Readers: ReenactingWhy has reenacting/living history been so important in the development of my 18th-century fictional world? The tangy smell of wood smoke mingles with the rotten-egg stench of burning black powder. In the tall grass of a battlefield, militiamen and Continental soldiers lie wounded and moaning, or dead. Above them, Crown forces soldiers from the 33rd Light Company of Foot, the scarlet of their uniforms visible through the haze of smoke, fires a musket volley into the approaching ranks of their opponents. Their volley is followed by that of the British Legion, royal provincials in green. More men drop in agony. Then, a Continental cannon belches forth, and a half-dozen soldiers from the Crown forces collapse, injured or dying. Drummers signal advance. Redcoats fix bayonets and march forward, a terrifying, inexorable wall of gut piercing steel... I've arrived at a remote site in the Southeast United States for a weekend. I don a petticoat and mobcap, sleep in a canvas army tent of 18th-century design, cook meals over an open fire, forgo showers, and brave the elements. During this weekend, my companions are several hundred other reenactors. Many have driven more than six hours one-way to step back in time and portray 18th-century soldiers and civilians, merchants and Indians, gentry, artisans, and musicians. In historical reenactment or living history, participants recreate some aspect of a historical event or period via the arts and sciences, combat, role playing, etc. Reenacting and living history aren't confined to the 18th century or the United States. You can find reenactors all over world, and they depict just about any civilization that's existed. Search the web for "reenacting" or "living history," and you'll see what I mean. I portray a camp follower of His Majesty's 33rd Light Company of Foot. Although the term "camp follower" conjures images of a shabbily dressed, poxed prostitute who skulks around the fringe of a military camp, whores made up only a small percentage of camp followers during the Revolutionary War. A camp follower was any non-combatant attending a military group: a soldier's wife, sibling, child, parent, servant, or slave, for example, or an artisan (blacksmith, wheelwright, etc.), merchant (stationer, green grocer, etc.), trader, or peddler. One reason I reenact is to help educate the public about real history. Questions spectators often ask us: "Are you going to sleep in those white canvas tents tonight?"
"Does that musket really work?"
"Are you going to eat that chicken roasting over the fire?"
"Is that real bear fur on your helmet?"
"Isn't that wool hot in the summer?" And sometimes spectators ask us question like these: "What part of the goat does the cheese come from?"
"Is the fire real?" Reenactors have their work cut out for them. If you're curious, check out the Links page to find a reenactment near you, come on out, and look us up. And don't forget to read the periodic write-ups on my blog.