Much like Valley Forge before it, the soldiers, under the command of Col. Zebulon Pike, were forced to brave the winter in whatever shelters they could build for themselves. It took most of December before any were completed.
Until then, most of the men had only their blankets and campfires to fight off the cold, which dipped to 20 degrees below zero.
As many as 10 percent of Pike’s soldiers died in December 1812 alone.
The army left in the spring of 1813, and the encampment was burned in July by the British, a year before war returned to Plattsburgh with the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh. From there, the history of the location of Pike’s Cantonment became confused and was all but lost.
MIDDEN GOLD MINE
Through property maps, records of real-estate transactions and historical documents, Herkalo found what he believed to be the actual location of the cantonment, but he needed help to prove it. In 2009, he met Abel, an archaeologist who holds a Ph.D from SUNY Albany in anthropology and is an adjunct professor at Clinton Community College, SUNY Canton and Jefferson Community College.
He is also an avid War of 1812 historian and re-enactor. After some time, Herkalo convinced Abel to come to Plattsburgh.
”We spent one summer (2011) out there doing some preliminary work, and low and behold if we didn’t find exactly what they were looking for,” Abel said of his first dig at Herkalo’s site.
”From there, it went on to a field school last year, and hopefully another field school this year, and things really have been snowballing here in the last few years.”
Abel and a small team organized through Clinton Community College have unearthed a charred beam and the foundation of a building, as well as other items of historical significance.