July 24, 2015

The Battle of Red Horse Tavern - 2014

The Wayside Tavern - Photo from The Boston Globe
My next event after Bennington was on November 1st of 2014.  Each year the Sudbury Minutemen host a fictional battle at Longfellow's Wayside Tavern in Sudbury, MA.  Titled "The Battle of Red Horse Tavern", the one day event has rebels and those loyal to King George fighting for control of a tavern along the Boston Post Road.

The night before being Halloween, and therefore filled with family kid activities at home, I drove down the morning of the battle.  Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn at some point, and ended up arriving late.  In fact, I arrived just as the morning battle was starting.  As I made may way from the parking area, British regulars were pushing militia troops across a small foot bridge, away from the tavern, making it impossible to pass.  The main fighting would be taking place near a restored grist mill just up the road.  I stopped next to the path to the tavern and watched the battle.  A small bit of rain started to fall just as the first shots were fired.

After the action passed by where I stood watching, I made my way from the parking area to the tavern, hoping to find my regiment.  They, however, were already out in the field.  Since I needed to borrow gear to participate, I tucked myself back into my car to keep myself, and my firelock, dry until I could meet up with the others.  As I sat, I listened to the sound of the battle up the road.  Though I was in my car, it wasn't hard to imagine what it must have been like for people of the time to hide themselves away as combatants battled it out just outside of their homes.

After some time, the sound of musketry stopped and men started marching back in toward the tavern.  I made my way that way as well, and soon met up with the others from Warner's.  Most of them had come down the night before, spending the night at another 18th century tavern before coming to the Wayside for the event.  Our quartermaster was holding a sleeved waistcoat for me, which I gladly put on.  A late autumn rain isn't a lot of fun to stand in wearing just a linen shirt.

Between the morning battle and the afternoon battle, the tavern served lunch to the participants from both sides.  We lined up with our bowls, each of us taking a nice helping of warm stew.  We stood under a nearby tree while we ate, keeping some of the rain off.  With lunch finished, we took a look inside the tavern.  Stepping inside, we were introduced to men and women, most dressed in 18th century clothing, drinking, eating, talking and laughing.  I had one of "those moments" when I was briefly transported back in time.  It was a very cool feeling.

After a bit, some of us wandered back outside to check out the sutlers tents, and generally wait around for orders for the afternoon.  The rain seemed to ebb and flow, making us a bit damp, but no one seemed to be in low spirits because of it.  Unfortunately, after a meeting of the officers, it was decided that the afternoon battle would be called off.  The rain apparently was not only going to continue, but was forecast to become worse, with the addition of wind on top of it.

That night, after returning home, I wrote the following for my Facebook status:

"After Action Report of the Battle of Red Horse Tavern:

The flowery version:

1st Nov., along the Boston Post Road -
The day was somewhat lowering as I approached. Our orders were to rally at the tavern to join our units. His Majesty's troops had discovered the muster area. In the instance that I arrived, both Heaven and the Enemy opened up. Steady rain fell as They pushed our men across the bridge and away from the Tavern. Having neither ball nor powder, I secreted myself away, keeping my lock dry in hopes of finding my unit once the enemy passed. The fight continued, moving West past the village Church toward the grist mill. I listened to the musketry sounding hot for near an hour. Presently our troops returned triumphant and I was able to join the men. The tavern filled with joyous laughter. The rain fell. Much food and spirits were shared. The enemy was still near, but Nature forced both sides to hunker down, keeping powder and feet dry.

 The modern version:

I missed the first fight, the stew was good, then we got rained out."

July 16, 2015

Joining the Continental Army

Militia at Bennington (I'm in the blue to the right) - August 16, 2014
From the Flickr stream of Henry Rutkowski

As I mentioned in my last post (almost a year ago now), I joined the re-enacting unit of Col. Seth Warner's Recreated Extra-Continental Regiment.  In an effort to catch up on this blog, I'll write up the events that I've participated in during the past year.

My first event was the recreation of the Battle of Bennington in Walloomsac, New York.  This was a two day event that took place on the actual battlefield, 237 years to the day that it occurred.

At the time of the event, I lived just about a half-hour away, so I drove down first thing on Saturday morning to join the regiment.  I was a bit nervous, both because it was my first event, and because I'd only met a couple of the folks from Warner's briefly as a visitor at past events.  I'd been corresponding with them via email for a couple of months, but it's still nerve-wracking to join an established group of people as the new-comer.

