PLATTSBURGH — The U.S. Navy was in town Thursday to visit a historic military site used by American forces nearly 200 years ago.
Rear Admiral Gregory M. Nosal and members of his staff from Carrier Strike Group 2 visited the site of Pike’s Cantonment near Plattsburgh International Airport as part of a nationwide tour commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
“The Battle of Lake Champlain was a tremendous event in our history,” Nosal said as he met with members of an archaeological dig being held at the site this summer. “The reasons we went to war in 1812 were just as important as they are today.”
Battle of Plattsburgh Association President Keith Herkalo described for the admiral and his staff the importance of the Battle of Plattsburgh in securing the fledgling country’s victory in the War of 1812, his voice animated as he explained that Lake Champlain was the true target of British aggression.
Dr. Tim Abel, who is overseeing research efforts at Pike’s Cantonment, then took a moment to describe the activities at the site as this summer’s archaeological activities draw to a close.
“What makes this so incredibly important is that most of what we know of the War of 1812 comes from textbooks,” he said. “This (encampment) is part of the story that has never been told.”
He also noted that the troops wintering at Pike’s Cantonment in 1812-13 had nothing to do with the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. Commander Zebulon Pike’s troops were part of a planned invasion of Canada in November 1812 that was not successful, forcing the soldiers to winter in Plattsburgh.
DECADE OF WORK
“How do you know when you’ll be done?” the admiral asked Abel as he stood on the edge of an excavated military hut.
“When the money’s gone,” Abel replied. “We have a decade of work ahead of us here. We’ll continue working as long as we’re being supported (financially).”
This summer’s activities were sponsored by Clinton Community College, which offered a six-credit course for students participating in the dig. Area teachers also volunteered at the site.
Nosal and four members of his staff traveled to Plattsburgh from Montreal Thursday while en route to the Great Lakes for the commemorative tour.
“Our objective is to reacquaint the American public with the U.S. Navy,” said Capt. Bill Seamans, chief of staff for Admiral Nosal. “We knew of the Battle of Lake Champlain here in Plattsburgh and decided to come down (from Montreal) for the day. It’s extra rewarding to be able to visit an active site like this.”
The officers are part of a larger group that is sailing toward the Great Lakes on two American vessels: the USS De Wert, a frigate, and the USS Hurricane, a patrol boat. They are being accompanied by the Canadian frigate HMC Ville de Quebec.
The ships will be leaving Montreal early this morning and will be passing through the St. Lawrence Seaway locks on their way to a several-city tour in the Great Lakes.
“We learn something every day,” Nosal said of the historical sites he and his staff have seen. “We’ve become War of 1812 enthusiasts, and it’s an added benefit to see the enthusiasm of the professionals who are out here uncovering the truth.
“What an experience for these students (at the site),” he added. “They’ve found things that no one else has seen in 200 years.”
Students Rebecca Belton and Misha Gitlin were impressed with the opportunity to meet with the rear admiral and agreed that his visit added to the excitement of their final day on site.
Email Jeff Meyers: Jmeyers@pressrepublican.com