Tag Archives: War of 1812

Last minute costume ideas from the vaults of history, ’12 edition

Last year’s last minute costume ideas went over pretty well, so I thought I’d revisit it: soooo, whatcha gonna wear for Halloween, tonight?  Here is my top 5 list of last minute history-inspired costumes for 2012:

1. Templar knight

Christians,crosses,crusaders,knights,medieval warriors,men,military,shields,soldiers,swords,people,religion,government

What you need: An old white top sheet; grey sweats (top–with hood!–and bottoms); belt; boots; sword or lance; additional white sheet (optional).

What to do:  Take your white sheet and cut a hole in the middle large enough to fit over your head, and again on either side to create a narrow scapular–shoulder-width, touching your boots in the front and back, and belt this over top your grey sweat suit (make sure the hood is out).  You should paint a red cross on the chest and back of the white sheet.  If you have the additional sheet, it is your cloak.  Wear it around you and paint additional red crosses on it where it meets in the chest.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Beau Seant!”  It is hypothesized by one scholar that this may have been the Templar battle cry, meaning in the medieval French something akin to “Be noble!” or “Be Glorious!” (The author in question, John J. Robinson, is loosely a scholar, and should be regarded warily, but this is for Halloween not your dissertation, so we’ll go along with it for now.)

Historical accuracies: 1) While a knight would have worn chain mail and not sweats, the basic design of the “uniform” is the same. 2) Medieval French–it’s what many Templars would have spoken, and their banner was certainly called a Beauseant.

2. American soldier, War of 1812

What you need:  Blue shirt or jacket; white or khaki pants; black boots; with gaiters (can be made with black duct tape or construction paper); gold construction paper for trim (optional); musket (could be improvised with a broom stick spray-painted silver and a wooden or cardboard stock); leather shoulder bag for cartridges.

What to do:  If you want to be an authentic soldier at the outset of the war, your going to need the gold frippery, but it wasn’t long before the U.S. government couldn’t afford to provide all the extras on the uniforms and began issuing them without the extras.  So, you could basically pull it off with navy blue shirt and blue or grey pants, if you can’t scare up a pair of khaki cargo pants (after all, it isn’t the ’90s anymore).  If you like the frippery–which is nifty, certainly–then cut up some gold construction paper in the pattern you see above.  If you smudge some “dirt” on your face you can claim you lost your hat in battle and forgo that step–though, the government will take the cost of the hat out of your already-months-late pay.  Sling the cartridge bag over your shoulder and keep your musket close at hand!

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Remember the Raisin!

Historical accuracies:  1) I already explained the historic changes in the uniform.  2)  Yep, that’s right, the Raisin:  A river in Michigan, and the sight of the bloody defeat of American forces.  If you live in the Chesapeake Bay area, you may just want to holler, “Remember the capital!”  I just don’t know if that is as fun as remembering the Raisin. 3) While we had a rifle contingent at this time, the bulk of the army went to war with muskets.

3. Phillis Wheatley

What you need:  A dress–long-sleeved and floor length, a bonnet, a shawl (optional), an apron, a Bible or book of classical Greek or Roman literature–i.e. Homer, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, or Horace (optional).

What to do:  Get dressed, apron goes on the outside.  Carry the book with you wherever you go.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,/May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” (“On Being brought from Africa to America,” by Phillis Wheatley)

Historical accuracies:  1) Phillis Wheatley was a colonial era slave and poet, extensively educated by the family who owned her and wrote complicated poetry about America’s slavery institution, full of literary allusions from the Bible and  classical  Rome and Greece.  2) She was well-read particularly of the Bible and Greek and Roman classics.  3) She was a successful poet, though many doubted a slave capable of her poetic production.

4. Viking

armors,battles,castles,government,knights,medieval warriors,men,people,wars,weapons

What you need:  A grey sweat suit; a long, large grey t-shirt–hanging to mid-thigh or knees; a belt; a grey ball cap or skull cap; axe, sword, or spear; large round disc–either card board spray-painted grey/silver, or similar; a large sack full of books, gold, jewels, or any other stuffing to make it look full of loot (optional)

What to do:  Put on the sweat suit, then the over-sized t-shirt, after you’ve removed the sleeves, and belt it.  If you have a grey ball-cap cut the bill off of it or simply wear the skull cap.  Make your shield and carry it along with your weapon.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Valhalla!

