THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (September 7-September 13, 1814) PART II
Battle on the Lake.
On the same day the British threaten Baltimore, Captain George Downie’s 16-vessel fleet rounds Cumberland Head just southeast of Plattsburgh, New York and almost immediately attacks the 14-ships and gunboats led by Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough.
Macdonough has his four larger ships anchored close to shore in the narrow area of Plattsburgh Bay, putting the British sailing ships at a maneuvering disadvantage – especially if the wind dies, which it does. Additionally, the Saratoga, Eagle, Ticonderoga and Preble are rigged with spring cables, heavy lines attached to anchors at either side of the ship, allowing them to swing almost 180 degrees so the guns can be brought to bear on the enemy without having to rely on the sails to maneuver in battle.
The fighting is fierce. Within 15 minutes, Downie, the British commander is killed when an American canon ball strikes a gun carriage on the Confiance, which smashes into the commander. Macdonough is knocked unconscious twice, first when he’s struck by falling debris and later he’s struck by the decapitated head of one of his crew.
(Click on map image to enlarge)
The British Chub and the American Preble are lost when Chub runs aground and the Preble when canon fir disables the ship and it drifts away from the battle.
The spring cable idea works brilliantly when most of the guns on one side of the Saratoga are knocked out of action. The cables are hauled to swing the ship’s other side around to face the enemy and pour broadsides into the larger British ship.
After two and a half hours, the last British ships strike their colors and surrender. Seeing the naval disaster, Prevost decides to withdraw his army over the strong objections of his officers and heads back to Montreal. Historians will later call this the turning point of the war.
NEXT: Another British Assault — on Baltimore
Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, News Developments, Technology, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812. Tags: Battle of Lake Champlain, Battle of Plattsburgh, Canada, Captain George Downie, Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough, Navy, New York in War of 1812, Sir George Prevost, War of 1812 Bicentennial.