Military re-enactors recreate a battle from the War of 1812 in October 2011.
Credits: GREG PEERENBOOM/CORNWALL STANDARD-FREEHOLDER/QMI AGENCY
KINGSTON, Ont. -- A group of Kingston-based soldiers who died almost two centuries ago will soon get a proper farewell.
The men, more than 30 in all, were slain by American musket and cannon fire on May 29, 1813 in Sackets Harbor, N.Y. Their graves are unmarked, but that's about to change.
Two American organizations have undertaken a project to honour the Kingston war dead. A large re-enactment of the confrontation is planned for the War of 1812 Weekend at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Historic Site this coming August, and a stone monument will be dedicated in 2013-200 years after the soldiers lost their lives.
"We don't know where (the soldiers) are buried," said Connie Barone, who manages the site for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation.
"We hope to put the monument by the roadway so people can see it and read about the people who died."
According to Theodore Schofield, trustee of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance, which is organizing the memorial in partnership with the preservation office, the forces from Kingston were involved in a raid on an American shipyard. They were trying to destroy American ships and supplies as part of a larger effort to control Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Schofield called commemoration "long overdue."
Historian John Grodzinski, who teaches at Royal Military College and specializes in the War of 1812, said the battle was "a very important turning point" for the war and for Kingston.
According to Grodzinski, about 800 Crown soldiers set out for Sackets Harbor on May 27, 1813, hoping to diminish Americans' power to attack Canadian ports, but the Americans fought them off, killing or wounding almost half the British and Canadians.
The battle wasn't all bad for Canada. In a moment of confusion-they thought they had surrendered-American soldiers set fire to their own barracks and the partially-built warship, The General Pike.
When American commander Isaac Chauncey saw the devastation, he ordered his troops to stay on land and work on the ship. As a result, the British were able to control most of Lake Ontario for the following two months.
Although Kingston's forces were directed by the British Royal Navy, regiments such as the local Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles were heavily involved.
"It was largely a Canadian operation," said Grodzinski.
The offensive was an exciting and an anxious time for the people of Kingston, Grodzinski said.
"Just imagine this force of 800 returning to the city, many of them wounded," he said. "Kingston was becoming an important base from which direct operations were mounted."
He added that the War of 1812 was unusual because in some cases, Canadians were fighting their own flesh and blood. Combatants on both sides were mainly of British descent.
"Many people would have had family on the other side (of Lake Ontario)," he said.
Grodzinski said the many commonalities between Americans and Canadians could explain why American organizations are holding a memorial for their former enemies.
"It is magnanimous on their part," he said.
Celebrations to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812 will begin throughout Canada and the U.S. in the coming year.