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What if Prevost in 1814 attempted to occupy US land over the winter?

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  • What if Prevost in 1814 attempted to occupy US land over the winter?

    What if in the War of 1812, in 1814, the British forces south of Montreal under Sir George Prevost had tried a different strategy than the one they actually did. In fact they strategy they developed was to was advance down the western shore of Lake Champlain with troops which had been greatly strengthened by the addition of top regiments which had been fighting in Europe. They chose to advance along the Western shore, apparently in part because of a better (but poor) road network on that shore and because the British felt the Vermonters were more likely to look favorably on the British, so they did not want them to suffer the effects of war. The British goal was to engage the US land forces and the US naval forces in a decisive battle and get free run of the lake, so that it could be used in the spring to threaten the Hudson Valley/New York City, or at least to be in better position at a peace conference, to retain part of northern new england, Including what is now Northern Maine, as a land bridge.

    What if the British did not try for a decisive battle, which to some extent they lost by being in a draw, but what if they had opted instead to keep forces on both sides of the lake, Centered on Plattsburgh or north of Plattsburgh, and on what is now St. Albans, VT with its bay?

    On the google map posted below, you can see that if the British had forces and at St. Albans over the winter they would have a pretty good wedge into the Champlain Valley. If the British used their best light infantry to move along the Vermont Shore, in combination with some of their ships, they could have landed a force at what is now St. Albans Bay and set up a force to hold the land. This would give them the option of operating as a base in the spring, and as a force tying down Americans. The British could also have potentially used "The Gut" the area between North Hero Island and Grand Isle Island as a means of water communication. The British could have created a small light infantry diversion into the areas west of the Lake which could also tie down the British. The British then could have set up in Rouses Point, NY and prepared to hold over the winter. They also would have attempted battle with the forces in Plattsburgh, but not on an all or nothing basis. The basic problem was the British could not effectively use all their troops advancing along such a narrow axis.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=maps+s...ed=0CB4Q8gEwAA

    I think such a strategy would have served the British well. They would not have been racing the clock to beat the winter as they did in the actual event (and did in The Revolution) I think a likely end result would have been they would have their land route to Montreal, by getting what is now Northern Maine, North of northernmost NH. In other words, drawing a straight line as the boundary until the ocean.

    Any thoughts?
    Last edited by lakechampainer; 21 Jun 10, 17:40.

  • #2
    Taking enemy ground is one thing. Holding it through a long, brutal, northern winter is another. It's very location in decidedly unfriendly, anti-British territory, at the end of a very long and tenuous supply line would make supply trains from Montreal easy pickings for American Rangers, Irregulars and US allied Indian raids.

    Come spring, the British would undoubtedly find themselves facing General Brown's sizeable force of battle hardened, US regular troops. I'm sure a major battle would soon result that would make the Battle of Lundy's Lane pale in comparrison.
    "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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    • #3
      No doubt it would be no picnic for the British and Canadian soldiers - but assuming they had routed the Americans at Plattsburgh, they would have ended up spending the winter in various locations between Montreal and the Southern tip of the Lake anyway. This way they are keeping most of the soldiers back, holding them ready for the spring, but they are still occupying ground at that point that they can trade (or keep) at the bargaining table.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by lakechampainer View Post
        Any thoughts?
        While a number of leading figures in Britain were all for teaching the USA a lesson, there was little real interest in seizing territory off the USA on a permanent basis, and with Britain's concerns about the Congress of Vienna, I still see Britain agreeing to the peace treaty as it was, with no gains for either side.

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        • #5
          Below is a route map of the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic railway which passes through Northern Maine, interconnecting Montreal and New Brunswick. This shows that the Northern Maine land would have been useful to the Canadians/British. Granted, there were no railroads in 1814, and clearly this would have way too long a distance for a canal. But the border would have "made more sense" if the Vermont/New Hampshire//Canada border had continued Eastward.

          http://www.mmarail.com/downloads/mma_rail_map.pdf

          I think if this had been done, something of an urban center would have grown up on both sides of the border, like Detroit and Windsor, but in a smaller way. There may have been more immigration to Canada in the 19th Century if this had happened. No disrespect to my fellow countrymen in Aroostook and Penobscot counties, but by US standards this is hard, tough land, whereas in Canada it would obviously be "warm" land. I would think this land would not have been part of Quebec, but either a new Province or more likely part of New Brunswick.

