The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

The British Defeat at Plattsburgh

A More Bellicose British Strategy

With peace reigning in Europe once again, it was possible in the summer of 1814 to send a large number of British soldiers to America. In both Upper and Lower Canada, the army increased from approximately 15,000 regular officers and soldiers in May 1814 to some 28,000 by mid-August. During the same period the garrison in the Maritime colonies increased from about 4,300 to 7,500 men. As a consequence, the British adopted a much more bellicose strategy.

Sir George Prevost assembled some 11,000 men in early September to take Plattsburgh and occupy northeastern New York State. Most of the men belonged to regiments of the British army, but the Canadian Voltigeurs, the Canadian Chasseurs and four Select Embodied Militia battalions incorporated in Lower Canada were also among them. On the American side, General Alexander Macomb had only 3,000 militiamen and soldiers to defend the small town. On September 7 the Anglo-Canadian army arrived within view of Plattsburgh. But instead of attacking, Prevost decided to wait until the British fleet arrived from Île-aux-Noix to neutralize the American fleet anchored in Plattsburgh Bay. This was a major tactical error, giving the enemy time to dig; an immediate attack would have quickly broken down the town's wooden fortifications, and the fleet would have been forced to evacuate the bay to avoid being taken. Prevost's inaction tied the fate of the land campaign to the outcome of a naval battle.