Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Backus Mill 2015

During the War of 1812, the US navy and army staged many raids on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie in order to destroy mills and anchorages along the shore and demoralise the inhabitants. This worked in any number of raids. The raid on Backus Mill (or Backhouse' Mill, as it was called at the time) failed. The US raiders could not find the mill and the local people and the militia set fires to haystacks and other structures in order to make the raiders think that other groups of raiders found the mill and fired it. The mill stands to this day although it is not a working grist mill.
Every year, there is a reenactment on the site which is now a local historical park and campground. It's quite hilly and even though it rains or threatens to rain almost every year, it's a good place to have a reenactment. This year was great fun.
Rob and Katie had the day off from their workplaces so the entire family went to the event. I wore my US regular army sergeant's kit but Beth, Katie, and Rob all went as warriors of the Lenni-Lenape people, who are usually referred to as the Delaware people. The Munsee Delaware, one of the two branches of the nation, came north into Canada at the end of the American War of Independence. Many became Christians from the preaching of Moravian missionaries. (The Delaware reserve near us is at Moraviantown.) Oddly enough, the Moravian Church no longer can be found in our area, although it was so influential earlier in Canadian/Ontario history. The Unami Delaware went west into Ohio from Pennsylvania and New Jersey and finally ended up on reserves in Oklahoma. Beth has Unami ancestry so our children do as well. (I'm just a rogue Irish/Cornish person.) So Long Shadow (Rob), Yellow Jacket (Katie), and Willow (Beth) all took the field... and I was afraid for my scalp.

(All photographs courtesy of Laughing Devil Photography, Deb Lewis Brown, Steve Zronik, Colin Brink -using our camera-, Robert Irvine, and Beth and I. Since we were all in the field, none of the battle photos were taken by us.)

Here we are. By the way, Katie bought a rifle recently and got to us it for the first time at this event.

Mug, mug, mug.

The morning battle was fought behind the mill on a long sloping hillside. I joined up with the Canadian Volunteers as an extra sergeant. The rest of the family joined up with the British Indian Department and were referred to all day as "the Turtle Clan." The Volunteers and the 16th Infantry (serving as lights) moved down the hill as the BID and native allies gave way. Crown regulars came up and a hot fire fight developed. In the end, the US withdrew back up the hill. (Not too many photos available of this fight.)

Major Phil leads the volunteers to where he wants them to volley.

The British Regulars fire a volley as the BID and the Native Allies move toward the bush.

The Volunteers defend the waggon and  the mighty defensive works of Backus Mill.

They didn't defend it too long. You can see Yellow Jacket/Katie taking aim... probably at me.

The afternoon battle took place in the "village", that is, in the area where the area's building are. There's a nice little gully there.

My friend John (who usually runs with the Royal Scots, but "came to the dark side" for the event) and I were a skirmish line team. Skirmishers move in twos. One doesn't fire until the other is loaded.

Major Phil directs the line. It was a battle of skirmishers with a number of troopers firing from the prone position.
That's not easy!

Even blank cartridges make a lot of smoke. I shoot between 75-80 grains in each cartridge. Some guys load to 120.

Yes, I'm skulking behind a tree. I was sure the Turtle Clan intended to take my scalp... not that there's much there any more.
Here's where the Volunteers worked on firing prone.
Field repair on a musket while the battle goes on. John's musket was out of action for most of the battle.
It seems he developed a spring problem.

This is as close as we got to a true volley line.
Yes, I'm attempting to spit out cartridge paper.
The Provincial Marine let go one with their 3-pounder.

... which we soon captured. I was asking the gunner draped over the wheel: "So what's it like - being dead and all?"

Captain James, wearing his father's hat, supervises the 16th's skirmish line.

The Glengarries became "American" for the afternoon to even out the sides.
A good photo of the moment of firing.
Turtle Clan and the BID set up a skirmish line on the top of the ridge, exchanging fire with the 16th.

Long Shadow became a casualty. Yellow Jacket checks for loose change.

Willow stood guard on the tavern early in the battle.

A hot volley from the Crown forces

The Crown line comes forward.

There was a parlay between Captain James and Captain Dave. Usually one side gives terms and the other side concedes the battle. Very gentlemanly... but not this time. The Crown forces refused the American terms and the battle flared up again.
(In reality, not enough redcoats bit the dust to make a good enough show.)

So we chased them off. You can see some Kentucky Volunteer Rifles in their blue hunting shirts on the left.
Major Phil bought the farm, as you can see. White Turtle came and stole his chapeau plume... which he does every time!

Our friend, Raiffe, serving as the company clerk for the BID.
He often turns out with the Canadian Volunteers, who offered an extra rum ration for his capture that day.

Jonesy, the sergeant of the 16th inspires his men... with his beard!!

After the battle, a mini-militia drill was held. Young folks were given musket mock-ups and a few jackets and a small battle was held, with everybody yelling "BANG!"

Captain James, still in his father's hat, trains the mini-militia.

Yellow Jacket/Katie and her friend, Sarah from the Kentucky Volunteers.

Long Shadow/Rob enforces fire discipline.

Is it the Hokey-Pokey or Hay-foot-straw-foot? 

Such a face! And we let that man have a musket?

Lots "gunfire" - There were about 40 young folks at this drill.

The other side replies with more shooting.

My daughter is a casualty. Piper, play a lament. Captain James took a hit too.

Early on in the day, there was a brief memorial service in the US camp for Ken Braund. This man was instrumental in organising and kicking off this event years ago. In the camp, he was everybody's grandfather. He passed away a few months ago and is sorely missed. Most of the reenactors wore a green brassard on their left arms in his honour. Captain James wore his hat all day in his father's honour as well.

R.I.P. Ken Braund

Beth's Delaware gear - all hand made by her - shirt, skirt, leggings, pouch, and sash.

Her hair gathering and braid.
She was asked "Where did you get such a lovely long hairpiece?"
Her answer: "I grew it!"

Your humble blogger and the family he is immensely proud of.


  1. Some great photos, John, thanks for sharing. Very enterprising of the locals to set things on fire and confuse the Americans. It's a pity that coudn't be incorporated into your event. Some great impressions, including your family.
    In the photo "The Crown line comes forward". there's a fellow in glasses on the right of the shot - do you know his name? Dave something, maybe ... I'm fairly sure I recall him from the 49th New York.
    Mike P

    1. Sorry, Mike. I don't know him.
      They did have some pyrotechnics being used at the later battle, but I couldn't tell them from the cannons. The fires might be a cool idea, or a great idea for a table-top skirmish game.