Historical accuracies:  1) Vikings wore chain-mail–if you have a kilt or animal skin that you can wear like a kilt, this would probably be more accurate, but maybe it’s cold outside, tonight.  2) Vikings would not have worn horns on their helms.  So, unless you are going as an opera viking or a Minnesotan viking, forgo the horns.  3) Vikings carried a simple round wooden shield–if they carried one at all.  You may forgo the shield to carry the sack–remember, the vikings were robbers and marauders from the sea (or, from Scandinavia  by way of the most convenient waterway).  4)  Valhalla was the sacred mead hall of heaven reserved for warriors who died gloriously.

5. Rosie the Riveter

From the Rosie the Riveter Trust; http://www.rosietheriveter.org

What you need:  Blue button-down, collared, long-sleeve shirt; blue work pants; red hankerchief.

What to do:  Put your clothes on.  Roll your sleeves up and tie the red bandanna on your head, with the bow on the top.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “We can do it!”  (And, show your guns off while you say it!)

Historical accuracies:  1) This is obviously the image from the famous WWII propaganda poster highlighting the blue-collar work of women on the homefront during the war.  2) Blue collar variations could include tools or welding helmets, etc. as women worked in various “manly” positions so “our boys could go off and fight the war.”

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War of 1812 Possibilities: Exploring social history through military history

image

On a recent trip to the Niagara region, I came across the publication printed above, Green Coats and Glory, the United States Regiment of Riflemen, 1808-1821.  It tells a truly fascinating story about the first American attempt at forming a corp of riflemen.

As the essay by scholar John C. Fredriksen acknowledges, we often think of the independent and resourceful riflemen of the Revolutionary War, but in the War of 1812 this loose and independent compilation of men had been regularized into a formal unit.  They were still deadly and independent and resourceful, but they also were issued uniforms and equipment, following the command of officers.

Unlike English counterparts, Fredericksen explains, the American military history of regiments has been neglected in favor of the political as regards the War of 1812.  While military history often gets snubbed and looked down upon by “serious” scholars (in some cases simply because it is regarded as tedious), it is one of great popularity among history-lovers in the general populace.  And further, while it is can be the work of piecing together troop movements and strategic military chess, it can also be an enlightening foray into social history.

This examination of social history is especially true of military inquiries on this side of the pond where military advancement into the officers’ ranks was not unattainable as it largely was among the British units.  Thus, the study of the men in the units is frequently a study of a real cross-section of the population.

Fredericksen’s decade of research through many archives–especially those of historical societies–is one demonstration of many for the possibilities of rigorous historical research in military history that produced an interesting survey of social American history.  Many storylines were revealed as he accessed a more personal account of the War of 1812, especially, beyond the few usually geo-political analyses of a largely forgotten war.

Hopefully, this type of inquiry will garner both more attention from the public and appeal from researchers in honor of the War of 1812’s anniversary.

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Student drama brings War of 1812 home

Student drama brings War of 1812 home – baltimoresun.com.

A model of the fort as it appeared during the War of 1812.

I think theater is one of the most under-utilized history teaching tools available to teachers.  That’s why I got so excited about the performances covered by the Baltimore Sun, linked above.  Students from the Baltimore School for the Arts wrote and performed “Fighting for Freedom” about the War of 1812:

The cast and crew, all sophomores at the Mount Vernon school, researched the archives at the Maryland Historical Society for insights into the war that many call the nation’s second struggle for independence. They visited the fort several times and drew characters from ordinary people, rather than from the few made famous by the war.

~ Mary Gail Hare, “Student drama brings War of 1812 home,” The Baltimore Sun

The effort of developing a character based on a historical person, requires research into the primary sources available for that person.  It requires leaving behind one’s own world and trying to access the strangeness and differences of another culture.  While local Marylanders may be well-acquainted with life by the Chesapeake Bay, the world of Maryland during the War of 1812 is still a foreign land, beholden to rules of a different era and expectations that have been left behind in a pre-Civil War/pre-Civil Rights, pre-WWI/pre-WWII America.

