View Full Version : Memorial honors Marines killed in 1814 naval battle

10-11-04, 07:32 AM
The Lore of the Corps
Memorial honors Marines killed in 1814 naval battle

By Don Burzynski
Special to the Times

It was Sept. 11, 1814, and the British had come by land and sea to Plattsburgh, N.Y., which was home to three American forts and six regiments.
The 15,000 British troops, many veterans of England’s war against Napoleon, had been under withering fire from militia troops for days, but finally they were within striking distance of Plattsburgh.

The city’s defenders numbered about 3,500, of which about 1,000 were sick. Ultimately, however, Plattsburgh’s fate would be in the hands of about 660 American sailors and 200 Marines aboard four ships and 10 small gunboats on Lake Champlain.

Aboard each American ship was a detachment of Marines whose job was to lead all boarding parties and amphibious assaults. The leathernecks fought from the tops — fighting platforms on the masts — as marksmen, and from which they also hurled grenades at hatches where enemy powder magazines were stored.

The early Marines also were cannon cockers, trained to man the big 24- or 32-pounder cannon (so named for the weight of the cannonball they fired) if a cannon crew was taken out.

The U.S. ships, including the Eagle, Saratoga, Ticonderoga and Preble, carried 86 cannon. The British, with four ships and 10 galleys, sailed with more than 1,000 sailors and marines and nearly 100 cannon.

The battle was a horrific fight of ear-shattering broadsides, crashing timber, torn canvas and the screams of dying men. U.S. Commodore Thomas MacDonough’s flagship, the Saratoga, caught fire twice, but he waited for the British to close because his 32-pound carronades, or “smashers,” were effective only at close range.

The assault on the British ships was fierce; their attacking galleys were so damaged that they could barely row away. Finally, the American ships Eagle and Saratoga remained to fight the British ships Confidence and Linnet. Victory came after the Saratoga came around and raked the Confidence with a broadside. Both sides’ ships took major damage but, in the end, the British drew away.

Back on land, word of the American victory on the lake reached the British commander, who felt he could not sustain a deeper incursion into New York with the American fleet on his flank. The British army turned and headed back into Canada.

The lake battle cost the Americans and British about 50 dead each, according to some estimates; the two sides had about 160 wounded combined.

Marines and sailors on both sides were buried on Crab Island in Cumberland Bay, in a single unmarked grave.

Unmarked until recently, that is.

On Sept. 11, the Department of Veterans Affairs dedicated a granite monument on the island that names 41 American sailors and seven Marines known to be buried in the mass grave.

Among the officials at the ceremony was Capt. John Gower, a British naval captain and attaché to the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Marines named on the monument are James Carlisle, John Wallace, Joseph Heaton, Robert Stratton, Deodorick Think, John Sharp and James Day.

The writer is a War of 1812 Marine re-enactor. He can be reached at dburzynski2003@yahoo.com.