FORT WAYNE — There was smoke rising from the chimneys of Historic Fort Wayne this weekend.
For anyone approaching the garrison 300 years ago, when Fort Wayne was just a strategic outpost at the confluence of three rivers, smoke from the chimneys would have been the first sign the fort was occupied. Today, of course, you can check the event schedule at www.oldfortwayne.org.
That’s something Dean Rapp wishes would happen more often, because as much as the Revolutionary War re-enactor loves re-creating the life of a soldier from the 1770s, he thinks the public is missing out when they don’t attend.
“We’re trying to get the word out that there are things going on here, that there are activities at the Old Fort again,” Rapp said.
The activity this weekend was the 18th Century Garrison Weekend, featuring the Illinois Regiment of the Virginia State Forces. In the 1770s, this region was known as the Illinois Territory, part of the state of Virginia, Rapp said. And while there were outposts further west, those were occupied by militias, as opposed to Continental line troops.
While the original Continental troops would have been from the 13 colonies, the weekend’s re-enactors – there were about 50 – came from all over Indiana, as well as Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Illinois.
And what do re-enactors do at a Garrison Weekend? They do what Continental troops would have done in the 1770s: They sleep in the bunkhouses, heated by wood fires in the fireplaces, they repair gear, they drill and train, and they roll cartridges – pre-measured powder charges that make it (slightly) faster to load and fire a musket. They seldom fought in the winter, so they used the months to prepare for the summer campaigns.
In addition to the troops, there were craftsmen and traders. Women used spinning wheels and made quilts, a metalsmith cast pewter spoons and a sail-maker repaired canvas tents.
“My tent’s been in the field for almost 40 years, so it was showing its age,” Rapp said.
Not only did the re-enactors spend the entire weekend at the fort – sleeping in bunks on straw ticks with wool blankets – but one building went “first-person,” where they no longer consider themselves re-enactors but assume the identity of 18th-century participants. No 21st-century items are allowed inside, and they live as they would have in the 1770s.
Rapp’s father was among those who spearheaded the re-enactor movement in the 1960s as the centennial of the Civil War approached. In the 1970s he switched to the Revolutionary War. The entire family got involved, Rapp said, his first re-enactment was in 1972 when he was 8 years old at Fort Loudoun in Tennessee. Forty-one years later, he’s still re-enacting.
“It’s a hobby you can never really get rid of,” Rapp said.
William Gohagen understands, though he’s only been doing it for 30 years. Sunday, he had traded his military uniform for 1770s civilian clothes, complete with period-appropriate glasses and leggings.
“I just love history,” Gohagen said.
The next event at Historic Fort Wayne is “A Souldier’s Resolution: An Early Modern Muster of Arms” April 13 and 14. That weekend focuses on the late 16th and early 17th centuries and the experience of being in a mercenary company, which were used by all the world’s powers during the Age of Discovery.