While most of the country today remembers the attack on the U.S. 18 years ago, memorials are also being held in New York’s North Country to commemorate the first attack on the U.S in 1814. During the Battle of Plattsburgh, the British fought Americans for control of Lake Champlain. More than 100 British and American soldiers are buried in unmarked graves on an unpopulated island that served as a field hospital. Every year on September 11th the American Legion and others gather at the memorial to lay a wreath and pay tribute. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was on the island this morning.
Crab Island is accessible only by boat. Most of the 40-acre limestone island is flush with scrub and poison ivy, but trails lead to a 100-foot-tall flagpole. Farther along the paths stands a stone obelisk. Both are dedicated to British, Canadian and American soldiers who died during the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh and are buried somewhere on the island.
Wednesday’s wreath-laying ceremony began at the flagpole. “Ladies and gentlemen we’re here to lay a wreath in honor of our veterans from the Battle of Valcour and the Battle of Plattsburgh who gave the ultimate sacrifice on October 11, 1776 and on 9/11/1814. We’re going to lay a wreath in their honor and raise the flag.”
(National anthem plays and gun salute)
“Okay we’ll proceed down to the monument now where we’ll lay a wreath in front of the graves.”
The group then hikes about 10 minutes to the obelisk for another tribute. “Alright ladies and gentlemen we’re going to lay a wreath here in honor of our vets that made the ultimate sacrifice and also for the veterans on Valcour Island.”
Sons of the American Legion member John Rock is also an active member of the Friends of Crab Island. “There was a battle took place here on September 11, 1814 when Commodore MacDonough who held off the British with a small fleet and sent the British back home. And on this island there was a military hospital headed by Dr. James Mann, an army surgeon. And the casualties and wounded from the ships they brought them onto the island. And he treated the ones that he could and saved the ones that he could and of course some of them perished. And as they perished this became a burial site. There are 50 American vets buried on this island and they have been out here for now 205 years. And until we put their names up in 2002 their names had never been displayed. And they gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Rock adds that their tribute is unique because they include Canadian and British soldiers from the opposing side who are also buried on the island. “Because as the British fleet came down through Canada they did not have enough people on their ships to man their ships. So they stopped and took people at gunpoint and said you are now a member of the British Navy. So we don’t know exactly how many are out here but we do know there are Canadians out here. There are 50 Americans as far as we know and there are 102 British and Canadians that are buried on the island.”
Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman, who laid the wreaths during the two ceremonies, says Crab Island is a hub in the town’s Battlefield Memorial Gateway project. “Crab Island represents the Battle of Plattsburgh. Just a little ways away is the northern tip of Valcour Island which represents the American Revolution. And then of course when it stitches back to the land side where the gateway is that’s referred to as the Triangle of History. And on Lake Champlain there have been some of the most pivotal battles that ever occurred in the American story right here.”
The Battle of Plattsburgh occurred on September 11th, 1814. The American naval victory is credited with leading to the Treaty of Ghent that formally ended the War of 1812.