PLATTSBURGH — This month marks the 200th anniversary of Pike’s Cantonment in Plattsburgh, and its history is more alive today than ever.
As part of the commemoration, War of 1812 re-enactors braved a bitter afternoon to re-enact skirmishes. They took time out in the middle of the day for the Wreaths Across America ceremony, placing a wreath at the Old Post Cemetery, where numerous War of 1812 dead are buried.
Wreaths Across America is a campaign aimed to lay wreaths at military cemeteries in all 50 states and beyond.
LOST TO HISTORY
The most hardy of the re-enactors spent hours in canvas tents or huddled near a log fire on the grounds of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association’s museum on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
One of the highlights of the commemoration — and a welcome break from the cold for about two dozen present — was a talk given by Battle of Plattsburgh Association President and Plattsburgh City Clerk Keith Herkalo on the history of Pike’s Cantonment and the later Battle of Plattsburgh.
For years, the exact location of the cantonment, the only undisturbed 1812 military site in the United States, was lost to history. Through the exhaustive work of Herkalo, the actual location was recently discovered, and the archaeological work of Dr. Tim Abel is in the process of unearthing artifacts there and discovering the history that had been locked away for two centuries.
”It’s the location at which an early part of our history began,” Herkalo said. “By that, I mean the military history of this region. It really started in 1812.”
When the Air Base closed in 1995, he pointed out, the location had been the longest continually occupied, military-tactical facility in the country.
LIKE VALLEY FORGE
After declaring war against England in 1812, a newly formed American Army was sent to northern New York to prepare for an invasion of British-owned Canada. The plan ultimately fizzled out in late November, and the 3,000-strong army, the largest invasion force formed during the war, streamed into Plattsburgh to set up a winter military base, known as a cantonment.