A note for posterity....
If you didn’t know it already, the Battle of Plattsburgh (or Plattsburgh Bay, or Lake Champlain) occurred on September 11, 1814. The city is now celebrating the battle’s bicentennial with a wide range of events spanning August 29 through Sunday, September 14.
I was raised just 20 miles from Plattsburgh, but can recall no such celebrations during my childhood, and no mention of the battle in our history schoolbooks or classes. Now that I’m older, it’s interesting to note the genesis of such events and the pattern of popularity they undergo over the course of two centuries.
In 1814 and 1815, the victory at Plattsburgh was spectacularly famous. The young United States had suffered many embarrassing setbacks during the War of 1812, so the win itself was a big deal. Since the American forces were heavy underdogs at Plattsburgh, the feat was that much more impressive.
But closer to home, it was of monumental importance to regional residents from the Canadian border to Albany, and on to New York City. Had the invasion continued south of Plattsburgh, who knew how, or where, or even if the British would be stopped? There was a great sense of fear and panic, followed by widespread joy and relief at the news that the forces at Plattsburgh had prevailed. Year after year, parties and celebrations were held in honor of an important battle won.
To digress briefly … there are many who scoff at the War of 1812 for a variety of reasons, calling it forgettable, a mistake, insignificant, or a poor excuse for a war. Whether those assessments are accurate or not, it should always be remembered that no American military personnel in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Europe, or our own Civil War, were any more at risk than the forces that defended Plattsburgh and the nation. Firsthand accounts of Plattsburgh’s battles confirm this—from skirmishes to facing cannon fire at close quarters, with men killed and limbs severed. It was a hellish experience.
Events like those at Plattsburgh are honored for years to come, at least through the lifetime of surviving participants, and usually well into the lives of their offspring. We see it today, for example, more than a second generation away from World War II. Memorials are still held, but how many of today’s youth have a grasp on the realities of that conflict? How many know what the Holocaust was, and why the motto, “Never Forget,” became so important?