Colonial Williamsburg is an interesting place. During the day you are treated to a series of events that take you back to the town during the era of the revolution. These events begin at the start of the day and continue to the end. As the day progresses the timeline progresses so that during the course of one visit you can actually see how events changed the people in the town and actually “live” the events as they happened.
To break the fourth wall for a minute I need to say this. I have studied Benedict Arnold and he was a complicated man. He is at the same time our greatest warrior and our basest traitor. I do not condone his actions and prefer to remember him for what he did prior than dwell on what he did after.
After switching sides Arnold was given a general’s commission in the British army. In Late 1780 and into 1781 he was tasked with leading raids through Virginia which led to the capture of Richmond and Williamsburg among other towns.
The picture above, from Colonial Williamsburg is of the event that portrays General Arnold taking control of Williamsburg. The gentleman playing Arnold knew his craft. He portrayed Arnold as an angry, haughty man, one that truly believed he had done the right thing. To the point that he, as Arnold, railed against the American Congress and suggested we should be glad if the British were to win, as they looked to save us from that corrupt body. In his mind he had reasons for what he did, and the actor was brilliant in his role.
It could not or at least should not have been easy. Arnold was a complicated man. Standing in the crowed, watching the event take place brought about the mixture of emotions that can only come from the study of such a complex man. Had he died of his wounds after the battles in Saratoga in October 1777, he would have been our greatest hero, second only to Washington. But his path lay down a darker road.
We Need More Men…
Prior to April 1861 the United States Army numbered around 16,000. Of the 197 companies that compromised that army 179 were posted on the frontier in the West, the remainder stood guard on the Mississippi River, the long border with Canada and along the east coast.
As tensions between the North and South started to rise things in the army got tense. Oddly enough no steps were taken to prepare for the war that was to come. Many people never believed that fighting would actually break out. Some thought that if it did it would be over quickly.
With Lincolns election and the secession of several Southern states, it seemed that the hopes for a peaceful resolution were fading. Along with the rest of the country the regular army was torn asunder. Enlisted men and officers returned home to prepare for what was to come.
On the heels of the secession movement, President Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the “insurrection”. These men would serve for three months. Unfortunately this call for troops drove most of the remaining border states to join the Confederacy. As the cold war turned hot and it was obvious the three-month enlistments would not suffice. Lincoln put out another call for volunteers. This time for three years or the duration of the war.
At first men flocked to the banner and filling the quotas was not difficult to do. Before long the volunteers dried up. Both sides would resort to drafts to the fill the massive manpower requirements. In the end almost 2.5 million men would serve in the army during the war. Over the course of the war almost 360,000 died and almost 300,000 wounded.
It was getting dark, it was raining and there was a group of people waiting for the Continental Army experiences. Finally word came that the management would allow the program to continue, but would also allow literal rain checks to anyone that wanted to back out. No one took the rain check. The re-enactors came out towards us wearing the white hunting shirts and tricorns that were used as uniforms by some units of the Continental Army, our lead instructor lead us into the Magazine, all the way to the top where we were briefed on the weapons of the rebellions. The Muskets, the tomahawks, and the ever famous rifle. Had the weather been different we would have been treated to full demonstrations of the weapons, but instead we had to settle for the stories.
Once the lectures were done we were lead downstairs and outside into the rain where were thrown into ranks and taught the basics of marching in formation. How to keep your spacing and stay in line. The kids in the group had some issues, mainly because they were miserable, but after about fifteen minutes, we were able to march in a straight line, make left turns and right turns, drop from column into line and stand to. The ground was sopping wet, no umbrellas were allowed of course so we were all soaked through. But no one seemed to care. We had done well enough to where our instructors decided to try and teach us one of the most difficult march maneuvers of the age, the dreaded wheel. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the line would wheel either left or right, changing the direction it was facing, one end of the line moving forward while the other end marked time, becoming the hinge that the line wheeled on.
We botched it horrible. I mean come on, it would take CA soldiers forever to learn that maneuver, there was no way we were going to pull it off after a hour on the field. But no one cared. We we wet and miserable, but we were getting to see what the soldiers that fought for our country had to go through. It was special. Now I will tell you this, there is more to tell about this night but we will save those stories for another time…
In the picture is the Magazine that is located at Colonial Williamsburg. The Magazine itself has a long history having been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the 200 plus years it has existed. The magazine was the building were the towns powder and weapons were stored and during the build up to the outbreak of the Revolution became the focal point of those that sought defense from the crown and those to subdue the simmering rebellion.
The story that I want to tell about the Magazine is a personal one and it starts in the rain. You notice in the picture that it was raining, it had been for quite sometimes that day and it would continue. You may also notice that there are some people standing out in it. I took the picture and was relatively safe across the street under a large tree that kept me dryish.
In about fifteen minutes from when this picture was take, one of the evening programs at Colonial Williamsburg was about to take place, and according to the ticket, it was rain or shine. You see the experience that you were going to get to part in was a “training” session with the Continental Army. A real basic boot camp where you would be taught to march and maneuver with other people, much like the soldiers themselves had to learn.
A school group showed up to take part, about twenty 8th graders that had signed up for the program. It was not just raining, but storming. Thunder rolled and lightning was flashing in the distance. The actual re-enactors that that were to run the program (and who were all active duty Marines) debated whether or not the program should continue in the weather, were constantly talking back and forth with the main office trying to decide on whether it would be safe to continue. For my part it should be noted that earlier in the day my hiking boots had exploded on a trail and as such I had been forced to change into a pair of trainers. I was wet, oddly cold and standing in a group of about thirty people including the school group and a number of fathers with young sons, all deciding what we were going to do.
Stay tuned for Part Two