“If Homeland Security hits me, this is for a reenactment of the War of 1812,” barks Harry Young into the telephone, as he orders dozens of pounds of black powder. “Just don’t get me on the no-fly list.”
Young, chairman of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society’s Defenders Day Committee, is preparing for not one, not two, but three reenactments of the Battle of North Point, happening this weekend, Saturday and Sunday Sept. 7 and 8, at Battery Harris in Fort Howard Park in Edgemere.
Reenactments of the Battle of North Point will take place at 1:15 and 4 p.m. on Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Reenactments won’t be the only happenings on this historic weekend. On both Saturday and Sunday, Fort Howard Park opens at 9 a.m., with various historical, musical and theatrical activities taking place throughout the days.
“The reenactments will be as historically correct as we can get them,” says Young, noting that roughly 40 reenactors will represent the British, and the same amount will fight on the American side.
Young adds that though the reenactment is at Fort Howard Park, where open land is available, the battle itself occurred north of there, near the intersection of North Point Rd. and North Point Blvd.
The Battle of North Point was the last land battle of the War of 1812 to occur before the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which officially ended the war.
However, without the Internet, or telephones or even the telegraph, it took awhile for soldiers and sailors to get the message. The Battle of New Orleans, for example, took place two weeks after the treaty was signed, though it would be another month before the U.S. Senate ratified it.
The Battle of North Point is significant because it helped prevent the British from taking Baltimore—and subsequently Fort McHenry—by land. Between the British land failure after North Point and sea failure at Fort McHenry, events in the southeast Baltimore region proved critical to the outcome of the War of 1812, even if that outcome wasn’t spoils, land and ticker-tape parades.
“The Battle of North Point was probably significant for what we didn’t give away,” says Young, adding that the same statement could be applied to the overall significance of the war.
“At the end of the War of 1812,” he says, “everything was pretty much back to the way it was before.”
With one important difference: “This is the war that made the other nations stand up and see that we were really an independent country,” says Young.
At the Battle of North Point, American militia eventually retreated in the face of the British advance, but not before inflicting heavy casualties that included the British commander, Maj. General Robert Ross. Before he died, Ross put Col. Arthur Brooke in charge of the invading British forces.
The American retreat, which was well-organized, caused additional casualties and chipped away at British morale—already severely damaged by the death of their commander—as they marched on toward Baltimore. When the British reached Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park) and became aware of Maj. General Samuel Smith’s force of 20,000, they had had enough.
“Brooke looked at this large contingent and turned around and marched back to the boats,” says Young.
Buzz Chreist, a founding reenactor of the Battle of North Point and resident of Dundalk, notes that the American line of defense ran from where Safeway is today, up Patterson Park Ave. to Monument St., and from there to Fallsway.
“That was one hell of a battle line,” says Chreist.
Ross’s body was placed in a keg of rum to preserve it for burial in Britain, but the sailors drank the booze and buried him in Halifax instead, Young adds as an aside.
The Battle of North Point took place on Sept. 12, 1814. This year, Young says, the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society is, in a way, warming up for the official bicentennial next year.
Beyond the reenactments, a large variety of Defenders Day activities will occur at Fort Howard Park on Sept. 7 and 8. The Sky’s the Limit players will perform the play “Never Prod a Hornet,” twice on Saturday, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and twice on Sunday, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The play gives viewers a perspective on the North Point conflict through the eyes of women, children and families.
On both days, the British and American military camps open well before the reenactments for a snapshot of life as an 1812-era soldier. Era-appropriate children’s activities—rolling barrel hoops, weaving, coloring paper flags and making miniature sailboats—will be available for the young.
Music from the War of 1812, performed by world-recognized David Hildebrand, should be a big hit. He performs on Saturday at 2 p.m., and on Sunday at noon.
Young notes that the Historical Society has received substantial help for this year’s program. Major funding is coming from the Star Spangled Banner 200 Partnership, matched by the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. Additional support comes from the State of Maryland, the Baltimore County Office of Tourism and various museums and organizations.
The entire two-day event is free and open to the public.
Young notes that this year, there will be a special dedication to Jim Dugent, who was commander of the American reenactors and recently passed away.
For more information on Defenders Day events, please visit dundalkhistory.org/defendersday.html, or call the Historical Society at 410-284-2331. Spectators are asked to leave pets at home due to the loud noises.
by Erik Zygmont