Thursday, July 8, 2010
We seldom have two National events 200 years apart on the same day. This Sept 11 1814, while extremely important to our nation has for the most part been tucked away in history.
The war of 1812 was not as spectacular as the Revolution and did not have the complete backing of everyone.
When the federal government issued a embargo on Canada, making it unlawful to trade with them, states like Vermont looked the other way-the British were buying for hard money naval store form Vermont and they were not interested in passing this up. According to my ancestor, Berlin Olyer, his grandfather's Grandfather Henry Scott had served in the Revolutionary war when he lived in Claverack, and moving to Isle la Motte, was one of those trading with the British. He had a son Harry who was born 1763 in Middle Hero, Vt. The two of them owned a boat on Lake Champlain that they used to transport goods to the British in Canada. This was stopped in spring of 1814 when they lost a mast and some Spars they were taking to Ile-aux-Noix, the English ship yard on the Sorel river. were the Frigate "Confiance was being built. Henry and his son Harry were upset due to the loss of there ship but they were more upset with the stories they picked up from the north end of the lake--The British had assembled a force of 11,000 English regulars who were going to march on Plattsburgh shortly. They had seen the British fleet being readied to take on the Americans. When they arrived home a better picture of what was going to happen became clear..General Sir George Prevost , who would command the English land force of 11,000 was pressuring Captain George Downie, who would be the naval officer and captain of the "Confiance" a 1200 ton fifth rate Frigate to get the ship finished. Prevost wanted to start his campaign early, before bad weather set in. Downie had problems, getting material to fit the ship and a crew to man her. His carpenters gave him a completion date of Sept 15, She was launched on Aug. 25. Provost would not wait he gave the order to start the march Aug. 31 he would use the west side of the lake, the Vermont people were still doing business with the Canadians and he did not want to upset that.
Meanwhile the American commander Major General George Izard, was ordered to take 4,000 regulars to Sacketts Harbor to defend the ship yards there. This left Brigadier Alexander Macomb in command at Plattsburgh with a force of 1500 American regulars[most of these were recruits, invalids, and detachments of odds and ends] Macomb ordered up the state militia and appealed to Governor of Vermont for militia. With the breath of the lion in there face feeling changed and over 2000 volunteers mustered including our relatives the father and son Scutt family. Most of the residence of Plattsburgh left the area knowing full well Macomb could not defeat the English with only 3500 troops. The saving face for the American was a Lieutenant Thomas MacDonough, commander of the American Navy on lake Champlain. desperate for supplies and men he was able to put together a navy only after sending his second in command to Washington to plead for financing-April 1814, the "Saratoga" 734 tons 26 gun, Corvette/Frigate was launched, a partially built schooner "Ticonderoga" 350 tons of 14 guns was converted, just a few days before Prevost arrived the 20 gun "Eagle" was finished, this with the existing sloop "Preble" of 80 tons with 7 guns gave the Americans a edge. Macomb set up a field hospital on Crab Island, consisting of several tents, he was unable to get straw for flooring until a day after the battle. He also placed two cannon on the island and the invalid or slightly wounded could man these [they did capture one British ship during the fight] MacDonough, was a brilliant officer, picked the place for the upcoming battle, his ships were anchored in a line from North to south, the crew was trained in the use of spring anchors, which he placed on both the bow and stern which they would use in battle to turn the ships, his flagship "Saratoga was fitted with extra Kedge anchors which would help to spin the ship. All of there cannon were lined to fire broadside , the ship had to be turned to correct firing position The British had to tow the "HMS Confiance" down the river against the tide and wind but eventually they got under way, at about 9 am he rounded the land fall into Plattsburgh bay Downing fired the signal shots for Prevost that he might attack. Downing had no choice but to anchor his fleet in line about 350 to 500 yards from the Americans, his ship was not completely finished and he had no time to train his crew, while doing this the American ships began to fire-the battle was on
The American were fireing broadside after broadside from the "Saratoga" this was 4 24 pounders, 3 42 pound and 6 32 pounders, they were tearing apart the "Confiance" when Downie did finally fire they killed or wounded about 40 men on the "Saratoga" after about a hour, the USS Eagle had the springs from one anchor shot away and was unable to avoid the raking fire from HMS "Linnet" so they cut the remaining anchor and moved to end of line. Both flag ships were badly beaten on the Saratoga the starboard side was nearly out of action the guns were dismantled. On the "Confiance" thing were just as bad and her captain Downie had been killed along with nearly all the officers. Macdonough ordered the bow anchor cut and hauled in the kedge anchors he had laid out before the battle this allowed the "Saratoga" to bring its port side battey into play. The "coinfiance" unable to make this maneuver struck her colors- a bit more correction of the kedge brought her in line on the HMS Linnet, there captain also aware of the damage his ship had and knew another broadside might sink her struck colors. The HMS Finch drifted aground on Crab Island and was captured by the invalids. The HMS Chubb badly damaged drifted to shore by American lines and was taken by the army. the small English gun boats drifted away and were later found deserted.. Prevost made no attempt on Plattsburgh until after the naval battle was nearly over, then he received a message Downie was killed and British lost, he gave the signal to the buglers to announce a withdraw and they went back to Canada.
Prevost was relieved of his command, MacDonough was promoted to Commodore, Macomb promoted to Major General, Commander Downie was taken to Crab Island and buried there with both the British and American dead. some 921 men were taken to Crab Island from wounds or sickness and transferred to Burlington, Vt. On duty at Crab Island was one doctor James Mann and one assistant.
Four of the gold medals were struck by congress and presented to Capt Thomas Macdonough, Capt Robert Hensley, Lieutenant Stephen Cassin and Alexander Macomb.
History takes on such a greater significance when we realize that one of our own was there, not just another page in history but an event in our own ancestors lives.