a response to Betsy
- Why re-enactment?
I have had a long standing interest in history and wrote my first
historical paper in grade school on Commodore Perry's trials, tribulations,
and victories after having visited the International Peace Monument at
Put-In-Bay. Years and two wars later, in the late 50s, when again visiting
PIB for the last round-the-house roadracing in the US I happened across a
pamphlet at the Monument on artillery used in North America. Later yet I
started building 1:20 scale models (non-firing) of some of the cannons in
that book and only recently completed such a model of a Bastard Culverin.
Starting about 20 years ago, having moved to a nice little rural community,
I started fantasizing about putting together a group of guys, building a
small cannon from kit parts, and creating an 18th or 19th century artillery
unit. This daydream never materialized.
About four years ago my wife and I traveled from the Dayton, OH area to
Rockport, Maine to go sailing on a 130 foot, two masted gaff rigged topsail
schooner for a week on Penobscot Bay. Driving a motorhome we took the
opportunity to visit every historical site, of which there are many,
between origin and destination on both our outbound and return trips. Two
of these sites really got me stirred up.
The first was Fort Ticonderoga where I was amazed to see what a great job
of presenting history they do there using on three reenactors: a man
dressed as a lieutenant of the French Marine of the 1750s who gave very
knowledgeable lectures on just about any military-related aspect of the
fort. Another was a woman dressed in period attire and was in charge of
tours and was more or less the curator of the museum. The third was a
fifer whose main duty is to attract the attention of visitors by fifing and
then by announcing upcoming tours or other events. I noted with real
interest a little howitzer, reputed to have been the personal artillery of
Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, and which was captured at Saratoga.
Our next stop was the national battlefied park at Saratoga, NY and this
was important to me because I knew that many of my Dutch ancestors fought
in both the first and second battles of Saratoga, widely regarded as the
turning point in our struggle for independence. It was at Saratoga that
Burgoyne lost an entire British army, including about 4000 Hessian
mercenaries. I had the unique experience of standing upon the very ground
from which Captain Johannes van Petten and his nephew Lieutenant Andries
van Petten of the Albany County militia fought the British; first at the
American River Fortifications and, in the 2nd battle, at Barber's
Wheatfield. At that redoubt there is a monument to that militia and to its
commanding officer General Abraham Ten Broek (who was, or course, not Dutch
Flogging the RV homeward I started thinking about what might have been
going on in my home area during the Revolutionary War and discovered that
this area was not settled much at all until 1796 and that the closest Rev
War fort was clear over on the eastern edge of the state. I then started
researching the War of 1812 and discovered to my delight that two militia
units were raised in the township in which I live: one, after which
Steele's Rifles is modeled, was the first into action after the fall of
Detroit (and was ordered to march by Brigadier General Edmund Munger). The
other unit was a company of mounted rifles that garrisoned Fort McArthur
about 30 miles north of Urbana.
This discovery was my trigger to start organizing Steele's Rifles and this
background has made education a salient feature of what I guess you would
call the Company's mission statement. We have been systematically
lecturing and demonstrating to interested historical groups and take every
opportunity to enhance the awareness of children and adults in the
important role that Ohio and the Old Northwest played in the first year of
the War of 1812.
Equally important to me is the comradeship of my riflemen and the fine men
and women that we have all met and now count as friends in the community of
1812 reenactors. We take every opportunity we can for regional parades and
timeline and tactical events and enjoy every minute of it. I sometimes
find myself wishing that there were more than 24 hours in a day and that
the "campaign season" lasted at least eight months per year!
Since we are a volunteer frontier militia unit we are not subjected to the
same kinds of strenuous authenticity concerns that are quite apparent on
this listserve. Nevertheless we adhere closely to the "acceptable"
standard recently promulgated on this listserve. We never let the public
see anything obviously modern in our gear or encampment and we strive for
the ten foot rule for the visual 1812 impression. I blush to admit that we
bathe and shave as frequently as practical and that the contents of our
"surgeon's mate" kit includes modern pharmaceuticals (no mercury compounds)
and sterile bandages.