General Izard's Occupation of Champlain
July - August, 1814
General George Izard was placed in command of 2,000 troops in May of 1814. By the middle of June he was in command of 3,000 troops. By the end of July, Benson Lossing states that there were over 4,500 soldiers in Champlain under Izard. Some of the regiments that were under Izard were the 4th, 5th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 45th. He also had light artillery and dragoons.
Gen. Izard's troops encamped on the high hill overlooking today's St. Mary's Church. Today the neighborhood is crossed with Pine Street but in 1814 it was a field owned by Noadiah Moore. Izard erected batteries here and had an unimpeded view of the north.
July was not without incident. With Izard's 4,500 troops in Champlain, one notable incident did occur. On July 25, Pliny Moore wrote in his diary that “A man had been shot for desertion.”
That same month, Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada, received secret instructions from Lord Bathurst to undertake an invasion of New York along Lake Champlain. Prevost was placed in command of 14,000 soldiers and started to mass his army at Isle aux Noix. Many of these soldiers had fought under the Duke of Wellington in Spain and Portugal during the Napoleonic War and were seasoned soldiers. With the war over in April of 1814, these troops started to arrive in Canada during the summer.
Prevost was able to keep the news of his army's buildup secret. Izard was unaware of this buildup until early August and the Secretary of War John Armstrong in Washington did not know until much later than that. On July 27, suspecting that a British attack would occur at Sackets Harbor (this was part of Prevost’s deception), Izard received orders from the Secretary of War to supplement the Army of the Niagara at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario. Izard and the border inhabitants were shocked by this command.
Aware now that the British were building up their army, Peter Sailly wrote the Superintendent General of Public Supplies on August 4, 1814, and warned him that more troops were needed to defend the border region. He wrote:
“Much clothing and military stores have been sent lately to Whitehall from this place, and the provisions are to be removed from this village, within the line of defense which General Izard has been forming a little south of it. There exists a well founded apprehension that if eleven regiments of the army of Wellington have arrived in Québec, as is announced in the Canadian newspapers, an attack upon this place and army may soon be expected. No approach however on the part of the enemy has yet been made. Our army is at Chazy and Champlain, about 4000 strong, and including the detachments left here and at Cumberland Head will form a body of about 5000 effectiveness. I think we ought to have six thousand militia on this frontier. Who will have the ascendancy on the waters of Lake Champlain is somewhat doubtful. As many troops as the British wanted in Upper Canada have been sent there since the 10th of July and previous to the arrival of the eleven regiments. Forgive this discretion. It is well meant.”Izard was also very aware of the troop buildup and was delaying in leaving Champlain in the hopes that the Secretary of War would reverse his order to move the troops to Sackets Harbor. Izard wrote on August 11, one month from the day of the Battle of Plattsburgh:
“I will make the movement you direct, if possible; but I shall do it with the apprehension of risking the force under my command, and with the certainty that every thing in this vicinity but the lately erected works at Plattsburg and Cumberland Head will, in less than three days after my departure, be in the possession of the enemy. He is in force superior to mine in my front; he daily threatens an attack on my position at Champlain; we are all in hourly expectation of a serious conflict. . . . Let me not be supposed to hesitate about executing any project which the government I have the honor to serve think proper to direct. My little army will do its duty.”Izard wrote the Secretary of War again on August 20 when he realized he had no choice but to leave Champlain:
Starting on August 27, Izard's army marched from Champlain down to Plattsburgh. By August 29 he had left the Plattsburgh area. On September 4, when the British started their march from Champlain to Plattsburgh, Izard was in Glenn's Falls. He now had no way of defending Plattsburgh with his army.
On August 28, the day after Izard left Champlain, a British Indian force crossed the border. Pliny wrote in his diary, “British Indian Force came into Champlain.” That next day, he wrote, “All peaceable except for one drunken Indian.”
AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER, 1814 – THE BRITISH OCCUPATION
On August 27, Izard left his encampment in the village of Champlain. Several days would pass while Champlain was visited by Indians and British. The main invasion of the British started on Monday, August 31, when half of the 14,000 soldier army marched into Champlain.
