Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Siege of Fort Erie and A Candelight Proposition

I spent last Saturday attending the Siege of Fort Erie with my friend Jeff. If you don't know what this is, well shame on you! Just kidding. Only history geeks and locals would know, and I qualify as both.

The Siege of Fort Erie was a battle that took place during the summer of 1814 as part of the War of 1812. At least that's what we call it in Canada when were not calling it the War In Which We Totally Burned Down Washington. Not that we're gloating or anything.

No, really, we're not. It was 200 years ago. Get over it.

Every year a few hundred dedicated volunteers reenact the Siege via an afternoon and an evening battle. The evening battle is followed by a candlelight tour of the fort.

So why did I go? Napoleonic history has been a passion of mine for years, enhanced greatly after watching the first Sharpe movie with Sean Bean. (This was before he did Lord of the Rings. Swear the guy has not aged in the meantime.)

If you're ever near Fort Erie when this event is scheduled you need to check it out. Especially if you're a writer, and especially if you ever want to write anything set in that era or involving similar technology. (Someday I want to write a fantasy series with muskets and Napoleonic themes.)

How to describe it? When a musket fires there's this distinct crack, nothing like what you hear from guns in a Hollywood movie. When a cannon fires you not only hear it, you can feel your stomach rattle from the sheer force of it. It really is an experience!

Both the musket and the cannon kick up a cloud of smoke. In the afternoon battle this wasn't too bad. In the evening battle it was much thicker. I can see where the term "fog of war" comes from. The announcer even made the comment that armies could fire off a volley and then retreat through the smoke of their own fire. That's a trick I'll have to remember for my own writing.

The candlelight tour was great as well. It's setup as if the tour group you're a part of is a group of volunteers being led onto the base during a battle. There are screams and gunfire in the darkness, troops running around, and even a makeshift surgery. The volunteers put on a good, if not Oscar worthy, show.

I had a great time, and I'm looking forward to the event in 2012. I know they're going to put on a spectacle for the 200th anniversary of the war.

Oh, and that candlelight proposition? During the tour one of the volunteers asked if I was single, and me being honest I answered in the affirmative. She then suggested I meet her later in the barracks.

Before you get you hopes up, or dashed as the case may be, it was soon obvious this was part of the tour. During the Napoleonic era women could only stay on the base if they were married to someone working there, so if their husband died they needed to find a single man quick or else get turfed. Really sad when you think about it. I'm glad that's no longer the case.

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