In the spirit of the September 10–13 Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration (check out what you missed, and make plans to attend next year), here’s a little Q & A fun from the battle itself, the War of 1812, and Lake Champlain history.
The answers immediately follow each question, so if you enjoy testing yourself and/or others, don’t peek. And if you’re not familiar with the Battle of Plattsburgh, it’s a fantastic story of Americans triumphing against great odds in both a land and water battle. As much as anything else, the victory at Plattsburgh helped end the war.
A battery was constructed near the Saranac River. What’s a battery?
In this case, it’s a group of guns, cannons, and other weapons gathered at one location for combat. A battery should be ever ready.
Since 1931, every American has made reference to Congreve rockets, yet virtually no Americans know what a Congreve rocket is. How can that be?
“And the Rockets Red Glare” refers to the Congreve rockets exploding over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.
Why only since 1931?
That’s when an act of Congress made “The Star-Spangled Banner” our national anthem.
Before Mr. Congreve became famous, which military inventor was the first to load his rockets with metal bits for use in combat?
A famous American patriot was a lieutenant and a quartermaster during the War of 1812, and even wrote a famous poem about the conflict. But he actually opposed the war, referring to it as “abominable.” Who was he?
Francis Scott Key.
Here’s a dumb question, with an even dumber answer. What are the last two words of America’s national anthem?
Let’s try that one again for real. What are the actual last two words of America’s national anthem?
“The Brave” is correct, but you were just lucky. Most of us know only one stanza of the song. There are actually four stanzas, but they all end with the same line.
Can you name a young physician who served under General Macomb at the Battle of Plattsburgh, and later became famous for a very strange medical case he followed?
Dr. William Beaumont.
Can you describe the case?
In Michigan, he treated a patient named Alexis St. Martin, who had suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach. For the rest of Martin’s life, a portion of the wound remained open, allowing easy (queasy?) access to his insides. Beaumont performed many experiments through the stomach opening, gaining incredible knowledge of the digestive system. He eventually recorded his findings in a book, Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion, gaining worldwide fame for his innovative work.
Since St. Martin was the patient, what was all of that poking, prodding, and testing like for him?
Gut-wrenching! Unlike people who say they have knots in their stomach, he literally had knots in his stomach. Beaumont often tied food to a silk string and put it in the stomach hole, waited a while, and pulled it out to see how much it had digested.
In 1814, many skirmishes and two major battles took place at Plattsburgh. Which battle left more American troops at Plattsburgh disabled than all of the other battles combined?
The battle against dysentery and typhus. Yep, that was a gotcha question.
What newspapers do you read?
Hah! That wasn’t a gotcha question. That was just a joke.
Abatis (ABBA-tee) were used to protect Plattsburgh’s forts. Any idea what it means?
Abatis in basic form usually refers to thick piles of tangled branches, often with sharpened points outward to slow or thwart attackers.
Until 1801, why was American John Aylwin, a Fifth Lieutenant, working for Britain?
Because he was impressed – but not because he thought they were great. In this case, impressed means forced to work on a British ship. Impressment of thousands of Americans was a major factor in declaring war on the British in 1812. Stealing sailors was one way to man their ships.
What were the sides of Old Ironsides actually made of?
Who supplied the copper spikes and bolts that held Old Ironsides together?
They came from the foundry of Paul Revere, who is revered for other reasons.
Can you name the one big negative of having a ship named after you?
Ships are usually named after dead people.
Can you name Thomas Macdonough’s flagship that led the Americans to an amazing upset win?
Was Macdonough, America’s commanding officer in Plattsburgh Bay, injured during the battle?
Macdonough may have suffered a concussion. He was knocked down twice, first by a falling mast, and the second time by the severed head of his gun captain.
Did Macdonough get to command any other famous ships after the Saratoga?
Yes. He commanded Fulton the First, a steam-powered, 156-foot war vessel designed by Robert Fulton. He also commanded Old Ironsides (the USS Constitution) in 1824 and 1825.
Which historian in 1882 published The Naval War of 1812, and in it said of Thomas Macdonough, “Down to the time of the Civil War, he is the greatest figure in our naval history.”
Who said, “The Battle of Plattsburgh crippled the British and was the most important engagement of the war.”
Sir Winston Churchill.
Mark your calendar for next year’s Battle of Plattsburgh celebration. It’s a great event for the whole family.
Photo: Battle of Plattsburgh.