Their research unearthed one Maryland militiaman’s letters home, accounts that inspired one of the scenes. Alexandra Morrell, clad in a floral dress that designer Erin Beuglass had created from a curtain, read her husband’s letters to their daughter as their enslaved servant girl shared their concerns. Students developed a love story subplot between the servant and the household’s enslaved wagoner. The scene ended with the young man pleading with the girl to run away.

“It will be hard for her to leave the family, but I think she will run off with her man to freedom,” said T’Pre Mayer, who portrayed both the girl’s hesitation and her love.

Lance Strickland, who played her suitor, said, “The war affected everybody, not just the people in history books, but even the slaves.”

~ Ibid.

The conflict of 1812, is also a different type of conflict, in many ways, than what we have become accustomed to in the modern U.S.  The War of 1812 is the only war visited upon the United States, and outside of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the only time the United States suffer attacks among the states, themselves.  One has only the Civil War and the colonial wars (and the Indian wars) to turn to for a similar sense of foreign aggressors in and among American homes, cities, and waterways.

This sort of production helps to introduce a narrative that is an authentic representation of that foreign world.  As NPS Ranger Vince Vaise is quoted saying in “the show fills in historical gaps with credible fiction.  ‘These kids are telling untold and more inclusive stories,” he said. “They show what average people were talking about in the Fells Point coffeehouses. They really have blown the dust off the history books. The school, the fort and the historical society give us a real powerhouse of history right here.'”  Emphasizing the other side of this project that I so admire: collaboration.  The archives are here, and the students and teacher put them to innovative and productive use!  (Extra props for using the name of the blog, Ranger Vaise!)

Such insights fulfilled instructors’ expectations for the project, said Norah Worthington, a costume design teacher, who wrote a pirate scene and worked with the 24 sophomores involved in the production.

“They put together a picture of what those of that era faced,” she said. “They focused on everyday people, not the famous, and showed how events affected them. The stories make the war personal.”

The drama helped the teenagers understand the local significance, too, she said.

“The scenes played out on streets these students walk every day,” Worthington said.

One scene focuses on the riots that broke out on city streets. Again, the students presented a new perspective — that of an assertive woman. Calla Fuqua played the normally docile wife of a shipping merchant, prompted by the war to disagree publicly with her husband. Their encounter occurred on Charles Street, where she finds him safe after a night of rioting.

“The war was about freedom of speech, bringing Canada into the union and impressing American sailors,” she said. “I think even the women had to speak up.”

~ Ibid.

This is a new day for these students, many of whom may have had no interest in history before the project who have now experienced it on multiple levels: 1) they have experienced researching history–just as historians do–with primary sources; and 2) they have created an experience of the historical era through their performance, introducing themselves and viewers to the people of a foreign time in our community’s history; introducing them to the concerns about conflict; introducing them to the mores of a society that continued to grapple with slavery, a young government, and other problems that we sometimes struggle to relate to otherwise.

We should be doing more of this sort of learning.  Take the talents that students have or are eager to develop and make use of them in education.

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Visualizing Early Washington: A Digital Reconstruction of the Capital ca. 1814

YouTube – Visualizing Early Washington: A Digital Reconstruction of the Capital ca. 1814.

Above is a trailer, if you will, for an extraordinary masterpiece in historical imaging technology.  University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Imaging Research Center (IRC) has existed since 1987 with the goal of exploring and expanding the possibilities imaging technology.  In a multi-disciplinarian collaboration with historians, geographers and cartographers, and thousands of IRC man-hours produced a program that allows one to view the fledgling Capital City and surrounding horizons for the first time with accurate topography and approximate buildings and farm lands, based on available sources, circa 1814.  For those of you a little rusty on your American History, this means we get a view of the city as the British would have seen Washington DC when they set fire to the capital and the White House during the War of 1812.

This is the exciting kind of collaborative project perfect for the university community, but possible even if to a lesser extent at other stages of education.  Not only does it offer students the opportunity to model professional collaboration–indeed, sometimes to participate in professional collaboration–it expands minds to what is possible in a multi-disciplinary approach.  In other words, it is good for academic fields, professionals, students and institutions!

VERY COOL!!