          A tidbit I found interesting in Colonel Fitz-Enz's book was that the US/Canada population ratio in 1812 was about 15 to 1 - 7,500,000 to 500,000. I would have thought the ratio was more like today's 10 to 1, or if anything that there were relatively more Canadians at that time.
          Last edited by lakechampainer; 22 Jun 10, 07:41.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by lakechampainer View Post
            Below is a route map of the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic railway which passes through Northern Maine, interconnecting Montreal and New Brunswick. This shows that the Northern Maine land would have been useful to the Canadians/British. Granted, there were no railroads in 1814, and clearly this would have way too long a distance for a canal. But the border would have "made more sense" if the Vermont/New Hampshire//Canada border had continued Eastward.

            http://www.mmarail.com/downloads/mma_rail_map.pdf

            I think if this had been done, something of an urban center would have grown up on both sides of the border, like Detroit and Windsor, but in a smaller way. There may have been more immigration to Canada in the 19th Century if this had happened. No disrespect to my fellow countrymen in Aroostook and Penobscot counties, but by US standards this is hard, tough land, whereas in Canada it would obviously be "warm" land. I would think this land would not have been part of Quebec, but either a new Province or more likely part of New Brunswick.

            A tidbit I found interesting in Colonel Fitz-Enz's book was that the US/Canada population ratio in 1812 was about 15 to 1 - 7,500,000 to 500,000. I would have thought the ratio was more like today's 10 to 1, or if anything that there were relatively more Canadians at that time.
            And a large percentage of the populace being former Americans who emigrated in the years between the wars to take advantage of Canada's taxation free status.
            "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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            • #7
              Originally posted by johnbryan View Post
              And a large percentage of the populace being former Americans who emigrated in the years between the wars to take advantage of Canada's taxation free status.
              I'm not sure taxes had anything to do with it. They were called Empire Loyalists for a reason.

              If your statement is true it would be one of history's great ironies in that the supporters of the losing side in a war that was triggered over taxation issues fled the winners territory to escape taxation.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by lakechampainer View Post

                What if the British did not try for a decisive battle, which to some extent they lost by being in a draw, but what if they had opted instead to keep forces on both sides of the lake, Centered on Plattsburgh or north of Plattsburgh, and on what is now St. Albans, VT with its bay?
                Like most wars logistical concerns dominate. Keeping the garrison supplied could be tricky. The supporting militia units also have to go home in spring and fall for planting and harvest. The difficulty and expense of keeping forces supplied pretty much meant that both sides were extremely limited in what they could actually do. The inland waterways were about the only means available to supply a meaningful force.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by AdrianE View Post
                  Like most wars logistical concerns dominate. Keeping the garrison supplied could be tricky. The supporting militia units also have to go home in spring and fall for planting and harvest. The difficulty and expense of keeping forces supplied pretty much meant that both sides were extremely limited in what they could actually do. The inland waterways were about the only means available to supply a meaningful force.
                  I agree. But the British had brought a huge force of regulars over from Europe. If they succeeded in their plan of smashing the Americans, a least a good percentage would have had to stay over the winter anyway. Only some of them had to stay at the advanced posts. Also, once they saw on the day of the battle that the American ships intended to stay in Plattsburgh Bay, the British could have avoided a naval battle and sent at least some of their ships up and down the lake. Granted, they would have had to have had this plan as an option beforehand, but especially given what the American's did at Valcour Island in 1776, this could perhaps have been anticipated, even more so because clearly the location of a large scale land battle would have to be at Plattsburgh.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by AdrianE View Post
                    I'm not sure taxes had anything to do with it. They were called Empire Loyalists for a reason.

                    If your statement is true it would be one of history's great ironies in that the supporters of the losing side in a war that was triggered over taxation issues fled the winners territory to escape taxation.
                    This was after the United Empire Loyalists came to Canada. The Canadian Historian, Pierre Berton speaks quite a bit about the great irony of Americans moving to Canada to escape US taxes during the nearly 30 years between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
                    "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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                    • #11
                      I think this has to be viewed in the terms of the Empire's war aims which were vague, but simple. The war was thrust upon the Empire by an angry America and Britain, exhausted by thrashing France again, more or less wanted to slash military spending and get back to making money out of imperial expansion.

                      Had Empire troops taken hold of a lot of US land they would just have had further to walk in order to get back on their boats on the way home again.

                      The only possible win the Empire could have had was possibly some territorial gains for Canada and that was not really a priority.

                      Great thread.
                      What would Occam say?

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