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The Demise of Capt. Downie at
The Battle of Plattsburg

September 11, 1814

 

By James P. Millard

Early in the pivotal naval engagement on Lake Champlain known as the Battle of Plattsburg, the Captain of the British Flagship- HMS Confiance- was killed in action. Capt. George Downie was standing behind one of her long guns, perhaps sighting it himself, when a shot from Macdonough's Flagship Saratoga struck it on the front of the muzzle.

The force of the ball striking threw the gun completely off its carriage, carrying it back against Downie, killing him almost instantly. The authoritative "The Battle of Plattsburgh- What Historians Say About It."  (1914) tells us " His skin was not broken, a black mark about the size of a small plate was the only visible injury. His watch was found flattened, with its hands pointing to the very second at which he received the fatal blow."

Captain Downie's grave: Riverside Cemetery
Plattsburgh, New York

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The significance of this event was not lost on the United States Navy  who emerged victorious in the furious battle that ensued. Today, the very gun that killed Downie is preserved at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. It stands, a silent sentinel, outside of Macdonough Hall, a stirring testament to a brave warrior who died for his King and Country in a foreign land. Captain Downie was buried, together with his fellow officers who perished in the battle, alongside their American antagonists in Plattsburgh, New York's Riverside Cemetery.

Images of the British carronade from HMS Confiance on display at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Note the indentation on the muzzle where the ball from the Saratoga struck.
(clicking on the thumbnails will bring up a full-size image)

All photos with the exception of the Riverside Cemetery images, courtesy of Roger Harwood.
Copyright © 2007 America's Historic Lakes

Revised November 10, 2012
Thanks to Ian Downie of Aberdeen, Scotland for pointing out typographical errors in our spelling of the "Downie" name.
Visit Ian's web page for excellent information about Captain Downie HERE.

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