Published July 19, 2008 12:01 am - Gen. Alexander Macomb, the commander of American forces in Plattsburgh during the Sept. 11, 1814, Battle of Plattsburgh, and his wife, Catherine, were reburied in Washington Thursday after they had been exhumed a month ago so repairs to their vault could be made.
Battle of Plattsburgh military leader re-buried in Washington
Washington, D.C., grave site of Gen. Macomb, wife undergoes renovations
By JEFF MEYERS
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As British forces made their way toward Plattsburgh in the late summer of 1814, American military leader Gen. Alexander Macomb prepared his troops to meet the much more powerful invaders.
The American presence in Plattsburgh had suffered a setback a month earlier when the War Department in Washington ordered most of the American forces to Sacketts Harbor on Lake Ontario.
What happened following that encounter at Lake Champlain has become a part of America's heritage as the remaining U.S. forces headed by Macomb defeated the British and thus protected the Lake Champlain waterway, a pivotal move that many historians believe sealed the American victory in the War of 1812.
Macomb, along with Commodore Thomas Macdonough, was instrumental in developing strategies that led to the military upset of the powerful British war machine.
By Sept. 12, one day after the Battle of Plattsburgh, the entire British army was in full retreat to Canada.
The general was awarded the gold medal from Congress for his actions at Plattsburgh and continued a stellar military career, including commander general of the United States Army.
He died while in office at Washington on June 25, 1841, and was buried at Congressional Cemetery following an impressive funeral that had attracted presidents, military officials and other U.S. dignitaries.
That impressive event was replayed Thursday when Macomb and his wife, Catherine, were buried for a second time following repairs to the general's vault that required officials to exhume the pair one month ago.
"In 2006, one of the stone makers working in the cemetery noticed that the Macomb statue was not standing straight," said Cindy Hays, executive director of Congressional Museum. "A week later, he noticed it was less straight and came to us with the news that the statue had started to list."
That statue, erected by Macomb's son after the general and his wife were moved from the cemetery's public vault to their permanent grave site, features a replica of the helmet Macomb wore during military encounters as well as several allegorical images.
"It's probably the most unusual monument in the nation," Hays said of the statue.
Workers began excavating around the site to determine why the monument had started to tilt and found that the vault surrounding the Macomb remains had begun to cave in and needed to be replaced, or the monument would eventually fall.
It took about two weeks to remove the monument and dig down to the vault as workers took care not to disrupt any remains that might be in the ground. As they approached the Macomb grave, they found he had been buried in a lead liner, which was very unusual for that time period.
Mrs. Macomb's remains were in disarray, but the general's skeleton was intact, and clothing remained on the body.
"It was a remarkable experience," Hays said of the event as archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institute worked diligently to protect the remains by removing dirt from the graves one spade full at a time.