The Battle of Plattsburgh has been commemorated in the northern New York city for decades. But this year organizers were presented with a number of challenges – including limits mandated by the coronavirus pandemic. This week, scaled down in-person commemoration events have been occurring as other presentations are offered virtually.
In a non-pandemic year the Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration features British and American skirmishes on land and lake, a large encampment to wander through and talk to reenactors, gravesite memorials, parades, fireworks and concerts. The War of 1812 battle occurred on September 11, 1814.
Organizers of the 2020 event faced pitfalls even before COVID became part of the vernacular. The city, which had organized the event for four years, notified the Battle of Plattsburgh Association that it could no longer support it. The Association re-organized into the new 1814 Commemoration Inc. and sought grants and community support. Group President Tom Donahue says then the pandemic challenged the event. “And then it was kind of waiting to see what happens. And we want to plan something virtual, on the other hand we don’t have any money to do it virtually. But you know what? The people and the businesses in Plattsburgh really stepped up to the plate. We were able to establish a website. We’ve had some great videos. And finally we’re wrapping up this week by doing some remembrance ceremonies at the different historical monuments. So the public if they get a chance can come out and at least see us and commemorate some of the things that happened at the Battle of Plattsburgh.”
In a year when COVID-19 mandates limited crowd sizes, most of the in-person events had to be re-envisioned. Development Committee Chair Linda Ward says a hybrid event was created with a focus on virtual presentations. “The website will enable us to reach a much broader audience. And not only that the amount of history that we’re able to present on the website is far greater. We were forced into really creating the website and now we’re really happy that this occurred. It’s something that we’re going to continue and we just kind of look at it as our museum without walls.”
The virtual Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration has been active since August 23rd. The first in-person event was held Thursday morning at the Culver Hill Monument, led by Beekmantown Town Historian Gary VanCour. “The reason why we need to recognize it is because it truly was the most important battle of the War of 1812. That’s what Teddy Roosevelt said, who was a noted historian, and also Winston Churchill said that. The Battle of Plattsburgh was the definitive battle. This was the main invasion and they wanted to be able to take the northern part of the state along with the northern parts of New England and the watershed of the Great Lakes and that was all going to become part of Canada.”