Battle `Sturm und Drang' revisited

North Point re-enactment returns, launching Defenders' Day commemorations week

September 04, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,sun reporter

After a 10-year hiatus, Buzz Chriest and his Dundalk-based Captain Aisquith's Sharp Shooters were back in full force yesterday - re-enactors nearly 200 strong re-imagining the area's key role in the War of 1812, delaying the redcoats' advance on the North Point Peninsula.

"Ten years ago, they thought they could do this without a re-enactment," Chriest, 67, said of the once-annual Defenders' Day celebration, which had vanished after 1996 from Fort Howard Park in Edgemere.

"The public comes for the fireworks and the Sturm und Drang [storm and stress]. That's the icing on the cake, and then you cram as much knowledge as you can into them."

The commemoration of the Battle of North Point, fought Sept. 12, 1814, launched a weeklong Defenders' Day celebration. Three more days of festivities will culminate next weekend at Fort McHenry, where cannons kept British ships at bay in the bombardment that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Despite the historical significance of the 1814 engagements at North Point and Fort McHenry, Defenders' Day is no longer listed as an official city or state holiday. Because of escalating costs, the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society stopped holding its annual Fort Howard event after 1996.

For the re-enactment's revival yesterday, Kim and Michael Miller brought their four young children, including 2-year-old triplets, pulling them along in a red Radio Flyer wagon over Fort Howard's soggy grass.

"Hopefully they'll get back into doing this every year," said Michael Miller, 39, who grew up in Edgemere and still lives there with his family.

Cannons and rifles blasted, alarmingly loud and frequently, as Maryland militias and the British Royal Marines exchanged fire. Some children cried.

The Miller triplets? "They flinched a little, but they seem all right now," their father said.

Yellow jackets swarmed in the smoky haze, and the pungent smell of gunpowder lingered. Attendees lunched on pit ham and pit beef. For the re-enactors, a cook prepared period-appropriate cauldrons of simmering beef stew.

With the bicentennial of Defenders' Day approaching, Chriest, co-chairman of the event, and other historical society members hope the crowds, estimated at 2,000 yesterday, will only grow.

"It's been off people's radar screens for so long," said Vincent Vaise, Fort McHenry's chief ranger and the event's narrator, sporting a tailed brown jacket and top hat. "We're trying to restore the holiday to its rightful place. This is as important as Bunker Hill and Gettysburg - the battle that saved our city and gave us a national anthem."

Plans for a bicentennial commemoration of the end of the War of 1812 also are under way at the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans - even though 15 feet of water flooded the battlefield during Hurricane Katrina, Chriest said.

Politicians including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith used the battlefield as a stumping ground, with the primary election falling on the engagement's 192nd anniversary.

Children were more interested in playing with handmade historical toys on display, including simple handkerchief and cornhusk dolls, rolling wooden hoops, early versions of dominos and checkers, and wooden rifles.

As a teenager, Bernardine Flynn had dressed up as a 19th-century woman one year and as a male sharpshooter with Chriest's brigade in another. Now 30, the Essex resident returned with sons James Jerseheid, 11, and John Isaacs, 5.

"Hopefully one of these days, I'll get them involved," Flynn said. "The schools have slacked off a little in teaching about it."

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