Standby To Standby

September 07, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

French Castle_Red Coat Soldier_NYFrench Castle_Red Coat Soldier_NY

Standby To Standby -

Harsh winters, starvation, scurvy, drunkenness, disease as well as attacks by native Americans and foreign armies plagued Fort Niagara at one time or another over its' 300 year history. In the late 1600's the French were especially hard hit by starvation and disease. In 1687 while it was named Fort Denonville, 100 French soldiers were left to winter here, only 12 survived. Of particular concern for British command in the years between 1759 and 1796 was boredom among the rank and file. British red-coat soldiers, also known as "lobsters" and "bloody backs" (as labelled by colonists) were stationed here to secure the entrance to the Niagara River which led to the Great Lakes and to carry out raids on American colonists. Yet in standby preparation, the garrison of British soldiers stationed at Fort Niagara's 1726 era French-built Castle "mansion"  were required to be always ready in full uniform. 

I photographed this British Red Coat re-enactor while visiting Fort Niagara in July 2021. In my brief interview with him, he was stoic and a man of few words. He did convey his role as an era-correct contingent of the garrison. Here was a non-commissioned British regimental soldier, a private or corporal at best and as he put it. . . plagued with extreme boredom. He was enacting smoking a tobacco pipe as so many did and portraying playing cards on the table as a relief for the boredom. Despite being well disciplined troops, this boredom often led to gambling with cards, drunkenness and brawling, all strictly against British military regulations for a British soldier but they did so nonetheless, he stated.

A British soldier was rationed roughly five pints of small beer per diem (usually diluted to avoid excessive drunkenness). Winter boredom would have consisted of much the same, more or less, but with the added difficulty of staying warm in subzero temperatures even while inside. In the French Castle, fireplaces were common in every room to avoid freezing. Supplies would come from England every two months or so but at other times not at all. These soldiers also faced disease and scurvy under harsh winter conditions. Some were married with wives housed at the fort as well. Marriage was greatly discouraged by Commanding Officers.

Fort Niagara in western New York has a long history as a conflicted military stronghold. It was a strategic location for controlling all maritime traffic entry from the Atlantic Ocean into the Great Lakes. The first military settlement at Fort Niagara located at the mouth of the Niagara River off Lake Ontario was established by the French as Fort Conti in 1679. The trading post and military fortification protected their fur trading interests with the indigenous people and their continuing exploration and settlements around the Great Lakes. The indigenous peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy included originally Five Nations: the Mohawks, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayugas, Senecas and later in 1722 the Tuscarora peoples to make it Six Nations. To protect their affairs, the French strived to form an alliance with the Six Nations for the purpose of defeating any invading forces namely the British. However the alliance with the Iroquois tribes especially were strained at best. In 1726 the French were allowed by the Iroquois Confederacy to build what they called a "House of Peace", yet built of stone. The French conned the Confederacy and built the French Castle at Fort Niagara in the form of a french styled mansion so as to minimize the appearance as an armed fortification. But the building housed garrisoned military personnel and munitions storage. See the following link to other Fort Niagara photos taken by myself on this same tour in July 2021. In those photos you will see the stone Castle, the reinforced stone Redoubts used for perimeter protection as well as the bermed fortifications with artillery batteries.

Fort Niagara Photo Tour

The French continued to fortify and strengthen the Fort during the King George's War of 1744-1748 and during the French and Indian War beginning in 1754 through 1757 by building massive earthen berms, structures for provisions and munitions storage. Then in 1759, besieged by night and day bombings, an overwhelming British force and tunneled intrusions, the French held Fort succumbed to a 19 day siege by British forces. In 1770-1771 the British built two stone Redoubts to shore up their perimeter defenses around the Fort. The British held control of the Fort throughout the American War for Independence and used it as a base for raids against American colonists and as a refuge for Native allies, the Tories and British loyalists in the colonies. However in 1796 Britain was forced under treaty to turn over the Fort to the Americans.

During the War of 1812, Fort Niagara was again captured by British troops as a stronghold. They again forfeited control back to the Americans by treaty in 1815. By 1825, the building of the Erie Canal greatly diminished the strategic importance of Fort Niagara.

The Fort has been used for U.S. troop training and staging for the Union during the Civil War, troop readiness for the Battle of Manila in 1899 in the Philippines, and for WWI and WWII. In 1944 it was used as a prisoner of war camp for German and Austrian POW's.

Today the Fort welcomes some 200,000 tourists annually.

Since this photo was taken in very dark interior conditions, camera settings were adjusted accordingly: ISO 1600; aperture f/8; shutter speed was reduced to 1/20 using a Nikon D850 with a 28mm lens but hand held. 





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