Sunday, 7 September 2014

Backus Mill event - a hidden gem

This past Saturday saw Croghan's Company, 17th US Infantry turning out for the event at Backus Mill, ON. This place has the honour of being one of the mills that the US raiders could NOT find during the War of 1812 so it was not burned. There's been a small event here for a number of years and it was fun to be part of this year's event.
Our company was well represented - Tyler, Lyle, Kevin, Andy, Jared (our pioneer/corporal) and myself as sergeant. Beth, Tina, Naomi, and Connor rounded out our contingent as camp personnel. We served as "light" infantry with the troops of the 16th Infantry under Lt. James while Major Phil was overall commander with the Canadian Volunteers and the IMUC (Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada as Connecticut militia) and Captain Roy of the Tennessee Volunteers (the BID under a different name) handling the skirmishing infantry. As before, Beth took the photos I'm using here.
The day began a bit rainy but it got better during the day. In the morning battle, the US forces took a tavern and a cabin and had to chase off the Crown forces - the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, the Royal Scots grenadiers, and two or three other Crown contingents including a small force of native allies. Andy and I took the cabin and had to disarm a few women sheltering there. One came at us with a wooden knife! We ended up fighting up and down a small slope. In the morning, the forces of the Republic prevailed. Actually it was too wet from dew to die, although Lyle was "shot" and the surgeon's mates dragged him off for treatment of his wounds.

A detail of the photo that follows - James gestures for another unit to close up on our flank. Lyle lies wounded while I move to check on him. Jared and Andy stand in the back rank, with Kevin, Jim (of the 16th), Tyler, and Steven (also of the 16th) keep up a hot fire. There's plenty of musket smoke for everybody.

Here you can see the "line" - the IMUC and the Canadian Volunteers led by Phil in the plumed chapeau behind them. The surgeon's mates stayed in the treeline although you can see one of them charging forward to take care of Lyle.

We stood on lose order and fired and fired and fired. I fired about 21 shots without a misfire.
That must be some kind of record!

Jared in his pioneer kit. He had his newly acquired axe across his back (the head in it's sheath can be seen just behind his arm.) He also carries a mallet and a bill hook on the same belt as his "belly box." The heavy cloth apron completes his kit. US pioneers wore a cloth apron while the British pioneers had a leather apron.
The afternoon's fire fight was a contest through the valley with the US with their back to the crowd and the Crown forces coming down the opposite hill. We were told by command to take casualties and have multiple men pull the out of line to the surgeon so the the line would shrink and shrink.

The Regulars! The 17th lines up with the 16th just behind them in the US camp. In the afternoon, we tried an experiment - the whole unit went out in hunting shirts. A while ago, the unit received a bunch of hunting frocks that had been used in the filming of a documentary on the War of 1812 in western Ontario. We decided to use them since there is documentation of the 17th being outfitted in white frocks due to supply problems. We all found them quite comfortable although we'll wear the blue coatee as the weather permits.

Ready to march off/

The surgeon watches a patient lose his lunch. It was just a demonstration for the sake of the crowd.

A mixed group of native allies, Caldwell's Rangers, and volunteer militia skirmish ahead of the Crown forces.

The Tennessee Volunteers exchange fire with the Crown skirmishers.

The skirmish line of both sides pushed each other back and forth.

Now the main lines came into play with orders to engage in "independent fire."
The Crown lines can be seen to the far left of the photo.

Guess who's musket NEVER did anything but flash in the pan all afternoon? Yep, mine.
The damp air got to it between battles. Here you can see Jared's pioneer tools and the hunting frocks for the unit.
Your blogger, Jared, Lyle, Kevin, Andy, and Tyler from left to right.

Nope, still won't fire. I dumped a lot of powder that afternoon.

Jared took a hit and Kevin and Tyler saw him to the surgeon. Then Major Phil was wounded and a truce was called in order to remove the wounded. Once that was done, the fighting resumed. All of our muskets were misfiring at least half the time. I shared my cartridges with the section since my musket wouldn't fire at all. At one point, the native allies and their hangers-on were to our right. I saw White Turtle pull his hatchet and prepare to charge. I warned Andy and Lyle and they fired in unison as the charge came up. Two shots! Four or five men fell! Who says "Buck and Ball" doesn't work?
The fight went back and forth and finally a parley was called. Both sides formed up and the dead/wounded rose and took their ranks after the lament for the dead was played. We saluted each other and were then dismissed.

This, my friends, was one fun battle.

The Crown forces' acting sergeant-major gets the Glengarrys into line. The IMUC are reloading.

The Canadian Volunteers square off against the Crown Regulars. There MAY have been more US troops than Crown forces. I didn't count.

The surgeon and his helpers remove a wounded soldier.

... and treat his wounds. The surgeon also carried a bucket of ice water around. Quite refreshing!

Jared is wounded. Kevin and Tyler were to shortly take him to the surgeon.

"Don't take my arm!" he cried. "Don't take my arm!"  A good dose of rum is in order.
Phil was recently promoted to major by the rather nebulous command authority of the US forces, who use President Madison's name. So we say congratulations! We can still see you from space!
Major Phil's adjutant couldn't duck the musketry fast enough and took ill with lead poisoning.

Jared awaits his turn for treatment.

"D'yer t'ink he's dead?" "No, I'm not!"

The rest of the 17th holds the "fence line." To call it a fence is really being quite kind.

I'm just coming back from a mission of mercy. White Turtle was laid out by a volley, and later a Volunteer came and smacked him with a hatchet (a rubber one) because he was stil breathing. When White Turtle rolled, his loin cloth became -shall we say - less modest. I walked over and blocked the public's view while he rolled to a less "full moon" position. His legging are visible to the far right of the photo.

The surgeon had a LOT of business. Here Mike from the Volunteers brings in a wounded comrade.
Following the battle, most of us signed up to take part in the "Court Martial" demonstration. Three British troopers were to be court martialed for various offences. We joined in for a short "company punishment" demonstration which Kevin and I had hastily cooked up and improvised.

Captain Bob hears the charges. Desertion, Drunk and disorderly, and disrespect to an officer.
The fellow in the shirt doesn't see impressed, but his was a flogging offence.

The captain assesses the evidence and has the drummer and the Irishman from the 49th Foot put in irons.

The gentleman shows the cat-o'-nine-tails. As he explained, the whip was kept in a bag and was only brought out for punishment, which means you "let the cat out of the bag." The third soldier was to be given 100 lashes and was taken out and strung up on the tripod.

I explained to the crowd the difference between a court martial and "company punishment."

It appears that Kevin stole a goose and so was given extra duty, confinement to quarters, and stoppage of rum for one week. He tried to defend himself and his gentle sergeant explained that the punishment was so much

Kevin, who really is a good actor, looked duly repentant and Corporal Jared marched him out to his extra duty
 - guarding the school house door while the courts martial were in session.

A little more information. It was a schoolhouse after all!

The leg irons -attached to those logs- are placed on the soldiers' ankles. They then had to carry the log around with them for the length of their sentence.

Extra duty under the corporal's exacting eye!
This is a good little event and I thank the organisers and the hosts for our entire company. Up next for reenacting of the War of 1812, Fanshawe Pioneer Village in October.


  1. That looks like a great site for an event! Can't wait to see the next one.


    1. It is a good one; small, compact with plenty of small hills and valleys. Fanshawe is larger and flatter... and since it's in October, cooler.