Washington’s Birthday at Fort Mackinac

Yesterday, February 18, many government offices were closed to celebrate the holiday most people know as Presidents’ Day. Many people believe this extra day off celebrates the birthdays of all presidents. However, while some state governments have designed February 18 as Presidents’ Day, in the eyes of the federal government the holiday remains Washington’s Birthday, a celebration that would have been familiar to the soldiers of Fort Mackinac over 120 years ago.

A soldier fires an artillery salute from Fort Mackinac’s upper gun platform. The national salute fired for Washington’s Birthday in 1886 would have utilized all of the post’s artillery pieces.

In the 1880s, the federal government celebrated Washington’s birthday on February 22, his actual birthday. At army posts like Fort Mackinac, soldiers marked the day in a variety of ways. In 1884, Captain Edwin Sellers of the 10th Infantry ordered that “all work at this Post except the necessary police will be suspended from Reveille of the 22nd to Reveille of the 23rd,” essentially giving almost all the soldiers a day and night off. Two years later, the soldiers celebrated in a somewhat more explosive style. On February 21, 1886, Captain George Brady of the 23rd Infantry ordered that “Tomorrow…being the 154th Anniversary of the birth of Washington, a National Salute will be fired at meridian.” Thus, at noon on February 22, Lieutenant Benjamin Morse supervised a team of enlisted men firing a 38-gun salute (one shot for every state in the union at that time) from Fort Mackinac’s artillery battery. Such observances were common until Fort Mackinac closed in 1895.

In 1971, the federal government established the third Monday in February as Washington’s Birthday. Since the third Monday of the month will always fall somewhere between the 15th and the 21st, it is never actually celebrated on Washington’s real birthday. However, this range of potential dates for the holiday can place it very close to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, leading advertisers and some state governments to rename the holiday Presidents’ Day. Today, the State of Michigan, much like the historic soldiers of Fort Mackinac, continues to recognize the holiday as Washington’s Birthday.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Comments (required)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>