The War on Lake Champlain part 3

Report from General Alexander Macomb

Headquarters, Plattsburg, 15th November 1814
I have the honour to communicate for the information of the war department, the particulars of the advance of the enemy into the territory of the United States, the circumstances attending the siege of Plattsburgh, and the defence of the posts entrusted to my charge.

The governor general of the Canadas, sir George Prevost. having collected all the disposable force of Lower Canada, with a view of conquering the country as far as Crown Point and Ticonderoga, entered the territories of the United States on the first of the month, and occupied the village of Champlain, there avowed his intentions, and issued orders and proclamations tending to dissuade the people from their allegiance, and inviting them to furnish his army with provisions. He immediately began to press the wagons and teams in the vicinity, and loaded them with his heavy baggage and stores. From this I was persuaded he intended to attack this place. I had but just returned from the lines, where I had commanded a fine brigade, which was broken to form the division under major general Izard ordered to the westward. Being senior officer he left me in command, and except the four companies of the sixth regiment, I had not an organized battalion among those remaining. The garrison was composed of convalescents and recruits of the new regiments, - all in the greatest confusion, as well as the ordnance and stores, and the works in no state of defence.

To create an emulation and zeal among the officers and men in completing the works, I divided them into detachments, and placed them near the several forts: declaring in orders, that each detachment was the garrison of its own work, and bound to defend it to the last extremity. The enemy advanced cautiously and by short marches, and our soldiers worked day and night; so that by the time he made his appearance before this place we were prepared to receive him.

General Izard named the principal Work Fort Moreau, and to remind the troops of the actions of their brave countrymen, I called the redoubt on the right Fort Brown, and that on the left Fort Scott. Besides these three works we have two block-houses strongly fortified.

Finding on examining the returns of the garrison, that our force did not exceed fifteen hundred effective men for duty, and well in- formed that the enemy had as many thousands, I called on gene- ral Mooers, of the New York militia, and arranged with him plans for bringing forth the militia en masse. The inhabitants of the village fled with their families and effects, except a few worthy citizens and some boys, who formed themselves into a party, re- ceived rifles, and were exceedingly useful. By the 4th of the month general Mooers collected about 700 militia, and advanced seven miles on the Beekman town road, to watch the motions of the enemy, and to skirmish with him as he advanced ; also to obstruct the roads with fallen trees, and to break up the bridges.

On the Lake road, at Deer Creek bridge, I posted 200 men under captain Sproul, of the lSth regiment, with orders to abbattis the woods, to place obstructions in the road, and to fortify himself; to this party, I added two field pieces.. In advance of that posi- tion, was lieutenant colonel Appling, with 110 riflemen, watching the movements of the enemy. and procuring intelligence. It was ascertained, that before day-light on the 6th, the enemy would advance in two columns, on the two roads before mentioned, di- viding at Sampsonís, a little below Chazy village. The column on the Beekman town road, proceeded most rapidly; the militia skirmished with his advanced parties, and, except a few brave men, fell back most precipitately in the greatest disorder, notwithstanding the British troops did not deign to fire on them, except by their flankers and advanced patrols. The night previous, I ordered major Wool to advance with a detachment of 250 men, to support the militia, and I set them an example of firmness. Also captain Leonard, of the light artillery, was directed to proceed with two pieces, to be on the ground before day; yet he did not make his appearance before 8 o`clock, when the enemy had approached within two miles of the village. With his conduct, therefore, I am not well pleased. Major Wool, with his party. disputed the road with great obstinacy, but the militia could not be prevailed on to stand, notwithstanding the exertions of their general and staff officers; although the fields were divided by strong stone walls, and they were told that the enemy could not possibly cut them off. The state dragoons of New York wear red coats, and they being on the heights to watch the enemy, gave constant alarm to the militia, who mistook them for the enemy. and feared his getting in their rear. Finding the enemy`s columns had penetrated within a mile of Plattsburgh, I despatched my aid-de-camp, lieutenant Root, to bring off the detachment at Dead Creek, and to inform lieutenant colonel Appling that I wished him to fall on the enemy`s right flank. The colonel fortunately arrived just in time to save his retreat, and to fall in with the head of a column debouching from the woods. here he poured a a destructive fire from his riflemen at rest, and continued to annoy the column until he formed a junction with major Wool. The field pieces did considerable execution among the enemy`s columns. So undaunted, however, was the enemy, that he never deployed in his whole march, always pressing on in column. Finding that every road was full of troops crowding on us on all sides, I ordered the field pieces to retire across the bridge and form a battery for its protection, and to cover the retreat of the infantry, which was accordingly done, and the parties of Appling and Wool, as well as that of Sproul, retired alternately, keeping up a brisk fire until they got under cover of the works The enemy`s light troops occupied the houses near the bridge, and kept up a constant firing from the windows and balconies, and annoyed us much. I ordered them to be driven out with hot shot, which soon put the houses in flames, and obliged these sharp shooters to retire. the whole day, until it was too late to see, the enemy`s light troops endeavoured to drive our guards from the bridge, but they suffered dearly for their perseverance. An attempt was also made to cross the upper bridge, where the militia handsomely drove them back. The column which marched by the Lake road, was much impeded by the obstructions and the removal of the bridge at Dead creek, and, as it passed the creek and beach, the gallies kept up a lively and galling fire. Our troops being now all on the south side of the Saranac, I directed the planks to be taken off the bridges and piled up in the form of breastworks to cover our parties intended for disputing the passage, which afterwards enabled us to hold the bridges against very superior numbers.

