(Photo at left courtesy of Rock Ford Plantation) It has been a week since we returned from taking Emily and Elias to their first reenactment. We had thought to ease them into this hobby, perhaps waiting for a day event or one of the smaller encampments, but as things turned out we all bundled into my station wagon - tent poles strapped to the roof - skipped school and drove nearly 6 hours to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to take part in one of the largest Revolutionary War events of the year. From the picture at left, captured by a site photographer, they clearly took to it like fish to water.
As shakedown cruises go it highlighted some things we will want to anticipate for next time and some things that worked very well. Both of them were thrilled and excited on the way home as well as the way to the event, which in no small measure is due to the kindness (and forbearance) of those who interacted with them. Emily got a private fife tutorial from our dear friend Thaddeus Weaver of the German Regt., and Elias was elected Captain of the small gang of children who fought their own skirmishes throguh the camp. It was a big weekend for them and for us and is something we'll do again, though probably the next time they will fall out with us will be in October at Germantown.
We arrived early in the afternoon on Friday and went to work setting up our tent, secured a site for our kitchen, dug the fire pit and gathered wood. Some friends in the 2nd NJ loaned us a smaller tent for the kids that arrived at 11 p.m. on Friday night and which worked well for them. Our unit trailer was unable to get tot he event, but everybody pitched in to bring what we needed to have a camp kitchen, spare tents, and other necessary items.
Rock Ford is a privately run historic site located within a public park, and was the estate of Revolutionary War general Edward Hand. It is an amazing place and because of the terrain is a challenging one to pull off a large event. Organizationally, things went remarkably well. We had ample water and free ice, the porta-johns were in good shape, and the after hours festivities were grand fun (I did not witness the exploding keg but heard it was an epic geyser). There was 18th century music and dancing and we had exclusive access to the historical treasures of Rock Ford (the matchess horde of Pennsylvania rifles and a dress given to Mrs. Hand by President Washington were truly breathtaking). Our camp was laid out according to Steuben and we posted guard, but there was plenty of time to seek shade and socialize. We dealt with the long trek to long-term parking, the climb up hill and down to the sutlers and a Monmouth-worthy heat wave and still felt it was a grand weekend.The Continental Line and British Brigade, two of the umbrella organizations in our hobby, made this event one of the two major gatherings of their member units of the year. I have not seen full returns for the event but there were upwards of 400 of the enemy opposing us on Saturday and we probably fielded 300-350 on our side. I believe some of our dragoons were galvanized because we so outnumber the Brits in that department. We had five or six cannon on the Patriot side of things.
It was a small but resolute contingent of 1st NJ soldiers in Captain Tom Vogeley's Company. For Saturday's fight in addition to myself this included half a dozen muskets, including my good friend Larry Schmidt, who came out for the day from Cape May, NJ. There were enough in our amalgamated unit on Saturday for two platoons and I was in the 2nd under brevet Ensign/Lt. Skorka of the 2nd NJ, and we were down to 4 1st NJ muskets on Sunday. There were six distaff in camp along with Talya and the children.
The battle plan for Saturday called for us to wear full kit, including coats and packs, tools etc if we had them, and march down to the Plantation as if we were occupying the ground. After an hour of that, the forces of Tyranny and Oppression were to come sweeping out of the forest. The next day, we would return the favor. This is not how it played out, naturally.
Instead we marched in full kit with Vogeley's company at the head of the column and immediately moved through the Plantation and up the trail toward the high ground from which we knew our enemy would soon be advancing. We were on a wide horse trail at the very end of the property, with two scouts out ahead to give warning of the enemy advance. Soon they started coming through the tangled vines and shrubs (nearly all of them non-native exotics, also invaders of our shores). Skorka's platoon fired half a dozen brisk volleys before we started to fall back. At one point Capt. Vogeley refused the line so that 2nd Platoon could defend our flank. We were hit by the 23rd Fusiliers in front and Highlanders and jaegers and lord knows what else besides on our left flank. We made our way passed Coren's gun and into the open, where the rest of our battalion and the militia had come on line. More of the bloody backs had broken through on the right, however, and we were stubbornly and relentlessly pushed back.
We did not break, but we did not prevail. I fell somewhere in the center of the field when we were hit by canister fired by the Royal Irish (just deserts for me, as I had recently impersonated them in a May reenactment at Dighton MA in the #3 position with Crane's "galvanized" artillery). Vogeley's company took heavy casualties and it was hot as blazes. The heat was a more dangerous enemy, and it was difficult to cool down for a while back at the fly even after having hydrated religiously all day. I blame myself for carrying a pack and full gear, even though that was the order of the day. On Sunday, I went out in white linen, thank you very much, and it was still over 90 degrees.
For Sunday's fight, Talya once again took excellent battle photos from the sidelines and some of thse appear here. . I went into battle wearing a bloody linen bandage, which was cooler than my other headgear and attracted a good deal of picture taking. On this day we again lead the column up to the high ground and pushed hard and fast down to the field. We ignored the yips of the savages in the bush and took on skirmishes from the 64th and a wall of thr 43rd and Marines at close quarters near a lone apple tree. We were charged at once and "redeployed to the rear", but then quickly reformed and pushed on. The volleys from the dismounted dragoons of the 4th LC on our right blew the leaves from the apple tree. We were protected by a small swale and fired from a kneeling position.
The British did not want to lose, and as they still outnumbered us it was hard to make them give ground. I used 22 rounds before my gun stopped sparking reliably and down I went, only to be revived by an angel with cold water and propped up against that hard fought apple tree. There was much mopping of fevered brows. The battle continued on our of the view of the spectators and as our surgeon had packed up at this point I made my way back to camp to do likewise.
It was a helluva time. The trees were brimming with fireflies at night and we sang "The Flowers of Bermuda" and long with Tom paine's "Liberty Tree." So may good memories were made, despite the heat and challenges of doing this with the children. My thanks to all who did so much to make it work as well as those who came out to watch. Looking forward to Oriskany!