Finding the site wasn't too difficult.  The Bennington Battlefield State Park is well marked.  The camp for the armies was opposite the park, down a short hilly road, in the back field of an old farmhouse next to the Walloomsac River.  If I remember correctly, we were camped on the actual grounds where the German troops had been encamped.  After signing in, finding a parking spot, and trying to put my clothes together as well as I could, I made my way over to Warner's dining fly and tents.  I re-introduced myself to the people that I recognized, and met a few others.  Almost instantly, loaner gear and clothing started being tossed in my direction, even from folks that I hadn't met yet.  I had sewn myself a shirt and a pair of breeches, and found myself a round hat, but other than those bits and my musket, I didn't have anything close to period equipment on me.

Once my modern socks had been replaced with stockings, and my modern shoes traded for a pair of loaner moccasins, I was handed a sleeved waistcoat, a canteen and a cartridge box.  I went from lost nervous modern visitor from 2014 to lost nervous militia augmentee from 1777.  Soon I was handed off to a couple of the seasoned re-enactors, who brought me up to speed on some of the basic movements, and how to handle my musket.  Once they were satisfied that I wouldn't hurt myself, or anyone else, I was folded into the larger group to learn how to maneuver with them.  The recreated battle took place in the afternoon, so we had all morning to train.

Areas of Action - Recreated Battle of Bennington, August 16 & 17, 2015
For the first battle, I was given a wooden "flint" to place in my musket.  While I would be marching and fighting with the regiment, I hadn't yet been safety certified, so I would not be carrying powder.  The wooden replacement would allow me to go through the motions of firing while in the field, without sparking my musket with each trigger pull.

The scripted scenario for the recreation, split into two actions, loosely followed the order of the actual battle.  For the first action, German troops were stationed in a redoubt on the high ground of the battlefield.  Native and Loyalist militia units also took to the field.  Continental units were tasked with taking the redoubt.  For the second action, the two sides were swapped, with the Continentals attacking back toward the direction they had just come from.  Warner's would be playing both militia and Continental regulars.

For the main battle, we had to march from camp, up the Battlefield Park's access road, a distance of about eight-tenths of a mile, with an elevation difference of roughly 300 feet.  Since we wouldn't be returning to the camp in between actions, those who would be playing both militia and line troops rolled their uniform pieces up in bedrolls to both carry them and keep them concealed during the first action.  As we began to march out, one of the men looked at me and said "We're playing militia, just pretend that you don't know what you're doing."  "Perfect," I said, "I don't know what I'm doing."

The march up the hill was taken slowly.  Participant ages ranged from teenagers to people 20 or 30 years older than me.  Due to this, leadership was careful to keep a slow pace, and to give rest and water breaks along the way.  I wasn't in the best shape (I'm still not), but I found the pace workable.  I was actually surprised at how comfortable I was, marching in summer heat while wearing heavy clothing and carrying a firelock.

As we neared the battlefield, the infantry column cut into the woods, heading toward the northern end of the battlefield were we would be starting the scenario.  Since I was wearing moccasins, and I'm used to going barefoot most of the summer, this was actually a welcome relief for my feet.  We halted at the top of the hill, waiting for units behind us, including the British column, to make their way up the road.  Starting to get into the mood, our unit went into a security stance, taking a knee while watching the woods for movement.  This was the moment when I had my first "time-travel".

I've read of other re-enactors having moments when their minds momentarily transport them back in time.  The modern world disappears for a moment, and you get a sense of the reality that the people of the time period you're portraying lived in.  For me, that moment was kneeling in the woods, surrounded by militia, staring into the trees for any glimpse of motion that might indicate enemy approaching.  As we knelt there, one of the officers whispered "Look for the white trim on their hats.  It's a dead giveaway in the woods."

In reality, the units portraying British troops were in column, maybe fifty yards behind us, climbing the same hill that we had climbed as they worked their way to their starting positions.  At some point we let our guard down, and the modern world came back.  Soon a steady line of red-clad men walked by us as the British moved past to find their places on the field.  It was sort of a comical moment as the two sides warily eyed each other, even though many on both sides have known each other for years as participants in the hobby.