From the 7th to the 11th, the enemy was employed in getting on his battering train, and erecting his batteries and approaches, and constantly skirmishing at the bridges and fords By this time, the militia of New York, and the volunteers of Vermont, were pouring in from all quarters. I advised general Mooers to keep his force along the Saranac, to prevent the enemy`s crossing this river, and to send a strong body in his rear to harass him day and night and keep him in continual alarm. The militia behaved with great spirit after the first day, and the volunteers of Vermont were exceedingly serviceable. Our regular troops, notwithstanding the constant skirmishing and repeated endeavours of the enemy to cross the river, kept at their work day and night strengthening the defences, and evinced a determination to hold out to the last extremity.

It was reported that the enemy had only waited the arrival of his flotilla, to make a general attack. About eight in the morning of the 11th as was expected, the flotilla appeared in sight round Cumberland Head, and at nine, bore down and engaged our flotilla at anchor in the bay off the town. At the same instant, the batteries were opened on us, and continued throwing bomb shells, shrapnels, balls, and congreve rockets until sun-set, when the bombardment ceased, every battery of the enemy being silenced by the superiority of our fire. The naval engagement lasted but two hours, in full view of both armies. Three efforts were made by the enemy to pass the river at the commencement of the cannonade and bombardment with a view of assaulting the works, and had prepared for that purpose an immense number of scaling ladders. One attempt to cross was made at the village bridge. another at the upper bridge, and a third at a ford about three miles from the works. At the two first, he was repulsed by the regulars; at the ford, by the brave volunteers and militia, where he suffered severely in killed, wounded and prisoners; a considerable body having crossed the stream, but were either killed, taken, or driven back. The woods at this place were very favourable to the operations of the militia. A whole company of the 76th regiment was here destroyed. the three lieutenants and 27 men prisoners, the captain and the rest killed.

I cannot forego the pleasure of here stating the gallant conduct of captain M`Glassin of the 15th regiment, who was ordered to ford the river, and attack a party constructing a battery on the right of the enemyís line, within five hundred yards of fort Brown, which he handsomely executed at midnight with fifty men, drove off the working- party consisting of one hundred and fifty, and defeated a covering party of the same number, killing one officer and six men in the charge and wounding many. At dusk the enemy withdrew his artillery from the batteries, and raised the siege at nine, under cover of the night, sent off in a great hurry all the baggage he could find transport for, and also his artillery. At two next morning The whole army precipitately retreated, leaving the sick and wounded to our generosity and the governor left a note with a surgeon requesting the humane attention of the commanding general.

Vast quantities of provisions were left behind and destroyed. also an immense quantity of bombshell, cannon balls, grape shot, ammunition flints, &c. &c. intrenching tools ol all sorts also tents and marquees. A great deal has been found concealed in the ponds and creeks, and buried in the ground, and a vast quantity carried off by the inhabitants. Such was the precipitancy of his retreat, that he arrived at Chazy. a distance of eight miles, before we discovered he had gone. The light troops. volunteers and militia pursued immediately on learning of his flight; and some of the mounted men made prisoners five dragoons of the 19th regiment, and several others of the rear guard. A continual fall of rain and a violent storm prevented further pursuit. Upwards of 300 deserters have come in, and many are hourly arriving. We have buried the British officers of the army and navy with the honours of war, and shown every attention and kindness to those who have fallen into our hands.

The conduct of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers of my command, during this trying occasion, cannot be represented in too high terms, and I feel it my duty to recommend to the particular notice of government, lieutenant colonel Appling of the 1st rifle corps, major Wool of the 29th, major Totten of the corps of engineers, captain Brooks of the artillery, captain MíGlassin of the 15th, lieutenants De Russy and Trescott of the corps of engineers, lieutenants Smyth, Mountford, and Cromwell of the artillery, also my aid-de-camp lieutenant Root who have all distinguished themselves by their uncommon zeal arid activity. and have been greatly instrumental in producing the happy and glorious result of the siege.

I have the honour to be, &c.

To The Secretary of War.

The loss of the enemy in killed, wounded, prisoners and deserters since his first appearance, cannot fall short of 9500, including many officers, among whom, is colonel Wellington of the Buffs.

Report of the killed, wounded and missing at Plattsburg from the 6th to the 11th of September 1814.

Non-commissioned officers and privates, killed 57, wounded 62, missing 21, total -119.

Commissioned Officers.

1st lieutenant George W. Rank, wounded on the 7th. and died on the 8th of September. 3rd lieutenant R. M. Harrison, wounded, Henry Taylor, do.

List of the principal British officers, and an exhibit of the several corps under the command of lieutenant general Sir George Prevost, at the siege of Plattsburg

Lieutenant general Sir George Prevost, commander in chief major general De Rottenburg, major general Robertson, major general Powers, major general Brisbane, major general Banes sir Sidney Beckwith colonel Hughes, major Sinclair, lieutenant colonel Tryall, captain Murray, colonel Burke, major Montgomery, captain Davis, &c.

Regiments and corps of the British army.

1st. Brigade............................3700 

Light do................................2800

do. Dragoons, ...........................300

Royal Artillery..........................400

Rocketeers, Sappers and Miners...........100         


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