This past weekend, I had the chance to do some of my favorite kind of research: I stepped backwards in time to the 18th century, thanks to the Revolutionary War Reenactment Festival, held at Mount Harmon Plantation, Earleville, MD on the Chesapeake Bay.
(As always, please click on the photographs to enlarge them.)
Military reenactments are popular with history-lovers throughout the country. There are dedicated groups of re-enactors on every scale and covering just about every action that took place on American soil. The Mount Harmon event was a large one. I'm not adept at estimating crowds, but I heard that the organizers were expecting over 1,000 re-enactors and colonial-style vendors and sutlers who camped for three nights in the surrounding fields. Soldiers by the hundred represented scores of different re-enacting units, including several cavalry groups with their mounts.
Their variety reflected the diversity of the original Continental Army and militia, with a wide assortment of uniforms and weapons. The British were represented as well, in equally varied uniforms, as well as German light troops. There were a good number of women and children in colonial dress, too, reflecting not only the soldiers' families, but also the cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, and other women (as well as a few dogs!) who would have travelled with an 18th c. army.
The Mount Harmon event wasn't recreating a specific battle, but staging a representative skirmish as well artillery demonstrations and musket drills. And, as the brochure warned, "Tactical operations (people shooting) will be occurring throughout the site." Even we lowly spectators had to keep our wits about us.
It's all a wonderful, evocative experience for a historical fiction writer. No, I'm not giving up my primary sources, but no book can capture the smell of an open fire or the sharp, acrid smell of gunpowder, or how the resulting smoke stings your eyes. A flintlock musket makes a distinctive sound as it is fired, and the artillery is another sound altogether. You really can feel the hoofbeats of the light cavalry's horses through the ground. And though it's obviously "pretend" - at the end of the day, all the casualties stand up, get in their cars, and drive away - it still goes a long way towards capturing the speed, efficiency, and confusion of an 18th c. battle. You never know where it will all turn up in a book....
Top: British infantry from the Sunday skirmish. Top left: Continental officers Top right: Mounted dragoons engage in the skirmish. Lower left: Women use the time in camp to drape a new bodice (These two knowledgable ladies - Cate Crown and Becky Fifield - are not only members of the Brigade of the American Revolution, but readers of the TNHG, too.) Lower right: The wide variety of colonial uniforms, from the Continental infantry to the riflemen in fringed hunting shirts.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.