Winter Tea Party winners: Angela's book,THE SCARLET COAT, will go to: Print copy- Andrea Stephens; e-book copy - Catherine Wight!

LUCY REYNOLDS has a table topper quilt on the way, and winners of the Valentine Ebook Collection are: Deanna Stevens, Caryl Kane, Anne Payne and Winnie Thomas. With thanks to all who joined in!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Value of Reenactments for Research & Fun!

In March, I attended the Revolutionary War Reenactment for the Battle of Guilford Courthouse between General Lord Charles Cornwallis leading the British and General Nathanael Greene leading the Continentals. It was sponsored by The Greensboro Parks & Recreation. The actual battle took place on March 15, 1781. This annual event takes place in my hometown of Greensboro, NC. The first time I attended, I was around 10 years old. It was then that history came alive to me, and I knew I was going to love history as much as my father loves it.

I included this battle in my upcoming novel, For Love or Country, which is set to release in the spring of 2014. It's the 2nd book in The MacGregor Legacy series. While most of the story takes place in Wilmington, NC, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is mentioned and plays a major part of the story since Lord Cornwallis leaves the battlefield and marches his war-torn, weary troops to Wilmington to rest and recover. While the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is considered to be a British victory, it caused significant damage to the British army, enough so, that the British troops never quite recovered. The battle marks a significant turn of events in the overall war in favor of the Continentals' eventual victory.

This particular battle has always intrigued me because it was fought in my hometown on New Garden Road and on part of the church grounds of New Gardens Friends Meeting, the Quaker Church where some of my ancestors attended. In fact, I have a land deed dated in 1802 showing that my family sold land where the first Guilford Courthouse was built.

After the heat of the battle, Quakers tended to the wounded on both sides of the war and even buried them together. Quakers did not believe in war and fighting to settle conflicts and tried not to take sides. Still, I like to imagine what some of my ancestors may have witnessed and what their small role might have been. I also had an ancestor who fought in the war, and I can't help wondering if he might have been there that day.

Reenactments are like gifts of time travel. We can go back and see their clothing, tools, battles, homes, furnishings, and how they did things. It's the perfect research for historical writers. My advice is to attend as many of these events as possible. Take photos, video tape the action when you are allowed, and learn as much as you can. Ask questions of experts that you otherwise would never meet.

Visiting reenactments gives you connections on a personal level. It's another way to network. Experts at these events want to teach people what they know and share their knowledge. As writers, we need to take advantage of these rare moments when they are accessible to us. For instance, at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse Reenactment, one of the reenactors held a microphone and asked certain members to come up and model their uniform while he explained different things about each uniform. It was awesome!

There are several tents where reenactors camp out and they not only sell their handmade items and historical replicas, but they also perform demonstrations showing how certain tasks were accomplished, things were made, songs are played on instruments of the day, and how food was cooked while camping outdoors. These tents are where you will meet lots of the women and children of these families.


A List of Revolutionary War Reenactments
Some of these may be a one time event, others are reoccurring  You will need to check out the website and contact the hosting organization for further information.

~ March - Battle of Guilford Courthouse - Greensboro, NC
~ April - Revolution in Massachusetts - Boston, MA -
~ June - Battle of Monmouth - Manalapan, NJ
~ July - Battle of Wyoming - Lake Ariel, PA
~ September - Cantigny & The Northwest Territory - Wheaton, IL
~ September - Mount Harmon Plantation - Earleville, MD
~ October - Battle of the Hook - Gloucester, VA
~ October - Yorktown Battlefield - Yorktown, VA
~ November - Anniversary Encampment - Reddington, CT

More Resource Links
~ Re-Enactor Links
~ National Society of Living Historians
~ British Brigade Events

* Images are from the Guilford Courthouse Reenactment sponsored by the Greensboro Parks & Recreation held in March 2013. Only images are used where individuals are shown from the side, back and/or distance to prevent easy identification.  

20 comments:

  1. Jennifer, LOVE this article and the list of reenactment events! Reenactments really are wonderful for research. Not only can you learn practical day-by-day details of the lives of those involved that you may not find in the typical research materials, but it's also so much fun to get your nose out of books and get away from the computer, get outside, and talk to real people. Who could ask for more?

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    1. I agree. I live for moments when I can go to these events and meet people who live and breathe the history more than I do. It really brings things back to life, makes it more real, and reawakens a story in me if I start struggling with it.

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  2. Great post, Jen! So much can be learned from these reenactments and its just so enjoyable to attend them. What you said about the networking opportunities is excellent, too.

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    1. Thanks, Carla! I appreciate your promoting this post on FB.

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  3. I feel like a broken record, saying how I wish I didn't have to travel 3000 miles to attend these wonderful 18C reenactments or historical sites and museums and restorations. But I wish I didn't have to travel 3000 miles....

    If you live closer, and love history, I second Jennifer in urging you to attend these reenactments. What a wealth of information and tactile, hands on research.

