Exactly 200 years ago Sunday, America won a major battle in the War of 1812 right here in Buffalo.
During the Battle of Scajaquada Creek Bridge, the British came from Canada to raid Buffalo’s stores of military supplies. But U.S. forces stopped them at Scajaquada Creek, on Buffalo’s West Side, by taking off planks on the bridge so the British couldn’t cross.
After trying to repair the bridge three times, the British gave up. It marked the only American victory in 1814 and prevented the British from burning down the city again.
British forces burned down Black Rock Village, which now is Buffalo’s West Side, and the community of Niagara in 1813.
On Sunday, about 60 Buffalonians gathered at the site along the creek, which used to be known as Black Rock Village, for a re-enactment and commemoration. The event was co-sponsored by the Black Rock Riverside Alliance, the Black Rock Historical Society and other area groups.
Folks sat under a tent on the ground where the battle took place as Doug Kohler and other Erie County historians, dressed in 19th century war uniforms, explained the battle and weaponry. After that, Boy Scouts from Kenmore and three troops from Canada re-enacted the battle.
For Kohler, the event highlighted one of Buffalo’s many “great stories.”
“I think we like to tell the whole oh-woe-is-me-snow-storm-wide-right-no-goal kind of stuff, and I think we’ve focused so long on that that we’ve forgot that there is big stuff here,” Kohler said. “To me, this is the only battle that takes place on the American side in 1814. It’s a decisive win; we don’t have a whole lot of those in the War of 1812.”
Kohler is a seventh-grade history teacher at Clarence Middle School. His dynamic way of teaching grabbed the attention of spectators, from elderly couples to a little girl in a red, white and blue dress who mimicked Kohler’s hand gestures during the lecture.
He looked around at the attendees and smiled with satisfaction. They’re 60 more people, he said, who will drive by Amherst Street, off the Scajaquada, and remember what happened there 200 years ago.
And that will contribute to the recent revitalization of Buffalo.
“Canalside, the architecture, Graycliff, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Pierce-Arrow, we’re starting to remember that it’s just not ‘woe is me’ – there are huge things that happened here, whether it was 200 years ago or 50 years ago,” Kohler said.
Scott Jackowski, 37, of Lackawana, was silent on Saturday as he tried to grasp every word Kohler said. Jackowski, a self-proclaimed “Buffalo history nerd,” has bought more than 30 history books since moving back to Buffalo from Nashville in 2004, when he discovered that “Buffalo has everything” and wanted to learn about the city’s heritage.
“It’s one thing to read about that type of warfare, but it’s more dynamic to hear a lecture to reinforce that,” he said. “Doug Kohler, being a county historian, this guy’s amazing to listen to. He’s very fun.”
The highlight of the re-enactment came when a young boy dressed in an American uniform fell from a “gun shot wound,” and a young girl – dressed in a 19th-century-style beige cotton dress, long sleeves and a linen cap – leaned over him in distress.
Nick Kaszynski, a 16-year-old Boy Scout from Kenmore, said the hardest part of practicing the re-enactment of the War of 1812 was sleeping outside and waking up at 7 a.m. to continue the day’s drills and battles.
“It makes me appreciate what America had to go through to be where it is today,” he said.