YOU SAY YOU WANT TO RE-ENACT A REVOLUTION

Folder: 
AMERICAN ANECDOTES

I have a friend that is a member of a Revolutionary War Re-enactment unit: The 11th Pennsylvania Regiment. We have had many discussions about the War and the history of this country over the years. But I had never made the effort to go out and see one of these recreations. That was changed on June 23.


There was a 225th Anniversary of Burgoyne's Invasion event held at the Crown Point State Historic Site in New York. The French originally built Fort St. Frederic in 1734 near the Southern portion of Lake Champlain. It held great strategic value initially because of its location. It gave the French power to control the movement of ships on the Lake. They held the Fort until 1759. The British under the leadership of General Jeffrey Amherst took over the site. They began to construct a Fort for themselves. By 1763, the British would have control of the French territories of Quebec.


It also became an important location after the start of the Revolutionary War. In 1775 Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen led American forces to capture Ticonderoga. A detachment led by Seth Warner would capture Crown Point as well. The British would regain control of the Fort later.

In 1777, John Burgoyne led 8,000 British troops in the area. This British invasion ultimately led to Burgoyne's defeat in Saratoga. What is interesting about the re-enactment is that no actual battles took place at Crown Point. The re-enactment I saw was more an example of what might have happened had the American and British troops actually fought.


It was an interesting to see all the re-enactors dressed in traditional uniforms and clothing of the era. They also camped in tents as they were built from that period. Women and children will also be dressed in character. It is impressive to observe the amount of time and money put into the effort. They make every effort to use the correct muskets and to set up the battles as accurately as possible.


The battle itself commenced around 11 AM. It was difficult to see everything that was happening as much of the early battle took place in the woods. You could hear musket fire and an occasional cannon fire without seeing what was happening. This is accurate as many battles did occur in the woods. There were also countless skirmishes in the woods that were not recorded in the history books. You have to consider that there were many instances of small troops accidentally encountering one another as they advanced through the woods.


Eventually the action spilled out into an open field. It was impressive to note how they tried to capture the essence of a true battle. Much research is placed in recreating the way troops would patrol the woods and the area in search of enemy forces. I found that I learned a few things about history over the course of the day.


This is something that would be worthwhile to investigate for people who are interested in seeing history being brought to life. It would also be a great field trip for high school students. It is disheartening when kids start thinking that Abe Lincoln signed the Constitution in 1914 or other inaccuracies. A lot of kids would find it corny but a few might take genuine interest.


I realize that there are a lot of flaws one could point out. For example the terrain and weather would not necessarily be the same. I don't believe anyone is saying that this is what happened. People in these units are trying to capture the quintessence of 18th Century life and Revolutionary War battles.


I was struck by a comparison which I hope is not taken in the wrong way. The re-enactors in some ways reminded me of Trekkers or Deadheads. They have a level of dedication that is startling. Most people would be completely unable to understand the passion. They would view it as foolish obsession. It would be as easy to dismiss a person wearing 18th century garb as it would to mock someone wearing Romulan ears. Many people mocked Deadheads for wearing tie dyed t-shirts.

People will say that they are living in the past. (Trekkers are living in a fantasy world and Deadheads are all delusional druggies). I don't believe that to be true, though. Most of the people I talked to have jobs, families and very normal lives. This is just a hobby that they are very passionate about. It is also important to know the past. Santyana had the great line that those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. What they are doing is important work. It is a reminder of how this nation evolved. It is also a lesson in the difficulties that were encountered along the way. Good or bad, what happened in the past is linked to what we are today.


It would be easy for people to go too far. I know when I was following the Dead, that there were people that were unable to strike a proper balance in life. All they could talk about or relate to was the Dead. This was a distinctive minority. They made the rest of us look bad. I believe it is the same here. I think that there might be a minority that become too obsessed. They might lose sight of the actual year in which we are living. They would be the exception, though.

I just read an essay by Nietzsche on the advantages and disadvantages of history for life. He discussed the dilemmas between the importance of history and also the need to move forward. He noted that one problem with historians is they sometimes spend so much time looking backwards they eventually start thinking backwards.


This event really stirred a lot of thought. I found myself feeling great admiration for the re-enactors. They have put a great deal of effort and money into giving us these glimpses of our past. There were also moments when it seemed odd to me. This is, the 21st Century, after all. I am still seeking to strike the right balance.

But my overall impression is more positive than negative. The majority of people here are well educated, intelligent people. They are also people who traveled and engaged in a wide range of different experiences. I also liked that a great number of the re-enactors seemed to have a strong Libertarian strain. They are very passionate about the freedoms we Americans enjoy. They are knowledgeable about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are doing their part to serve reminder of the importance of the many liberties most Americans take for granted.

 

View georgeschaefer's Full Portfolio