Defenders Day celebration draws crowd to Fort Howard (Photos)
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 13:04

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photos by Roland Dorsey

by John G. Bailey

alt    Prognostications of rain to the contrary, the weather cooperated for the 2012 Defenders Day Celebration at Fort Howard on Sept. 2.
    Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society organizers promised a fuller program than previous years, one befitting the bicentennial of the War of 1812. And by noon, visitors were parking on overflow lots on the grass.
    On a small stage a few yards inside the fort, David Hildebrand of the Colonial Music Institute entertained the crowd with songs of the 1812 era, which he and his wife Ginger have collected.
    Dressed in brown breech pants with suspenders over a white worker’s shirt, he sang a medley of verses from three pre-war songs that were sung to the music of what later became the National Anthem.
    Another tune entitled “James Madison, My Joe” was a satirical broadside against the wartime president’s conduct of what critics called “Mr. Madison’s War.” As Hildebrand noted afterwards, “Popular songs of the time were vehicles for political mudslinging that would make contemporary American politicians blush.”
    Paul Trattner, dressed in top hat, coat and tails, performed early American magic tricks with period tools of the trade. “Other than materials, the tricks haven’t changed much,” he confided.
    No strangers to Fort Howard, he and his wife and assistant, Bernadette, have performed at Defenders Day five times.
alt    Activities for children at the celebration included such pre-Droid entertainment as roll-the-hoop, skip rope, jigsaw puzzles, a hands-on weaving demonstration and photo ops with historical cut-outs.
    The biggest shows of the day, however, were the two Battle of North Point reenactments. Crowds began to gather along the top of a small rise a full half hour before the first event, as the various American and British units mustered below for a last minute order of battle review.
    The British 35th and 3rd Regiments were represented by reenactors from New Jersey and New York, respectively.
    Compared with the British uniforms of a professional army, the attire of American units who fought in the battle reflected a range of local and international influences.
    The Aisquith Sharpshooters, a Baltimore militia led by Buzz Chriest of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, wore loose-fitting, green  hunting frocks with red trim.
    The 5th Maryland Regiment, known as the Dandy 5th for their sharp appearance, wore blue blazers with white cross belts and pants, with black visored hats topped with red and black plumes — a French influence.
    The McHenry Guard, another Baltimore militia, distinguished themselves satorially with purple blouses and black pants.

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    Vince Voise, ranger and chief interpreter at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, narrated the battle from atop the concrete gun battery overlooking the spectators and the field of battle. His running commentary provided historical depth to a demonstration whose significance may otherwise have been muted by the spectacle of sight and sound.
    The action began with a sharp, ear-splitting crack of cannon fire, the first of several that would punctuate the 20-minute drama. Spectators flinched involuntarily as the concussion wave hit in the next instant. Babies cried. After the third volley, a five-year-old girl turned to no one in particular and wearily commented, “This is going to be going on all day.”
    The first musket fire came from the Aisquith Sharpshooters as British approached the American line. This skirmish in the historic battle took place near Gorsuch farm.
alt    “You’ll notice no soldiers falling today, acting wounded or dead,” Voise noted to the crowd. “Faking death and wounds risks trivializing the horrors of the war and the real sacrifices of the men who fought in it.”
    Sporadic musket fire continued until the advancing British pushed the retreating American forces from the field, giving the King’s army a tactical victory. But the American delaying action turned out to be more important strategically — it helped save Baltimore.  from attack.