tv American Artifacts CSPAN September 20, 2014 7:30pm-8:01pm EDT
1964 that details the findings of the warren commission. it includes interviews with lee and motherld's wife as well as eyewitnesses to the assassination. report sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span 3. >> each week, american history tv's american artifacts visits museums and historic places. 200 years ago september 11th, 1814, british and american naval forces clash for two half hours in cumberland bay near plattsburgh, new york. up next, we travel to plattsburgh where retired author david fitz-enz, author of "the final invasion: plattsburgh, the war of 1812's most decisive battle," takes us on a tour of key locations to tell the story. >> pilot joseph baron.
ship saratoga. september 11, 1814. battle of plattsburgh in cumberland bay. you know, this is a battle that is lost to american history. it is the first 100th anniversary, it was known by everyone. this was a huge celebration. people knew how important the battle of plattsburgh was. but in the meantime, things have changed. that poem became the national anthem. baltimore is in the center of a populated area. and people have been taught what took place there and what took place there was very important. but it was a diversion. the real battle was up here. you see, if the british can take plattsburgh, there is no troops between here and washington, d.c. there is no american -- the cavalry is not coming. the and with plattsburgh gone,
they can sweep down the lake, they can go on to lake george, and they can go on to the hudson and split the united states in half. in the meantime, the treaty of gent talks are on. and this is a bargaining chip. if you can take plattsburgh, and you can redraw the northern border of the united states, wherever the british troop lines are at the time, well, these negotiations are going on, that's going to be the new northern border. what they had in mind, they didn't plan to take the united states again. this is not a revolution. what they planned was they wanted a new northern border for the united states. not the 45th parallel, but the 43rd. they wanted the northern border of massachusetts to be the border of the northern united states. if you take that line, and you run it across the country, take that parallel, you end up in buffalo. that means that the united states would have lost maine, vermont, new hampshire, and all of northern new york. that way the british would have
had control of the southern shore of the great lakes and that's what they were after. but plattsburgh put a stop to that. the british army is not in the united states. the british army is back in canada, and so when the treaty is signed on christmas eve, 1814, the status quo is what we see today. we are five miles north of plattsburgh, new york. looking at the american-canadian border. it is here that the battle began. let me give you background first. when the war with napoleon ended in the spring of 1814, the british had a problem. wellington wanted to keep this victorious army intact because he thought he would meet again. he would need it again. but nobody saw his vision.
when the army returned to england, it would probably be disbanded because when the ogre goes away, then there is no need for a democratic society to fund an expensive army. they would simply go away. in order to keep them, he went to the secretary of war. and he said, i have got this other problem. i've got this american war of 1812. i would like to put it to an end. we need to trade with those people. they are vital to us. let's put a stop to it all. but let's put a stop to our advantage, so we can get out of this war when it is over. so he said, give me your troops. wellington gave him 30,000 total of his army that was sitting in france drinking in cellars all the wine. a special order was sent to the governor general of canada, who had been fighting the war of
1812 in canada and united states for two years. he had been defending all that time. now he had a chance to go on the offensive because this new order said, we're going to do two things to end this war in england's favor. we are going to use a part of the wellington's forces to raid the eastern seaboard of the united states and down into the gulf of mexico to keep the americans, government and the people and the military's attention focused to the south. in the north, we're going to make you the main attack. so, the order said he would be given 15,000 troops. you can add to the 4000 he already had. they'd been fighting for two years. they were not just british soldiers. they're also the canadian defensible regiments, made up of canadian citizens who agreed to fight alongside the british regulars but only in canada.
