PLATTSBURGH — Gen. Alexander Macomb desperately needed more soldiers during the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh, so he turned to a group of local schoolboys.
“Nine Days a Soldier: The Story of Aiken’s Volunteers in the War of 1812,” by Dr. Joy A. Demarse and illustrated by Elyse Zielinski, tells a story based on true events of a group of 14-to-17-year-old Plattsburgh Academy boys who fought in the War of 1812.
“They wanted to enlist but couldn’t. If they were under the age of 18, they needed parental permission,” explained Demarse at a recent lecture and book signing at the War of 1812 Museum.
“They didn’t have that.”
Macomb was already using tactics to make the army in Plattsburgh seem larger than it was, and he was in need of extra men, she said, but he knew he couldn’t just let the students enlist.
“He really needed these schoolboys to supplement,” said Demarse, whose event was part of this year’s Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration. “Here’s Macomb left with 2,500 men, and he needs every good shot he can find.
“If the British hadn’t believed that he had such a large army ... they could have walked all over him.”
So the boys found sponsors and were mustered into the army under Azariah Flagg, the editor of the Plattsburgh Republican, and Martin Aiken, the captain of the Essex County Militia, both commanding officers.
The 20 youths were enlisted under the name of Aiken’s Volunteer Rifle Company; Demarse was able to identify only 17 of them during her research for her novel.
Aiken’s Volunteers, not in uniform, could have been stopped but not bothered by the British because they were boys, Demarse explained.
“They scouted for Macomb, they fought in several battles; they were the eyes and ears for Macomb,” she said.