General Robinson wrote in his journal deltails about the invasion of Champlain and his Indian force:
Towards the close of the month great preparations were making for a second xpedition and on the 31st I received orders to march with my Brigade in two Divisions on the first September for L’Acadie. Generals Brisbane and Power moved forward on the same day, the first occupying the town and position of Champlain and the second that of Bretonville. On the 2 my Brigade moved to Burtonville through very bad roads rendered much more by the number of artillery and other carriages with the second and third Brigades. On the 3rd the First Brigade occupied the American huts on the heights above the town of Champlain where I received orders not to permit the Indians to come into the town, but that I might let them march with me or not, as I pleased. I therefore gave directions to Lt. Col. Johnston to remain where he was till further orders. This Corps of Indians was said to amount to four hundred warriors of the St. Francois, St. Regis (Mohawks), Caughnawaga (Mohawks) and from other tribes. I considered them perfectly useless against the enemy, but likely to produce much mischief to the peaceable inhabitants and gave strict orders that none of them were to be permitted to follow us. The 88th Regiment was left at Champlain to keep up the communications with our Lines.
Commentary: General George Izard's Abandonment of Champlain
and the Battle of Plattsburgh
One could speculate about the role of Champlain and the American victory in the Battle of Plattsburgh. As many people know, Commodore Thomas Macdonough’s navy destroyed the British navy in Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. When the second half of the British army arrived late in Plattsburgh shortly after the naval battle, they retreated back to Champlain when they realized that their navy had lost the battle. British General Prevost likely concluded that he could not go further than Plattsburgh without a navy since he would not have control of the lake and subsequent supply routes. Therefore, he had no desire to take Plattsburgh.
Only days prior to that decisive battle, 4,500 American soldiers under General George Izard were camped in Champlain. In July, Prevost starting to mass troops in Canada but was able to trick the Americans into thinking he was going to do battle on Lake Ontario. On July 27, 1814, Izard received orders to move his army to Sackets Harbor for the likely battle. Although he was now aware that the British army was massing just over the border, his superiors in Washington did not know this at the time. Izard wrote:
"I must not be responsible for the consequences of abandoning my present strong position. I will obey orders and execute them as well as I know how. Major General Brisbane commands at Odell Town. He is said to have between five and six thousand men with him. At Chambly are said to be about four thousand."
Izard was able to delay his departure from Champlain for several weeks while waiting for new orders from Washington. On August 30, the day after Izard left Champlain for Plattsburgh, the British army entered the village. On September 4, they started for Chazy and Plattsburgh. On September 11, the Battle of Plattsburgh was fought.
What might have happened if Izard had remained in Champlain for the remainder of the fall? His 4,500 man army would have been little match for 14,000 seasoned British soldiers, many of whom fought under the Duke of Wellington during the Napoleonic War in Europe. It is likely that the British would have engaged the American army in Champlain where considerable death and destruction would have occurred. If the British won this battle they would have been weakened but still quite determined to reach Plattsburgh since their navy would have been strong and still planning to attack the American Navy in Plattsburgh. The Champlain battle would have also given the British more time to finish building and testing their warships, including the Confiance, which on September 11, was still being built as it sailed into battle.
The Battle of Plattsburgh would have likely been on a different day than September 11. One of the reasons for Macdonough’s victory was that he knew the winds in Plattsburgh Bay, unlike British commander Captian Downie. One could again speculate as to whether Downie would have made the same critical mistakes on a different day? Would he have been killed by an American cannonball in the first minutes of battle? Would the Americans have broken the Confiance’s anchor with a cannonball, thus making the ship unmaneuverable? Unlikely.
Upon reaching Plattsburgh, the British may have encountered a totally different navel situation than what they did on September 11. As many people know, hundreds of soldiers in Benjamin Mooers’ army were unable to fight effectively since they were sick. Mooers’ army was no match for the British army and would likely have been unable to defend themselves in a real battle with the British determined to take Plattsburgh. Under this scenario, the British could have won the naval and land battles and used northern New York as a bargaining chip during peace negotiations (which had been ongoing for some time).
The above thoughts are purely speculation and relate to American General George Izard's abandonment of Champlain. With the main battle fought by Macdonough’s naval fleet and not by the British and American armies, victory was given to the Americans.