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July 25, 2005

Three Wars Will Be Re-Enacted at Fort Ontario This Summer

OSWEGO COUNTY - Visitors can see what life was like during the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and the French and Indian War at Fort Ontario State Historic Site during August. Hundreds of re-enactors will visit the fort grounds for battle re-enactments, history buffs will be able to shop for 18th century reproductions, have a tintype photo taken and attend historic seminars.

Paul Lear, site manager of Fort Ontario, is coordinating the re-enactment events.

"The fort is situated on a bluff on the east side of Oswego Harbor," said Lear. "Because of its strategic location, Fort Ontario played a prominent role in eight colonial or American wars. The site is now restored to its appearance in 1868 and 1869, due to the common age of the buildings."

Hundreds of historical interpreters will camp out at the fort, and some will be seen roaming the streets of downtown Oswego, during the re-enactment weekends.

"Close to 2,000 tourists have come to the fort to see a historic re-enactment," said Christine Gray, director of the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism. "People have traveled here from Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Canada to relive some of our nation's most important battles."

A Civil War Encampment takes place Saturday, Aug. 6, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Rifle muskets will fire from the underground casemates. Approximately 40 members of the 148th, 149th, 150th, and 151st New York Infantry Regiments will present the changing of the guard, conduct musket and marching drills, and perform a retreat ceremony.

Re-enactors portraying members of the US Army Corps of Engineers will also be on duty. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet a re-enactor who portrays Civil War photographer John Coffer, the world's best-known wet plate photographic artist, and purchase a tintype photo of themselves. Women and children will show how meals were prepared and how time was spent in the garrison.

Fort Ontario's major role in the Civil War was to serve as a recruiting center for the Union Army and to protect the northern frontier and canal system from potential British intervention and invasion on the side of the Confederacy.

A Revolutionary War British Encampment will be held Saturday, Aug. 13, from10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. British, Loyalist, and Native forces will present a tactical weapons "battle" demonstration, in addition to marching and weapons drills.

"Don't be alarmed if you see red coats in downtown Oswego," said Lear. "On Friday afternoon, Aug. 12, at King Arthur's Steak and Seafood Restaurant the British 24th Regiment of Foot will try to convince eligible members of the public to join the British army to support the King against colonial rebels."

The event is co-sponsored by the 24th Regiment of Foot and will feature participation by Butler's Rangers, Jaegers (German riflemen), Native allies, Loyalist militia, and the 29th, 42nd, and 64th Regiments of Foot. There will be cooking demonstrations and 18th century games.

In 1775, during the Revolutionary War, Fort Ontario served as a refugee center for Loyalists fleeing New York. In 1777 it was used as a temporary base for British General St. Leger's army in his unsuccessful invasion of the Mohawk Valley. American raiding parties destroyed the fort during 1778 and 79, and it was re-built by the British in 1782. The British held it until 1796.

A French and Indian War Encampment takes place Saturday, Aug. 27, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 28, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to commemorate the 250th anniversary celebration of the founding of Fort Ontario. Close to 200 people will participate in battle re-enactments. A bateau (flat-bottom boat) used to carry cargo and troops from Schenectady to Oswego will be on display. Fur traders will display their goods and sutlers (c.q.) will sell 18th century reproductions of clothing, books, and equipment. Food and refreshments will be available.

A variety of historic seminars will be offered. Canadian historian Victor Suthern will discuss the book he wrote on explorer Louis Antoine Bougainville, who served as an aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Montcalm during the French and Indian War. Local historian John Gosek Jr. will critique James Fenimore Cooper's book "The Pathfinder. " Cooper used Fort Ontario as the setting for most of the novel. A seminar and slide program by Tom Howard will present the story of naval fleets battling for control of Lake Ontario between 1755 and 1760.

"The French and British struggled for control of North America on the water routes through Central New York," said Lear. "Oswego was the only British harbor on the Great Lakes prior to the French and Indian War. During the Battle of Oswego in August 1756, Fort Ontario was destroyed in a massive French attack, along with Forts Oswego and George. Some 1700 British and Colonial prisoners were taken."

The Battle of Oswego in 1756 was a great victory for the French. King Louis XV of France had a silver medal made in 1758 to commemorate it and three other French victories around the world. This medal will be reproduced by the Oswego County Historical Society and will be available for sale in the Friends of Fort Ontario museum shop. The original medal is on display at the Richardson-Bates House Museum in Oswego.

In 1759, the British returned and re-built Fort Ontario as a star-shaped fortress with 42 mounted cannons on its walls. The last major campaign of the war started at the fort when Sir Jeffery Amherst assembled 12,000 troops in preparation for his successful attack on Montreal in 1760.

"This was the largest army ever assembled in North America at that time," said Lear, "and this campaign was responsible for ending the war in North America."

"The 250th anniversary commemoration of the French and Indian War will continue in 2006," said Gray. "Fort Ontario will be one of only two sites in the state featured by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation."

Admission will be charged for the re-enactments. For more information contact Fort Ontario State Historic Site at (315) 343-4711 or go to www.fortontario.com. For more information on the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War go to www.frenchandindianwar250.org

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