Period map of the original battle.  North is to the right.
After standing around for some time, we finally moved again and took our position in the bushes just off the north end of the field.  We would be pushing our way south-east, across a couple of open spaces, then on to the redoubt.  After just a few minutes the action began.  Popping could be heard across the field in front of us, then suddenly we were moving.

My memories at this point are just flashes.  I recall seeing one of our officers giving commands.  I remember following the guy to my left.  I recall crashing into the woods, and hearing the bellowing of commands in German from across the field, and Indian war-cries off to one side.  There was lots of smoke, and yelling, and running.

It was awesome.

Later one of our officers who had been in the modern military told me that the tunnel vision I experienced is common for soldiers even today.  Your mind focuses so narrowly on your task, that all extra information is filtered out.  This, he said, is why you may read first-person accounts of battles that seem like the people were in two completely different places.  What the man to your left sees and remembers is completely different from what the man to your right sees and remembers.  It's an interesting fact to keep in mind while doing research.

At the end of our initial push, we found ourselves stopped in the woods across the road from the recreated redoubt.  A barbed-wire fence in the trees had slowed us, and the public crowd watching the action was to our front.  We held here for what seemed like several minutes, then heard the command to charge.  Continental militia poured from the trees, across the road, and up the slope to the redoubt.  The enemy fled, and the first action of the scenario was over.  Our unit gathered behind some trees, out of site of the public, and those who had brought regimental jackets began to transform into uniformed line troops.

For the second action of the scenario, the crowd was moved to the field that we had crossed before coming to a stop in the woods.  We lined up and faced north, back toward the direction we had just come from.  This phase of the scenario was to depict Seth Warner's troops reinforcing the Continental army, as had been done in 1777.  Our unit, being the recreated Warner's Regiment, would be portraying ourselves.  As such, the rest of the army was placed in the action first, with our troops coming onto the field at the end.

For us, once we were put into play, the second action was relatively quick.  There was a cannon across the field, which we were to capture.  We flanked to our right, took the cannon, then  moved to fire on the last of the enemy troops that were coming onto the field.  We moved quickly enough that I recall one of the cannon crew members, now behind me, saying "Uh, is anyone going to capture me?"

With the battle over, the public dispersed.  We were given orders to police up any cartridge papers that had been dropped on the field, then we formed up for a memorial ceremony at the battlefield's monument.  The ceremony was neat, with all of the troops standing at attention, circling the flag pole.  Across the way from us were the German troops.  Next to them were some British, some Loyalist, and so on around to the Continental side where we stood.  Some speeches were made by local community members, and I believe there was also a short prayer for the fallen.

After the ceremony, we were to make our way back to camp.  Before the march, I took stock of my situation.  The brass tip of my wooden rammer had broken off, and my breeches had split stem to stern, leaving me a bit breezy below the waistline.  I don't recall either of them happening, but it was kind of funny to think that some treasure-hunter a couple hundred years from now might find the tip of my rammer on the battlefield.

The march back to camp, being downhill, was easier and quicker than the march up.  I had originally intended on spending the night in camp, but given my wardrobe malfunction, and how close to home I was, I decided to drive home to repair my breeches.

Warner's Regiment, marching to battle
From the Flickr stream of Henry Rutkowski
The next morning I arrived just in time to share in breakfast.  After breakfast, I again did some individual training, then was safety tested so that I could use powder in my next fight.  There were two battles on Sunday, but our unit sat out the first, which was a small skirmish between the Continentals and Germans at the bridge next to the camps.  The battle actually ended in the camps, with the Germans being defeated.

The final engagement for the weekend was in a small field on the other side of the river from the camps.  For this one, I was issued powder and a borrowed musket (mine wasn't working correctly).  The march was about a half mile, and much less steep than the day before.  For this scenario, we would be facing off against Loyalist who were fortified behind a breastwork that had been thrown up for their protection.  For this battle, we would be fighting in close order, with just a few inches between each man.  There were enough people for us to form two companies, so we attacked with alternating volleys from each.  This fight, though short, moved much slower than the main battle.  We moved forward, fired, reloaded, moved, and fired.  Within just a few minutes of starting our attack, we were given the order to charge and the breastwork was overrun.

The Battle of Bennington, for me, was an awesome weekend.  Though I didn't know what I was doing much of the time, I felt welcomed and encouraged.  I got to take part in everything even though I was the new guy, and I always felt open to ask even the simplest of questions.  I drove home with a smile on my face, eager to start collecting my own gear so that I could take part in the next event.