The Battle of Plattsburg Bay
Background to the Battle of Plattsburg Bay
On June 30, 1814, Governor General of Canada George Prevost receives orders to establish a foothold on Lake Champlain. At this point, the Ghent peace negotiations are going nowhere. The talks have moved beyond the issue of the impressment of U.S. sailors by the British Navy, one of the major reasons the Americans declared war in the first place. The US seems perfectly willing to remove impressment from the agenda altogether. On the British side, the strategy appears to be to drag the negotiations out as long as possible.
What the British really want is exclusive navigation rights on the Great Lakes as well as possession of the territory they have already conquered. The British also expect Prevosts troops will soon seize Sackets Harbour and Plattsburg.
The British prime minister, Lord Liverpool, believes Plattsburg and Sackets Harbour, along with British-controlled Fort Niagara and Michilimackinac, will be useful bargaining chips at the Ghent talks. Liverpool has good reason to be optimistic. Wellingtons troops, inspired by their defeat of Napoleon, are pouring into North America by the thousands. They are reputedly the best fighting men in the world. Liverpool thinks they will have no difficulty making mincemeat out of the upstart Americans and their largely undisciplined militia forces.
In the period leading up to the battle, it appears the British squadron on Lake Champlain has the upper hand. The British have scored a string of victories, the most successful occurring on July 3, 1813. On this occasion two American sloops venture north of the border in an effort to blockade the British fleet. British gunboats soon capture the ships. They are renamed Chubb and Finch and are used the following summer by the British, at the Battle of Plattsburg Bay.
Both sides embark on a shipbuilding race in the months preceding the main battle. US Commander Thomas Macdonough forms a successful association with New York shipbuilder Noah Brown. In the spring they launch the 120-foot Saratoga at the Vergennes shipyard and manage to build the twenty-gun brig Eagle in a record seventeen days. Not to be outdone, the British counter with a building program of their own that results in the launch of Downies flagship, the 146-foot Confiance, at Isle aux Noix on the Richelieu River.