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    1. Lori, I'm so sorry you live so far away. I'm a native of NC so I guess I have the best of both worlds. We are one of the original 13 colonies, the state of the famous Lost Colony from the 1500's, the first site of gold mining before the California Gold Rush, lots of plantations, Civil War sites, and the Underground Railroad, so we have several hundred years of rich history. Also, we have the coast on one side and the Mountains on the other filled with the history of the Cherokee Reservation. If you decide to take a vacation here, you won't regret it!

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    2. North Carolina is one of the eastern states I know best (and I've set a couple of books there too, 1780s and 1790s). I grew up in Maryland, but we vacationed in the Outer Banks many a summer. I've dug for arrowheads in a garden in the Piedmont and explored the mountains of the Blue Ridge. I visited the House in the Horseshoe and used it for a model of a plantation home in one story. NC is one of my favorite states. In fact I'm getting ready to set another WIP there, in 1740s. You are SO blessed to live there. I love Oregon and don't want to leave the west, so why did my writer's heart settle back east AFTER I moved away? One of life's little mysteries.

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  4. wow that would be awesome after doing historical highlights tour and learning more about your wars and seeing places like St Johns Church Virginia, Yorktown etc It makes me want to see a reenactment.
    I am fascinated with the civil war and learnt so much on the tour like more reasons for the war.
    Also some chilling things at Gettysburg.
    This year is the 150th for Gettysburg and the battle of Chichamauga where my friend lives nearby. I would give my left arm (its the sore one) to see a re-enactment. I learnt so much from the guides but wanted to learn so much more.
    Could have listened to the lady at the church for hours. Same in gettysburg and even chickamauga.

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    1. Jenny, I have several ggg-grandfathers who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. One of them was Thomas Gregory, a descendant of the Scottish MacGregors. Part of his face was blown off at Gettysburg and he survived! He wore a long beard to cover it after the war. I'm including a link to a photo of him and his wife. Please excuse the mess of my genealogy site, was in the process of converting it to a new site when I got my writing contracts and had to set it aside for a later project.

      http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jentaylor/Gregory.html

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    2. @Jenny Blake - I so want to go to Gettysburg's 150th anniversary reenactment this year, but I don't know that funds are going happen for it.

      @Jennifer Hudson Taylor - I would love to go to a Revolutionary War reenactment. Unfortunately, all of them seem to be pretty far away from southeast Ohio. Still, loved this post, and won't give up on getting to one. I can live vicariously through youtube for now.;)

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  5. Lori, I live closer - about 1500 miles - and wish I didn't have to travel so far to attend such re-enactments and visit the sites. Just commiserating with you and having a small personal geographic pity party. :-)

    What wonderful opportunities for dimensional research, not just dry words on paper.

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    1. Judith, You can plan a vacation sometime! Of course, I'm still dreaming of a trip to England and Scotland, so I do understand.

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    2. That's still a long way to have go, Judith. We are geographically challenged, but we shall overcome!

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  6. I am fortunate enough to live in Gettysburg and will get to see two 150th re-enactments this year (with between 8,000 and 12,000 re-enactors in each). It's not just the battles that are interesting, as Jennifer notes, but walking through the camps, one gets a real feel for life back then -- sounds, smells, etc. I can remember at the 135th how bright the campfires were at night and how the smoke actually stung my eyes -- something I had never really thought about before.

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    1. Jessica,

      Since I have traced 6 of my ggg-grandfathers who were actually at that battle, one of them shot in the face and survived, I would love to visit one of those reenactments! I flew in to PA for a writing retreat, but didn't have time to visit anywhere else, but I'm not so far away that I couldn't take a road trip!

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  7. Sorry for my delayed response to everyone. I moved over the weekend and they had difficulty getting our Internet up and running...and staying connected. I'm now located a little further away from the Battle of Guilford Courthouse where I grew up, but now I'm in the midst of what General Cornwallis called a Hornet's Nest...Charlotte, NC! Before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis was met with a significant rebellion in the Charlotte area and called the town a "Hornet's Nest of Rebellion" and the name has stuck ever since.

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  8. I would love to see a reenactment some day. Trouble is I am the one history lover of this time period in the house. I need to find some likeminded friends.

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  9. I would just love to see a real re-enactment! I've only seen them on tv, never in person. I love your excitement writing about it in this post. Makes me smile! Thanks for giving us a first hand account - it makes me more excited to see it myself some day. :)
    Susan P

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  10. Great post, Jen! There are a lot of reenactments in Rhode Island also. Every year my hometown celebrates Gaspee Days with a reenactment of the colonists burning the British schooner HMS Gaspee. General Nathaniel Greene's homestead is also close by. It was known as Spell Hall, and they recently reenacted a raid on the hall. What a fun way to research!

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  11. I couldn't agree more. I have been enjoying the vast number of events celebrating the War of 1812 recently but am pretty much a sucker for any reenactment from the 1700s and 1800s. There is nothing like being in a Fort while it is attacked, and being surrounded by hundreds of reenactors. Thanks for sharing, Jen!

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