War of 1812 dead honored with re-enactment, service

The Buffalo News

By Marwa Eltagouri

NEWS STAFF REPORTER

Published:June 10, 2012

More than 100 British soldiers are buried on the grounds of the Garrison Cemetery National Historic Site in Cheektowaga, and one of the only tributes they’ve ever received was given to them Sunday.

Cannons blasted, leaving a smoky residue. The timbre of drums and jingle of patriotic tunes echoed through the air as the Sherriff’s Pipe and Drum Band performed. Children dressed in early 19th century suit jackets or thick petticoats skipped around, waving flags.

Even 200 years later, the Western New York community wouldn’t let the sacrifices made by soldiers on both sides of the War of 1812 go unnoticed.

Canadian and American service members, veterans and civic organization members gathered at noon at Aero Road and Wehrle Drive for a parade and service commemorating the War of 1812 Bicentennial. More than 20 organizations marched to the nearby cemetery, where white wooden crosses mark the graves of hundreds of buried soldiers.

“These men would be eligible for Purple Hearts, had they died after 1917,” said Tom Johnson, chairman of the War of 1812 Cemetery board of trustees.

The cemetery was created after a smaller, nearby one in Williamsville was unable to handle more than 500 British, Canadian and American soldiers who were killed, Johnson said. It was designated a national historic site in 2002.

Western New York was the center of much of the 1812 conflict, though many in the region today don’t know that, Johnson said. The War of 1812 goes unappreciated, he said, which is why Sunday’s organizers encouraged the involvement of youth in the parade and cemetery service.

Among the youth participating in the parade and service were Boy Scout troops, representatives from area schools and members of the Junior ROTC.

“It’s got to be be continued every year, and their participation is what guarantees that,” Johnson said. “We want to make this a tradition for them.”

The war began June 18, 1812. In October of that year, 6,000 American troops, consisting of soldiers with no prior experience, and a rather untrained militia gathered at Lewiston in an attempt to cross the river and lay siege to part of Canada, said Donald Hourigan, of Boy Scout Troop 104 of Kenmore.

Hourigan’s troop, along with Troop 554 of Cheektowaga, all sporting the blue coats of American troops, participated in a battle re-enactment on a closed-off Aero Road, across from the cemetery.

The youngsters held up muskets and marched in even lines. Opposite them stood British troops, re-enacted by the 3rd West Hill Scout Troop from Toronto. They wore red uniforms and lined up similarly, facing the Americans.

The purpose of the re-enactment was to show how dangerous and violent the war was, Hourigan said. The American Scouts acted out the Lewiston battle by loading their muskets frantically, aiming and shooting at the British. The Canadian Scouts at the front fell onto the street, mimicking dead soldiers. Cannons fired, and audience members shrieked. Children covered their ears as they screamed out.

Rob Niemic, a member of the U.S. Army 23rd Regiment Infantry re-enactors group and a participant in the commemoration, emphasized the importance of youth involvement in the re-enactment — particularly those from Canada.

“It’s all about 200 years of peace between two countries — that’s the bottom line,” Niemic said. “And the re-enactments, the wreath, the gunshots — they instill qualities in kids that they can’t get without visualization.”

Bill Parke, also a re-enactor with the 23rd Regiment Infantry, who participated in the day’s events, agreed that the re-enactment was hugely important and that it was something children and community members needed to see with their own eyes.

“Soldiers would just line up and shoot and get hit by musket balls and cannons,” he said. “The kids understand that it had to be just horrible but that it needed to happen for our freedom.”

Parke encourages awareness of the sacrifices of soldiers through sharing stories. He said he always tells one story of a soldier stationed in Fort Erie, Ont., who crossed into enemy lines at night with a lantern under his jacket and then hung the lantern up with a rope, so that his fellow soldiers had a clear target.

“They love that story. It gets them excited,” he said. “Puts a twinkle in their eye.”

A special ceremony and memorial service for the British soldiers who died was led by British re-enactor Keith Treacher of Red Jacket Post 3068, Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The day’s events also included a presentation of wreaths, a raising of the British and American flags, and the singing of the Canadian, British and American national anthems, followed by a 21-gun salute.

The Erie County Sheriff’s bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” which was followed by taps, performed by members of Troop 470 Eagle Scouts.

A reception took place afterward at Pvt. Leonard Post Jr. 6251, Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Cheektowaga.

 

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