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Sept. 11 had significance before Sept. 11

September 19, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Call me patriotic if you must, but I was front and center to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.

Sept. 11, a day that will live on in the memories of people who truly love America. A date important to those who cherish our freedoms, understand what it is to sacrifice and who realize that dreams arise out of desperation.

Yes, who can forget Sept. 11, 1814: The Battle of Plattsburgh, the turning point of the War of 1812, and the last time a foreign enemy seriously threatened American soil.

I don't know much about the city fathers of Plattsburgh, N.Y., but I suppose there is irony in the fact that they have been hoping for decades that Sept. 11 would become a household word. Well they got their wish, to their own detriment.

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If you were born on Christmas, it's the same idea.

Ah well, Plattsburgh still gives it its best shot, hosting a re-enactment of the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay, which I was happy to attend last week.

Seeking to divide the young nation in two, the British invaded from the north down Lake Champlain, which eventually connects to the Hudson River and New York City.

On the "first" 9/11, a cocksure British fleet came Churchilling from the north around the point of land known as Cumberland Head, where a well-positioned American armada under the command of Thomas Macdonough lay in wait. A lot of strategy, painstakingly detailed by an announcer over the PA system - pretty much all of which was lost on me - was involved, but long story short, we won.

The first British shot upon the Saratoga managed only to hit the ship's chicken coop, much to the annoyance of a surly old rooster, which leaped to the fore and began flapping his wings and crowing at the enemy.

The first American broadside sheared away the massive anchor on the British flagship, which was important because anchors in those days were something of a modern-day joystick in terms of commanding the boat's maneuvers.

Several years ago, this massive anchor was discovered on a random dive. I had a brief conversation with the full-bearded gentleman who discovered it. He struck both myself and my brother as the type of fellow who, in the Jimmy Buffett song, described himself as a pirate born 200 years too late. "That cannons don't thunder, there's nothing to plunder, I'm an over-40 victim of fate ..." No one was going to out-"shiver-me-timbers" him, no doubt. We loved him immediately.

So anyway, as re-enactments go, let me start out by saying that I hate to judge. Since you can't find eight good ships of the line at any old Wal-Mart, they were forced to make do with what was on hand. That being a handful of glorified rowboats armed with black-powder armaments. These sort of meandered around Plattsburgh Bay something like if one had armed an aquarium of disengaged goldfish with cannon and told them to do their worst.

Somehow a sailboat got mixed up in the fray. And a little kid trying to fish near a battery of American cannon, it must be said, added an interesting perspective.

It didn't matter. We weren't expecting Star Wars. And in a way it was accurate in the sense that we had to pull every semblance of tattered defense off the Goodwill rack and hurl it at the opposition.

Perhaps few really recognize what a tenuous grasp we had on our own nation in those early days. Had Macdonough failed, the British ships would have moved on Plattsburgh, trapping the American militia between the water and British land troops, erasing much of our defense of the south.

As it was, our militia was being soundly beaten - until word of Macdonough's victory on the bay rallied the troops and demoralized the British, sending them limping back into Canada.

Our own little battle last weekend didn't end as happily. As a matter of fact, it began to pour. We took refuge under some trees on the bank of the Saranac River, but the storm was not so hard on us, since we didn't have any black powder to keep dry.

Before long, a line of American militia began to fall back to that well-known safe haven of all wars - the gazebo. A veteran local TV reporter, a big grin on his face, couldn't resist yelling to the soaked, retreating army: "War is hell!"

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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