Sunday, March 14, 2010

Slightly Deafer than Three Days Ago

And the reason I needed silicone waterproofer was because Jeff and I attended a re-enactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse down near Greensboro, North Carolina last weekend. And it was wet. Very wet. But still a heap o' fun. I don't know if I mentioned that I joined an artillery unit on my blog--the Fourth Royal Artillery, a crack unit that fought all through the revolutionary war and is active in Iraq today. (Not the same soldiers, just the same unit)

Guilford Courthouse, as far as I understood it as explained to me, occurred because Lord Cornwallis was told to "secure" Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia, which had been "won" by the British. In 1781, General Nathanael Greene began to harass his army, as Cornwallis attempted to march north through North Carolina to a river whose name escapes me, picking fights and then running away--excuse me, skirmishing and then retreating. Finally, Cornwallis (who had wisely eaten through all the supplies and even burned his own luggage, convinced he was going to get to the British Navy soon) said "Screw it, I'm taking my ball and going back to New York." He did this by securing a deepwater port at Yorktown and waiting for the navy to arrive...and we all know it never did. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff and I arrived after a four and a half hour drive with another artilleryman, Joey, and quickly got to work setting up our tent. This takes about five minutes: it's a bit of canvas thrown over a ridgepole and then held in place by the stakes holding out the sides of the tent. The ground was wet, so we threw down about a half a bale of hay, then a waterproof groundcloth, then our mattress, which was filled with more hay. It was pretty comfy, except we were sleeping on a hill. So all weekend I had dreams about rolling out of the tent. And Friday night it rained some more...a downpour for about ten minutes, then a light misting rain for another hour. I tossed more straw into the gap between ground and tent to ward off rebounding raindrops and went to bed.

That's the great part about re-enacting: there is no expectation that people will be clean. Oh, sure, the Royal Marines camped next to us were up at six thirty going through manovers, their poncy red jackets and perfectly crossed white belts gleaming in the sun, bayonets flashing gaily, but no one expects you to shower or even change clothes much. Maybe your linens...or if you're a girl, you'll change clothes to show off your sewing, but otherwise, it's dab on a bit of deodorant, splash your face with some water, brush your teeth (or not) and you're good.

Or is that too much information?

Anyway--the battle on Saturday went off without a hitch. The best part about having an artillery piece to haul around is that we could hitch it up to the "mule" --a red Subaru--and haul it up the hill to the battlfield, insulting Continentals all the way. We placed our gun and then placed ourself securely behind the infantry, marching behind as they made their way through the forest down to meet the foe. Once the redcoats got out of the forest, we pulled our piece up into position, and began pouring it into them. I was cartridge handler (or "powder monkey" if you prefer the Naval term), so it was my responsibility to grab a cartridge from the box, run up fifteen feet, hand it to the wormer, who slid it into the gun. Then the sponger rammed it down, the picker 'n primer picked 'n primed and the person with the lint stock fired the gun. And I yelled "GUN FIRED!" just incase no one had seen it or heard it. The battle was pretty incredible. Most of the infantry units--red and blue--had several dozen people, so they were able to form up into three lines, shoot, reload and march pretty much as a unit would have back in the day. Of course, the redcoats were mostly advancing and the rebels were mostly retreating. Just when it looked like we would take the day uncontested, CAVALRY appeared and began riding around, hacking at the infantry. Artillery hate cavalry, but they didn't get near enough to us to pose much of a threat. (some delicacy about exposing modern horses to cannonfire) As the redcoats advanced, we advanced too, attaching drag ropes to the cannon and pulling it forward, causing some "corpses" to nudge each other hurriedly and advise them to "cover your ears"! But, after fourteen rounds we were too close to the spectators to get off another shot and we retired in triumph with the rest of the British army.

Here's a photo of some of the lads in my unit...note the snazzy blue/red/yellow uniforms. This is right after the battle, we were all exhausted. Luckily there were scores of photographers about.

I was worn out from running back and forth, mostly up a hill, so I was grateful when we got back to camp to discover dinner was almost ready. (one of the advantages of re-enacting with people who actually want to portray gendered roles: women who stay behind and cook, huzzay) Saturday night we sat around reliving the battle and engaging in another soldiering pasttime, drinking and singing songs. It was quiet, warmish and peaceful. After we went to bed, the rain started up again, leaving the ground extra muddy for Sunday, but it left before sunup. Jeff and I attended a camp church held by the Royal Highlanders. In the afternoon, we held a cannon demonstration, since the battle that day was going to involve another part of the actual battle, where no cannons were involved. This day, I got to handle the lintstock. This is a piece of wood with a metal thing on the end that has two holes, through which are pushed a piece of slow match. The lintstocker is supposed to keep the slow match going at all times, then, when given the order, gently sweep the match across the priming powder on the cannon, causing it to go BOOM. Because you need both hands for this operation, the lintstocker is unable to cover their ears during the firing...I never realised how loud a cannon could be until I was standing right next to one when it went off. Next time, I'm bringing earplugs, farby as they may be.

Although rain threatened by the time we were done with our demonstration, we managed to get all the canvas folded and packed while it was dry. A quiet ride home was punctuated by a visit to Smithfields in Henderson, NC, a faster-food type place that has the best. bbq. I. have. had. in. quite. a. long. time. MMMM. Then home. De-mudding shoes took fifteen minutes, but I only had one load of laundry. I'm looking forward to doing this again, although next time we're not pitching our tent on a hill.

God save the King!

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