Event: Dade’s Battle

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In 1835 the Florida Seminole were struggling to defend their homeland from the encroachment of white settlers. Tension had been building for over a decade what with the tendency of the Seminole to take in escaped slaves and the U.S. government trying to move them out to Oklahoma. Everything finally exploded in 1835 when Seminole warriors attacked U.S. soldiers under the command of Brevet Major Francis Langhorne Dade who were on their way from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King in Ocala. The soldiers had a cannon but the Seminoles had the element of surprise and claimed victory after a day of fierce fighting. They won the battle, but they ultimately lost the war. The Second Seminole War that started here lasted over 6 years, only ending in 1842 after the deportation of over 90% of the Seminoles – 4,000 people – from their ancestral homes in Florida to Oklahoma.

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park now protects the ground where the battle took place & hosts a reenactment every year in January. I attended this year’s reenactment & found it to be very interesting. The event began on a scary/exciting note when one of the horses threw her rider & went tearing around the park! Fortunately another rider caught her pretty quickly, nobody got hurt, they restarted the battle, & everything went without a hitch after that. There were a couple dozen reenactors on each side, plus a canon firing every couple of minutes, so it was pretty intense! Before & after the battle itself I wandered through the encampment, where a variety of booths sold everything from alligator skulls to Davy Crockett style raccoon hats. The park also has trails & a small visitor’s center with a museum.

I don’t know how it was when they started doing these or how much input the Seminole tribe has with it, so for all I know it’s a huge improvement over what went on in the past & everybody’s happy, but I did find parts of the event to be fairly biased. The Seminole narrator discussed his people’s feelings about their land & the idea of having to leave their homes at the beginning, so that was good, but then at the end he left the scene while the Army narrator talked about trying to escape the battlefield with a friend, so the sympathy ended up being pretty one-sided. One of the speakers, I don’t recall who, said that there were only 3 survivors of the battle, but there were actually only 3 survivors on the Army side of the conflict – nearly all of the Seminoles made it out alive. I get what they’re going for but I think it could still use some tweaking.

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Event: The Battle of Mackinac Island

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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.