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tv   American Artifacts  CSPAN  December 24, 2014 3:02pm-3:35pm EST

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christmas tree. and just after 12:30 p.m., celebrity activists talk about their causes. then at 8:00, support justice samuel alito and former florida governor jeb bush on the bill of rights and founding fathers. on c-span 2, venture into the art of good writing with steve pinker. and see the feminist side of a superhero as jill lepore searches the history of wonder woman. pamela paul and others talk about their reading habits. and on american history tv on c-span 3 at 8:00 a.m. eastern, the fall of the berlin wall with c-span footage of president bush and bob dole with speeches from presidents john kennedy and ronald reagan. first ladies' fashion choices and how they represented the styles of the times in which they lived. and then at 10:00, tom brokaw on his more than 50 years on
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reporting events. for a complete schedule, go to >> each week, american history tv's american artifacts visits museums and historic places. 200 years ago on september 11th, 1814, british and naval forces clash for 2 1/2 hours near plattesburg, new york. the battle was the culmination of six days of army and navy conflict. up next, we travel to plattesburg where david fitz, the war of 1812's most decisive battle. takes us to kiey locations to tell the story. >> pilot joseph baron, september 11th, 1814. battle of plattesburg. this is a battle that's lost to american history.
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the first 100th anniversary, it was known by everyone. this was a huge celebration. people knew how important the battle of plattesburg was. but in the meantime, things have changed. that poem became the national anthem. baltimore is in the center of a populated area. and people have been taught what took place there. and what took place there was very important. but it was a diversion. the real battle was up here. you see, if the british can take plattsburg, there's no troops between here and washington, d.c. the cavalry is not coming. and with plattsburg gone, they can sweep down the lake, go on to the hudson and split the united states in half. in the meantime, the treaty are on. and this is a bargaining chip. if you can take plattsburg and
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you can re-draw the northern border of the united states, wherever the british troop lines are at the time while these negotiations are going on, that's going to be the new northern border. and what they had in mind, they didn't plan to take the united states again. this was not another revolution. what they planned was they wanted a new northern border for the united states. and not the 45th parallel, but the 43rd. they wanted the northern border of massachusetts to be the border of the northern united states. and if you take that line and you run it across the country. you take that parallel, you end up in buffalo. that means the united states would've lost maine, vermont, new hampshire, and all of northern new york. that way the british would've had control of the southern shore of the great lakes. and that's what they were after. but plattsburg put a stop to that. the british army is not in the united states. the british army is back in canada. and so when the treaty was
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signed on christmas eve 1814, the status quo is what we see today. >> we're 5 miles north of plattsburg, new york. looking up the road at the american/canadian border. it was here this whole battle of plattsburg began. let me give you a little bit of background first. when the war with napoleon ended in the spring of 1814, the british had a problem. wellington wanted to keep this victorious army intact because he thought he needed it again and he will need it again in 1815. he was right. and if he left alone, when the army returned to england, it would probably be disbanded. you know, because when the ogre goes away, then there's no need for a democratic society to fund a very expensive army. and they would just simply go away.
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the secretary of war says i've got this other problem. i've got this american war of 1812 and i'd like to put it to an end. we need to trade with those people. you know, they're vital to us. and let's put a stop to it. he said, give me your troops and wellington gave him about 30,000 total. of his army that was sitting in france drinking in the cellars all the wine they could find and put them on ships. and also the governor general of canada. and who had been fighting the war of 1812 here in canada and the united states for the past two years. he'd been defending all that time. and now he had a chance to go on the offensive. because this new order said we're going to do two things to end this war in our favor, in england's favor.
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we're going to use a part of the wellington's forces to raid along the eastern seaboard of the united states and down into the gulf of mexico and keep the american government and the people and the military's attention focused to the south. but in the north, we're going to make you the main attack. we're going to give you the numbers in order to bring this whole conflict to an end. and so the order said that he would be given 15,000 troops. and he could add to the 4,000 that he already had in countries that had been fighting for the last two years. and they weren't just british soldiers in canada, they were the canadian fenceable regiment. made up of canadian citizens who agreed to fight alongside the british regulars, but only in canada. that's why they were called fenceable. but in addition to that, the french-canadians played a major role in this conflict by adding their numbers to the british forces in canada.
