Learn about state, Salisbury connections to War of 1812 at Friday’s free program

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2014

SALISBURY — In 1814, Salisbury was North Carolina’s Fort Bragg.
Dr. Gary Freeze, history professor at Catawba College, lets that sink in for a moment, then repeats. During the War of 1812, Salisbury was the center for military training in North Carolina and southeastern states as a whole.
That’s one tidbit you’ll learn by attending the free, daylong program in Salisbury Friday, titled “The War of 1812 and the Backcountry.” It’s part of a continuing state series commemorating the War of 1812 Bicentennial, 2012-2015, in North Carolina.
The program is planned for 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Rowan Museum, 202 N. Main St. Susan Kluttz, secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, and Dr. Kevin Cherry, deputy secretary for the Office of Archives and History, will give a welcome at 10 a.m.
The day ends with a reception. Lunch is on your own, but participants will be given $5 worth of Downtown Dollars to spend at eateries in Salisbury’s central business district.
A Family Day on Saturday with researchers, encampments, weapons demonstrations and tours of local historic properties also is planned.
Speakers at the event Friday include Donald Hickey of Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb. He is the nation’s foremost expert on the War of 1812.
Hickey’s presentation is, “What We Know That Ain’t So: Myths of the War of 1812.”
Leading a local history panel at 1:15 p.m., Freeze also will touch on the role played by the local militia in the war.
Howard Kittell, the superintendent of The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, will talk about the past and future of the historic site.
Cosponsored by the N.C. Office of Archives and History, the N.C. Literary and Historical Society, Rowan Museum and the N.C. Society United Daughters of the War of 1812, the program will focus on the role played by North Carolinians in the little understood war.
Counted in that number is Andrew Jackson, who lived in Salisbury in the 1780s, prior to using his victory at the Battle of New Orleans, the culmination of the War of 1812, to propel himself to the presidency.
Freeze says he doesn’t know how many military barracks might have been built in Salisbury for the War of 1812, but his research shows a base existed somewhere along Crane Creek east of town and east of today’s Interstate 85.
It was purposely sited enough distance from town to prevent any disease from possibly spreading between the town and base.
Freeze could not find a particular name for the base, but it apparently was active for most months from 1812-1815.
Salisbury men of military age saw two periods of intense activity related to the War of 1812. Their first call-up was in 1812 when the war started, and Freeze says some of these men fought as far north as Canada.
The second, better-known call-up was in 1814, when troops marched off to help Andrew Jackson in the Creek War. Rowan soldiers had a minor role in the fighting, having not arrived in time, Freeze says.
Freeze says the War of 1812 is often overlooked in history classes, including his, but it had a significant commercial impact on the state and country.
The early years of the United States as a nation had been locked in a continuing version of mercantilism. The country was really a pawn, caught in the struggle between the British and French who were trying to determine who would be the next power in Europe.
“We tried to play both sides off the other, and nothing worked,” Freeze said.
Out of frustration, the United States government eventually declared war on the British and much of the war became about the control of western states.
You could make the argument that none of it mattered, according to Freeze. In strategic terms, he adds, it was not a good war to fight because the United States never really controlled the outcome.
The decisive battle wasn’t even fought here, but across the ocean at Waterloo.
“Once Napoleon lost at Waterloo, it was all moot,” Freeze says.
Still, the War of 1812 was a test of patriotism’s endurance in the young United States.
“In other words, were Americans willing to put up with what they talked about?” Freeze said. “They were.”
Some extremely important things occurred as a byproduct of the War of 1812. It’s how the White House became the White House. It fostered the writing of the country’s national anthem, and it led to the rise of Andrew Jackson, who will be discussed thoroughly Friday.
Freeze’s presentation will include a profile of life in Salisbury during the war.
“This is fun,” he says.
Partial funding for the program is provided by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council.
For more information contact LeRae Umfleet at the Office of Archives and History at 919-807-7289 or Kaye Brown Hirst at the Rowan Museum at 704-633-5946.