The supply of water is obtained from two deep wells in close vicinity to the buildings; the quality of this water is excellent for drinking and cooking, and it is perfectly free from impurities. Rain-water is chiefly used for cleansing clothes and habitations.

   The post is well drained by reason of being located on elevated ground and the alluvial nature of the soil.

   The close proximity of Lake Champlain affords good facilities in summer for bathing purposes; an in winter a bath-room is used, which is well supplied with tubs and hot and cold water.

Fronting the western entrance to the post is a square plot of ground, inclosed [sic] with fence, containing about two acres. This ground is supposed to have been originally designed for a park or parade-ground, but has recently been converted into a vegetable garden, and cultivated for the benefit of the officers of the post.

   The company gardens are located about half a mile northwest from the barracks, and consist of about five acres of fertile soil, under a good state of cultivation. The hospital garden is located about the same distance east of the post, and near the bank of the river. It is about half an acre in extent, and is cultivated by the hospital attendants.

Information furnished by Assistant Surgeons S.M. Horton and L.Y. Loring, U.S.A., and Acting Assistant Surgeon J.P. Foote, U.S.A."

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Surgeon-General's Office, War Department. S.M. Horton, L.Y. Loring, J.P. Foote, Circular No. 8. A Report on the Hygiene of the United States Army with Descriptions of Military Posts. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 1875. 63-65.

AUTHOR NOTE: The stone barracks is now the property of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association. This important building will play a major role in future plans for an interpretive center at the site of Plattsburgh Barracks. More information may be found here.

Post Cemetery Plattsburgh Barracks (actual cemetery stone transcriptions): Mary A. Fogarty, Phyllis Julian

Post Cemetery Plattsburgh Barracks (records of internments, actual documents)

Want to know how to get to Plattsburgh Barracks? Click here for a map.

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