Regiment Opens Presidents' Day Weekend with a Bang
It's not easy recreating 18th century warfare in the 21st century. But with enough resources -
including enthusiasm, curiosity and a thirst for research - it's possible.
The Second Pennsylvania Regiment and the 43rd Regiment of Foot is a local reenactment group that has been successfully bringing the Continental Army to life since 1966. Next weekend, February 16, its troops are set to again take up the hills and huts of Valley Forge National Historical Park, part of the 2014 Presidents' Day commemoration.
Supplying 150 members of the troop (including camp followers and children) is a challenge, given the ensuing 237 years since 1777. The key, says Paul Loane, president of the group, is research.
Written accounts from that time are sketchy, leading Loane and his researchers to seek information elsewhere. "The core is being able to go through the 18th century records, paintings, sketches, archeological evidence and items in private collections to come up with a vision of what these soldiers actually looked like and how they fought. You have to take the clues that you get and interpret them," he says.
Then it's a matter of accessing the necessary artisans and craftsmen to outfit the regimen with clothing, gear, footwear, weapons and personal effects.
Loan explains: "As we fine-tune our impression more and more, we find we have to have certain items made. There's quite a cottage industry in craftsmen who reproduce materials from 18th century America." Solid relationships, then, have been established with tailors to make period uniforms; leather craftsmen to make shoulder belts; metal craftsmen to make cartridge boxes, buckles and buttons; even hatters to craft tricorner military hats.
"All in all, we try to have the most accurate, most authentic appearance possible," he sums up.
One acquiescence to modern comfort is protection from the elements. While Loane admits that the outer gear is as legit as possible, he understands a little more leeway might be necessary underneath. "What a soldier wears as far as underclothing is his own business," he laughs. "We strike an authenticity/hypothermia balance."
As is the case with clothing and supplies, calls weaponry and artillery are filled by current-day manufacturers. Davide Pedersoli & Co., from Gardone, Italy, for instance, specializes in black-powder weapon replicas for hunting, marksmanship and reenactment. They supply reproductions of Brown Bess muskets and French Charleville flintlocks used at events like the upcoming one at Valley Forge.
Safety, of course, is paramount. Because these modern-day producers use current metals and production techniques, the guns can be fired safely - often much more safely than the originals, which, according to Loane, suffered design flaws and lapses in quality materials. Although the Second Pennsylvania Regiment does not use ammunition, lead shot is available for hunters and target-shooters who seek to perfect this vintage sport.
Gunpowder, interestingly enough, comes from sporting goods suppliers, as much for reenactment as niche hobbyists. "It is sold in one-pound cans, which we buy and then sell at cost to our members," Loane comments. Powder for artillery is also readily available for purchase, in a coarser, grittier form to power the cannon's roar.
Training in these ways of warfare provides constant protection against injury as well as adherence to historical accuracy. The regiment has a yearly training session in April over the course of two days, at Hope Lodge or Princeton Battlefield. Aside that, each reenactment is also a chance for drill, practice, skill refinement and disciplinary polish. The instruction reaches out from the past itself, as the camp still follows the 1778 Manual of Arms by Wilhelm Von Steuben, the Prussian officer credited with unifying the Continental Army at the Valley Forge encampment.
Loane and his fellow officers (onsite, he will command one major, one captain, one lieutenant, two ensigns, a sergeant major, two sergeants and six to eight corporals) are eager to welcome the Presidents' Day crowds at Valley Forge. They are prepared for whatever the weather may dish out, having experienced all kinds of conditions over the past 42 years: "We've had relatively mild Februarys where several thousand visitors came. And bitterly cold and snowy events where the crowd was less. I remember one Presidents' Day at Valley Forge where our only attendees were two cross-country skiers," Loane says.
The presentation of the Pennsylvania Second Regiment on February 16 takes place at the Muhlenberg Brigade area, where General Peter Muhlenberg and his men anchored the outer line of defense in preparation of a potential British attack. Artillery demonstrations are at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., unleashing a barrage of ear-splitting cannon- and musket-fire.
The following day, February 17, visitors can enjoy the birthday celebration of General George Washington himself. The next edition of The Pursuit will outline the festivities, including a display cake, cut by General Washington, that will be unlike anything the park has ever seen before.
It's a busy three-day weekend, kicking off with Valentine's Day sweetness and ending with the patriotism of Presidents' Day. With the kids off from school and plenty of businesses closed for the holiday, it's the perfect chance for a mid-winter break. Escape the cabin fever of your own home and check into a local hotel for three days of R&R. Our website has not only recommendations but also some money-saving deals on rooms, experiences and attractions, all part of our Cabin Fever Reliever program.