We all have those places we would love to go, things to do, and adventures to take part in. Last October all of these things happened for me in one day.
When I began writing my Civil War novel I needed to go to the places in and around the Boston area that I was writing about to get a sense of place. One other place I wanted to go to that was on my bucket list was a Civil War reenactment. The focus of my novel takes place during that time period in history but it is more the story of the effects of the war on everyone. My sister picked an event that was taking place at Daniel’s Farmstead in Blackstone, Massachusetts. It is a preserved historically significant piece of property and non-profit with a vision to keep intact the 18th and 19th century farming importance of those times.
Blackstone borders the Rhode Island town of Woonsocket so it is a pretty fair distance from Londonderry. The day was gray when we arrived that Saturday morning. The layout of the area was a perfect setting for the encampment and reenactment weekend. You really felt a sense of time and place. The vendors were selling somewhat of the typical food of war time and showing their wares along with demonstrating work skills. I was impressed in the dialog with every person we met. They stayed in character regardless of what was being said to them. There was not too much foolery and it showed a level of seriousness and importance in the task each had signed up for.
As we meandered back and forth from the Southern camp to the Northern camp I thoroughly enjoyed watching the mannerisms of the people from the youngest at age nine to the teenagers and older men and women. A young girl was showing me her stitching project and it was very well done.
We came upon some Southern gentlemen near a tent where a desk and several chairs were set up. It seemed like someone’s office. One gladly handed me a rifle and hat to wear for a photo op. I spoke with candor to the bearded gentleman seated near me about the events of the day. He stayed in his acting role as we spoke but took the liberty of giving me his business card since I mentioned the writing of my Civil War novel. My chin dropped as I read the name Robert E. Lee, Army Commander of Northern Virginia and the Confederate States of America. He did whisper that he was really from Connecticut.
Over to the Northern side we went as there was soon to be an altercation between the blue coats and gray coats. The canons were set in place, the troops lined up and the battle began. The scene kept evolving as men were shot and lay in the field. Horses were used to add another serious part as they galloped through and around trees and across the fields.
The number of young people playacting was very impressive as they could have just as easily been home playing video games. They were true to their roles and each other. Their tents were set up with some personal affects on or in them. We were able to walk about their camp and be in their space. We witnessed the area for meal preparation, the fire pits and the foodstuffs available. As one regiment was on the field engaged in battle another group of ten boys (and girls) were waiting their turn and were sitting around the fire. As the canons shook the ground and startled us with thunderous booms I couldn’t help but ask the young people why it didn’t bother them one bit. One smiled, shrugged his shoulders and answered that they were used to it and it didn’t bother them. Made sense as in any battle situation you would get used to gunfire, clouds of smoke, heavy artillery and the ground shaking.
We came upon two boys in the washing area who absconded with some precious water in a bucket so they could wash their feet. Suddenly a woman appeared with a rolling pin. She was none too happy with those boys as she needed the water for more important reasons. She called to them but they jumped up, grabbed their boots and made a mad dash away as she chased after them.
So a bit of believable playacting happened right then and it was a funny moment.
We ended our time by walking past the fire pits as the dinner menu was being prepped and cooked in pots; same food – different day. It put you in their shoes for a time and we left with a high regard for all the people who spend their time involved in these reenactments and encampments. What it does is remind each one of us of the spirit of a people who lived in not only simpler times but through a historical chapter of such significance in this country. We saw this reflected and portrayed through the eyes of the ones who lived it if only for the weekend.