Shoppers in downtown Des Moines on September 11, 1874, were curious about a little fruit stand on wheels they saw on the sidewalk. It wasn’t unusual to see the elderly vendor selling fruit at the site, but on that day a large American flag adorned the little stand. When a passerby asked Charles Mooers about the flag, he replied that he was celebrating the anniversary of the War of 1812’s Battle of Plattsburgh.
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The War of 1812, called the “second war for independence,” was a conflict between the United States and Great Britain fought between 1812 and 1815. It was carried out on land and water in the Great Lakes region primarily. The Battle of Plattsburgh took place in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., and on Lake Champlain on September 11, 1814.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mooers, Charles’ dad, was in charge of the 11th Division New York militia during the war. Charles, only 17 at the time, served as his aide. The two were part of a 4,000-man militia who fought on land at Plattsburgh, while an American fleet of 14 ships fought the British on water. The Battle of Plattsburgh was a decisive win for the Americans.
Charles was a white-haired man of 77 when he celebrated the battle at his fruit stand in Des Moines. He loved to talk about his experiences in the War of 1812, as well as his family’s long tradition of service in other military conflicts.
His dad had served in the army under General George Washington during the American Revolution. Charles liked to recount stories from Benjamin’s wartime journal. They shed light on conditions of the American army during the war. In November 1777 Benjamin wrote that he and his men were expecting their September pay “any moment.” And while the men practiced testing their arms regularly to ensure they were in working order, lead shot was in short supply; so they aimed into a bank of dirt making it easy to recover and reuse the precious lead shot in actual battles. He also told about the $10 reward offered for any soldier who could come up with a substitute for shoes made of raw hides.
Charles’ son had fought with the Union army during the Civil War. And he gave his life in battle—something an Iowa congressman reminded lawmakers of when he tried to obtain a federal pension for Charles in 1872. It’s unclear if the congressman was successful.
According to the Des Moines Register reporter who visited with Charles at his fruit stand in 1874, the elderly veteran still had the “same fire of patriotism in his heart.” The reporter remarked that it was a pity the “proud old soldier” was celebrating the anniversary in “so lonely and solitary” manner. It was hoped that future generations would appreciate the sacrifices of veterans of the nation’s wars.
Charles died in December 1878, just a month after his wife. It was said he was “an exceptionally good man.”
- “Local Miscellany,” Des Moines Register, Jan. 3, 1879.
- “Mr. Mooers’ Funeral,” Des Moines Register, Dec. 31, 1878.
- “A Notable Anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburg,” Des Moines Register, Sept. 12, 1874.
- “Personal,” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 23, 1872.
- “Revolutionary Records,” New York Times, Aug 23, 1875.