that is why they were called fencible. in addition, the french-canadians played a major role in this conflict by adding their numbers to the british forces in canada. so they added to this force. and now he had an army he could take on the offensive instead of the defense and his plan simply was that he was going to use burgoyne's plan of 1777, he was going to go down lake champlain to new york. that's a water line, because there were no roads to speak of in these days. as you follow burgoyne pass saratoga, where he was defeated and went on into new york harbor, split the united states with the industrial north and the agrarian south. that is his intention. in order to do that, he is got to get past the american force
at plattsburgh. and plattsburgh has got 6000 american soldiers here, most of them are regulars. so he sets up a diversion of his own, and he sent them of these troops west for a little while and gets the attention of the american government. and the secretary of war, armstrong says, they are not going to go down lake champlain. they are going to continue to fight in the northern new york area along lake erie and the niagara. so, armstrong shifts the american army. he pulls of the 6000 troops that are here, he pulls 4500 out of plattsburgh. he pulls them out in the last week of august and sends them south to the mohawk valley and up the mohawk valley all the way to sag harbor. then to the niagara. all of that leads that plattsburgh is 1500 regulars. these regulars are the people that could not make the march. these are the sick, the lame, the lazy. these are the prisoners in the stockade, this is the band that is here.
so that is what is left behind. that's what's going to be defending on this road. so, when he finds out that the american army has left, he starts his attack. he moves those soldiers, fewer than 15,000, to the canadian border on the edge of lake champlain. he crosses the border on the first of september. they begin to march south to plattsburgh. the column is 10 miles long. the artillery does not cross the border until the fourth of september. it took four days before they could move south at all. down this road they come. here, the few new york state militia are standing by at this bridge. when they see them coming, they start to fire their muskets in their direction.
but the british sweep them aside. they rush the bridge. and the american militia retire quickly about a thousand miles up the road to culver hill. the british are advancing on culver hill. this memorial commemorates that event. here, several thousand british soldiers, it was the third regiment to cross from canterbury, came down the road and confronted john wall. john, a major in the army, had brought 200 of his troops here and attended to stop the british advanced while gaining information as to what in the world we were facing at this point. the battle broke out here. a number of casualties here, but the british were not halted at all.
they just charged the americans here at the top of the rise at culver hill. the americans had to withdraw and withdraw and withdraw, and for the rest of the day of the sixth of september, they would withdraw steadily back into the city. as the british column came down this road, the farmers along the road were surprised to see at the end of the column, the women and children of the british infantry regiment. before regiment left a go to combat, the night before, there was a lottery held, and all the wives put their names in a hat. one out of 10 were selected to travel with the regiment. and they brought their children. and they embarked and boarded the ships and traveled across the ocean. they came to canada and walked down this road. you know what her job was.
they were the support troops. they were the ones at night set up the tents, got the firewood, building fire, cook the food, took care of the children, cleaned the uniforms with brushes. and, of course, they were the medical corps. there were doctors but they needed hundreds to take care of the casualties. and so, it was the women, it was the families of the soldiers of the regiment that tended the wounded. 10 years ago, this was just a field that a few local citizens were really interested in trying to preserve the history here. had a little ceremony, and the lady who lived in that white farmhouse was very interested. we talked to her about it and she put it into her will when she died this parcel of land would be given to the battle of plattsburgh. and the state and this town built this so that we could all see exactly what happened here
on that day at culver hill. we're in the kent-delord house, a period home where the british stayed. after they run the americas troops off, they will continue down the edge of the lake. here they have to split their force into because the road will not sustain traffic. this brigade will travel along the edge of the bay and into plattsburgh. we're on the edge of cumberland bay. on the far side, over there where you see those trees, is a road. that road is what enabled the british to bring these troops into town. one of the three brigades, 4000 troops came along that line over
there. and the american navy was waiting for them. as they saw the column marching along in their red coats, they began to bombard them. the british column was broken up and stopped. then the british royal artillery came up behind them and they set up their guns. and they just decimated the fleet that was sitting out here. the fleet was forced to withdraw and go deeper out into the lake. this will reduce the american navy's ability to support the army because now they are going to be too far away from the shoreline. once the american navy was moved off, then the british could freely enter the town of plattsburgh. so they came down this road, around the corner, and will end up putting a battery of artillery right behind us. and the officers will take over kent-delord house at their billet.