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Visiting Ft. McHenry

Satellite view of Fort McHenry.

FORT MCHENRY, NATIONAL MONUMENT AND HISTORIC SHRINE,  National Park Service (NPS), Baltimore, MD

I have lived about six miles from Fort McHenry for just over two years but only visited it for the first time today.  (Don’t judge me!  It’s been a hectic couple of years—a goodly chunk of it was spent in DC!)  I thought I would share some of the particulars about visiting the park.  I do this for a couple of reasons:  Firstly, in a couple of years we will begin the celebrations for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812the event that put Ft. McHenry on the map and that Francis Scott Key witnessed, stirring him to write the poem that is today our national anthem.  Secondly, it is precisely the sort of local flavor that I want to occasionally season the blog with.  Besides, it seems like the right sort of post as the summer boils away.

To start, I wanted to cover some logistical points.  Most weekends do have a planned event.  That said, we went on a Tuesday and there was hardly anybody there when we first arrived, which was kind of nice even though we failed to beat the heat.  Also, the changing of the flag ceremony (held at 9:30 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.—participation encouraged!) is one of the few events going on daily, weather permitting.  While parking is free, it is a $7 entrance fee for ages sixteen and up.  Technically, if you’d like to save the money, you can show up and simply walk around the fort, taking in the earthworks and the view from the point.  To get in the fort you pay at the visitor center and receive your sticker, which must be visible.  (Once purchased, they will give you two receipts, one of which is actually a seven day pass that is good for the subsequent six days.)  There is a small exhibit, a short film, a typical gift shop and restrooms.  From there you can walk out to the fort.  There is a small food stand with hotdogs, chips and beverages, but we packed a lunch and ate at the picnic tables in the shade right next to the parking lot.  Once you are on the fort grounds there is little cover from the elements, so come prepared for them—fortunately, we had some Gatorade in the house to slightly appease the group who had a smaller appetite than I for guns and fortifications under the August sun!

A model of the fort as it appeared during the War of 1812.

The fort itself was in use up through the twentieth century.  It was decommissioned after WWI, according to the volunteer answering my questions, and was temporarily used as a training site for the Coast Guard during WWII before it was returned to the city of Baltimore and became a National Park.  So, the fort, in its current design and construction, is not exactly as it was in 1814 when the British showed up to attack Baltimore.  In 1814, all of the fort’s buildings were single-storied and the outer works were not quite as built up as they appear today.   But, the star-shaped configuration had been paid for by the wealthy citizens of the city of Baltimore—particularly a man by the name of McHenry!  (As the guide told us, McHenry figured he put enough money and work into it the fort ought to have his name, thus, foreshadowing the process for naming stadiums all over America.)  The star-shaped design is critical for the fort’s survival.  The brick prongs are reinforced with the earth behind them.  Each prong is both pointed and sloped to reduce the effect of incoming projectiles—every hit is a glancing blow.  Eliminating a direct hit helps thwart enemy artillery (canons), but it also turns the ground around the fort into a nasty meat grinder for infantry (soldiers on foot) or cavalry (soldiers on horseback) because the approach is in between the prongs or over them, giving all the advantage to the defenders.  In the case of Ft. McHenry, it did not come to this.  Rather, the fort was only attacked by the British navy, which was forced to fire mortars and rockets from just beyond the range of the fort’s guns.  Both of these weapons had the advantage of sending their projectiles up into the air and then falling into the fort, but they did not succeed in defeating it.  In fact, according to the film only four men died, twenty-nine wounded.  The British gave up and sailed down to New Orleans only to come up short against Andrew Jackson (whose role in the victory would propel him into the presidency).