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so they added to this force. and now he had an army that he could take on the offensive instead of the defense. and his plan simply was that he was going to use the plan of 1777. he was going to go straight down, straight south down lake champlain to new york. you know, that's a water line because there were no roads to speak of in these days. and if you follow down past saratoga where he was defeated and on into new york harbor, split the united states for the industrial north and the south. so that's his intention. and in order to do that, he's got to get past the american force here at plattsburg. and 6,000 american soldiers here. most of them are regulars. so he sets up a diversion of his own. and he sends some of these troops west for a little while and gets the attention of the american government. and the secretary of war
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armstrong says they're not going to go down lake champlain, they're going to go over here and continue to fight in northern new york along lake erie and the niagara. and so, armstrong shifts the american army. and he pulls of the 6,000 troops that are here, he pulls 4,500 out of plattsburg and pulls them out in the last week of august and sends himself to the mohawk valley and up to the harbor and they're going to go by ship to the niagara. all that leaves here is 1,500 regulars. and these regulars are the people who couldn't make the march. these are the sick, the lame, the lazy. these are the prisoners and the stockade. this is the band is here. and so that's what's left behind. and that's what's going to be defending on this road. so when he finds out that the american army has left, he starts his attack.
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and he moves those soldiers fewer than 15,000 to the canadian border and right on the edge of lake champlain. he crosses the border on the first of september, and they begin to march south, headed for plattsburg. 20 miles south of the canadian border. the column actually is 10 miles long. the artillery doesn't cross the border until the 4th of september. took four days just before they could even move south at all. and down this road they come. here, the few new york state militia are standing by at this little bridge. and when they see them coming, they start to fire their muskets in their direction. but the british just sweep them aside, they don't even drop their packs. the first regiments rush this bridge, and the american militia retire quickly about 1,000 yards up the road. to culver hill.
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advancing on the regular army here at culver hill. this memorial commemorates that event. here several thousand british soldiers, the first of the regiments. in fact, it was the third regiment afoot, came down the road and confronted john, a major in the united states army brought 200 of his troops here and attempted to stop the british advance while also gaining information as to what in the world we were facing at this point. the battle broke out here and quite a bit of fighting took place. a number of casualties here, but the british were not halted at all. they just charged the americans here at the top of the rise at culver hill. and the americans had to withdraw and withdraw and withdraw. and for the rest of the day of the sixth of september, they would withdraw steadily back into the city.
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and as the british column came down this road, the farmers here along the road were surprised to see at the end of the column at the end of the day, the women and children of the british infantry regiments. before british regiment left to go to combat, the night before, there was a lottery held. and all the wives put their names in a hat. and 1 out of 10 were selected to travel with the regiment no matter where it went in the world. and they brought their children with them. and they embarked on board the ships, and they traveled across the oceans. and they came to canada and they walked down this road. and, of course, you know what their job was. they were the support troops. they're the ones that at night set up the tents, got the firewood, built the fire, cooked the food, took care of the children, cleaned the uniform that brushes. and, of course, they were the medical corps.
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there were doctors, british doctors and a few corpsmen. but they needed hundreds to take care of the casualties. and so, it was the women. it was the families of the soldiers of the regiments that tended the wounded. ten years ago, this was just a field, but a few of the local citizens who were really interested in trying to preserve the history here had a little ceremony, and the lady who lived in that white farmhouse was very interested in the story. so we talked to her about it. and she put it into her will when she died, this parcel of land would be given to the battle of plattsburg. and the state and the town built this so that we could all see exactly what happened here on that momentous day at culver hill.
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we're in a period home where the british artillery officers stayed during the battle of plattsburg. after they run the american troops off, they'll continue down this edge of the lake. here they're going to have to split their force in two because the road just will not sustain the traffic. and this brigade will travel along the edge of the bay and into plattsburg. we're here on the edge of cumberland bay. on the far side over there, where you see those trees is a road. and that road is what enabled the british to bring all these troops into town. and one of the three brigades, about 4,300 troops came along that line over there. and the american navy was out here in the bay waiting for them. and as they saw the column marching along in the red coats, they began to bombard them. and the british column was broken up and stopped. but then the british royal artillery came up behind them,
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and they set up their guns. and those 6-pounders decimated the fleet that was sitting out here. and the fleet was forced to withdraw and go deeper out into the lake. this will reduce the american navy's ability to support the army because now they're going to be too far away from the shoreline. once the american navy was moved off, then the british could freely enter here at the town of plattsburg. they came down this road, around the corner and will end up putting a battery of artillery right behind us here. and the officers will take over -- the british army relentlessly drove the americans back down the road and into the city. some of the british troops came along this line here. they were under the colonel. they were swiss, swiss
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missionaries, working for the british government. along with the canadian and right along edge of the saranac river to the stone bridge, americans fought their way all the way to the bridge. once on the bridge, they picked up the plank so the british, the french couldn't follow them and bureaucratic their cannon and set them up on the far side behind a barricade. and there the americans will sit with their infantry from the 6th to the 11th waiting for the british main attack. >> i'm at the battle of plattsburg museum. here at the museum, there's a depiction of what the land looked like. and this is very important to understand. very complex battle because the battle is both army and navy and occurred simultaneously without an amphibious assault.