the british army relentlessly drove the americans back down the road and into the city. some of the british troops came along this line. they were swiss mercenaries working for the british government. along with the canadians and right along the edge of the saranac river to the stonebridge. americans fought their way all the way to the bridge. once on the bridge, they picked up the planks so that the british and the french could not follow them and brought their cannon and sent them off on the far side of the barricade. there the americans will sit with their infantry from the sixth until the 11th waiting for the british main attack. i'm at the battle of plattsburgh museum on the old army posts. there has been an army post here
ever since the war of 1812. at the museum, there is a depiction of what the land looks like it it is a very complex battle because the battle is both army and navy. and it occurred simultaneously without an amphibious assault, which was very unusual. this is what it looked like. there has been an army post here ever since the war of 1812 and the soldiers were entrenched. they were not strong enough. the american soldiers were the remnants of a larger force. they could not fight in the field, so they fought in trenches. they use the river in order to defend themselves, and it worked for five days. as the trenches flowed along the
saranac river we come to the second bridge at catherine street. that is where the british line stopped. and the americans defended the bridge for five days. in the middle is fort brown. fort brown was heavily cannoned and able to keep the british away by firing into the city. in the bay, on the right flank of the american army, is where the american navy ships will be moored waiting for the british to come in to attack the army's flank. their mission is to keep them away. here you see them all sitting ducks moored waiting for the royal navy to attack. this is the rotunda of the city hall of the town of plattsburgh.
to get back to the history, wellington said that if he were in command, and he was offered command, that he turned it down -- he said, that the only chance for victory in north america was to control the waterways. so everything is key to the navy there. even though the american troops are here waiting and the british troops are waiting on the edge of the saranac river. which is not fordable. there are only two bridges across. they are waiting for the navy. this is a bit of a long story but this is how we get here. you see, the royal navy was everything to the british. they used it throughout the caribbean and the united states and canada. that's what controlled their commerce. they lived on commerce. here on the lake, that commerce had been disrupted. nothing was going up and down the lake to benefit canada or
anywhere else. and the people who lived on the lake had created a new industry because of the embargo that had been put in place. this was a smuggler's haven. now, the british knew to control the waterways, they had to take lake champlain but they have no ships. but the lake does end in canada. up there, they built a boat yard. that boat yard then created the largest ship that has ever been on lake champlain. she was a frigate. she was called "the confiance." they had captured two american vessels two years earlier and converted them to british use. they had built one other, a smaller one, a sloop, but they needed the confiance. because it would be stronger than the entire american fleet on the lake. now, there was an american fleet here.
it was commanded by lieutenant, then master commander, then commodore thomas mcdonough. in vermont, they put together the american. the american navy then would try to control the lake and keep the british north. it meant that there with a clash coming. they were really sitting ducks just waiting for the british to come. finally, the navy is coming. they wanted to come south even earlier but they could not because of the south winds coming up the lake that kept them from sailing south. this is the days of sail. there is no other power. you have to wait until the winds are right, that is what the army and the navy are waiting for. mcdonough does not have the problem. he's waiting. they are getting anxious. finally, the night of the 10th, they're able to come down the lake, come south towards plattsburgh from canada, the entire royal navy fleet.
four ships and a dozen gunboats, 70 men and one cannon. those gunboats are supposed to get close to the american fleet underneath the guns and put holes in the sides of the american fleet and sink them. you have got them buzzing around. when the british come into the bay, the british guns can fire a mile and a half. where the american guns can only shoot 500 yards. so, if the royal navy is kept away, if they can sail outside the 500 yards, they can reduce the american fleet to splinters in a matter of one pass. this is what mcdonough's faced with. he's 30 years old and he is the commodore, the commander of the american fleet. so the time has come. as confiance comes into the bay, the wind shifts.
now it is no longer a northerly wind. it's a westerly wind. in the bay, the winds are fitful. the confiance and the other ships need a strong wind. as she comes into the bay, this is the confiance out at anchor. it is shot off the front by american cannon. we found this in 1996 -- in 40 feet of silt. there she is, four feet long, and you can still see the gold piece on the side that says québec. when the anchor is shot off, and the commander of the royal navy fleet and the captain of the ship tries to stay away from the american lines, he can't. he's drawn into the american fire. no matter what he does to turn his ship away, the wind will not allow it.
