Wayne's Legion Rides Again in Bower Hill
Rob Windhorst loves history so much that he doesn’t mind spending a scorching summer weekend outside in a head-to-toe wool uniform.
“You get used to it,” said Windhorst, 45, of Ingram, with a laugh.
He and seven others are members of the Fourth Sub-Legion of the United States, also known as Wayne’s Legion, who spend their free time re-creating military life from 1792 to 1796. The group includes two musicians.
Their focus is the 12 American soldiers sent to defend Bower Hill in Scott, home of tax inspector Gen. John Neville, during the Whiskey Rebellion in July 1794. The group is based at Woodville Plantation in Collier, the 1774 home of Neville’s son, Col. Presley Neville. Wayne’s Legion started after Neville House Associates bought Woodville from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
In 1792, after the military waged two unsuccessful battles against Native Americans, George Washington appointed Anthony “Mad Anthony” Wayne as commander-in-chief of the army. Wayne, who earned his nickname for his personality and military exploits, set up headquarters in Pittsburgh at Fort Lafayette, also known as Fort Fayette.
“Pittsburgh was really at the heart of Anthony Wayne’s campaign into western territory against the Native Americans,” said Windhorst.
Wayne re-formed the army into the First and Second Sub-Legions from remnants of the defeated First and Second Regiments. By September, he had raised enough new troops to create the Third and Fourth Sub-Legions. On Sept. 4, 1792, the Fourth Sub-Legion was officially commissioned.
During the Rebellion, a group of Pennsylvania farmers upset about the whiskey excise tax attacked John Neville’s Bower Hill. He fought them off but knew they would return, so the next day Lt. Col. Thomas Butler dispatched 12 soldiers from the Fourth Sub-Legion to defend Neville’s property. A dozen armed slaves and a few of Neville’s friends joined the soldiers.
Several hundred angry Western Pennsylvania farmers also showed up.
“Needless to say, it didn’t go well,” Windhorst said.
After defending the house all day, the soldiers surrendered only after the structure caught fire. The legion lost two men that day — reports vary as to whether they died or deserted, Windhorst said.
“Although the men of Wayne’s Fourth Sub-Legion were ultimately unsuccessful in their defense of the property at Bower Hill, for a short time they were able to exemplify the strength of a newly formed government. The soldiers demonstrated to the insurgents the impending resolve of George Washington’s leadership and the strength of the United States,” the Wayne’s Legion website reads.
Bob Zimmerman, 54, of Cecil, has participated in Civil War re-enactments in Gettysburg, West Virginia and Virginia. He now serves the Fourth Sub-Legion, and has gotten his whole family into the act.
“This fits really good with what the family wants to do: Re-enact close to home with a Pittsburgh connection,” he said.
His sons, R.J., 15, and Joseph, 12, play the drums and fife, respectively. The boys practice their music once a week for two hours year-round. Zimmerman’s wife, Katie, and daughter, Mary Kate, 10, help make the uniforms and do cooking demonstrations.
“It’s fun to come down here. Social studies is my favorite subject in school,” Joseph said.
Other members include Michael Athey, 38, of Dormont, an Army reservist from 1992 to 2000 who served briefly with the 4th Infantry; Dave Frankowski, 60, of Mt. Lebanon, who has been a re-enactor for more than 30 years; Dan Ragaller, 59, of Upper St. Clair; and Tom Zimmerman, 27, of Cecil, son of Bob Zimmerman.
Wayne was a stickler for military ceremony and dress, and his current soldiers don’t disappoint. The men wear traditional round hats topped with bear fur and rimmed with green trim, blue coats with red facing and buttons depicting eagles, straight-cut waistcoats and full-length trousers. They carry Springfield rifles and French Charleville muskets.
The infantry practices marching and drills monthly. They hold an encampment every other month: The most popular one is coming up this weekend when they return to Bower Hill and re-create the events of the Whiskey Rebellion.
“It’s a very unique circumstance to be able to go back to the place of the original battle,” said Windhorst. “It’s very exciting.”