YOUNGSTOWN – With national attention turned to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and special 200th anniversary events planned to commemorate our area’s involvement in the War of 1812, Old Fort Niagara is looking forward to a “busy, busy year,” according to executive director Robert Emerson.
Patriots Day events continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, featuring living history interpreters demonstrating musket firings, military drills and telling stories of the outbreak of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.
Next weekend, Civil War re-enactors will gather for an Artillery School at the fort, which provides the required training needed “for their safe participation for battle reenactments later in the season,” Emerson explained. The fort has provided space for this training the past couple of decades.
“This is the big year – the 150th anniversary – and many of these people training at this event will be at Gettysburg in July, which will be a big, big event,” said Emerson.
While the soldiers adhere to a strict training schedule, there will be live fires that the public can watch scheduled for 11:15 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. next Saturday and Sunday.
John Beatty of Lockport, chairs the Reynolds’ Battery L, First New York Light Artillery, which leads the training. Beatty has been a re-enactor for more than two decades and teaches honors American History and Participation in Government at Lockport High School.
He expects 50 to 100 Civil War re-enactors, dressed in their wool uniforms, for the upcoming artillery training.
“Our goal is to teach people to fire reproductive Civil War cannons (referred to as rifles in Civil War-era lingo), using cannon-grade black powder,” he said.
He’ll be in Gettysburg in July, where he said 10,000 re-enactors have registered for the event he will participate in.
“I was there for the 135th anniversary and there were 32,000 re-enactors,” he recalled. “It was very enjoyable.”
Soldiers will be the focus again May 25-26, when the Fort hosts “Soldiers Through the Ages,” described as a “time-line event” featuring examples from four centuries.
Special displays and demonstrations explore the uniforms, weapons and equipment used by soldiers at the Fort from the 17th century through World War II.
“This takes people from the days of LaSalle right up through World War II and they can see how uniforms change and how weapons change,” said Emerson. “We’ll have camps set up to show how soldiers lived in the field from the 17th through the 20th centuries and they can compare the different time periods. I think it’s one of the most educational programs we have.”
Re-enactors portraying soldiers from the Civil War garrison at Fort Niagara will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of construction of casements and revetments at the site June 8 and 9. Special displays and programs are planned for the weekend.
The Fort’s largest event of the year is slated for July 4-6 – the French and Indian War Encampment.
“We routinely get 1,000 re-enactors for the reenactment of the siege of the fort in 1759,” Emerson said. “We have re-enactments of two battles each day and lots of special, interactive exhibits. This is a big deal for us.”
The event commemorates the historic siege of the fort in July 1759, when British and New York troops, allied with Native warriors, captured Fort Niagara from the French.
The Soldiers of the Revolution on the frontiers of New York is planned for Aug. 3-4.
And, the War of 1812 Encampment is set for Aug. 31 through Sept. 1, named one of the top 100 events in North America by the American Bus Association.
“This will be a Bicentennial signature event,” Emerson noted. “It commemorates the 200th anniversary of the capture of the fort by the British. Last year, which was the 199th anniversary, our attendanc was up over 50 percent and this will be even bigger with the 200th anniversary. We’re really looking forward to this.”
The fort also will participate in the 250th anniversary commemoration of Pontiac’s War Sept. 14 and 15, with the Sept. 14 program held at Devil’s Hole State Park and the Sept. 15 program organized at Fort Niagara. The event marks the anniversary of the bloody fight between Seneca warriors and British troops Sept. 14, 1763 and its impact on the Niagara region. This event is planned in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.