Today in Massachusetts it is Patriots' Day, where we celebrate the events which got the Revolutionary War started. Here's another chance to read a post I did about a "Redcoats and Rebels" re-enactment. I hope you enjoy!
Everyone knows how Massachusetts got things off to a great start in the Revolutionary War. There are plenty of re-enactments, especially on Patriots' Day in April, but since they have an unfortunate tendency to start way too early in the morning, I've never managed to see any.
However, there was a recent "Redcoats and Rebels" event at Old Sturbridge Village, which is an outdoor museum depicting rural New England from 1790 to 1840. This particular event didn't start at the crack of dawn, which was a huge plus, because I'm a more appreciative audience once I've had my daily coffee. I was really eager to attend, since this is the closest I can get to time-travelling, or going to a Regency-era theme park. And it would be an opportunity to get some practice with my infrequently-utilized camera.
There were exhibits throughout the day, and in different parts of the campsites and buildings. Unfortunately I missed the 18th century court martial, as well as the laundress demonstrating her skills with 18th century clothing. Oh well, maybe next year.
But there was lots of other fun stuff. And I'm not just talking about all the sexy boots! I spent so much time LUSTING after the boots that I didn't get any good pics of them. Too bad I can't download some of my mental pictures, especially of the young man who was a scout for the colonists. I'm not sure which I liked more, his gold hoop earring, the ponytail, or the thigh-high suede boots.
Well, maybe it's best I leave that mental picture where it is. Instead, here's a pic of the window he was looking out of--but this is before he got here, so you're going to have to use some imagination.(You can tell from this pic that he was really hot, though.)
The cannon demonstration by the Royal Irish Artillery was LOUD. I commented to a couple of Redcoats as I passed that it might be louder than I could handle. One of them suggested I plug one ear and keep my mouth open, and that would help. He said it with a straight face, but I wasn't entirely sure if his "advice" was payback for us winning the War for Independence, so I didn't give it a try.
The cannons produced these cool smoke rings, as if a giant was smoking a huge cigarette, with a lot of panache. (But not in any of the pictures I took.) It required several men to prepare the cannon for shooting, and when they had to move it, even though it was on wheels, they strained. I'm surprised somebody hasn't invented a Cannon Workout, because clearly it worked a lot of different muscle groups. And the cannon-shooting men were very fit.
My favorite demonstration was on how to load and use a musket, by a re-enactor for a Massachusetts regiment. He showed us, first in slow motion, and then in "real time", how long it took to go through the many steps of the process. Sad to say, there was only a few seconds difference between the two demos.
The gunpowder is in a little thing of paper that is kept in a leather bag at the hip. The corner of the paper is torn off with the teeth, so having two opposing teeth was a necessity. The powder is followed by the "ball", one full ounce of lead, which he said is much bigger than current bullets. It doesn't just HIT a person, it SLAMS into them, and it can make them spin several times from the force of the blast.
Also, accuracy wasn't exactly the goal when shooting a musket, because it wasn't really a possibility. It was more of a 50% success rate. It was partly why they stood in lines, so that hopefully SOMEBODY would hit something when they fired their weapons. The re-enactor said the commands used to be:
- Make Ready
- Take Aim
However, General Washington changed the second one to "Take Sight" to more accurately reflect that not a whole lot of aiming was going on.
A young boy with a snare drum tapped out a different rhythm for each of the commands. Since things got so smoky during battles, from all of the ignited gunpowder, drums were the main form of communication.
Someone asked why the soldiers didn't just crouch down so they wouldn't get hit, but it sounds like there wasn't a high likelihood of getting hit anyway. Also, if they did crouch down and the opposing shooters couldn't accomplish anything, they would affix bayonets to their muskets, and it was the bayonets that really struck fear into the soldiers. The blade is three-edged, which apparently creates a wound that is impossible for a doctor to stitch up, so it caused a very painful demise. (The re-enactor said the Geneva Convention does not permit that kind of blade for modern warfare because it is too brutal.)
Right after this demonstration, the various regiments lined up so they could parade to the battlefield. I wish I'd figured out beforehand how to use the video feature on my camera. Oh well (all together now: "next year!")
One of the colonial militia groups – it was easy to see they weren't part of the Continental Army because instead of snazzy blue coats they wore plain brownish linen clothes – anyway, the militia group was a pretty ragtag bunch, and they had trouble figuring out which direction to turn on the command "wheel right". Their commander asked them to hold up the hand they used to hold their ale the previous night, and of course a couple of them raised both hands, letting their muskets drop to the ground. The captain of a nearby Redcoat regiment told his troops, "I don't anticipate any trouble from the Yankees today. They're quite disorganized so it should be a quick and easy battle."
The battle took place in a field, complete with split-rail fences and trees lining the perimeter. It was unbearably hot, and humid, so none of the soldiers seemed inclined to "play dead" until the battle was almost over. I don't blame them. I was wearing a light linen shirt and jeans and was close to expiring. They had wool jackets and vests and breeches and Lord knows what else that I couldn't see. . .oh, and those boots. But not these boots. I'm talking about the boots I didn't take a picture of. . .
I'm feeling faint again.
Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, since nobody wanted to lie down on the ground, the battle pretty much looked like a bunch of men in kick-ass costumes shooting at each other, over and over. They didn't use the lead ball, just the gunpowder, in both the muskets and the cannons, and there was plenty of smoke hanging over the field.
Earlier, while strolling through the campgrounds, I noticed a lot of campfires going, and even though I couldn't see any wood smoke, it was really bothering my throat. That was a detail I wouldn't have expected, so it was great to experience it firsthand (and it was even greater to get away from it).
Another interesting research detail: the tents had six soldiers assigned to them. Two of them would sleep, two would have sentry duty, and two would be on fatigue, which meant camp duties like digging latrines, cooking, whatever needed doing. The tents were made of canvas, and there wouldn't be much warmth in the winter, so the soldiers apparently slept on top of each other to keep from freezing.
I know I'm not the only one who is changing this plot point to include a colonial scout with a gold earring and thigh-high suede boots, who needs to steal that Redcoat jacket in the back, so here's a pic for you:
This was a really great experience, and I can't wait to go again. Next time I'll definitely be braver about taking more pics and asking more questions, since the re-enactors love to share their knowledge. Maybe they'll even tell me where that scout hid himself. . .