A well-planned Revolutionary War Reenactment gives visitors an immersive experience, a keen sense of going back in time, and this year’s Prelude to Yorktown at Chippokes State Park was no exception. The attention to detail in dress and gear, a glimpse into the African American experience during that war and providing a full British encampment in addition to the American camp made the experience extraordinary.
It was immediately obvious that the participants not only were extremely knowledgeable, but they also were eager to share interesting facts about the period ranging from why the dragoons wore bear fur crests on their helmets to why many British coats were red. The answers – that the bear fur caused what might have been a killing blow from a saber to glance off the helmet instead, and that red was the cheapest dye available at the time – are the sort of details that make the event feel more real.
Colin Carter, who works for the Pentagon and serves as an Air Force Reservist when he is not sleeping on straw underneath the stars as a Lieutenant for the 7th Regiment Royal Fusiliers, explained why they often refer to what they do as “The Hobby.”
“We’re all volunteers,” he said. “We do this completely at our own expense, and like any hobby you get out of it what you put into it. Our group, the Royal Fusiliers puts a great deal of time into it. We’re portraying a normal British Line regiment – a fusilier regiment - an elite group tasked with guarding the ammunition, cannons, and gunpowder.”
“Over there is a garrison camp,” he added, pointing to a nearby row of white canvas tents lined up with military precision, “but this – what we do - is what 90 percent of camps would look like on the march. The British learned early on to travel light, because it was not practical in North America to have the finery, furniture, and extra stuff people generally expect from gentlemen soldiers of the time.”
When asked how long he has been involved in reenacting, 38 year old Carter laughed and responded, “Thirty-eight years. My parents met doing The Hobby during the bicentennial, and I have been doing it all my life.”
One of the great things about reenacting, he said, “is that you begin to understand why things were done the way they were. Fifes and drums weren’t for pageantry. The human voice can only carry so far, so fifes and drums were command and control. You have the ability to communicate with music much further and longer than with human voice, so it’s not about looking pretty, it’s about the ability to direct the firepower and the maneuvering.”
His wife, Amy, who enjoys sharing the experience with him, laughed at the assumption that camp followers did all the work in camp.
“It’s one of the great myths of the time,” Carter said. “In the 18th century, especially in British camps, the men did the cooking, cleaning, and maintenance of unforms. As reenactors we try to dispel those myths.”
Chris Treichel, Captain of First Regiment of Dragoons and 18th century Unit Commander of the Horses in Action Foundation, sat by a campfire one evening with George Brown, in charge of the 11th VA Regiment and a group of fellow reenactors as they discussed why they do what they do. “We get to play with horses and guns and dress up!” began Treichel with a laugh.
Then he became more serious as he shared details about that day’s battle all the way down to details of the uniforms – most of which the men make themselves to be as authentic as possible.
“The notion that all Americans were in blue is incorrect. The notion that all British are in red is incorrect,” he said. “We spend a lot of time on research and find snippets here and there. We look for obscure details, things to make what we do more true to the time. We might learn something from tax records, go through payrolls from the war, figure out who was with a unit at a certain time.”
Soon, as the group shared stories about previous encampments, it became obvious that many of them only met that day. Their dedication to The Hobby brought them together and bonded in their commitment to presenting the most authentic Revolutionary War era experience possible.
As the time for striking the tents and heading to their respective homes neared, Park Manager Ben Richard looked around and said of the annual event, “The reenactors did a great job. We’re already looking forward to next year, planning things we can offer to make it a great event again.”