The annual re-enactment of the Battle of Plattsburgh.
PLATTSBURGH — Soldiers marched in columns past the Champlain monument in Plattsburgh, stopped within 100 yards of the enemy near the edge of Lake Champlain and fired, the smoke from their weapons reaching past the barrels as if to claim those still standing.
On Lake Champlain, the blast of cannons echoed across the waters, nearly covered by the fog of war.
It was 2012, but on that day, Plattsburgh stepped back to 1814 and the battle that became one of the decisive factors of the War of 1812.
“The battles took place for a two-and-a- half to three-hour period,” said Keith Herkalo, Plattsburgh City Clerk, historian, author and narrator for the Battle of Plattsburgh re-enactment.
“Everyone thinks the most important battle of 1812 was New Orleans, but it was a diversion. The British didn’t want it.”
The British sent 16,000 troops to North America and instructions to Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost to invade American territory.
Prevost advanced down Lake Champlain, fighting briefly in Beekmantown in early September as he headed for Plattsburgh with 11,000 troops.
The British navy was to take control of Lake Champlain.
In late August, Major General George Izard had taken about 4,000 American troops to reinforce Sackett’s Harbor, leaving Brigadier General Alexander Macomb in command at Plattsburgh with 1,500 American regulars. Most of them were recruits and invalids.
General Benjamin Mooers called on militia from Vermont and New York, although those men were largely untrained.
Plattsburgh’s residents, nearly all 3,000 of them, fled the city.
On Sept. 11, 1814, at around 9 a.m., the British squadron attacked American ships on Lake Champlain. British naval squadron commander, Captain George Downie, was quickly killed.
British gunboats withdrew and British officers surrendered.
“There were 10 gunboats on each side, and none of them sank,” Herkalo said.
Many of the British dead are to this day buried at a mass grave on Crab Island.
Prevost’s attack was to begin when the naval battle started but got underway about an hour later than planned.
The Americans gained an early advantage.
As Red Coats fell during the re-enactment in Plattsburgh, people from the crowd, the smell of gunpowder in their nostrils, shouted, “We got one. We got one. Finish them off.” Seemingly in response, more bodies fell as drums pushed the soldiers forward and children laughed with their parents.
During the real battle, when Prevost learned Downie’s ship had been defeated, he called retreat, knowing any further attack was worthless without naval support.
The Battle of Plattsburgh ended the final invasion of the northern states during the War of 1812.
America used the victory at Plattsburgh to demand exclusive rights to Lake Champlain and deny the British exclusive rights to the Great Lakes.
The victory at Plattsburgh and British failure at Baltimore prevented the British from making demands for territorial gains in the Treaty of Ghent.
“Plattsburgh was the most important battle in the War of 1812,” Herkalo said.