Remembering the Straits Military Past on Veterans Day
Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on this date 100 years ago…November 11, 1919 – on the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and November 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. In 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” in order to account for all veterans in all wars.
Michigan is home to countless memorials, monuments and parks dedicated to the men and women who served our country. Several of our historic military forts are also still standing as a testament to our state’s earliest history as well.
Built by the French in 1715, Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City is perched at the tip of the mitt and the base of the five-mile Mackinac Bridge (where an American flag flies proudly on Veterans Day and other military holidays). After the French an Indian War, the British assumed control of the fort and it remained in service until 1781 when the British consolidated forces at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island. Today, this site operates as Colonial Michilimackinac, one of Michigan’s most popular seasonal tourist historic and cultural attractions, under the auspices of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. This fortified community became the great fur trade center of the northwest, where according to MackinacParks.org, “fur traders and Indians rendezvoused, French and British officers organized war parties and explorers began their journeys into the vast western unknown.”
In 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, the British built Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island. Also operating as part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks, this site served as more than just a military outpost, it was a home for soldiers and their families. From 1875 until 1895, it served as the headquarters for Mackinac National Park (the second American National Park after Yellowstone and Michigan’s first State Park). Today, it proudly welcomes the thousands who visit the island each year. MackinacParks.org states “The stone ramparts, the south sally port and the Officer’s Stone Quarters are all part of the original fort built over 225 years ago. The other buildings in the fort are of more recent origin, dating from the late 1790s to 1885. The buildings have been restored to how they looked during the final years of the fort’s occupation.”
Mackinac Island is also home to the recently recreated Fort Holmes, which sits atop the highest elevation on Mackinac Island. The small wood and earthen fort (originally named Fort George in honor of Britain’s King George III), was constructed by British soldiers in 1914to protect Fort Mackinac against any attacks during the War of 1812 by the United States. According to MackinacParks.org, “That attack came in the summer of 1814 although the fort was not directly involved in the battle. When United States soldiers peacefully reoccupied the island after the War of 1812 the fort was renamed Fort Holmes in honor of American Major Andrew Hunter Holmes who was killed in the 1814 battle of Mackinac Island.”
According to its website, “The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration maintains 139 national cemeteries in 40 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.” In Michigan, four such cemeteries exist including Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery on Mackinac Island. FindAGrave.com states this cemetery, on Garrison Road just across the street from St. Ann’ Catholic Cemetery, “was used from the War of 1812 to about 1900 when Fort Mackinac was abandoned. The cemetery holds burials from both British and American Soldiers; having 108 graves with only 39 of those identified. The U.S. Congress granted $1,000 to Mackinac Island State Park Commission and the cemetery was landscaped and the white picket fence & arched entrance sign were added in 1906-1907. A cannon from Fort Sumter, South Carolina was mounted on a field carriage and placed near the center of the cemetery. A turnstile at the front gate was originally erected to keep cows out of the cemetery. It is currently maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which contracts upkeep with the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. The Post Cemetery flag continually flies at half-mast; it is one of four National Cemeteries with this honor. During the summer months various Scout troops working on the island raise and lower the flag here.”
For additional historic sites in the Straits Area (like British Landing and the 1814 Battlefield, now home of Wawashkamo Golf Course), visit Mackinac State Historic Parks.
ROAD TRIP DESTINATIONS:
Just an hour north of Mackinaw City is Fort Brady, in Sault Ste Marie. According to the Michigan Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, “The original Fort Brady, established by Colonel Hugh Brady in 1822, established United States authority over the northern Great Lakes region. It was abandoned in 1892 and the New Fort Brady was completed in 1893. The New Fort Brady site is now on the campus of Lake Superior State University and has 14 of the original fort buildings repurposed and in use.”
Further north some 312 miles, in the Keweenaw Peninsula, sits Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor “begun in 1844, Fort Wilkins was designed to keep the peace. Although re-garrisoned briefly in the 1860s, the Army abandoned Fort Wilkins only a few years after it was started.” Today, it is the focal point of Fort Wilkins State Park.