The Red Coast are coming! Travel to an alternative universe, what would happen if the Yankees lost the War of 1812?
- Northern Archives
- December 2, 2015
- by Manny Vivas
It’s Sept. 12, 1814, and 10,000 British soldiers occupy Plattsburgh. After wiping out the American fleet in a battle on Lake Champlain northern New York now belongs to the Redcoats.
And New York City is their next target.
The Battle of Plattsburgh was a turning point for the United States during the War of 1812, playing a crucial role in what led to the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war. But the American victory was actually a mere stroke of luck. “People don’t realize how close we came to losing,” author of “Redcoats’ Revenge: An Alternate History of the War of 1812” Col. David FitzEnz says, “And how that would’ve changed markedly our history.”
In the days of sails, ships relied on the wind for movement. Heading down Lake Champlain from Canada, the British had the wind at their backs, allowing a hasty advance into Cumberland Bay.
But they failed to consider the countercurrent and course of the wind. Once inside the Bay the wind gusted in the opposite direction and their ships smacked into an invisible wall, leaving them crippled and susceptible to attacks from the American fleet.
So, what if the Americans weren’t so lucky?
Reaching New York City wouldn’t be a difficult task. The British infantry would’ve boarded any American ships not destroyed and sailed the expanded fleet down Lake Champlain to Whitehall, where they’d stay for the upcoming winter. Once spring hit, they’d port onto smaller ships in the Hudson River and head south.
Nothing would stand between the Redcoats and their next destination once Plattsburgh had been seized, FitzEnz speculates. New York City was constructing coastal fortifications to protect against a naval strike, but had the Redcoats traveled down the Hudson, they’d have the backdoor advantage. And because the States’ largest weapons supplier was northern New York, the rest of the country wouldn’t have had the proper means to protect itself.
However, the British weren’t interested in reclaiming their lost soil; they wanted to secure Canada a then British colony.
The War of 1812 is often referred to as the second war for American independence, but that’s not entirely accurate. What the British were after was everything north of Massachusetts: upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. These areas would have become Canadian territories, which would grant British forces full control of the Great Lakes.
“The British want the southern shore of the Great Lakes,” FitzEnz explains. “That way they don’t have to worry about being invaded [by America]. That’s their goal, and they can get it if they win at Plattsburgh.”
Normally, actions like the burning of the White House and the Battle of New Orleans are tossed around when mentioning the War of 1812, but compared to the overall impact of what transpired on Lake Champlain, those events don’t measure up. In fact, the attack on Washington, D.C. was nothing more than a diversion intended to sway America’s attention south.
The real battle happened in Plattsburgh.
New Orleans, however, was a part of a much bigger plan by the British. Had they been victorious in Plattsburgh and successfully taken New Orleans, Americans would have lost control of the Mississippi river, further reducing the country’s size and presumably abolishing any chances of becoming the nation it is today.
“We would have been very much like the major countries in South America … we would have been supplying Europe with food, with cloth,” FitzEnz says. “We could have been a bread basket.”
Issue 6: Winter/Spring 2016
Battle of PlattsburghPhotos Briana Taft
The men march in the parade as soilders.