In September 1814, one of the most important battles of the War of 1812 was fought on Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, New York.
The British were attempting to capture the city to cut off the supply routes in the region and trying to cut the colonies in half. Leading up to the battle, the British led the largest invasion force in US history towards the city of Plattsburgh by land and water.
While fighting occurred over several days, the battle culminated in a major American victory on September 11, 1814. This victory, along with victory in the Battle of Baltimore (of “Star Spangled Banner” fame) that occurred from September 12-15, was key to the US getting favorable terms in the Treaty of Ghent that was signed in December 1814.
Today, very little remains of this important battlefield, but the War of 1812 Museum on the outskirts of Plattsburgh works to keep this history alive in the 21st century.
The museum is run by the Battle of Plattsburgh Association which began in 1999 to tell the story of the battle. Their small, but well-done museum offers a great look into this little-known time period of American history.
Visits start with an eight-minute film that offers a nice overview of the battle and its importance in American history. While you could visit and not see the film, I definitely recommend taking a few minutes to watch it.
The rest of the exhibit is broken up into three main exhibition areas.
The first is focused on Pike’s Containment, which was the camp in Plattsburgh for the soldiers under the command of Zebulon Pike during the winter of 1812-1813.
In the center of the room is an 80% scale model of Pike’s cabin and headquarters during those winter months. The site of this cabin was discovered during archeological work in the area, and there are pieces on display around the room that were uncovered during the work.
This room offers a really interesting look into what winter camp life was like during the war of 1812, and it was interesting to contrast it with what I had seen during my time at Valley Forge near Philadelphia.
The museum’s second room is highlighted by a large map of the Plattsburgh area in September 1814. There is an audio program that includes lit spots on the diorama that offers a great look at the battle and really helps to explain the movements during it.
The room also features signage and items about the soldiers and volunteers that fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh, including an officer’s sword from 1813.
The third room inside the War of 1812 Museum is an art gallery. Here, you’ll find a collection of both original and reproduction works that feature the Battle of Plattsburgh.
The highlight of this room, and possibly of the whole museum, is the 1884 painting titled “The Battle of Lake Champlain” by Julian O. Davidson. This remarkable painting is owned by KeyBank, but is on display inside the museum for all to enjoy.
Overall, the War of 1812 Museum in Plattsburgh is an interesting spot to visit. While the museum isn’t large, it offers a really nice overview of a little-known, but very important battle in American history, and helps to provide some historical context for the region and the country.
Even better, there is no admission costs, which means there’s really no reason to skip the museum if you’re exploring Clinton County, New York.
War of 1812 Museum
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 10am-3pm
Address: 31 Washington Rd