On August 5 and 6, Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site in Jefferson County, New York held its annual War of 1812 weekend, complete with military encampment, an English Country Dance, Sea Chanteys, and of course reenactments of the Second Battle of Sackets Harbor.
The Second Battle of Sackets Harbor was fought on May 29, 1813 between British forces under the command of Colonel Edward Baynes and American forces under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Electus Backus of the Regular Army and Brigadier General Jacob Brown of the New York State Militia.
Sackets Harbor was a principal port and shipbuilding yard for the upper St. Lawrence River Valley and Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. The British wanted to take advantage of the American fleet’s absence to seize and destroy the shipyard and supplies at Sackets Harbor.
American forces put up a tenacious defense on land and eventually drove the British away. Thirty British soldiers were killed, 200 wounded, and 35 taken prisoner in the attack. The Americans sustained 157 casualties, including 26 missing or captured.
The battle reenactment took place on a portion of the actual battlefield and attracted a variety of reenactors from across the United States and Canada.
Gerret Swearingen and his wife Ruth traveled all the way from Fort Wayne, Indiana to participate in the reenactment. He portrayed a private in Forsyth’s Company, U.S. 1st Regiment of Riflemen, historically led by Major Benjamin Forsyth.
Gerret and Ruth’s passion for history developed at a young age and now they devote 18 weekends a year to historical reenactment throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Joseph Wohl, from Essex, Connecticut, is working at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site through AmeriCorps with the New York Office of Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Ordinarily, he portrays a member of Tuttle’s Company in the 76th New York Militia, but on Sunday he joined Gerret in Forsyth’s Company. Unlike his counterparts, who wore green, he donned a gray uniform for the occasion.
Also fighting for the American side were two gentlemen from across the border in St. Catharines, Ontario, Marcus and Nick. They ordinarily portray members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Skinner’s No. 7 Company, but for this event they portrayed U.S. Marines.
Marcus, who immigrated to Canada from Switzerland, was also drawn to reenacting through a passion for history. “I found out that there’s so much history right in our backyard… so I wanted to get involved,” he said.
Nick began reenacting the French and Indian War, then moved on to the War of 1812 around its bicentennial anniversary. The War of 1812 is important to Canadians as one of the few wars fought on their soil.
He believes most spectators come for the spectacle and explosions, but added, “For a small number of people, at least the first time they come, they want to know a little bit more about their history, and the history of their country.”
Saturday was windy but a brief rainstorm dissipated before it could spoil the reenactment. Spectators briefly ran inside the barn to avoid the downpour. Thankfully, Sunday was sunny and the event went off without a hitch.
The weekend’s activities were fun and entertaining but the focus was on education. Unlike similar events, there were no booths or tents selling merchandise or memorabilia.
Saturday featured a somber dedication of a Canadian Armed Forces plaque at the garden by the Union Hotel (now the Seaway Trail Discovery Center) on Main Street. During the War of 1812, two companies of Canadian Voltigeurs (volunteers) participated at the Second Battle of Sackets Harbor.