Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Researching in the (Battle) Field: Mount Harmon Revolutionary War Reenactment Festival

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Susan reporting:

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.


ccrown14 said...

What a great weekend! And a terrific post. My winter project is a red worsted gown made from my new gown pattern. - Cate Crown

Rowenna said...

As a reenactor, can I add--we love visitors! That's why we do this--we want to share what we love. So I always encourage people to come out, ask questions, get involved :) Glad you had a nice time!

Lauren Miller said...

Wow looks like you were right in the middle of the battle! Wish I could go to one of these. Must be incredibly exciting.

MJ said...

Lauren, you must attend one, they are amazing! The reenactors love sharing their passion for this hobby and what a fun way to keep our history alive! Beware, they are addicting and you will begin to search out and attend as many events as you can find! Wonderful pictures, it looks like it was a success!

Isobel Carr said...

I’m so jealous. Your adventures almost make we wish I lived on the East Coast. Maybe next year I can get my friends to finally commit to a full week of 18th century living at Colonial Williamsburg. *fingers crossed*

Peggy Huckel said...

Always enjoy your Two Nerdy History Girls blog.
Loved your blog entry on Mount Harmon- I was there as a sailor. Here are some pics of that part of the event:

The photos are from both Saturday and Sunday; we were "batteaux," landing troups, which is what really happened there in the Rev War.

I love naval reenacting. We get to be on the water, even go sailing, and at Mount Harmon we got a lot of attention for the troup landing scenario which is very infrequently done at these events. I love dressing as a sailor, too. The boat I usually serve on (wasn't at this one) is called the Gunboat General Arnold. See Facebook page here:

There are photos, info on the building of the boat, and links to some of the other boats in our group. We have an org. called Age of Sail Maritime Alliance; I am the vice president.

Polo-Go said...

Wow, I was just browsing for horse tack for an upcoming event in Virginia and all the sudden I see myself in one of your pictures (dragoons)!

I am happy to see that this picture was included in your site and I am glad that you did enjoy the event. Hope you can make it to more upcoming events.

Saludos from La Florida!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Polo-Go - Glad you spotted yourself! It was a great event and a beautiful location, and I only wish it was repeated there (except for the puddles.)

Where is your upcoming Virginia event? Is it "Under the Redcoat" at CW in June? Hoping to make that one this year!

Polo-Go said...

Hola Isabella/Susan,

The event in Virginia will be at Gloucester Co. for the 'Battle of the Hook' on October 18-20, 2013. And yes- I hope it does not rain like in Maryland so do bring your wellies just in case! :)


Jose (Polo-Go)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thanks so much for the info on the "Battle of the Hook", Jose. I drive down Rte 17 through this region often, and I have no idea how I've missed hearing about this event. Best of all, I will be in the area for a CW conference the following week, so I will definitely be there (and I'll be sure to stow my boots in the car for traipsing through the colonial muck.)

Let's touch bases closer to the event. If you're willing, I'd love to have you, your horse, & a comrade or two pose for a photo for a future blog post. :)

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