Detroit has a true historical gem, and so few seem to know (or care) about it. That shining diamond in the rough is Historic Fort Wayne - an actual fort built in the 1840’s.
Here, please allow me to give you a very brief history of it (from the Historic Fort WayneCoalition website):
In 1840, at the point on the Detroit River closest to British Canada, the United States Army began surveying local farms for the placement of new artillery post. A five point star fort was slated to have the most up to date cannon capable of firing on the Canadian shore as well as ships sailing the river.
This new fort was Detroit’s third, the first built by the Americans (in 1701, shortly after Cadillac landed, the French began building Fort Detroit, which was surrendered to the British in 1760 during the French and Indian War, and then the British built a new fort several years later and name it Fort Lernoult, which they occupied until 1796 when the United States took over Detroit and renamed the battlement Fort Shelby.
Following the War of 1812, Fort Shelby fell into disrepair while the threat of a territorial war still loomed with British Canada. As tensions increased along the Northern border defense that includes new forts from the east coast to the Minnesota Territory. The Detroit fort would be named for General Anthony Wayne whose defeat of the British at the Fallen Timbers in 1796 resulted in the United States occupation of the Northwest Territories.
Diplomacy intervened, however, in the mission of Fort Wayne. Before any cannon were even procured for the new fort, the United States signed a treaty with Britain that called for diplomatic solutions to their territorial disputes. The new Fort was re-commissioned as an infantry garrison, but did not see any troops until the outbreak of the Civil War, when the first Michigan soldiers reported for duty.
Because of new relationship with the Britain and later Canada, Fort Wayne never saw a shot fired in anger. The peaceful location became a primary induction center for Michigan troops entering battle in every U. S. conflicts from the Civil War to Viet Nam. Among other duties over the course of it’s 125 year use as an Army base, it served as an infantry training station, housed the Chaplin school for a few years, and was the primary procurement location for the vehicles and weapons manufactured in Detroit during both World Wars. Also during WW II the Fort housed prisoners of war from Italy.
Because of the fear of crime in Detroit – both justified and yet unfounded, if that makes sense – not many people frequent the fort during the reenactments. But the coalition really does forge ahead, and because of their perseverance and word of mouth, the numbers are growing.
The very first time my wife and I ever reenacted the Civil War era was at Fort Wayne. Oh! We were real embarrassingly bad in the way we were dressed, as you will note in the photo below), but we learned quickly where we needed to improve.
|Our very first ever event and our very first actual ambrotype|
Because it was our first event ever, Fort Wayne holds a special place for us, and therefore we make sure we participate at each Civil War reenactment it has. Of course, my most favorite event held here are the Christmas at the Fort presentations that we put on for tour groups, which really gives us the chance to bring the ghosts of Christmas past to life (click HERE and HERE to read about that).
Anyhow, on September 14 & 15 we did our annual Civil War Days at Fort Wayne and I have a few pictures from that event I’d like to share with you. I would also like to mention here that the civilians of the 21st Michigan - that's us! - were able to use a beautiful 1880's home as our own. It was decided that we would share the house in two hour blocks, using it in whatever manner each group saw fit. There were visits from friends, parlor games played, and photographic opportunities. It turned out to be a great time as you shall see:
|I thought I'd begin this photographic time-travel excursion with a photo of my wife and I. When compared to the picture above you can see we've come a long way baby!|
|Candace the housekeeper kept very busy, for Mrs. Paladino had guests arriving shortly.|
Now, understand, the ladies here realized that the bloomer craze was from the early 1850's, but they certainly had fun recreating possible discussions of the style, even though they were dressed in later fashions.
|There was an interesting visitor - Mrs. Amelia Bloomer. The ladies were not fond of Mrs. Bloomer's forward thinking ideas and let her know under no uncertain terms of their feelings.|
|Young Miss Andrea was aghast at the thought of wearing what looked like men's trousers under a skirt.|
|But Mrs. Bloomer continued her speaking, attempting to win the ladies over...and they listened respectfully.|
|As much as she tried, it just did not work to her advantage. Ah well, once the hoop became popular, the bloomer craze of the 1850's was gone like the wind.|
|An afternoon of parlor games ensued, and this was an opportunity to get our minds off the war and, as the future folks say, let loose. Here, Mrs. Gillett imitates, with great expression, the sound of a moo-ing cow.|
|On such a beautiful early fall day, sitting on the front porch was a fine way to spend an afternoon.|
|Here is a group photograph taken with an actual 19th century camera owned by 21st Michigan member Robert Beech. Yes, the sun was very bright on this day.|
|My wife loves to spin upon her wheel, and does show as often as she can. She almost always will draw a large crowd of not only modern dress visitors, but reenactors as well.|
|Mrs. St. John has many family and friends in the military, fighting to preserve our nation, and she takes time out of her busy chore-filled day each day to write to them. Notice how patriotic Mrs. St. John is in her clothing.|
|Mrs. St. John's husband, standing in the center, plays for the local baseball team, the Early Risers.|
|Because of the beautifully ornate decor' of this home, we find it to be a very suitable backdrop for posing.|
|And many from our group took advantage of the opportunity, including this mother and daughter and...|
|...Michigan's own Governor Blair and his wife.|
|A soldier returns home to find his wife in a position of servitude. He understands the need for her position and accepts their plight for the time he will be serving in the army.|
|A formal pose, for we have dressed for the photographer|
|Listening to period music on the violin was another wonderful way to spend part of our afternoon. Mrs. Pearl Jones is an accomplished musician and entertained us with such numbers as Amazing Grace...|
|...and Just Before the Battle Mother. There is little more hauntingly beautiful than to hear period music played in a period parlor on an instrument popular during the time. It truly is a haunting experience.|
|"Come look, Cousin. I fear we may see a battle soon!"|
|"Oh, yes! I see the men marching onto the field near the river! What shall we do?"|
“Do you think we should be out here, cousin?”
“Why not? It is our home, is it not? I see no harm in watching our brave men fight to preserve our nation!”
|A small group of renegade Rebels attacked another small group of Union military|
|A few Union men took a hit while the rest took aim, and then...|
|...fired back, killing the majority of the small Rebel force.|
|The few men left skeedaddled the heck out of there!!|
|As I said, it was a couple of small groups. They came together here for a portrait.|
|And here is my son up front, and a descendant of a knight stands behind him.|
And there you have an idea of how our weekend was spent at Historic Fort Wayne.
To me, the whole reason behind reenacting and living history is to show history in a unique way...to bring it alive.
But also to have fun.
A couple of our members experienced a touch of immersion for the first time here on this weekend and they loved it. They want to do more. And that's one of the reasons why I had the time in this house split amongst a number of the membership - so others who normally do not use a home during reenactments could experience what it was like to spend time in a period home while dressed correctly. It's a feeling that cannot be explained vocally.
And I hope you get the chance to experience this feeling.
Then you'll understand.
Thanks for stopping by.