Niagara Gazette

September 29, 2012

Preparing for a big battle in Lewiston

By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — It's shaping up as one of the biggest historical events held on the Niagara Frontier, an all-out and carefully planned re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights.

"We're sure there will be nothing to match it," says Lee Simonson of Lewiston, a former longtime county lawmaker and a prime mover in the three-day bicentennial commemoration of the battle fought Oct. 12, 1812. 

"It will be largest such bi-national observance anywhere in the U.S.," Simonson predicted.

The free three-days of activities will include "The War of 1812 Songs and Stories from New York and Beyond," at 2:45 p.m. Oct. 12 in Academy Park, Lewiston. An "Off to War Cannon Procession" will begin at 4 p.m. on Center Street, from Portage Road to Fourth Street. 

Simonson said that 7 p.m. re-enactors will be staging the largest 1812-period cannon bombardment ever assembled, along the Lewiston riverfront on Water Street. In addition, special fireworks and music will be featured. Spectators also will hear at 6:50 p.m. President James Madison's speech urging the American troops to victory.

On Oct. 13, the pageantry from noon to 1 p.m. will relive, in a limited and imaginary way, the British troops harassing and ransacking Lewiston merchants on Center Street. Other activities that day will include a New York State Honor Guard Ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Academy Park, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; an 1812 Fashion Show, 2:30 p.m.; and a Cannon Bombardment of Canada, from the Artpark upper parking lot and Amphitheater area, at 3 p.m. A number of 1812 themed tents will offer an informative look at life in those earlier days. 

On the final day, Oct. 13, re-enactors will be marching as well as conducting drills and demonstrations, from 9 a.m. until noon. Also, various interpretive program stations will be open to the public.

Andrew Auer, principal of the Intermediate Educational Center in the Lewiston-Porter School District, said he is looking forward to a visit that his third, fourth and fifth graders will make during "Education Day" at the observance. More than 300 children who have been studying about the War of 1812 and its impact in the Niagara area, will spend nearly three hours at the local bicentennial site to learn more from the re-enactors staffing various stations.

"All of this happened in our backyard," said Auer, alluding to the events surrounding the major invasion in the fall of 1812. "It's important the students know what took place and what that meant in history," he added.

Auer said that starting Monday and continuing through the bi-national observance, the school will fly the 15-star American flag (symbolic of that era). Also, during his morning announcements to the classes, he plans to read short passages from materials provided through the War of 1812 Bi-National Commission. Meanwhile, Lew-Port teachers have been incorporating related information about the war, its causes and effects in their curriculum. Linda Harvey, a social studies teacher in the middle school, has been helping sixth graders to prepare for their visit which will include working alongside some of the performers at the site.

The battle fought along the river and on Queenston Heights marked the first major invasion of U.S. troops into Canada (then a British colony in North America). It was destined to be known as the place where Major Gen. Isaac Brock was killed trying to recapture the high ground in Queenston, directly across from Lewiston.

It also would be remembered as a day when the U.S. assault was hampered by inept and confused leadership, inadequately equipped forces and even the unpredictable currents of the lower Niagara River. To compound matters, a number of American troops arriving along the shore refused to cross the border, claiming their primary mission as state militia members was to defend the homeland. 

Historians note that the strength of Maj. Gen. Stephen Van Rensselear's army on the Niagara River for the battle that day was about 6,710 officers and men, including 2,480 regulars and 4,070 state militia. In addition, 160 militia arrived from Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Brock's army was comprised of about 2,340 officers and men, 810 militia and 300 native allies.

Several causes for the war have been cited countless times but one major factor was undoubtedly the British practice of impressing American merchant seamen suspected of being citizens of England. Many of them were simply removed from their ships and ordered to serve in the Royal Navy, which was drastically short of men for Britain's ongoing battle with Napolean.

The wide-ranging activities have been made possible by a number of major sponsors, he said, including the town and village of Lewiston, Niagara County, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, KeyBank and Modern.

Organizers said more than 200 volunteers are directly involved in the project that has been planned over the past year. In addition, some 30 volunteer leaders will fan out to check on all sites for activities as well as the various services to accommodate the anticipated heavy influx of visitors.