This weekend is Mount Vernon’s “Revolutionary War Weekend.” This is a new event MV is putting on for the visiting public and the visible glee of about 700 Rev War reeneactors from all over the land. I took a pleasant walk over the grounds in the company of several thousand visitors and caught the tail end of the afternoon skirmish of what I called the Battle that Thankfully Never Happened, or HMS Savage Day. Reenactments need not a battle site to be visually compelling and educationally engaging for the general public, and I would be lying if I said that I did not feel just a little bit homesick walking quietly amidst the wall tents and the cook fires. I never dabbled though in Rev War eventing. When I was more active it was a much smaller hobby dominated by older men in glasses. In those days it was rare to see three men in a company in the same uniform—and they would usually be highlanders in full kit! One of the main appeals of Civil War reenacting—particularly in portraying United States soldiers as I invariably did—was the very real possibility of massing together lots of men attired in almost identical kits.
That’s me on the lower left in this iconic Claude Levet print with (clockwise from me) Paul Carter, “Reservetta” painted by Ron Tunstall on Mike Thompson’s blanket (an admittedly singular object if ever there was one), Mike Thompson (with frying pan), Mark McNierney, and Hugh Cadzow. The camp hats that Paul and I have were knitted by his grandmother–half the company had one by her hand. Fabulous uniforms being put to no good purpose.
I know that is an odd thing to care about, but anyone who served time in the Pretend Army knows that I mean. It was the plainness of the ten-a-penny United States soldier in a regular issue sack coat and trousers that was worth emulating, and then using the tiniest of details to be distinctive and express individuality. The angle of a hat, a camp hat at night, or the carefree cuffing of trousers—these are what soldiers did to say “I am me” and that much is clear in so much war time photography. The more flamboyant the uniform, the more it was disparaged by others with this mindset. Be plain or go home!
To me, the Rev War hobby always suffered a bit from a lack of the repeatable. A mix and match company made up of two guys in kilts, three with buff facing, two with yellow and bastion lace, one loyalist in green, two Hessians in mitres, one grenadier with a bearskin, and three light infantry—oh, and maybe a jaeger too—was a sight that made me cringe. So, I was sort of pleased by what I saw at Mount Vernon today. For one thing, this was a major event. It was nothing for there to be a few thousand men at a Civil War event, but Rev War has always had a hard time reaching anything close to that scale.
Another Claude Levet classic of me. This one made the cover of Camp Chase Gazette–the reenacting equivalent of Time Magazine.
The going count of 700 participants is impressive and the afternoon’s showing had a few hundred in evidence. Best of all though, there were a few groupings that had good numbers. There was one company of British Light Infantry who really looked great. Their coats were non-synthetic in color and tightly cut. They were mostly young guys so they were appropriately skinny and one of their number was black—adding a nice hint of the war’s underlying racial politics. It helped that one or two of the gents had faces that could have been drawn by Hogarth—the 18c equivalent of all of that Civil War photography. They were not as many as one might hope, but enough to convey scale, and they cut a good form (no pictures from me though since it was Saturday–maybe tomorrow).
I am not called back to the ranks—it is hard to imagine what that would take. But, Mount Vernon’s event was, so far, a really big hit for both participants and spectators.