The Forts of the Mackinac Part II
Fort Mackinac

Mackinaw City, MI

June 5th, 2000

By the time of the Revolutionary War, Fort Michilimackinac had stood along the shores of the Mackinac Straits for many years, as a symbol of British authority and control in the area. The Revolutionary War would bring a new era to the coast line, as Great Britain saw her holdings and her influence dwindle in the new world. Still the demand for the now elusive beaver ran strong and Europe was not willing to forgo the fur trade. Recognizing the inability to defend a wooden fort against cannon fire, Vice-Governor Patrick Sinclare, commander of British interest in the area, decided to move the fort to Mackinac Island, several miles off shore in the middle of the Mackinac Straits. Here, high on a bluff overlooking lower Michigan a fort with walls of limestone was constructed. The old fort was dismantled and many of the buildings moved to the island. As per tradition, spirited by need, the fur trade followed the fort, also moving to the island and the people followed. Within a short period of time the island population blossomed and a community was born. For 15 years, the British held the fort which was actually within territories belonging to the United States. Finally the fort was surrendered by treaty in 1796, but by 1812, the British were back capturing the fort during that war, only to again relinquish it to the Americans three years later. American troops continued to be stationed there until its closure in 1895 when the fort and lands around it became Michigan's first state park.
As we got off the ferry and began our wanderings through the town until we found ourselves gazing up a long ramp to the fort walls 500 feet above. The ramp looks formidable but we took our time, stopping several times to gaze out over the lilac bushes that dotted the park below. The view from the top of the fort is spectacular. Life for the soldiers stationed here was not bad In the soldiers'
barracks building we learned that Companies "E" and "K", 23rd Regiment of Infantry arrived at Fort Mackinac in the summer of 1884. For the next six years, longer then any other troops, they garrisoned the post and cared for Mackinac National Park. Soldiers spent most of their time drilling on the parade ground, working on fatigue duty and enjoying the resort atmosphere of Victorian Mackinac Island. Today the restored fort looks very much like it did in the 1880's. The fort is now without its point of history. The first land battle of the War of 1812 took place on Mackinac Island. A strategic military post and valuable fur trade center, Mackinac island was the key to the upper great lakes. Aware of Fort Mackinac's importance, British troops from Fort St. Joseph made it their target as soon as war was declared. The tides of war proved no match for the driving force of men's fashions as need for the beaver skin shadowed the military decisions on both sides. Each of the restored building holds something different for the curious. One of the stories told is that of Dr. William Beaumont who served as post surgeon at Fort Mackinac in the early 1820's Beaumont treated many soldiers and civilians while at Mackinac including Alexis S. Martin who was wounded in the abdomen by a accidental rifle shot at a distance of 3 feet, in 1822. Beaumont took a special interest in St. Martin's wound as the hole never completely closed. During his long period of recovery St. Martin lived with the Beaumont family. Dr Beaumont was in the unique position to observe the human digestive system at work through the opening of the wound. His studies would eventually explain the digestive process. On the parade ground, Sgt. Denis Havlena, an 18 year veteran at the fort was conducting drill and firing practice with his rare 45-70 cal. Springfield trapdoor rifle. A tall man with a clear voice, Sgt. Havlena kept kids and parents alike fascinated with his stories of the old soldiers days and a description of one of the more colorful helmets of the United States Army. Yet another uniform was quite prevalent in the area. The Boy Scouts of Troop 114 from Big Rapids were deployed throughout the Fort lending direction and assistance where ever needed. There is a different troop or combination of troops every week, and the kids sleep at the Fort. The actual area is not large but with the activities going on it still takes several hours to see it all. 

For more information check out Mackinac State Historic Parks at

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