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very unusual. here is what the city of plattsburg looked like. the enemy, the british were spread out from the point through the bridge and all of this looked like world war i in that all along here the soldiers were entrenched because they weren't -- the american soldiers were the remnants of a larger force that had been left behind. they couldn't fight in the field and so they fought from trenches. and they used the river, this n unfordable river. and it worked for some five days. as the trenches flowed further to the south along the saranac river, this wild river, we come to the second bridge here at katherine street today. and that's where the british line stopped. and the americas defended the bridge, defended the bridge for some five days.
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in the middle is ft. brown. ft. brown was the artillery position that was heavily cannoned and was able to keep the british away by firing into the city. out in the bay on the right flank of the american army is where the american navy ships will be moored waiting for the british to come into attack the army's flank. their mission is to keep them away. and here you see them all like sitting ducks, moored, waiting for the royal navy to attack. this is the rotunda of the city hall of a town of plattsburg. to get back to the history, wellington said that if he were in command here, and he was offered command here, and he turned it down. he said that the only chance for victory in north america was to control the waterways.
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so everything is key to the navy here. even though the american troops are here waiting and the british troops have fought their way into the city and are waiting on the edge of the saranac river, which is not fordable, there's only two bridges across. they're waiting for the navy. now, this is a bit of a long story. but this is how we get here. you see, the royal navy was everything to the british. and they used it throughout the caribbean and the united states and in canada. that's what controlled their commerce. and they lived on commerce. here on the lake, the commerce had been disrupted. nothing was going up and down the lake to benefit canada or anywhere else. and the people here who lived on the lake had created a new industry because of the embargoes that had been put in place. and this now was a smuggler's haven. now the british knew to control
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the waterways, they had to take lake champlain. they have no ships. but the lake does end in canada. and up there on the river, they built a boat yard. and that boat yard then created the largest ship ever on lake champlain. she was called the confiance. it was true they captured two american vessels earlier in the war and converted them to british use. and they built one other. but now, they needed the confiance. because it would be stronger than the entire american fleet on the lake. now, there was an american fleet here, and it was commanded by lieutenant then master commander, then commandor, m mcdunagh. they put together the americans.
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the american navy then would try to control the lake and keep the british north. that meant there was a clash coming. you know, they're really sitting ducks just waiting for the british to come. finally, the navy is coming. now they wanted to come south even earlier but they couldn't because the south wind coming up the lake kept them from sailing south. this is the days of sail. you've got to wait for the winds to be right. that's what the army and navy are waiting for. he doesn't have that problem because he's already in the bay and moored and waiting. things are getting anxious. finally, the night of the 10th, they're able to come down the lake, come south towards plattsburg toward canada, the entire navy fleet. four ships, confiance in the lead and a dozen gun boats. 70 men on a gun boat and one cannon. and those gun boats are supposed to get close to the american fleet underneath the guns and put holes in the sides of the
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american fleet and sink them. so you've got them buzzing around when the british come into the bay and this whole thing starts, the british guns can fire a mile and a half. where the american guns can only shoot 500 yards. so if the british royal navy is kept away, if they can sail outside the 500 yards, they can reduce the american fleet to splinters in a matter of one pass. this is what he's faced with. he's 30 years old and the commandor. as it comes into the bay, the wind shifts. and it's a westerly wind. and in the bay, the winds are fitful, and that confiance and the other ships need a strong wind to carry them out beyond the american guns. and as she comes into the bay,
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this is confiance outer anchor and shot off the front by american cannons and sinks into the bay. we found it 1996 here in the bay in 40 feet of silt. there she is. 10 feet long, 10 feet wide. and if you look real close, you can still see the gold paint on the side. when the anchor is shot off, the captain of the ship tries to stay away from the american lines. he can't. the ships on the line away. it can't be done. the wind will not allow it. and he's drawn directly into the american fire. and finally, he has to anchor at 300 yards. line of fire. now for the next 2 1/2 hours, a horrendous battle of cannon will
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take place. 90 cannons firing constantly, never stopping, four major ships, the americans, four british royal navy, 12 gun boats on either side will sit out here in the middle of cumberland bay and will slug it out. >> here on the bluff at clinton community college, you can look out on lake champlain and directly in front of you is cumberland head where the british royal navy attacked on september 11th. they came around that corner in between there and the island you see on the right, crab island, which is where the americans had a hospital for the army. they attacked the american fleet at anchor, which would have been right between those two small trees. >> there are women onboard. officers' wives. one of which catches a cannon ball in her chest and is thrown
