PLATTSBURGH — Have you ever wondered what happened to some of the soldiers who participated in the Battle of Plattsburgh on Sept. 11, 1814?
In 1995, I was working for the U.S. Department of Defense, posted to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. When I married in August of that year, our wedding reception was at the Hale Koa Hotel on Waikiki Beach.
One of the guests approached me and said, "Didn't you say that you were from Plattsburgh, New York?"
I replied that I was, and she asked me to come with her to see something. We went to the huge stairway leading to the second floor, and she pointed out a large portrait hanging on the wall labeled "Brigadier General Rene E. DeRussy."
A plaque at the bottom indicated that one of his major accomplishments was being decorated for gallant conduct in the Battle of Plattsburgh.
My curiosity was piqued, and I began researching this Battle of Plattsburgh soldier.
I requested information on DeRussy from the Department of Defense, U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii, the National Archives and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Rene DeRussy was born in Santo Domingo in 1789, the son of Thomas DeRussy. Rene's father, a French citizen from St. Malo, France, had been recruited by Benjamin Franklin to fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. He was brevetted to a lieutenancy by Franklin for his heroic conduct as a midshipman against the British on Sept. 23, 1779, in the fleet of John Paul Jones. Thomas and his family moved to New York in 1791.
When Rene and his brother, Lewis, were old enough, they attended West Point. Rene started on March 20, 1807, and graduated on June 12, 1812, in time to serve in the War of 1812.
He participated in the campaign on the St. Lawrence River and the operations on Lake Champlain. He was an engineer and drew several sketches of the fortifications around Plattsburgh during the Battle of Plattsburgh.
I was able to obtain a copy of one from the Clinton County historian.
In his official report to his superiors of the Battle of Plattsburgh, Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb singled out DeRussy for gallant conduct and brevetted him— a battlefield or temporary promotion — a captain.
Rene participated in the construction of the fort (Fort Blunder) near Rouses Point from 1816 to 1818 and the defenses of New York Harbor from 1818 to 1821.
From there, he participated in the fortifications of the Gulf of Mexico from 1821 to 1825 and then returned to New York to assist in the fortifications of New York Harbor from 1825 to 1833.
In 1833, he became the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served in this post until 1838. He continued on with numerous assignment throughout the United States until 1865.
Rene Derussy died on Nov. 23, 1865, in San Francisco at the age of 75. At the time of his death, he was in charge of fortifications of the Pacific Coast and had actively served in the U.S. Army for 58 consecutive years.
He was the oldest graduate of the Military Academy in active service and one of the last of the heroes of the War of 1812.
He was buried at West Point.
There are now five Forts DeRussy in the United States.
The location known by that name in Hawaii, where the Hale Koa Hotel is, includes 72 acres of prime real estate on Waikiki beach. The land, purchased in 1904, was originally Battery Randolph but was designated Fort DeRussy in honor of Rene DeRussy in 1909.
The area, which does not contain a fort, is dedicated as a resort area for military personnel and their guests. It is considered by many to be the most valuable piece of real estate owned by the Department of Defense. There have been numerous attempts by the territory and state of Hawaii to obtain the property.
Another Fort DeRussy, constructed in 1861 in Washington, D.C., was named for Rene's son, Gustavus, who attained the rank of general during the Civil War.
Two confederate forts in Louisiana and one in Columbus, Ky., were named in honor of Rene's brother, Lewis.
Lewis was a major general in the Louisiana State Militia and was a veteran of the War of 1812, the Mexican American War (1846-1848) and the Civil War. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, Lewis was stationed in Virginia, very close to his brother, Rene, at Fort Monroe.
The story is that they would not fight against each other and met to talk about it. Shortly after the meeting, Rene was posted to California.
The DeRussy family played a huge role in the history of our country.
Rene E. DeRussy never did visit Hawaii.
— Clyde M. Rabideau Sr., who lives in Plattsburgh, is an historian/genealogist who has collected and published collections of vital statistics from Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties; written books about members of his extended family; and published a three-volume set of the headstone inscriptions from all the cemeteries in Clinton County.)