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A Signal Victory on Lake Champlain
By James P. Millard

Part IV- War in Plattsburg, New York: 
September 6-11, 1814

 The battles on land within Plattsburg


After pulling back from Halsey's Corners, Major Wool's troops were joined by Appling's forces once they had been ordered to retreat from the Dead Creek bridge. Once across the Saranac, the combined force determined to make a stand at the site of today's Bridge Street crossing.

Repulse at the Stone Mill

Repulse at the Stone Mill

The planks were removed from the bridge, and a breastwork was hastily constructed on the south side of the river. A group of young volunteers who had earlier seen action on the Beekmantown Road were posted in the stone gristmill. At the same time militia groups prepared to defend the upper bridge. Several times on September 6th did the British attempt to cross the Saranac, each time they were repulsed. Casualties were high on both sides this  day, the Americans sustaining some 45 men killed and wounded, while British losses were reported to be over 200. On the 7th, Prevost decided to halt his attempts to cross for the time being. Instead, he put his troops to work constructing a number of batteries within the British-held northern end of town. 

Land Battle of Plattsburg

Land battle of Plattsburg, 1814- labeled From an old print.
(The Centenary of the Battle of Plattsburgh- 1914) 

Floyd Harwood Collection

At least four large batteries were built- one was set up at the mouth of the river, another close by the millpond  within the town. Two others were constructed beside Riverside Cemetery and on a hill across the river from Fort Brown. Several smaller batteries were also built. Prevost established his headquarters in a farmhouse owned by  Edward Allen (Broad and Cornelia Streets) and the bulk of his forces were encamped on the high ground to the northwest of the town.

Meanwhile, Macomb was busy across the river. Day and night the defenses were strengthened. Volunteers from Vermont began to arrive in large numbers. Any man who could shovel was set to work preparing the defensive works for the onslaught that was sure to come. Those who couldn't work- and there were many- were evacuated to Crab Island. Even here, on "hospital island," a battery was set up- two 6-pounders were mounted. They would be manned by convalescents well enough to fire them. 

In a somewhat controversial move, the American forces began firing "hot-shot" or super-heated shot, designed to set afire the target, into the buildings occupied by the British within the town. They were successful in removing the enemy from the security of the buildings, but in doing so some fifteen or sixteen buildings were burnt down. 

(Clinton County Community College's wonderful Lee Hunt mural THE DEFENSE OF PLATTSBURGH  does an excellent job of showing the damage done to the town by these fires. We used to have a link to the mural on the web but it has been changed or removed and we are unable to locate it again).

Occasionally, during this time of preparation on both sides, a detachment would be sent out to probe the other sides defenses. On the evening of Sept. 9th, Capt. George McGlassin led 50 men in a daring raid across the river. Splitting his tiny group in two, they surprised some 300 British who were erecting a rocket battery just 500 yards from Fort Brown. The British force, thinking they were being attacked by a much larger force, retreated to a safe and distant location. McClassin's men spiked the British rockets and returned safely across the river without losing a man.

Finally, at dawn on September 11, the British fleet left its anchorage off Chazy. The plan was for Prevost to launch a simultaneous attack on land at the first sight of British vessels rounding Cumberland Head. Once the American forts were captured, the American fleet would be trapped between the British Army on shore and the Navy in the bay. By 7:30 the first of the ships had arrived at Cumberland Head. Within an hour, the fighting in the bay would begin in earnest.

Rather than attack the American forts directly in a frontal assault, Prevost had his troops again attempt to cross the bridges on the Saranac River. Each time, the assault was repulsed at the lower bridges. Further to the west, however, the British were able to successfully cross the river at a ford near Pike's Cantonment. The militia here fell back, driven by several companies of British regulars. They continued pushing the retreating militia, and for a while the American rear was in danger of being compromised. At Salmon River, the militia were reinforced by a large group of Vermont volunteers and the British advance was halted for a time. 

In the bay, the naval battle was raging... an officer rode up with word of the outcome.

A signal victory on Lake Champlain 
The Battle of Plattsburg

continues HERE
Part V- Action on Cumberland Bay 
September 10-11, 1814


1 The Centenary of The Battle of Plattsburg. 1914. (Albany, NY: The University of the State of New York)15

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