Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Philadelphia Campaign 1777: Brandywine Creek 2010

We spent this past weekend getting acquainted with Ashley's new GPS, Bernie, on a weekend-long adventure that went from our usual English country dance Friday night, down to Pennsylvania Saturday for Ashley's best friend's wedding, and then further on down to DE to Brandywine Creek for the Philadelphia Campaign re-enactment, and finally back up to home Sunday evening.  Let's just say that our relationship with Bernie got off to a bit of a rocky start.  He behaved quite reasonably en route to PA, though he just had to take us over one of the major NYC bridges that we specifically wanted to avoid (nightmare #1), though even that might have been forgivable if not for his very naughty behavior on the way home.  He managed to get us from PA to DE very politely and smoothly on Sunday morning, I must say, but something must have vexed him by the time we were ready to ask him to take us home, because he ended up speaking rather harshly to us when we tried to change his requested route to avoid having to suffer a second time going back through NYC.  We were punished for our disobedience by being taken - despite all our most valiant efforts - back across the aforementioned despised bridge and were stuck in traffic for a good three hours because of it (nightmare #2).  Moral of the story: Bernie does NOT know best, but you better make him think he does or otherwise you'll pay.  Big time.  So the drive home which should have taken about four and a half hours ended up being seven and a half instead.

But it was well worth it!  We had planned to attend the Brandywine Creek re-enactment attired properly in our period things, but it started to rain on the way down and just kept getting darker, so we abandoned that idea.  The weather report on Thursday (when we packed) said it was supposed to be in the mid-70s and partly cloudy, so all we brought were some nicer gowns with silk petticoats (okay, yes, it was a battlefield, but we were also going for the shopping and we so rarely get a chance to wear our posher things!).  No way were we going to risk despoiling our pretties (or my new shoes!), so we ended up playing the 21st-century spectator role instead.  It was pretty chilly while we were there, though luckily it did stop raining just after the battle began, so watching it was quite tolerable.

The Continental encampment

On first arriving, we were greeted by the sight of various be-stockinged and be-uniformed gentlemen entering and exiting a row of 21st-century portable outhouses.  Talk about time warp!  Not exactly something you see every day, and we were vastly amused.  Then we headed over to the sutlers' area to do some not-quite-needed-but-still-necessary shopping.  After a visit to Historic Delights to enjoy some graciously offered dry space (Ashley was good and restrained herself from buying more earrings, though Janice's gorgeous designs are awfully hard to pass up!), we headed over to Silly Sisters (one can never have enough hat blanks, and these are our favorites), and then on to Burnley and Trowbridge to say hello to Angela and Jim (and of course Sophie!).  I don't withstand fabric temptation as well as Ashley does, so I ended up walking away with some gorgeous worsted wool for a riding habit, a heap of button molds for that same "one day" project, and some linen for a couple new caps.  While shopping, we chatted with Angela about the excitement being generated over the upcoming CW symposium (if only they would post the registration and schedule!) and also enjoyed hearing about the developing plans for the spring workshops.  The potential for more than one trip to Williamsburg before May has now increased three-fold.  Huzzah!

The battle re-enactment was spectacular and, according to a couple of the RevWar lists, one of the best ever.  The number of participants far exceeded anything we've seen before at a re-enactment like this.  The site (Brandywine Creek State Park near Wilmington, DE) was pristine and ideal for this type of event, totally untouched and isolated from all 21st-century intrusions.  For those who need a brief history brush-up, the Battle of Brandywine Creek was part of General Howe's attempt to take Philadelphia.  Though the campaign ultimately failed, Howe did succeed at Brandywine in September 1777 in pushing back Washington's forces back towards Philadelphia.

Continental forces assembling

The battle begins

We attached ourselves dutifully to the Contintental side of the encampment and watched as the regiments assembled, taking full advantage of the protection afforded by a stone wall.  The British forces far outnumbered their rebellious counterparts and organized their ranks into imposing lines on the opposite end of the field. 

It was clear that not only the Continental forces, but also their camp followers, felt the pressure of the impending conflict.  One wife called out to her husband to be careful and went running onto the field in a desperate attempt to reach him.  As they embraced, the husband jokingly exclaimed, "Alas!  The final kiss!"

The final embrace

The Continental forces begin to repel the encroaching British

After advacing and then being forced to fall back several times when bombarded by enemy fire, the British finally reorganized and bravely charged forward, breeching the wall and chasing the Contintental men back behind their lines.

The logistics of the battle were impecably managed, and it was clear the spectators thoroughly appreciated the event as a wonderfully realistic re-enactment of history.  One very curious young man standing close behind me kept up a constant stream of inquiries to his father as the battle went on, eager to understand what he was seeing and why it was so important.  "So Dad, which side won this war?" he asked in dismay when he saw the Brits chasing the Continental forces over the wall.  Dad patiently explained the concept of losing the battle but winning the war.

By the end of the 45-minute squirmish, the battlefield was littered with "the dead," who patiently lay oh-so-still on the damp, cold ground as the medical men circulated around helping the wounded.  When the canons and firing ceased, it was declared "The battle is over.  The dead shall rise!"  If only real life had been so easy!

If you're interested in seeing some pretty amazing footage from on the battlefield, check out these videos done by one of the participants.

1 comment:

lahbluebonnet said...

Did you see Lafayette? He has only recently arrived from France to be aide de camp to General Washington, to help us in our cause for liberty. This was his first battle and I have heard that he was shot in the leg while trying to rally the troops. He is now recovering from his wounds in Bethlehem, PA. Shhhhh...don't tell the British!