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Brigadier-General Macomb
was left to hold the works about Plattsburg with a force which he
stated did not exceed fifteen hundred effectives.[412] His own brigade
having been broken up to strengthen Izard's division, none of this
force was organized, except four companies of one regiment. The
remainder were convalescents, or recruits of new regiments; soldiers
as yet only in name, and without the constituted regimental framework,
incorporation into which so much facilitates the transition from the
recruit to the veteran. On September 4 seven hundred militia from the
neighborhood joined, in response to a call from Macomb; and before the
final action of the 11th other militia from New York, and volunteers
from Vermont, across the lake, kept pouring in from all quarters, in
encouraging contrast to their fellow citizens who were making money by
abetting the enemy.

Prevost's army, which had been assembled along the frontier of Lower
Canada, from the Richelieu River to the St. Lawrence, began its
forward march August 31; the leading brigade entering the State of
New York, and encamping that night at Champlain Town, a short distance
south of the boundary. By September 4 the whole body had reached to
the village of Chazy, twenty-five miles from Plattsburg. Thus far, to
the mouth of the Little Chazy River, where the supplies of the army
were to be landed, no opposition was experienced. The American
squadron waiting on the defensive at Plattsburg, the left flank of the
British received constant support from their flotilla of gunboats and
galleys under the command of Captain Pring, who seized also the
American Island La Motte, in the narrows of the lake, abreast the
Little Chazy. The following day, September 5, delays began to be met
through the trees felled and bridges broken by Macomb's orders. On the
6th there was some skirmishing between the advanced guards; but the
American militia "could not be prevailed on to stand, notwithstanding
the exertions of their officers, although the fields were divided by
strong stone walls, and they were told that the enemy could not
possibly cut them off."[413] Deprived of this support, the small body
of regulars could do little, and the British Peninsulars pushed on
contemptuously, and almost silently. "They never deployed in their
whole march," reported Macomb, "always pressing on in column." That
evening they entered Plattsburg. Macomb retreated across the Saranac,
which divided the town. He removed from the bridges their planking,
which was used to form breastworks to dispute any attempt to force a
passage, and then retired to the works previously prepared by Izard.
These were on the bluffs on the south side of the Saranac, overlooking
the bay, and covering the peninsula embraced between the lake and the
river.

From the 7th to the 11th, the day of the battle, the British were
employed in preparations for battering the forts, preliminary to an
assault, and there was constant skirmishing at the bridges and fords.
Macomb utilized the same time to strengthen his works, aided by the
numbers of militia continually arriving, who labored night and day
with great spirit. Prevost's purposes and actions were dominated by
the urgency of haste, owing to the lateness of the season; and this
motive co-operated with a certain captiousness of temper to
precipitate him now into a grave error of judgment and of conduct. At
Plattsburg he found the small American army intrenched behind a
fordable river, the bridges of which had been made useless; and in the
bay lay the American squadron, anchored with a view to defence. The
two were not strictly in co-operation, in their present position.
Tactically, they for the moment contributed little to each other's
support; for the reason that the position chosen judiciously by
Macdonough for the defence of the bay was too far from the works of
the army to receive--or to give--assistance with the guns of that day.
The squadron was a little over a mile from the army. It could not
remain there, if the British got possession of the works, for it would
be within range of injury at long shot; but in an engagement between
the hostile fleets the bluffs could have no share, no matter which
party held them, for the fire would be as dangerous to friend as to
foe.

The question of probability, that the American squadron was within
long gunshot of the shore batteries, is crucial, for upon it would
depend the ultimate military judgment upon the management of Sir
George Prevost. That he felt this is evident by letters addressed on
his behalf to Macdonough; by A.W. Cochran, a lawyer of Quebec, to whom
Prevost, after his recall to England for trial, left the charge of
collecting testimony, and by Cadwalader Colden of New York.[414] Both
inquire specifically as to this distance, Colden particularizing that
"it would be all important to learn that the American squadron were
during the engagement beyond the effectual range of the batteries." To
Colden, Macdonough replied guardedly, "It is my opinion that our
squadron was anchored one mile and a half from the batteries." The
answer to Cochran has not been found; but on the back of the letter
from him the Commodore sketched his recollection of the situation,
which is here reproduced. Without insisting unduly on the precision of
such a piece, it seems clear that he thought his squadron but little
more than half way towards the other side of the bay. Cumberland Head
being by survey two miles from the batteries, it would follow that the
vessels were a little over a mile from them. This inference is adopted
as more dependable than the estimate, "a mile and a half." Such eye
reckoning is notoriously uncertain; and this seemingly was made by
recollection, not contemporaneously.[415]

