‘Forgotten War’ re-enacted in Vienna

The Star Democrat,

War of 1812 bicentennial commemorated

PHOTO BY GAIL DEAN

War of 1812 re-enactors

War of 1812 re-enactors portraying the members of the Baltimore United Volunteers, a militia unit made up of Irish merchants and professionals, demonstrated both military weapons and whiskey production with a still June 23 during the Nanticoke River Jamboree at the Handsell historic site near Vienna. The re-enactors include Jim Dugent, Paul Hoffmaster, Chuck Gosnell, Kathleen Norvell and Jeff Goodson.

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Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012

By GAIL DEAN Staff Writer

VIENNA — During this War of 1812 bicentennial, which began June 18 — 200 years after President James Madison’s declaration of war became official — the war is often referred to as a forgotten war in our nation’s history.

There also are overlooked battles within this war, most notably, the Battle of North Point, according to re-enactors portraying members of the Baltimore United Volunteers, part of the U.S. Army’s 5th Regiment, who demonstrated military musket skills and appeared in reproduction uniforms Saturday, June 23, during the Nanticoke River Jamboree at the Handsell historic site.

The uniforms are made to look just like the ones that helped their regiment make an impressive showing to defeat the British at the Battle of North Point, which occurred Sept. 12, 1814. That date was once an official state holiday, Defenders’ Day.

That British defeat turned the tide, which saved Baltimore from destruction, as the British had done just down the road a few weeks before, burning the newly built president’s house and U.S. Capitol, which was still under construction.

The burning of Washington was preceded by the Battle of Bladensburg, Aug. 24, 1814, where Baltimore United Volunteers were on the losing side.

Bombardment of Fort McHenry began Sept. 13, 1814, with imprisoned Francis Scott Key penning “The Star Spangled Banner.” The British were unable to capture the fort, for which Baltimore United Volunteer re-enactors also credit the Battle of North Point.

By burning Washington, the British solidified U.S. sentiment in support of a war which was not initially popular, according to re-enactor Paul Hoffmaster of Catonsville, who plays a sergeant with the BUV.

One reason may have been the federal requirement for all men, 16 to 45 years in age, to serve in military militias in their communities.

Made up of merchants, politicians and professionals with Irish roots, the BUV’s members were wealthy and well-connected enough to purchase official federal army uniforms from a supplier in Philadelphia. Hoffmaster said that distinction caused the British to mistake them for well-trained soldiers, while they were really just well-dressed.

The weapons demonstrations were of smooth-bore muskets, incredibly inaccurate weapons. It would not be for another 50 years, coinciding with the U.S. Civil War, that rifles were introduced to warfare and it became far more deadly.

A rifle used during the Civil War was accurate up to 350 yards, Hoffmaster said, while muskets fail at accuracy beyond 80 yards.

“Most casualties during the War of 1812 were by cold steel,” said re-enactor Jeff Gosnell, such as swords, pikes and lances.

Also distinguishing the Baltimore United Volunteers was their black and gold flag of color, from the Calvert family requested, which was presented to the unit by Baltimore’s mayor, before the group went off to war.

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