I’ve always said it takes a special kind of person to want to reenact. To want to sew out of date clothing, wear it, then let random people take pictures of you in it requires something that most people lack. But to agree to a 14 mile march, this takes some sort of mental deficiency.
The story of Trenton, for me, goes back to October when I went to Germantown, PA for a battle. Upon visiting with one of my favourite regiments, the 3rd New Jersey Greys, the good sergeant mentioned to Low Spark and I that they were planning on following Washington’s route and do a progressive camp. We were immediately intrigued and decided we’d do it.
The next two months saw two training missions. One Low Spark and I did by ourselves which was about 7 miles, or half the distance we needed. We did pretty well with that and only ached at the end for a few hours after. The other one was done in conjunction with our Aunt Kitty. This one ended up being about 8-8.5 miles after a couple of wrong turns on the trail but was done at a force march tempo the whole way due to Aunt Kitty aka Captain Sobel’s long legs.
A week before the event, musicians and their roles were being discussed on the Facebook group for the event. I completely forgot about a fifer named John Greenwood’s account of Trenton. In it, he mentions how he gets armed with a musket for the battle and at the end, he even grabs a sword off of a dead Hessian. On one hand, I had absolutely no desire to carry a musket 14 miles. In fact, for about 30 minutes after remembering this account, I contemplated dropping out of the march altogether. But then I remembered, I wrote a rather heavy post berating the state of music in the hobby. If I am to critique the portrayal of musicians and then go about incorrectly portraying a documented account for an event, I would become everything I preached against. I decided to do it and experience what this fifer went through so I could better understand what a musician went through.
So, here we are, at the present. Low Spark and I have now done two marches that kind of sort of prepared us for Trenton. We set out the morning after Christmas around 8:30. We took the dreaded I-95 through CT with relative ease and then passed through a land filled with strip malls in New Jersey. We arrived at the Thompson-Neely House around 1:30 and were greeted by the ladies of the Greys. The site is really amazing. The Delaware River was right along side our camp and the canal trail nearby was gorgeous. There was very little modern amenities near us which provided a huge boost to the immersion factor of the event.
The camp was kept simple, only a fire and some tin kettles. In one was a beef stew with the other containing some rice and beans. The ladies made some fire cakes consisting of flour and water which were a billion times better than my ship biscuits I made from the same ingredients. There was even some bacon but that was for the officer and to eat would land you in deep water. But I was the one who cooked a large chunk of it so I placed a piece between two fire cakes and made a bacon sandwich which tasted really good.
The men drilled for a bit while I watched the fire and cooked our ensign some bacon. I was going to rejoin the company once the ladies returned to watch the fire but I was called off to prepare for the ball that evening.
I’ll skip over the details of the ball simply because it was nothing amazing. At all. Though I did look incredibly French in a powdered wig and makeup.
I arrived back at camp, depowdered and bummy once again, around 9:45. The drummer and I played the taptoo and off to bed we went on hay and a blanket with everyone around the fire. Just as I closed my eyes, rain started to fall. I quickly went to move the guns and my sheet music into the car. Since it was raining, I figured I’d take a seat and rest my eyes for 5 minutes in the car until it passed. Turns out, that 5 minutes turned into about 4 hours and at 3:30, I was woken up by Low Spark and told to get moving. Fortunately for me, it seemed I was the only one who got any sleep whatsoever.
I fell in with the company, in the pitch black at 3:50 AM. I was placed at the rear of the line. The march began for me on an ominous note. Just as we were about to hit the trail, my stocking began to fall down. I quickly undid the buttons near my knee to fix it but my knee buckle fell off. I fell out of line and attempted to scramble in the pitch black fog to find it. The column zoomed ahead without me and I could no longer see them. I gave up on my buckle and ran ahead with my stocking at my ankle. Fortunately for me, I remembered I threw an extra pair into my market wallet before we left just in case of an emergency. My dear friend Vanilla Bean Latte attempted to fix them but it was impossible to see and the column was moving all too quick. I marched the first 5 miles, which were done at an incredible 120-130 beat per minute forced march, with my stocking at my ankle.
These first 5 miles were some of my most immersive moments the whole march. It was dark along the canal route and all I could see was the men in front of me and the Delaware on the left. The fog added a level of mystery to it all and the spirits were high, like Greenwood mentioned in his account.
The first break was taken at Washington’s Crossing site where I was FINALLY able to bring my stocking back to where it belonged. I’m happy to report I had no other issues with them the rest of the march. While there, a certain French sailor mentioned to me about Greenwood’s account. He said, “Can you give me a history hard-on by taking a Hessian sword?” I then decided from that moment on, I had to fulfill the Greenwood prophecy.
The march continued on. Up until that point, we had been on dirt paths and we were fresh out so things were great. We were all in good spirits and were traveling ahead of schedule. But then, we switched to paved roads and this is where all hell broke loose. Feet began to hurt, blisters formed, people began to drop. Our speed decreased drastically while our complaining increased.
With breaks few and far between, the company morale began to decrease but we all kept plugging along. With many feet bleeding, it lead one soldier to proclaim, “It hurts so good!” And to think, we all had shoes and the temperature was probably in the upper 50’s with some fog and heavy mist. Imagine if we did this in a raging snow, hail, and rain storm and no shoes.
We plugged along though and I remained with the column. We came to the conclusion that our officer took cocaine or some sort of drug since he was always about half a mile ahead of us and never complained once the whole way.
After awhile, the pain just became normal and we learned to live with it. We began to sing songs like the theme from Mickey Mouse Club and tell jokes that never end and have no punch lines. All the while, begging for the Sunoco gas station to appear because that meant we were going back on dirt roads. But before getting there, we passed by the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Many of us were convinced we would be told to left wheel in since we were obviously crazy for making it this far.
The gas station came and we climbed up a large hill and met up with another unit doing a 10 mile march. With combined forces and spirits renewed by the prospect of being so close (and the sergeant passing around a bottle of extra strength Tylenol) we continued on at a quicker pace.
The last 2.5 miles went by quickly. I had forgotten about my massive blisters and aching legs and wanted to get to the end so I could finally sit down.
When we finally arrived at the monument, we all collapsed. I was ecstatic that I and the rest of gang made it. To celebrate, the drummer and I broke out the instruments and decided to play a few tunes to pass the well deserved hour rest until the battle.
The battle was nothing too amazing either. It was some street fighting in a modern setting. The coolest part came at the end when our company of militia decided we would capture the Hessians. The same French sailor decided he wanted a mitre cap and I still needed my sword. We formed a circle and captured about 30 of them. Two tried to run but I and another gave chase and got them back in with the rest. I grabbed my sword and wore it with pride. The drummer and I took to the front of the column and Rogues March’ed them down to the Old Barracks.
As I’ve stated on other sites, this event was the best event I’ve ever attended. It combined everything I love: site based, time based, and a touch of first person interpretation. It was researched by others and we combined our efforts in order to make it the best we could. The bond we had formed by the end of the death march was incredible. As I type this post, my body aches from my shoulders down but if I was asked to do it all again, I’d say yes. If you had asked me yesterday, it would have been hell no.