Event: The Battle of Mackinac Island

2014.08.04.252

In one of the earliest battles of the War of 1812, British forces captured Mackinac Island from the Americans.  Fort Mackinac had a highly strategic position in the Straits of Mackinac, controlling the entire trade route from the Western USA to Detroit & New England, and since the Americans didn’t actually know they were supposed to be at war, it was pretty easy for the Brits to take them by surprise.  Landing on the uninhabited north end of Mackinac Island, (a spot referred to as British Landing to this day) they climbed up to the highest point (Fort George) under cover of darkness, pointed their single cannon down at the fort, and fired a single shot.  Badly outnumbered, the 60 Americans realized they would never be able to defend the fort and save the town; they had to surrender to the hundreds of Indians & Redcoats.  What else could they do?

American forces didn’t show back up to retake the fort until 1814, but when they did they used the exact same tactic.  Turned out the British were prepared to defend against the same move they themselves had made two years before.  Who knew.  So, the Americans came tromping up from British Landing only to find themselves face-to-face with British soldiers.  The two armies shot at each other across a field for a while in true 19th century style, with each side trying to outflank the other.  After being ambushed in the woods by Menominee warriors, the Americans were forced to retreat.  Fort Mackinac wouldn’t return to American hands until war’s end.

More details on both battles here. Fort Mackinac ($12 adults/$7 kids) remains intact and along with its recreated mainland neighbor Colonial Michilimackinac ($11/$6.50) open to visitors as a living history museum, telling the story of the Straits of Mackinac and its importance to the many groups who have called the area home.  Their staffs of interpreters along with volunteer reenactors recreated the battle on its bicentennial this past August.

Under American control Fort George was renamed Fort Holmes, after an officer killed in the battle.  The earthen rampart remains, but the single blockhouse burned to the ground.  It was rebuilt for visitors, and burned again.  And rebuilt again, and burned again.  They’re rebuilding it yet again this year, and plan to have it open to visitors for the next summer season. (don’t light any cigarettes while you’re up there, OK?)

Most of the original battlefield now lies under the Wawashkamo golf course on one side of British Landing road, with a historic marker in a small clearing on the other.  The rest is obscured by forest.

The beach at British Landing is always open, although there’s not much there besides a historic marker & a cannon pointed out into Lake Huron.  It’s a good halfway resting/bathroom point on any walking or biking trip around the island; the nearby Cannonball Drive In restaurant offers lunch, ice cream, and drinks.

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