L’idée Réelle

Trenton seems to have been a turning point for a lot of us. A little over a year ago on December 21st, when I left my former British regiment, I was told by the man in charge that I “won’t last a year with them (the progressives)” and “that you’ll be begging me to come back.” Well, here I am a year later and Trenton has cemented my place in this side of the hobby. It provided the group and I with the “history hard-on” (As I’m now calling it) that we seek to get from any event we go to. Isn’t that the purpose of doing this stuff anyways?

In between the silly songs and bad jokes on the march, we did have some deep discussion. For a sleep deprived, hungry, thirsty, and in pain group, we were pretty alert and philosophical. We crossed the bridge at Washington’s Crossing around what I assume was about 6:00 AM after a very brisk 5 miles. On the bridge, we were discussing our favourite fife and drum songs and roles of musicians. As we got off, that same French sailor who coined the term “history hard-on” asked me, “What’s your idée réelle (real idea)?” This threw me off. I was tired, hungry, and not quite sure if he was having a stroke as the sound of French at that time of day can do that to you. I asked him to put it in simpleton terms for me and he asked, “If you could sum up everything you want a visitor to know in one sentence, what would it be?”

I had to stop and think. I didn’t really have a good answer at this point. There are so many things about musicians I want visitors to walk away with since often times they come to battles with misconceptions of 12 year old boys banging on the drums and just looking cute. After a few moments of silence, I replied,  “I want them to know that musicians aren’t weak.”

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After all, I was portraying a fifer who was probably about 15 at the time. The young man gets handed a musket and told he’s going into battle with the rest of the company. He’s just as cold and miserable as the rest of the army.

A lot of guests come to these reenactments with that image of a young drummer boy that comes from the Spirit of ’76 and countless other films and T.V. shows. The average age of musicians in the Continental Army is about 19-20. (See John Rees’ article “The Music of the Army Part 1 and Part 2) Guests think the drummers and fifers just stand behind the line and bang out useless sounds. But we know they’re doing WAY more than that. If they’re not fighting in battle, they’re playing some commands, they’re carrying dead and wounded back, and they’re assisting the surgeon. 

After I gave my on-the-spot idée réelle, I realised I wasn’t satisfied with it. Maybe it was because the French sailor who asked the question kind of stayed silent for a bit and then tried to lead me, through question, to a better answer. Alas, I was unable to do so in the time it took for topics to change. This question haunted me the 10 miles left we had in the march.

When I go out, what do I want the public to go away with? I finally figured out my idée réelle: This sucks. Life in the military is in no way fun. We may go out and play war on the weekends but the guys who marched marches like I did every day were probably not there for shits and giggles. They were hungry, cold, poorly clad, and lacked every creature comfort they knew. And if I can demonstrate that this sucks to visitors, then I’m happy.

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Photo credit to Dragoon Photography

As a musician, we are the signals for when the men do stuff. When the men heard a drum call, they probably weren’t all “Oh boy! We get to assemble because that means it’s time to burn powder!” They probably were more along of the lines of, “I may die in the next hour.” Musicians witnessed every hardship the common soldier witnessed yet I have guests ask me if because of the fancy uniform I get to eat with the officers or even “ride in the wagons.” (Lady, in my dreams.) Musicians walked like everyone else and ate in messes like everyone else.

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At about 10 miles into the march, the corporal, Vanilla Bean Latte, and Low Spark and I were straggling behind. The corporal said to me, “Ya know, I’m getting real tired of this fake army bullshit. I like to sew cool clothes and look good in them but this is ridiculous.” Maybe it was the pain in our feet talking or that we hadn’t had a break in a long time and our stockings were filling with blood. But in a sense, Aunt Kitty and I have had this talk on countless occasions and many others are in accord with us. Civilian events seem to be where it’s at.

But we’ve also discussed how to make Gun Shows better for everyone involved. And making them better lines up with the whole this sucks theme. I lucked out and avoided the extreme 6  hours of drilling the men did the day before marching. But that was what army life was. It’s not building your dining fly and sitting around drinking Sam Adams with the rest of the guys. It’s wanting to cringe when the officer yells “Fall in!” and the rest of the commands.

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Do these faces look like they’re having fun when the officer is yelling commands?

This doesn’t mean we can’t have fun doing it. And I can totally see how not everyone wants to do this. It takes a real insane person to give up their weekends to drill 6 hours then march 15 miles and mess up your feet for 4 days afterwards. There has to be a middle sometimes and this where you need units that have the comforts of a dining fly and Sam Adams.

I like to think I accomplished a lot this past year in my reenacting career. I left a unit and joined a new one. I’ve made some incredible friends who have a like mind in regards to authenticity. I did some not-so-great events that taught me a lot about what kind of events I do want to attend. I improved my sewing skills (kind of) thanks to a few garments and thousands of errors.

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2016 has some really interesting events lined up along with some secret garments I’ll be spilling the beans about later on once we get under way with them. For now, my hint will come from a Les Misérables song that not only nails the colour scheme, but sums the year up nicely: “Red, a world about to dawn. Black, the night that ends at last.”

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