Fort Jennings bicentennial celebration is blast from the past

Lindsay Brown

War of 1812 Re-enactment

Members of the Second Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Militia war of 1812 reenactment unit shoot off their weapons at Sunday’s Fort Jennings 1812 Reenactment. Lindsay Brown/The Lima News

August 19, 2012

By KATE MALONGOWSKI 419-993-2092

FORT JENNINGS — Residents of Fort Jennings celebrated the bicentennial of the events that cemented the town’s name.

On Sunday, upon crossing the walking bridge behind the Fire Department in town, visitors were suddenly whisked back into the early 19th century, during a time when Fort Jennings was an active fort during the War of 1812.

As a quick history lesson, in September 1812, Col. William Jennings and his Kentucky riflemen built a fort that was strategically halfway between St. Marys and Defiance.

While the town of Fort Jennings was not officially founded until 1847, the events 35 years before sealed the fate of its name.

During the weekend, the community park was filled with historians, decorated riflemen with muskets, as well as civilians who spoke with hundreds of visitors and explained what it was like to live and work 200 years ago. Uniformed soldiers who were volunteers with the Old Northwest Military History Association periodically fired their muskets and stood should to shoulder, as they would have back then. But the muskets that were typically used then weren’t automatic rifles, by far. These muskets were called “the work horse of the American Army” because they were one-fourth the price of rifles then, and for highly skilled soldiers, it took 15 to 20 seconds to load each bullet and fire.

“Every soldier would do this six hours a day, they would go through these motions to get into the rhythm so that they could speed up,” said Dan Woodward, a volunteer with the Old Northwest Military History Association.

These weapons weren’t exactly accurate, either. Not by modern means.

“To compensate for the poor accuracy of the musket, they stood in long lines, shoulder to shoulder. Everybody fires at once,” Woodward said. “That famous quote from the American Revolution, ‘Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.’ That’s a literal statement.”

The uniform wasn’t light by any means either, especially for a warm summer’s day. In the pre-camouflage days, soldiers wore a patriotic red and blue uniform with multiple layers of wool and linen.

Other soldiers assisted in loading and shooting a small cannon.

Eileen and Louis Schimmoeller, lifelong Fort Jennings residents, both liked learning more about the rich history of their small town.

“I spend most of my weekends up here,” Louis Schimmoeller said. “It’s all very interesting.”

He especially enjoyed talking with historians, and also, he had a special bonding moment with one of his grandsons.

“We got to fire a rifle,” he said with a smile.

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