Events at Fort Stewart and Fort Morris gave Liberty County families and visitors an opportunity to celebrate the nation’s birthday all day long Friday.
Fort Morris held its Independence Day Faire from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., offering Colonial games, musket and cannon firings and historical re-enactments. Fort Stewart hosted its annual Salute to the Nation event at Cottrell Field in the evening to mark America’s 238th year with howitzer cannons firings and fireworks.
“Many years ago, this country fought for its independence and won its independence,” said Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield. “This day causes me to stop and think about the sacrifices in the last 238 years that Americans made to maintain our independence and how fragile our independent is.”
A brief history was read during the ceremony, recapping the United States’ involvement in global conflicts to preserve the nation’s freedom.
From World War I to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, soldiers of the 3rd ID have fought to keep America’s independence.
After the history recap, families gathered to watch the fireworks display and a salute to the nation. Cannons were fired 58 times — once for each state and territory. Flags of the nation’s 50 states and eight territories were displayed on the field next to the 3rd Infantry Division band, which played patriotic songs throughout the night.
“What is so special about the event here at Fort Stewart is that it is a community event,” Murray said.
“All of the local communities are invited to come in and join us so we can all enjoy a great show together.”
Before enjoying the activities on Fort Stewart, many families spent the day learning about Revolutionary War history at Fort Morris in Sunbury. The state of Georgia developed the fort as a historical site in the 1960s, and today visitors can tour the museum and stockade remnants. The site has hosted an Independence Day celebration every year since 1999.
“This is an important day in our nation’s history when the Declaration of Independence was signed,” site manager Arthur Edgar said. “We wouldn’t have a nation without this day.”
While dressed in Colonial-era garments, Edgar and his volunteer staff read the Declaration of Independence, raised the American flag and sang “My Country Tis of Thee,” during the opening ceremony. Musket and cannon firings followed, and families were able to walk around the site, playing Colonial games and learning about Fort Morris’ history.
“There was a lot of important commerce and trade going out of Midway and Sunbury around that time,” Edgar said. “So the Continental Congress ordered for a fort to be built to protect the area in 1776.”
The British, at that time, operated out of St. Augustine. They demanded the fort’s surrender in 1778. Fort Commander Col. John McIntosh responded to the threat by famously challenging the British to, “Come and take it!” which caused the British to retreat. McIntosh then named the fort after its first ranking officer, Thomas Morris of Virginia.
“Those words have resounded over the years and are our claim to fame,” Edgar said.
Sunbury did eventually fall to the British and was used as a prisoner of war camp. The British army held patriot officers there as prisoners until the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
“There is a lot of history here,” said Tech Sgt. James Ahern, who works on Fort Stewart and attended the event with his wife, Christina, and three children, Joel, 8, Sophia, 5, and Henry, 2.
Christina Ahern home-schools the children, and she is teaching them about American history. The family moved to Midway in March and has been exploring the area’s rich past. On Friday, the young ones played old-fashioned games, like spinning a hoop with a stick, giving them a taste of what life might have been like for children their age 200 years ago.
“The kids are definitely having a blast,” Ahern said. “It’s great that they are keeping all this history alive.”
Fort Morris hosts events throughout the year to celebrate its role in Liberty County’s history.