Maryland was a copperhead state during the Civil War (meaning the state, while positioned on the North’s side of the border, was sympathetic to the South).  Baltimore, in particular, was home to many influential residents who were leading the cause for southern sympathy.  Lincoln took preemptive action and arrested some of these secessionists.  In doing so, he suspended the right of Habeas Corpus along the military lines from Washington to Philadelphia.  (Habeas Corpus, a right predating the U.S. Constitution and originating in English common law, states that an individual cannot be arrested without being charged, to prevent unlawful seizure of citizens.)  At that time, the fort served as a prison.  Despite the Writ of Habeas Corpus issued by Chief Justice Taney, Lincoln and the U.S. Army held prisoners in violation of our country’s laws, such as Lt. John Merryman of the Maryland State Militia.  Merryman had sabotaged train lines to impede the Union army on his governor’s orders.  (http://www.nps.gov/fomc/historyculture/the-writ-of-habeus-corpus.htm and NPS volunteer, 8-11-2010)

Particularly at the flag changing, but also at other times and events,  the NPS Rangers don the military garb of the fort’s defenders.  On our visit we were given a musket demonstration, by one such historic interpreter dressed in the finery of the early uniforms, before the financial burdens of the war required a less adorned uniform of an artillery soldier (which the ranger said looked very similar to the Civil War uniforms of the North).  He explained the steps for firing his replica 1789 Springfield Musket, 65 caliber.  The first step is to cock the musket, then put powder in the pan, next put powder in the barrel, then the musket ball (which he did not include), pound it down with the ram rod and finally point and fire.  The musket, lacking any rifling on the inside of the barrel, is not terribly accurate, but when a volley is fired into opposing ranks it can have a devastating effect.   In response to my query, he affirmed that the U.S. military, like the British soldiers, trained with live rounds—one of the reasons the British had sometimes had an edge against the French in prior years.  Unlike the British, however, he explained that the elite Americans could only fire three rounds a minute, which, if accurate, is one shy of the vaunted elite of the Red Coats, especially those seasoned in the conflict against Napoleon!  (NPS Ranger, 8-11-2010)

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There is one final anecdote I want to relay.  Our last stop for the morning was actually returning to the Visitor’s Center as we had hurried to get to the flag ceremony.  The film, very typical of the NPS (produced in 1984-5, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”), is told from the viewpoint of Dr. William Beanes, who was captured by the British for his involvement in arresting British soldiers after promises had been secured from the invading officers.  According to the agreement his town’s homes and property would not be molested so long as the British force was left unmolested.  His point of view is unique because after his arrest he was held aboard a British ship until Francis Scott Key, the prominent Georgetown lawyer and also Beanes’ friend, would partake in the negotiations for his release.  The British, grateful for the medical care Beanes had provided to wounded British soldiers, agreed to the release following the attack on Baltimore to prevent them from warning the city.  The  British released Beanes and his negotiators to an American truce ship during the assault on Baltimore and Ft. McHenry.  The fight carried on well into the night, then all was silent and dark.  Beanes’ party waited shipboard through the dark hours before the dawn not knowing the outcome.  The waiting continued until the fort’s morning gun fired and the incredible Star Spangled-Banner was raised above the fort, inspiring Key to write the poem that would become our national anthem.  (The Star-Spangled Banner is an example of the second flag adopted by our country, with fifteen stripes and stars—the only flag with fifteen stripes as the next one would revert to thirteen stripes for the original colonies.)

The film concludes with a waving flag and the opening strains of our anthem.  At this point, dramatically, the blinds pull back and reveal the fort with the flag flying.  Everyone stood, many of us thinking that the film was at its conclusion and preparing to leave, but a slightly bossy septuagenarian had walked into the room and ordered us to turn, face the fort’s flag, put hand over our right heart and, “Sing along!”  I, at least, was unaware that the entire anthem was about to blaze forth.  What could have been a rather moving moment of patriotic warm-fuzzies was somewhat spoiled with feelings of having just been scolded by a grandfather or ordered by a drill sergeant.  Then he instructed us to follow him for a quick presentation in the exhibit space—which was perfectly enjoyable—but, I feel that this could have been a fully positive event if the film had included a disclaimer telling us at the beginning what they expected or that the presentation would end with the singing of the anthem. (“Please, join us in singing . . “)  I do not think the dramatic effect would have been lost, just the feeling that we’re doing something wrong or being bullied!

(In the YouTube link below you can see just how absurdly enormous the original flag was, or you can click on the hyper-link in the above paragraph to visit the Smithsonian’s website about their exhibition for the original Star-Spangled Banner.)
(Follow the below YouTube link to hear the entire national anthem with the lyrics. 2 min. 45 sec.)

Decorative relief from the Basilica of St. John, Ephesus, Turkey

musket

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