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Whom Do You Trust:
Comparing Accounts of the Battle of Plattsburgh

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: War of 1812

Grade Level: 9-12

Common Core Standards
RH.9-10.6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
RH.11-12.6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

Content Areas: Reading, Social Studies

Recommended Length/Duration: Two 45-60 minute periods

Learning Goals: Students will identify the sequence of events during the Battle of Plattsburgh. Students will compare the accounts from three different eye witness accounts of the battle. Students will evaluate the veracity of each account.

Description/Sequence:

  1. This activity should be embedded in a larger study of the circumstances leading up to the Battle of Plattsburgh.
  2. Explain that students will be reading three different accounts written by participants in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Captain Pring was Captain of HMS Linnett and captured along with his ship. Lieutenant Robinson assumed command of HMS Confiance when his Captain was killed in the battle and was also captured along with the ship. Commodore Macdonough was in command of the USS Saratoga and the other ships of the American fleet. The accounts are their official reports to their commanding officers describing what happened in the battle and why they either won or lost.
  3. Divide the class into three groups and distribute one account to each group. Have students in each group read their account individually or aloud.
  4. Have students identify the major events in the battle according to their account.
  5. Have students identify phrases in the account that explain why things happened.
  6. Have each group read aloud their account to the whole class.
  7. Identify the sequence of events that each account agrees with.
  8. Identify the events mentioned in only one or two accounts.
  9. Discuss as a class how reliable each account is. Guiding questions may include:
    • Whose account seems most complete?
    • Which account seems to be most accurate and fair?
    • What reasons are given for success or excuses for failure?
    • What are Captain Pring and Lieutenant Robinson hoping to accomplish in their account?
    • What is Commodore Macdonough hoping to accomplish in his account?
    • Whom do you trust most? Why?
  10. Discuss how historians often have to resolve discrepencies between conflicting accounts of events.
  11. Discuss how the point of view of participants affects the way historical events are recorded and interpreted.

Assessments: Collect worksheets and assess for completeness and accuracy. Have students summarize the events of the Battle of Plattsburgh in their own words based on the three accounts presented. Have students write a formal essay based on all three accounts describing why they feel one is more reliable than another.

Materials/Resources:
Multiple copies of Macdonough, Pring, and Robinson’s reports and Article analysis worksheet (pdf)

Special Considerations: The language of the reports is somewhat archaic. Students may need support in understanding some of the terms and phrases in common use among naval officers at that time. The articles are provided in a script and print version. Teachers may want to use this as an opportunity for students to practice reading script.

Extensions: All three reports are filled with flowery phrases that were common usage in the prose of the 19th Century. Have students identify examples of these phrases from the samples and discuss how modern writers might word their reports today.