Fort Stanwix May 28-30, 2010

Posted By on June 2, 2010

From aerial photos, forts seem to all look alike in their star shape- their bastions and buildings and gates all seeming to share locations and you can typically make out the locations of the outer trenches.  However, once you approach these bulwarks of ages past, you find that each one has its own personality, its own design of buildings, its own energy almost.  Together though, they all seem to have a sense of community, a sense of home, a sense of duty. These protections in the wilderness (at the time) stood out amongst the miles of forests to serve and protect those within its walls, and carry that sense even today as you walk among them.  That’s exactly how I felt this weekend as I traveled north to Rome, NY, and the site of Fort Stanwix National Monument.

As you arrive off of the highway and come into town the way we did, there aren’t any signs or fanfare for the fort in general.  Actually, as you come in from the street we came down, you have no idea there’s even a fort there until you pass by the visitors center and catch a brief glimpse of the British Flag and the wooden stakes protruding from the outer wall.  We pulled around the back, to load in through the sally port, and once inside I was taken back by how it isolates you from the surrounding city, truly taking you back to the 18th century. You see a church spire and a parking deck if you’re looking for them, but because of the fort walls and the way it is designed, the city of Rome melts behind the buildings and bastions.

Fort Stanwix was re-built 75 years ago on the exact location where it stood.  It had been covered by buildings and streets, but they were torn down, the site excavated, and rebuilt to original specifications that were available. While the barracks buildings seem crude to most modern standards, I completely believe this to be accurate to what would have been available at the time.  The enlisted men’s quarters are basically just a large rectangular frame covered in hay for the regiment to share (one on either side of the room), and a fire place in the middle of the large expanse for warmth and cooking.  Officers and visiting officers quarters were sparsely furnished, but were also smaller and more personal for these men of rank.  There were even family quarters in the fort for those camp followers and children that may be on campaign as well.

My cohorts and I, John and Susan B, were privelidged to stay in the visiting officers quarters along with another nice gentleman.  There were 2 sets of bunk beds in these, with ticking sacks filled full of hay in each bunk.  Being the youngest of our group, I was relegated to the top bunk, which was only about 18 inches from the ceiling.  Along with the bunks, there was a small table, and a massive fire place for cooking and warmth, and one small window for light.  Even in the middle of the day, we needed to light candles in order to see into many of the spaces of the room comfortably.

For the layout of my surgeons impression, I was given the theater- an air conditioned and carpeted space that joins the main welcome area with a diagram of the fort.  When not occupied by re-enactors such as myself, a film plays as an introduction to the fort and its history.  There were a few people who seemed dissappointed that there wasn’t a film on the weekend, but I hoped that my presentation would be comparable at least for them, if not better.

One of the things that I found most suprising and pleasing about the event was that everyone, British, French, Highlander, and Native alike, all mingled together and talked amongst each other.  Too many events, the British are on one side of the field, and the French are on the other and the Natives end up filling in wherever they may be able.  Here at Stanwix, everyone intermingles, be it at tea, in evening discussions, and even singing in various camps.  Everyone also seems to be there for the same reason- to promote the history and to educate the public.  It was also very great to hear compliments on my portrayal by my fellow reenactors, on both my display and on my knowledge.

Both Saturday and Sunday the men and women portraying soldiers had short skirmishes as a demonstration of 18th century tactics, and the Fort’s 9 pounder was fired repeatedly.  It put a smile on my face each time as it actually seemed to shake the building I was in as it was fired.  What can I say- I have a thing for powerful artillery.  Saturday afternoon, there was also a ladies tea for all the ladies in attendance.  I was honored with receiving a taste of the tea that the ladies were drinking, which was quite spectacular. I think these teas are great for giving the ladies a chance to socialize and get to know each other, because they’re normally busy at events or don’t get to meet other ladies in other units and discuss their areas of expertise.

After the battle Saturday afternoon, and during a lull of the public in my area, I performed a demonstration of a straight shaving on two men.  The day was hot, so it was good for them to have water on their faces, and it was good for me to do a demonstration of one of my crafts- which both the public and my fellow participants seemed to enjoy.

At the end of the day Saturday, all of the participants of legal age were lined up for a rum ration, which also was a nice touch.  Here was everyone who participated in the day (minus the NPS staff of course), out to receive their dram for their service, along with toasts which abounded. After dinner time, of which my cohorts made an exceptional venison roast (thank you John and Susan again for a great meal!), there was a very nice concert put on by Linda Russell, who did beautifully.

After the concert, Capitaine Etienne A. Perkins dit le Gros Corne, and his Madame,  put on a soiree with a table full of cheeses, bread, smoked meat, and other tasty treats.  There we filled his officers quarters with lively discussion late into the evening.  Then I mingled over to the Highlanders to share musical treats, and ended the evening on a bastion, staring at the moon and stars, content and happy to be there.  It was a beautiful and comfortable night- to where some individuals actually slept out under the stars.

Sunday seemed more sedate of a day, but the public still came out in droves and still asked fabulous questions.  It really was the questions that the public were asking that tickled me most- many wanted to know how I had gotten started in the hobby or into surgery itself, others had deeper questions than “what’s that do?” about illness and injury.  It was intellectual for me!  And the majority of people who came through my display asked questions- it wasn’t just the usual look and walk on that I see at several other events.

By closing time on Sunday, I was tired, but it still didn’t seem possible that it was time to tear down and return from whence we came.  Others had left earlier in the day, but as we loaded our things out of the fort, it just had a touch of sadness attached with it.  Like Fort Frederick, it seems, Stanwix has earned a special place in my heart- a home away from home in many ways.  As we said our goodbyes to our new friends and our old friends, I made the promise that I would return again.

For anyone who hasn’t been to this fort, I highly recommend it for a visit, if not to go as a participant for the weekend at one of their events.  Their staff is exceptionally friendly, the site is well done for accuracy and education, and it does have that great “time machine” effect, as Susan calls it, to take you back to the 18th Century.

Thanks to Christine Burgess for the photos she took this weekend- she was quite the shutterbug!

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