by Jeremy Griffith
Fireworks? Parade? Child’s play! What about real cannons, revolutionary war soldiers in full gear, fifers, drummers and actors in historical period clothing? All of the above were to be found at historic Fort Snelling, near St. Paul Minnesota, July 4th for their annual Independence Day Festival.
The annual event took place between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. amidst blistering Minnesota summer heat. But that didn’t deter the hundreds who turned out to see the re-enactors and volunteers from interpreting holiday celebrations old school.
The highlight of the day was a mock battle of the War of 1812, re-enacted by platoons of British and American interpreters in full uniform, complete with cannon, muskets with bayonets, and their colorful blue and red woolen uniforms with shiny brass buttons.
Six pounder cannons shot salutes to the Army of the United States, the President, and the Republic, their roar and smoke awing the crowd. Female volunteers showed how camp followers, wives and girlfriends, kept the camp going by doing the important work of laundry, cooking and other day to day activities that made camp life bearable.
Visitors got a chance to see the historic fort as it would have looked back when it was built in the early 1820s. Although all but one of the historic buildings is gone, the exception being Colonel Snelling’s own home, the buildings and tower that stand on the site today are built over the original foundations to the specifications of the original fort.
Located on the apex of a high cliff overlooking the intersection of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the Fort occupied an important strategic landmark where the garrison could maintain control of the important water way, the only major transportation hub in a sea of deserted prairie land.
From this position, soldiers garrisoned at the fort played important roles in history: the Civil War, the U.S. – Dakota War, the all important Fur Trade and the shameful and painful history of American Slavery, World War I and II.
Interpreters at the fort help visitors learn about this vibrant past, both good and bad and give perspective to rural life in the young territory. Young and old come to learn and appreciate their history.