SACKETS HARBOR — A group of history buffs braved the blazing sun Saturday, decked out in wool coats, boots and leather stocks, to give interested passersby a look into the life of an 1812 Marine.
“It’s known as the forgotten war, because many people don’t know much about it,” said Clayton F. Nans, an 1812 Marine re-enactor, who leads the group out of Sackets Harbor. “I hope people get just a little greater appreciation of the history of New York and the sacrifices of our early citizens here in defense of our nation.”
The 1812 Marine group supports the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site and will put on a living history camp several times each summer. The men dress in authentic 1812 Marine or sailor uniforms and carry muskets. Their camp is set up in front of the lieutenant’s house on the battlefield site, and there’s a fire and several tents set up. Two women sit in the largest tent.
Interested people out for a walk along Lake Ontario stop to watch drill and musket demonstrations and to ask questions. There’s a group of about eight to 10 demonstrators, and many of the men, including Mr. Nans, served in the Marines themselves, he said.
“During the War of 1812, almost half of the Marine Corps were stationed at Sackets Harbor,” Mr. Nans said. “During the war, most of the seaports were blockaded by the British navy, and most of them were brought here to man ships that were being built.”
Some of the people in the group are family members, or people who share Mr. Nans’s passion for 1812 military history. Canadians and Americans alike are interested in gaining some more knowledge of the history.
One of the most important things that came from the war for the United States was the idea that the country needed a professional and trained military, Mr. Nans said.
“The U.S. couldn’t just depend on the militia to defend the interests of the nation, but up until that point, a lot of the founding fathers didn’t want a professional military because they thought it would interfere with democracy,” Mr. Nans said. “In a lot of cases, the militiamen couldn’t stand up to Great Britain.”
Being stationed in the north country wasn’t an easy task in 1812; many Marines died of exposure and disease. The Marines were paid $5 per month, compared with the $12 per month sailors received, but the Marines did get the benefit of being issued free public clothing for multiple seasons, Mr. Nans said.
“It was considered hard duty, or even a death sentence, to come up here,” he said. “The winters were so cold, a lot of Marines froze to death up here standing post.”
During the Battle of Sackets Harbor itself, one of the most significant battles of the war, a lot of the Marines weren’t there, but instead were out on ships.
A small Marine detachment that was in Sackets Harbor was ordered by naval officers to set fire to public stores in the village when it looked like the British were going to win. The officers who gave that order eventually were court-martialed.
After the battle, a string of forts was built to shield the village against any other attacks. Mr. Nans likened this to “closing the barn door after all the horses escaped.”
Davi’eel L. Stewart, 16, is a student at Sackets Harbor Central School, and works at the battlefield site as a maintenance aide. Saturday was the third time he has worked as a re-enactor, and he portrayed an African-American artilleryman.
“I haven’t been interested in history forever, but I’m still in high school and it’s been one of the things I like to read about,” he said. “Coming here, I like learning about new stuff and being able to share it.”
The Sackets Harbor Battlefield has had a good season; attendance in general is up. There are now two core volunteer groups that do re-enactments: the Marine group and a militia group that was out last weekend, said Constance B. Barone, manager of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site.
“We incorporate domestic life, as well as military life,” Ms. Barone said. “In this format, people can participate and learn how to march and drill. It’s history coming alive for people — part of our mission, part of our story.”