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overboard. mcdonagh shooting at the british. and down the line, his lieutenant is struck with a british cannon ball, his head is torn off and his head travels down the side of the deck, strikes him in the face and knocks him cold to the deck. these are the kinds of things that happen when you're fighting a naval battle. this keeps up for hours. one atrocity after another. blood everywhere. tremendous casualties. the men keep fighting. and then finally, the only american ship really fit to fight is saratoga. that's the flagship. the only ship that's really fit to fight anymore is confiance, the british ship, even though downy was killed ten minutes into the battle when he fired a
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cannon and struck the muzzle of the gun that downy was sighting, kneeling behind it at the time. and as the muzzle was hit by the cannon ball so hard that it drove this 2,000 pound barrel and downy caught it in his arms, killed him, crushed him to the deck. the british lost their commander ten minutes into the battle. so now we've got mcdonagh also in a bad state. his ship is very bad lly wounde and about to sink. and at that point, he pulls the trick of the day. he's put out anchors on the right and on the left. these are light anchors, 250 pounds a piece. they were taken out on row boats and dropped. they wound backwards around the ship and were connected. at the right moment, mcdonagh
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cuts one cable and pulls in the other winding the captain, with only the few crew members left. at that point, as the spring line is pulled in, the ship rotates in place on its own access. and, of course, it exposes the far side of the ship where there are 12 loaded cannons ready. an officer with a pistol goes down the line and fires into the touch hole and firing each gun one at a time into confiance. receives over 105 holes in the side of the ship when the count is looked at at the end. she strikes her colors. she's lost. the royal navy has been beaten. sir george sitting up there looking over the house the lake,
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sees the colors coming down. and when he dpuz, he knows the battle is lost. he knows he no longer has control of the water. he knows he doesn't have the american ships he planned to capture to take the fleet down the lake. and there's no point going on with the battle. even though the infantry can overwhelm the american infantry at this point, there's no point to it at all. and he's going to save his troops to fight another day. and as a result, sir george withdraws from plattsburg. pulling his troops out, his three brigades, his artillery, his families, and they start heading north to canada. the battle's over. the americans have won. winston churchill said that it was the most important battle of the war. it was the most decisive battle of the war of 1812 here.
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two days later, the british will fight the americans at baltimore. when the naval battle was over, and the british withdrew, all that was left were the dead and the wounded and the american forces. out on the navy ships, the wounded were taken off and brought into town to other homes and treated. the dead were then put in a cortage and brought to the shore in plattsburg. and in a funeral parade led by general mcholme and mcdonagh, they slowly came here to riverside cemetery just outside the downtown area. to muffled drums, they marched slowly and deliberately here to
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the ground. carried the body of royal navy captain george downy. and he's buried here at riverside cemetery. but in were not just royal navy sailors they were british army american sailors died in the conflict as well as british sailors who had died. 200 of them were taken to crab island because it was close to where the ships were being being refurbished and kept afloat. brought here to riverside and buried.
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>> peter gamble, united states navy. he was the officer whose head was severed. flew across the deck and struck mcdonagh knocking him cold. lieutenant john stansburg, united states navy, september 11th, 1814, battle of platsburg. an officer onboard the eagle and was killed in action. he's british. british army. and my 30-year career in studying history and being a student, i never heard of the battle of plattsburg. and the more i read, the more it interview me in and i understood how important it was. and what part it played in international history. if plattsburg had been lost, god knows what would've happened to this country.
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>> you've been watching c-span's american history tv. follow u.s. on twitt twitter @c-spanhistory. you can leave comments, too, and check out our upcoming programs at our website. >> and we'd like to tell you about some of our other american history tv programs. join us every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern for a look at history bookshelf. watch as the country's best known american history writers of the past decade talk about their books. again, that's history bookshelf every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern here on c-span 3. >> here's a look at some of the programs you'll find christmas
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day on the c-span networks. holiday festivities start at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span with the lighting of the national christmas tree followed by the white house christmas decorations with first lady michelle obama and the lighting of the capital christmas tree. and just after 12:30 p.m., celebrity activists talk about their causes. then at 8:00, supreme court justice samuel alito and jeb bush on the bill of rights and the founding fathers. at 10:00 a.m. eastern, venture into the art of good writing with steve pinker. and see the feminist side of a super hero as searches the secret history of wonder woman. at 7:00 p.m., pamela paul and others talk about their reading habits. and on "american history tv" on c-span 3, the fall of the berlin wall with c-span footage of president george bush and bob dole. with speeches from presidents john kennedy and ronald reagan. at noon, fashion experts on first ladies' fashion choices


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