Remembering A Battle

Anastasia L. Pratt, Ph.D.
Clinton County Historian


For generations, historians interested in the War of 1812 have remembered the Battle of Plattsburgh, recalling its pivotal role in ending a war that secured American independence and eventually led to long and valued alliances with Great Britain and Canada. Those of us who live and work in Clinton County have an affinity to these commemorations, which bring us parades, ceremonies, and all the other pieces of historical memory. 

The commemorations have not always followed the same pattern, though. In fact, during the sesqui-centennial celebration in 1964, the Battle of Plattsburgh was commemorated from July 3 to July 11th, a full two months before the actual anniversary of a battle that took place both on land and on Lake Champlain. Beginning with “Old Fashion Shopping Days” guaranteed to “bring you bargains at prices you can afford to pay” and featuring Kangaroo Kourts—complete with Celebration Belles and Brothers of the Brush—and Keystone Kops, the commemoration focused on bringing people together to enjoy the City of Plattsburgh and all of its attractions. 

While that sesqui-centennial commemoration included hundreds of activities, very few of them were focused on the history of the battles. Instead, as was common during the era, every day’s schedule began with a visit to “the Church of your choice” to “there kneel and pray.” The ringing of bells, blowing of whistles, and sounding of fire alarms followed on most days, calling for the start of the day’s activities, which ranged from a parade to special dinners, car races to concerts, golf tournaments to fashion shows. Included for the children were events like the Junior Chamber of Commerce’s annual Soap Box Derby (with more than 75 entries from local boys) and a Kids Day on Friday, July 10th (where failure to wear the “I am a chicken” badge or a beard/mustache could lead to a fine levied by the Kangaroo Kourts).

Beyond the presentations of “Muskets to Missiles: The Battle of Plattsburgh Story” and some special historical exhibits at the Celebration Museum, very few of the activities were focused on the Battle itself. That oversight seems glaring given the historical nature of the event, but it was not uncommon for historical commemorations during much of the twentieth century. Happily, times have changed and more recent commemorations have focused on the history itself, pulling people together in September, when the battle occurred, and offering us ways to understand and think about this important moment in local, national, and international history. 

While parades and concerts have continued to be a staple of our commemorations, lectures, reenactments, ceremonies at specific locations along the path of the land battle, and publications designed to teach us about the Battle of Plattsburgh have been given greater prominence, with discussions of the role children and young adults have played in creating our history taking on a particularly important role. Really, without Aiken’s Volunteers—a militia composed primarily of teenagers—the land battle would have gone very differently.

Thankfully, we have found fun and engaging ways to remember those teenagers whose actions had a huge effect on our history and to bring younger folk to the commemorations of our history. From the contest to design the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration admission button—where accuracy and faithfulness to annual theme count—to the creation of publications like Drumbeats (“a publication for young people” produced by the Clinton County Historical Association), films, period-appropriate games and crafts, and activities at museums like the Kent-Delord House, the Clinton County Historical Association, and the Battle of Plattsburgh Association.