It’s 1812 in Steubenville

STEUBENVILLE – Sweat was dripping from Robert Campbell’s forehead as he supervised the loading of the 3-pounder smooth bore cannon.

Even though he was wearing linen trousers, the wool jacket Campbell had buttoned to the neck was hot under the Monday sun.

“We are better off today than we were this weekend when we were part of a Revolutionary War re-enactment group at Fort Lawrence near New Philadelphia. We were wearing all wool and it was very hot,” Campbell, of Ravenna, noted.

The four men, members of the John Campbell Infantry Militia Company and Hezlep’s Company of Artillery, arrived at the Historic Fort Steuben Monday morning for a two-day educational re-enactment of the War of 1812.

“Capt. James Heslep was a storekeeper in Poland, Ohio, when he was elected commander of the artillery company of the 1st Regiment of the Ohio militia,” Jeff Jones, a retired truck driver and 30-year veteran re-enactor explained to a group of visitors.

“We represent the militia who were not regular soldiers. They came out once a month to march around the village green and impress the girls. Then they would go to the local tavern. But then the War of 1812 started and Hezlep was ordered to Cleveland to help defend the main line of defense for Northern Ohio against the English and their Indian allies,” continued Jones.

The Historic Fort Steuben has joined with sites around the country by commemorating the War of 1812 with a free exhibit in the visitors center that will run daily until July 27.

“We Have Met the Enemy” includes displays on the history and significance of the war, Ohio’s role in the conflict and the music of the period with a DVD on the origin of our national anthem.

“Often called America’s ‘Second War of Independence,’ the War of 1812 saw the development of the United States as a significant power, able to defend itself and its interests. It was the impetus for the growth of a strong Navy and it ended a period of political strife and division. Unfortunately, it also ended any hopes for a Native American presence in Ohio. More than 25,000 Ohioans, about 50 percent of the eligible population, served in the War of 1812,” according to Historic Fort Steuben Executive Director Judy Bratten.

“Men like Adm. Perry, Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison made their names known in this period. This was the time when Washington, D.C., was burned by the British, and first lady Dolley Madison saved important papers and a portrait of George Washington. It is a colorful era, though not as well known as the American Revolution or Civil War,” Bratten added.

The display was developed by Bratten and her son, Jonathan, who is a military historian with the Army National Guard.

Jones said he became involved as a re-enactor when a friend convinced him it was fun.

“My buddy was re-enacting as a Union Army infantryman and so I decided to try it, and have been involved ever since.

These days Jones, along with Campbell, a construction company estimator, Phil Smeiley, a graphic designer from Kent, and Starley Smith, a retired railroad engineer from Springfield, Ohio, portray soldiers in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War.

Jones also works as an interpreter at Hale Farm outside of Akron.

Smeiley said students in today’s classrooms, “don’t focus on our American history as much as they used to. Its up to the people operating the Historic Fort Steuben and re-enactors like us to tell the story of our country’s history.

Campbell could be heard calling for “Cousin Roy” and asking where “Cousin Starling” was at.

And their casual answers to “Captain Jones” was aimed at replicating the informal environment of the militia.

“I was a re-enactor at Gettysburg for the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. And I was back there again this year for the 150th anniversary. It was so neat because it was living history. People are able to come out and talk to us and get close to us. They get to live a little bit of American history. And I enjoy talking to people,” stated Jones.

And Smeiley, Smith and Campbell enjoyed firing one of the two re-enactors’ cannons.

“Better stand back a little. This can be rather loud,” advised Smith.

A few seconds later a large boom echoed throughout the fort.

The re-enactors will be at the Historic Fort Steuben until 4 p.m. today, where they will offer demonstrations of flintlock muskets and cannon drill, manual of arms, firing, camp life and cooking.

Jones also will work with groups of children armed with wooden-musket blanks to form company, manual of arms and drill.

Admission fee for the encampment is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-12.

Information about the War of 1812 re-enactors is available by calling the fort at (740) 283-1787.