Bay, 11 September 1814
B ySeptemberof 1814 the War of 1812 had dragged on through three wea ry summers. The conquest of Canada, forecast as a “mere matter of marching,” had turned out to be an ever-receding mirage.
Not only had US forces suffe red many defeats, even the tactical victories had not been able to alter the strategic balance.
Worse yet, that balance was tipping ever more heavily in England’s favor, and the defeat of Napoleon had freed up many regiments of battle-hardened veterans who could now be redeployed to Canada.
The fiercest fighting of the war to date had occurred on the N iagara Peninsula in midsummer.
Naval Battle of Plattsburgh American troops had invaded
across the N iagara River for the third time. The Americans attacked Fort Erie on 3 July and the small garrison surrendered.
The US Army had trained and drilled incessantly over the winter, and it proved effective when the British were forced off the field at Chippewa on 5 July.
Three weeks later at Lundy’s Lane, the fighting raged into the night over possession of a gun battery.
The Americans succeeded in taking the guns after midnight, but could not move them with any success and had to abandon them at dawn. In August, the British attempted to retake Fort Erie.
Another night of slaughter and horror left the Americans in possession of Fort Erie, which they kept into the fall, but abandoned in No44’oN vember when sober assessment revealed that it was unlikely to withstand a winter siege.
W hile the US effort on the N iagara Peninsula was being contained until it was exhausted , a British raid in the Chesapeake burned government buildings in Washington, forcing the US government to disperse and flee.
The British then moved on to menace Baltimore. Against this background of cascading failures, the US was about to receive the heaviest blow yet.
Naval Battle of Plattsburgh The governor of Canada, General George Prevost, was preparing to go on the offensive.
The largest British army yet assembled in the war- 15,000 experienced fighters-was poised in Montreal to invade New York State down the Richelieu River-Lake Champla in-Lake George-Hudson River system.
Leaving a reserve in Montreal and detachments to guard supply bases, the frontline strike force numbered fewer than 10,000. Even so, it was still the most formidable force yet deployed .
These waters connecting New York City to Canada had been much fou ght over in previous wars. O ne look at a map should have made it obvious where US defenses had to hold: Plattsburgh, New York.
There, 5,000 US soldiers dug in along the banks of the Saranac River; they were outnumbered by the British nearly two-to-one.
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