Preparations for the Battle of Plattsburg
Roughly 16 000 of these troops arrived in Québec in August 1814, and by September the number would swell to nearly 30 000 effective other ranks, exclusive of the militia. A mixture of 11 000 of these men would be the main body for the assault on Plattsburgh. Three infantry brigades were organized as a division under the command of Major-General de Rottenburg for the operations against Plattsburg. These included European veterans, soldiers from North America and militia. Each brigade was equipped with an artillery brigade with five 6-pounder guns and one 5.5-inch howitzer. The objective was to let the British lake fleet under Captain George Downie destroy the US naval fleet under Master-Commandant Thomas Macdonough at Sackets Harbor, then press the attack on Plattsburgh's 4000 men, a number that would have been higher had Secretary of War John Anderson not dispersed some of the troops in the region west to threaten the lines of communication between Kingston and Montréal.
On 1 September, Prevost began the movement of troops across the border.
Battle on Lake Champlain
Goaded by Prevost's constant urgings into a premature attack upon the US ships' strong defensive line in Plattsburgh Bay, Downie lost his life and his squadron before the indecisive Prevost mounted an attack on the land defences.
There had been initial successes against the local New York militia, which had tried to stop the advance, and skirmished with the British force. But Prevost halted an aggressive advance by Major-General Robinson's brigade, admitting he had little information or intelligence on where to cross the Saranac River, or the distance of the American fortifications beyond its banks. By the time the intelligence was acquired, Prevost wished to wait for Downie's naval forces to add their firepower to the fight. Prevost pressed for a naval engagement and got one, to his horror; poor wind and stiff American resistance led to a stunning British defeat.
Prevost's Retreat from Plattsburg
On the evening of 11 September, while watching the naval battle crumble, Prevost cancelled the assault. This order astonished his subordinates, all major generals and veterans of European warfare. The brigade commanders Manley Power, Thomas Brisbane and Frederick Philipse Robinson all thought victory could still be had if pressed aggressively. Instead, Prevost maintained his order and withdrew with his British troops to Lower Canada before the Americans could cut off their retreat.
Total casualties for the campaign amounted to 35 killed, 47 wounded and 72 taken prisoner.
Power argued at the time that there had been almost no serious preparatory work by scouts or spies, or concrete plans for the assault based on intelligence gathering, a stark contrast to the war in Spain. All the European veterans, who had experienced massive casualties and the difficult and shifting nature of modern warfare, believed a tremendous opportunity had been lost at Plattsburgh, due to Prevost's defensive mind, poor planning and lack of vigour. Prevost would be recalled to Britain to explain his conduct of the Plattsburgh campaign. Despite being cleared of wrongdoing, the failure at Plattsburgh, in particular his handling of the naval forces, dogged Prevost so much that he requested a court martial to clear his name. The military agreed, but Prevost, in ill health for some time, died before the court martial could convene. While many historians have painted Plattsburgh as Prevost's greatest failure, soldiers such as the Duke of Wellington agreed with his conduct, even if he could not forgive Prevost's poor use of his own troops.
Author JASON RIDLER
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
The Battle of Plattsburgh: What Historians Say About It
This online digitized copy of the 1914 book "The Battle of Plattsburgh: What Historians Say About It" provides an American perspective on this conflict. From the ourontario.ca website.
Sir Thomas Sydney Beckwith
A biography of Sir Thomas Sydney Beckwith, British army officer who served in Canada during the War of 1812. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Sir Gordon Drummond
This biography of Sir Gordon Drummond, president of the government and commander of the troops in Upper Canada, chronicles some of the key military actions that influenced the outcome of the War of 1812. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Battle of Plattsburgh Association
An account of British and American military actions in the final year of the War of 1812. From the website for the Battle of Plattsburgh Association in Plattsburgh, NY.
Sir George Prevost
A biography of Sir George Prevost, army officer and colonial administrator. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Battle of Plattsburg
View a historic print depicting the Battle of Plattsburg. From the NYPL Digital Gallery.
The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Victory
A critical review of David G. Fitz-Enz's book "The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Victory." From the War of 1812 Magazine at napoleon-series.org.
The Plattsburgh Campaign of 1814
A brief overview of "The Plattsburgh Campaign of 1814." From the War of 1812 Magazine.
The anchor from the 1814 British flagship Confiance
A photograph of a display featuring the anchor from the 1814 British flagship Confiance, which was shot away from the ship during the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. From the website for the City of Plattsburgh.
A Miniature Depicting Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo, KCB
View a miniature portrait of Sir James Lucas Yeo, commander of the Royal Navy on the inland waters of British North America during the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine at napoleon-series.org.
Francis de Rottenburg
A biography of Francis de Rottenburg, army officer and colonial administrator. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Canada 1812 – 1814: Fighting Under the British Banner
A review of a book that examines foreign regiments serving under the British flag in the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
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