Resource for Historians, Educators, Students and Visitors since 1997
In this contemporary view
of the Battle of Plattsburgh, Crab Island can be seen at center left,
The Secrets of Crab Island: Part VI
War of 1812- The Battle of Plattsburg
Once again the winds of war would blow south over the crucial Richelieu River/Lake Champlain corridor. The region played a key role in what has been referred to as America's second war of independence. Repeated American incursions into Canada had proven disastrous and now the British had decided to bring the war into the United States. In September 1814 the British invasion began, a massive force surged south over land and water. They would meet their foes at a place named Plattsburg.
The British army and navy were not the only enemies the young American military had to deal with. Disease and desertion were formidable foes for both sides. A pressing need to deal with both brought tiny Crab Island to the attention of the American forces here. Army surgeon James Mann tells us much about the situation in Plattsburg at the time:
Dr. Mann's account of the scene at Crab Island
Plattsburg was the scene of feverish activity as the British onslaught pushed south from the border. The residents of the town had fled; General Alexander Macomb decided to use the natural barrier of the Saranac River as an aid in his defense against the invaders. A series of fortifications were hastily erected on the south bank of the river, time was of the essence- those unable to work were transported to Crab Island.
On September 3, Dr. Mann wrote his superiors in an earnest plea for assistance:
By September 10, hundreds had been evacuated south to the hospital at Burlington. However, the engagements at Culver Hill and Halsey's Corners resulted in another 40 or so wounded being shipped to the tents on the island. Mann wrote of the distressing situation on the island. His troubles were nothing compared to what was in store the next morning.
September 11, 1814
September 11th dawned and two mighty navies clashed just north of Crab Island in Cumberland Bay. The deafening roar of cannon fire was accompanied by clouds of smoke blocking the view of the fearsome conflict. Midway through the action, the invalid crew manning a two-gun battery on the northeast shore was stunned to find the British sloop Finch bearing down upon the island. Soon, the vessel was hopelessly aground upon the reef. Gallant efforts were made to lighten the ship so that it might return to the fight, to no avail. Four 18-pounder carronades were tossed overboard, nothing helped. The battery on Crab opened up on the stranded ship with round and grape shot. The Finch returned fire. According to her Captain, William Hicks, the crew of the Finch "had the pleasure of killing or wounding every man at the guns on shore and silence them."3 The contingent at Crab Island contributed some of their own ranks to the services of the surgeons.
When the terrible battle was over, the hospital on the island received the wounded of both fleets. Dreadful scenes of death and destruction were everywhere as boat after boat arrived with their appalling cargo. The British flagship Confiance alone contributed some 83 wounded, 41 of them listed as "dangerously or seriously wounded." This, on top of 40 killed outright on the ship during the battle.4 Along with the British dead and wounded came the American combatants. Mortal enemies who just hours before had fought furiously with each other now lay side by side in rows in the hospital tents. Outside the tents, rows upon rows of British and American warriors, many not much older than children, together awaited the burial that must come soon.
Other than Dr. James Mann's account of the situation on Crab Island, only one other account has come to light detailing the situation on Crab Island immediately following the battle. Printed in the Plattsburgh Republican of September 22, 1877 it records the recollections of Simeon Doty of Chazy.
Simeon Doty's account
Some time later Caleb Nichols, the owner of the island at the time of its use by the American forces, submitted a bill to the government. This document, on display at the Clinton County Historical Museum in Plattsburgh, is transcribed here with their permission:
The Caleb Nichols bill*
|The United States|
To C. Nichols, Dr.
For rent of and damages done to Crab Island by Commodore Macdonough's Fleet before the 20th October 1814.
*Caleb Nichols bill transcribed from a photocopy of the original in the collections of the Clinton County Historical Museum in Plattsburgh, NY.
1 James Mann, "MEDICAL SKETCHES OF THE CAMPAIGNS OF 1812, 13, 14. TO WHICH ARE ADDED, SURGICAL CASES; OBSERVATIONS ON MILITARY HOSPITALS; AND FLYING HOSPITALS ATTACHED TO A MOVING ARMY." 1816 (DEDHAM: Printed by H. Mann and Co.)
*America's Historic Lakes is a favorite of educators around the world. You can
feel confident that the material
on this site is accurate, well-researched, properly cited and presented.
America's Historic Lakes by James P. Millard and Guest Contributors is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
James P. Millard
Post Office Box 262
South Hero, Vermont 05486-0262
Terms of Service and Disclaimer of Liability
The historical information on this web site is provided as a public service by James P. Millard. I have attempted to be as accurate as possible in my presentation of this historical material. However, I make no claims, guarantees or promises about the accuracy, currency, or completeness of the information provided. In no event shall the publisher; James P. Millard, be liable for any errors or omissions with respect to any information on this site. Material submitted by guest contributors and published on the site is the property of the contributor and may be removed at any time at my discretion or upon request of the contributor. This website occasionally provides links to sites of other organizations maintained by third parties. These links do not constitute an endorsement of the content, viewpoint, accuracy, opinions, policies, products, services, or accessibility of that website. Links to third-party websites are provided as a public service and convenience to users of our site; James P. Millard/America’s Historic Lakes does not control, endorse or recommend the content on sites we may link to. Once connected to another website, you are subject to the terms and conditions of that website.