Revolutionary War festival draws hundreds in nod to past
— You’ve probably heard some form of the phrase, “I wonder how they did it before … ,” maybe regarding electricity or the internet or gas-powered engines.
Few places lay out an answer to that reflection more clearly than a historical re-enactment site. This weekend, the Mount Harmon Plantation hosted its own nod to the past with a Revolutionary War festival, the sixth time it has done so. There were authentic camps for both the Continental (American) and British armies, lines of merchant stalls and live battle reenactments complete with horses, muskets and cannon fire.
To get to the plantation, you have to drive through miles of rural landscape to the southern edge of the county. Then there’s a onelane gravel road leading some two miles to the 18thcentury manor house, for most of the way with trees arching overhead. For the festival this weekend, volunteers directed cars into a parking lot some ways away from the camps themselves, and from there a tractor transported visitors to the tip of the Continental camp.
Several hundred re-enactors from around the midAtlantic region came out for this festival, and quite a few of them expressed a deeprooted personal interest in history. That’s not surprising considering the lengths they go to recreate the way colonial settlers lived some 250 years ago.
A group from New Jersey roasted a pork loin over a fire Saturday while discussing their attempts to keep all elements of the weekend true to the period. They arrived Friday night and set up their simple, white cloth sleeping tents. They had recently set out an apple pie, which had been cooked
Drew Redmond, owner of Valley Forge-based G.G. Godwin, Inc., stands with his merchandise at the Revolutionary War re-enactment on Saturday.
over the fire earlier in the afternoon, to cool.
“I do a lot of backpacking, and it’s nice because everything’s so light now,” said Manny Boccini, who was there with the New Jersey-
based Motts Artillery. “But this stuff here reminds me of camping as a Boy Scout. It’s a little different, but not incredibly different.”
Instead of a sleeping pad, for instance, a re-enactor lies on hay, he said.
This attention to detail is emphasized to an even greater degree during battle re-enactments. According to Tom Vogeley, who served this weekend as the overall commander for the Continental forces due to reputation and geographical proximity (he lives in Bowie and has participated in re-enactments since 1973), quite a bit of preparation goes into the battles, long before they happen.
In August, he and the commander of the British forces spent time at Mount Harmon to discuss battle scenarios. They wanted to formulate a way to best utilize the sloping fields.
“There’s quite a lot preplanning,” Vogeley said. “If someone gets hurt, that’s on us. It’s our responsibility to run the battle safely.”
Saturday’s battle went like this: The two armies started firing some several hundred yards away from each other, evidently not hitting much of anything. After a short time, Continental soldiers began advancing until they were close enough to fire more accurately. Several on both sides fell to the ground, pretending to be injured from the gunfire (in reality, of course, they were firing blanks). Then the Continental forces, seeming to have sustained greater losses, retreated, and British soldiers followed them.
Eventually, the Continental line situated itself advantageously atop a small hill, where its soldiers could fire down upon the British. At this point, having realized an advance would cost them more soldiers than they wanted to lose, British commanders called a retreat, and the two armies retired for the night.
“You cowards!” called a man from within the Continental ranks, as the British uniforms slinked back toward camp, the lines between past and present blurring for a moment.
Hundreds of spectators came out to watch Saturday’s battle, and an interesting scene developed even within them. Clumps of people in clothes normal for 2016 interspersed with those in 18-century attire, and many in both groups took pictures of the battle with their cell phones or digital cameras.
We weren’t quite in the past, just close to it.
Members of the Continental army led by Tom Vogeley make their way back to camp after a re-enactment battle Saturday.
Dee Thompson, of Mount Holly, N.J., holds an apple pie she made over a fire.