The 24- and 32-pounder long gun of that day ranged a sea mile and a
half, with an elevation of less than fifteen degrees.[416] They could
therefore annoy a squadron at or within that distance. The question
is not of best fighting range. It is whether a number of light built
and light draught vessels could hold their ground under such a
cannonade, knowing that a hostile squadron awaited them without. Even
at such random range, a disabling shot in hull or spars must be
expected. At whatever risk, departure is enforced.

[Illustration: Tracing from pencil sketch of Battle of L.
Champlain, made by Com. Macdonough on back of a letter of
inquiry, addressed to him within a year of the action.
The names are not in the sketch; but with the letters, express
the author's understanding of the Commodore's meaning.]

To a similar letter from Colden, General Macomb replied that he did
not think the squadron within range. There is also a statement in
Niles' Register[417] that several British officers visited Macomb at
Plattsburg, and at their request experiments were made, presumably
trial shots, to ascertain whether the guns of the forts could have
annoyed the American squadron. It was found they could not. Macomb's
opinion may have rested upon this, and the conclusion may be just; but
it is open to remark that, as the squadron was not then there, its
assumed position depended upon memory,--like Macdonough's sketch.
Macomb said further, that "a fruitless attempt was made during the
action to elevate the guns so as to bear on the enemy; but none were
fired, all being convinced that the vessels were beyond their reach."
The worth of this conviction is shown by the next remark, which he
repeated under date of August 1, 1815.[418] "This opinion was
strengthened by observations on the actual range of the guns of the
'Confiance'--her heaviest metal [24-pounders] falling upwards of five
hundred yards short of the shore." The "Confiance" was five hundred
yards further off than the American squadron, and to reach it her guns
would be elevated for that distance only. Because under such condition
they dropped their shot five hundred yards short of three thousand
five hundred yards, it is scarcely legitimate to infer that guns
elevated for three thousand could not carry so far.

The arguments having been stated, it is to be remarked that, whatever
the truth, it is knowledge after the fact as far as Prevost was
concerned. In his report dated September 11, 1814, the day of the
action, he speaks of the difficulties which had been before him; among
them "blockhouses armed with _heavy_ ordnance." This he then believed;
and whether this ordnance could reach the squadron he could only know
by trying. It was urgently proper, in view of his large land force,
and of the expectations of his Government, which had made such great
exertions for an attainable and important object, that he should storm
the works and try. After a careful estimate of the strength of the two
squadrons, I think that a seaman would certainly say that in the open
the British was superior; but decidedly inferior for an attack upon
the American at anchor. This was the opinion of the surviving British
officers, under oath, and of Downie. General Izard, who had been in
command at Plattsburg up to a fortnight before the attack, wrote
afterwards to the Secretary of War, "I may venture to assert that
without the works, Fort Moreau and its dependencies, Captain
Macdonough would not have ventured to await the enemy's attack in
Plattsburg Bay, but would have retired to the upper part of Lake
Champlain."[419] The whole campaign turning upon naval control, the
situation was eminently one that called upon the army to drive the
enemy from his anchorage. The judgment of the author endorses the
words of Sir James Yeo: "There was not the least necessity for our
squadron giving the enemy such decided advantages by going into their
bay to engage them. Even had they been successful, it could not in the
least have assisted the troops in storming the batteries; whereas,
had our troops taken their batteries first, it would have obliged the
enemy's squadron to quit the bay and given ours a fair chance."[420]
At the Court Martial two witnesses, Lieutenant Drew of the "Linnet,"
and Brydone, master of the "Confiance," swore that after the action
Macdonough removed his squadron to Crab Island, out of range of the
batteries.



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