‘Ready, Aim, Fire!’

“Ready, Aim, Fire!” is just one command visitors to the Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum may hear this coming weekend. However, in addition to the sound, visitors will be able to experience sights and smells that accompany it during a living history event.

The Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum, in partnership with the Dunkirk Historical Museum and the 64th Virginia Cavalry, are hosting their second annual “Battle of Lighthouse Point” on August 16 and 17. The grounds will be transformed to the time period of the 1860s. A living history camp and a Civil War battle will help visitors feel as if they have stepped back into a era more than 150 years ago.

Every year, thousands of people travel great distances to Civil War sites such as Gettysburg to attend reenactments. This one is right in our own backyard. No great travel distance or expense is required, making it a rich opportunity that should not be missed.

Visitors will witness history come alive as a small Confederate garrison protects the lighthouse and adjoining salt works (current power plant) from Union control. A military camp will be set up on the grounds, complete with infantry and artillery forces. In addition to weapon demonstrations, various battle scenarios will be played out for spectators to see as Union forces try to recapture the grounds.

Yes, we are up north, but a Confederate presence was actually a possibility. During the Civil War, the north was nervous that Confederate forces might try to invade our northern borders across Lakes Erie and Ontario from Canada. The Union had been blockading the southern ports, preventing the exportation of Confederate cotton. Cotton was needed by textile mills in Great Britain. Many British sympathized with the Confederates and since Britain ruled Canada, a invasion from the north was possible.

In fact, there was one time during the war when a small group of men stationed at our lighthouse thought they saw an enemy vessel on the lake. As told by Louis Deering in 1943 on his 100th birthday in a column in the Evening OBSERVER, he was one of the “home-guards” assigned to keep watch at the lighthouse. They shot off the cannon toward the ship. According to Louis, it ended up not as they thought, but the boom of the cannon did manage to shatter all the windows of the lighthouse home.

Interested in “yesterday” medicine and the drama of surgeries and field hospitals? “Doc” Bolivard from Forestville will participate during the weekend as the regimental surgeon with sick call and describe common medical tools used during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain will make guest appearances. Visitors can also join the Village Haunts and enjoy candle-light tours in the evening and a period church service on Sunday morning. Fife and drum corps music will be played throughout the day and a concert by Buffalo’s Canal Street String Band is scheduled

“Ninety-nine percent boredom and one percent sheer terror” is how some soldiers described the war from the daily drill and camp life to the actual fighting.

Sarah Sinfield, one of few women who witnessed first-hand the horror of many battles and the challenges of military campaigns throughout much of the war, was from Dunkirk. Few women received pensions by a special act of Congress, but Sarah did for her diligent work and assistance while with her husband William and the 72nd NY Infantry Regiment. What does that have to do with the lighthouse? William later became the assistant lighthouse keeper. He had a wound to the knee that was still gaping and oozing several years after Gettysburg so certainly Sarah must have performed many of the lighthouse duties.

One highlight in the living history education tent this weekend will be a presentation by Michelle Henry, Chautauqua County Historian. On a request from one of the lighthouse volunteers to learn more about past residents of the lighthouse, Michelle and one of her volunteers, JoAnn Kaufman, unearthed the treasure of long-forgotten Sarah. As a result, it was just last year that her long-forgotten grave was rediscovered in Fredonia’s Forest Hill Cemetery and a group of fife and drum reenactors played period music at her spruced-up tombstone. Truly a heroine of her time and ours, come and hear all about it!

Make it a good week and for “Family Fun Month” come to the “Battle of Lighthouse Point.” Ready, aim, fire! See the schedule of events.

Mary Burns Deas is a columnist who writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Send comments to lifestyles@observertoday.com