he is drawn directly into the american fire. finally, he has to anchor at 300 yards, well within the american line of fire. now for the next two and a half hours, a horrendous battle of cannon will take place. 90 cannons firing, constantly, never stopping. four major ships of the americans. four british royal navy ships. 12 gunboats on other side, they will meet and slug it out. here on the bluff, they can look out on lake champlain. directly in front of you is a where the british royal navy attacked on september 11. they came around the corner in between there and the island you see on the rights, crab island, which is where the americans had a hospital for the army, they
attacked the american fleet at anchor, which would've been right between those two small trees. there are women on board. officers' wives, one of which catches a cannonball in her chest and is thrown overboard. mcdonough is siting his own cannon, shooting at the british. and down the line at one of the other guns, his lieutenant is struck with a british cannonball. his head is torn off, strikes mcdonough in the face and knocks him cold to the deck. these are the kinds of things that happen when you're fighting a naval battle. this keeps up for hours. one atrocity after another, blood everywhere, tremendous casualties. the men keep fighting. then finally, the only american ship really fit to fight is saratoga.
that is the flagship of mcdonough. the only ship that is the to fight anymore is confiance, the british ship. even though commodore downey was killed 10 minutes into the battle when mcdonough fired a cannon and had struck the muzzle of the gun that downey was kneeling behind. as the muzzle was hit by the cannonball so hard that it drove this 2000 pound barrel out of the trunnions and downey caught it in his arms and kill him and crushed into the death. -- crushed him to the deck. the british lost the commander 10 minutes into the battle. so now, we have got mcdonough in a bad state. his ship is very badly wounded and about to sink. and at that point, he pulls the trick of the day. he's put out anchors on the
right and left. they were taken out on rowboats and dropped. they wound backwards around the ship and were connected. at the right moment, mcdonough cuts one cable and pulls in the other, winding the -- the only crew members that are left at this point as the spring line is pulled in, the ship rotates in place on its own axis. of course, it exposes the far side of the ship where there are 12 loaded cannons ready. an officer with a pistol goes down the line and fires into the touch hole and fired each gun one at a time into confiance. confiance receives 105 holes in the ship.
she strikes her colors. she has lost. the royal navy has been beaten. sir george prevost sitting up there looking over the lake sees the colors come down. and when he does, he knows the battle is lost. he knows he no longer has control of the water. he knows he does not have the american ships to take the fleet down the lake. there is no point going on with the battle. even though the infantry can overwhelm the american infantry at this point, there's no point to it at all. he is going to save his troops to fight another day. as a result, sir george withdraws from plattsburgh. pulling his troops out, his three brigades, his artillery, his families, and they start heading north to canada.
the battle is over. the americans have won. winston churchill said, that it was the most important battle of the war, the most decisive battle of the war of 1812. here. two days later, british will fight the americans at baltimore. when the naval battle is over and the british withdrew, all that was left were the dead and the wounded and the american forces. out on the navy ships, the wounded were taken off and brought into town. the kent-delord house and others were treated. the dead were then put in a cortage and brought to the shore in plattsburgh. in a funeral parade led by
general macomb and commodore mcdonough -- they slowly came here to riverside cemetery just outside of downtown. to muffled drums, they marched slowly and deliberately. the lead cortage carry the body of royal navy captain commodore george downey. and he's buried here at riverside cemetery. but in the cortage were not just royal navy sailors. they were british army dead, american sailors who had died in the conflict, as well as british sailors who had died. 200 of them were taken to crab island because it was close to
where the ships were being refurbished and kept afloat. another 200 or more were brought here to riverside cemetery and buried. lieutenant peter gamble of the united states navy, he was the officer whose head was severed, flew across the deck and struck mcdonough. lieutenant john stansberry, september 11, 1814, battle of plattsburgh. he was an officer on board the eagle and was killed in action. there is captain purchase -- he's british. 76 regiment. british army. in my 30-year career in studying history, i had never heard of the battle of plattsburgh. so i was intrigued. the more i read, it more it drew
me in. i understood how important it was and what it played in international history. if plattsburgh had been lost, god knows what would've happened to this country. >> each week american history tv sits in on a lecture with one of college professors. you can watch the classes every saturday evening at 8 p.m. admin i used them. next oregon state university professor marisa chappell talked about anti-poverty and entitlement programs that were part of president johnson's "war on poverty." she also detailed the societal attitudes toward impoverished minorities at the