Reenacting the Revolutionary War
A primer on why we reenact
Reenacting the revolutionary war and 18th century time period takes on many different forms; from battle scenarios to living history interpretation, there is no shortage of things to do.
When one thinks of reenacting the first thing that comes to mind is a recreated battle, and this is the main draw and focus of entire event weekends. Battle events have many forms, a typical weekend starts on Friday afternoon with reenactors arriving to the site and setting up their living area for the weekend, which is usually arranged by their alliance (all British and allies together and Continentals and their allies together) then Saturday is spent entirely in the 18th century, with different activities occurring all day, such as drilling manuevers, daily life chores like laundry, preparing period accurate meals over a campfire, or even ‘sport’ such as card gaming or dice, or musket and bayonet demonstrations/competitions, culminating with one or two battles (at least one is usually loosely scripted for public spectators to enjoy also).
Once the day is done reenactors retire to their respective camps and enjoy a period accurate meal cooked over an open fire, and review the day with one another. Following the meal general merriment occurs, typically accompanied by singing and dance and spending time with good friends around the fire, often with a refreshing beverage. Sunday is similar to Saturday, sometimes a period religious service is offered in the morning followed by other actives and a battle, the schedule on Sunday usually ends earlier than Saturday to allow reenactors to pack their belongings and head home in time to return to the ‘modern world’ on Monday. Other events are private, and are sometimes referred to as tacticals. These are solely for the enjoyment of fellow reenactors and have unscripted battles using the tactics of the time; the outcome depends on the skills of the commanders and reenactors, which makes it a much more exciting experience for participants.
Aside from battles, reenacting takes on many forms, often units will host period training events alone or with other friendly units with no adversaries present. Events such as these allow units to work on fine tuning drill and ceremony, battle tactics or just simply enjoying a bit of 18th century life. Reenactors routinely interpret at National Park locations, museums, town events and will sometimes give educational lectures. Having a reenactor visit wearing period clothing and accessories, and being able to explain their practicality and uses adds another dimension to history that the public can interact with at school programs or historical society engagements. Some reenactment units also participate in parades, marching in period fashion with flags flying and fifes and drums playing, occasionally stopping to fire a volley to the excitement of onlookers.
Within the American War for Independence time period, reenactors portray Continentals, British, French, Spanish, and Hessian soldiers, with smaller representations of other nationalities such at the Dutch. Inside each of the armies represented exists a sampling of most units that participated in the war from militia units, infantry, dragoons, artillery, and sailors. Specialized troops portray anything from standard leg infantry of battalion ‘hat’ companies, to more specialized impressions such as light infantry and grenadiers, artillery units bring cannon, and dragoons ride horses into battle, on each side ranges the full scale of rank from a new recruit to an individual portraying a colonel or general. Others don't have anything to do with muskets or canons, some portray doctors and surgeons in a field hospital, some choose to be duty musicians, learning fife, drum, or horn, others perform daily camp chores, like laundry, chopping wood, or mending along side those that perfect period cooking. The wide range of society in the 18th century is reflected today, with no shortage of impressions to choose from!
In summary, the makeup of reenactors is as varied as the people we portray. Reenactors come from all walks of life; businessmen, medical professionals, teachers, artists, engineers, pilots, cops, firemen and students of all ages. Reenacting is a blend of history, open air acting, imagination and camping, and it provides an escape from today. Not to a simpler time, but a different time one where individuals can leave behind phones, television, radio, social media and other modern things we find ourselves attached to. Upon arriving in camp for the weekend, time seems to slow down; the glow of lanterns and the smell of a crackling campfire, the shrill of fifes in the distance and looking up to find a night sky full of stars. Enter a battle raging hot, the chest thumping thud of canons, the crash of muskets makes it hard to hear the sergeants and officers, the smoke hangs low in the air making it hard to see, the feel of the horses rushing past, the clash of sabers flashing in the sun is enough to briefly transport one back in time…then Sunday afternoon comes and its back to the daily grind of modern life, but now looking forward to the next event where everything gets left behind for a couple of days. That is the wonderful hobby known as reenacting.