Essay About Badly Led
The American Army, a descendant of the Continental Army of the Revolutionary War was tiny, ill-equipped and badly led in 1812. It was insanity to declare war on England, the most powerful nation in the western world. The American regular army would come of age during the disasters of the campaigns in Canada between 1812 and 1814. The officer corps was appointed according to political affiliation. Only the elderly general officers were veterans of the Revolution. It appears that whatever they had learned at Washington’s knee had faded with years of inactivity.
The troops were recruited from the cities and were not the field marksmen of the Minutemen era. They were inducted for short enlistments with a cash bonus and allocation of land on the western frontier. Often starved, poorly equipped, exposed to the elements, infected with fevers and unpaid, they were equally ill led. By the summer and fall of 1814, the leadership had improved since the politicians had gone home.
Yet they had been plagued by numerous defeats in multiple attempts to invade Canada. While a formation under Generals Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott persisted in the Niagara, Major General George Izard retrained another force at Plattsburgh, New York during the summer of 1814. It had to be re-established after the defeat at La Colle Mill in Canada in March 1814. The former commander, who was relieved by Secretary of War Armstrong, himself a veteran of Saratoga in 1777, was under orders to appear at a court martial.
Izard was aware that the British Army was arriving in large numbers in Quebec and Montreal and he knew that the defeat of Napoleon now allowed great freedom of action on the part of General Prevost. Believing that the Plattsburgh garrison of 6,000 troops, most of who were recruits, was a prime target, he enlisted the aid of the American Navy. Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough, master commandant of Lake Champlain, and Commodore of the Fleet was called on to assist the Army to withstand the coming invasion from the north. Izard knew that he could not stand in open order against the veteran red-coated regiments that had defeated the French Army in Spain.
In an attempt to strengthen his force through the use of terrain, Izard spent the summer digging in on the peninsula on the south side of the swift-flowing Saranac River which split the little town of Plattsburgh, New York. He built three earthwork artillery positions and two blockhouses, which were interconnected with trenches and laterals. In truth, the half-mile projection of land on the shore of Cumberland Bay looked more like a battlefield in Flanders in 1914 than one of 1814. Yet he felt confident that, in a strong defence with naval gunfire support in the bay provided by Macdonough, he could prevail. He was sure that Prevost would amass 15,000 for the invasion.
Sir George Prevost was about to take a leaf from the master plan. He created a local diversion of his own. With the help of American smugglers, who had fed his Army for the past two years and provided the timber to build his fleet, he planted the story that he was going to attack the Niagara, that strip of land between Lakes Ontario and Erie. Izard was ordered by Secretary Armstrong to take his command and go hundreds of miles to the west. There, with a combined force, he would defeat the British invasion. By the middle of August, Izard realized that the main attack was aimed at Plattsburgh and sought relief from his orders to move. The War Department never answered his request for a change. Washington DC had been attacked, the War Department burned and abandoned while the disgraced Secretary Armstrong was relieved.
During the last days of August 1814, a reluctant Izard withdrew from his defences with 4,500 of his best troops and began a long march out of history. Left in charge was newly promoted Brigadier General Alexander Macomb. A veteran campaigner, who had learned leadership and tactics more by bad example than good, took command of the garrison. He was faced with certain attack. His force consisted of 1,500 soldiers which were fragments left over from the original formation. Many of the men were invalids and could only fight from static positions. A summons by Major General Benjamin Mooers of the New York State Militia called up his force. He expected 2,500 from the northern counties and got 700.
Badly equipped, hungry and virtually untrained, the militia were of little use. His right flank, exposed to attack by water, would have to be protected by the American navy which was critically short of sailors. Macomb had already been tapped for 250 men for the fleet and now in August more were requested by the 30-year-old Macdonough. His latest man-of-war, the brig Eagle, required additional crew and he asked for the prisoners from the stockade. The members of Macomb’s regimental band volunteered along with one of the wives. Things were getting desperate as the dust clouds settled in the wake of the departing American Army that had been decoyed away.