Plattsburgh, New York, at the northwest corner of Lake Champlain, bills itself as the U.S. suburb of Montreal, Canada (about 60 miles north). To most travelers in this sparse and remote area of the Empire State, the city of 31,000 inhabitants is a waypoint on the Interstate-87 trip between Montreal and Albany. But the picturesque region has been much more in American history. The 11 September 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh, also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, is the focus of the War of 1812 Museum, just two blocks from the shores of Lake Champlain. It is a museum in keeping with the character of the town—small and easily overlooked, yet significant.
At the pivotal battle near the end of the War of 1812, American forces stopped a major invasion of the northern United States by the British army. Some 10,000 Redcoats under the command of Lieutenant General George Prévost, supported by a naval squadron led by Captain George Downie, confronted 3,400 U.S. regular and militia troops commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Macomb. Master Commandant Thomas MacDonough commanded the U.S. Navy flotilla protecting lake approaches to the town. After MacDonough’s surprise victory in the harbor, Prévost retreated to Canada. In his view, even had Plattsburgh been captured, his advance toward Albany would have been stymied without control of the lake.