It has been long since I smelt the acrid odour of black powder and smoke drifting over the battlefield. But a couple of weekends back I got to attend my first Napoleonic reenactment since the Grand Tactical in 2019. And while the event hosted at Fort George in Niagara-On-The-Lake wasn’t a dedicated 1812 event, there were plenty of units that normally attend 1812 events. But the, Fort George was standing in for a frontier fort on the Spanish peninsula built by the French.
While the lines were certainly smaller than what I’m used to at such events, with broad support not only from the pocket of Napoleonic War reenactors but from the far more local War of 1812 community. It’s also been two years since any such event has been allowed, and many reenactors from the US side of the border and others have chosen to give up the hobby because of illness and, sadly, death. But there was still enough on the field to put on a show, with British and American units choosing to go over to the French lines and many branches merging with others to build the red machine. My wife, son and I arrived soon after the fort opened to the public and took the chance to wander through the Fort before the opening battle. One of the great things about these events is that you can tell a story and show how things were done in Europe. While not to the same extent as European reenactments, the group chose to show how the British would launch an assault against a smaller French frontier fort positioned in Spain.
The Saturday Morning battle, which is the one we took in, showed an early probe but a small British force against the small French fort. These were used to help the Generals determine how well a position was fortified and what it would take to capture it. Two centuries ago, the only intelligence was human intelligence; there were no drones or satellites. They have limited ability to capture documents and no electronic warfare. You trusted any spies or deserters that happened to wander into camp. While I was not shouldering a musket or dressed in wool, it didn’t matter; the smell immediately took me back to being in line. A smell wafts over the battlefield when black powder is fired. The skirmish was in good order, with plenty of excellent if not thin volleys from both sides. Of course, each side had a mixed bag of troops. But the Highland unit had the most number of fighting troops. The 1812 Fife and Drum corps were the most prominent units next to the guard corps (41st) from Fort George. But the highlight had a Napoleon on the field and one of the most nuanced portrayals of the Emporer.
My son who had just finished his lunch as the battle picked up, managed to sleep through the whole thing, even with the cannon fire. And while I couldn’t stay, it felt good to be out on the field. If you want to see all my photos from the day, head on over to Flickr. And if you want to take in a reenactment yourself, check out the Siege of Fort Erie in August! And hopefully, I can make it out with the camera again to the Bradley House event in October in Mississauga, Ontario.