History was always boring in high school. A bunch of dates and events to remember for a multiple choice test! Blah, Blah, Blah! Give me a movie any day.
Guess I’m just a visual learner, so I never really got into history until I began to live it. Could have cared less about the French Revolution before my visit to Paris. Once, you stand on the famous cobblestone streets where the blood of royals ran freely, you begin to appreciate the human drama that unfolded. Changing our world forever.
I was terrified when I walked the streets on a Krystal Nacht tour in Munich, when the Nazis began the holocaust against the Jewish nation. I was so sad by man’s inhumanity that I couldn’t face a visit to the nearby concentration camp.
Now, whenever I travel I’m a huge fan of the history that made that place special. And I like to go to historical reenactments to see how the people of those trying times lived and died.
I remember going to a centennial play commemorating the battle of Bushy Run near my home in Western Pennsylvania. My brother played a Native American out to ambush the British supply column trying to relieve the siege at Fort Pitt.
All the other British forts had already fallen, so keeping this bastion on the frontier to the Ohio Valley became supremely important in the French and Indian War. I may be speaking French today if the battle had turned out differently.
And the yearly battle at nearby Fort Ligonier grew every year until it has become a huge weekend pageant with thousands of colonial soldiers fighting off the French and their Native American allies. In fact, the fort is undergoing another renovation this year, making it one of my favorite historical battle sites.
When I heard, the Huntington Beach Historical Society was sponsoring a Revolutionary War reenactment last weekend, I had to check it out. I wanted to see George Washington and talk to Benjamin Franklin.
The society’s Civil War reenactment was awesome. I actually got to meet Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln (Happy Birthday Abe!) and General Grant. They were frank and funny. What a great way to learn about the war that divided this great nation and caused the most American casualties of any conflict.
I like the get to the Huntington Beach Library early, so I get great parking and I can walk through the encampments.
As the fog slowly lifts, visitors are transported to another time. Women and men in colonial clothing gather for their morning breakfasts beside the stark white tents that become their homes for the weekend.
Without the crowds and kids, it’s easy to believe you are back in that era, when a bunch of rabble rousing upstarts dared to challenge one of the most powerful nations on Earth. And King George, one of the most powerful men of his time.
So there they were the orderly lines of tents set up by His Majesty’s regiments versus the ragtag tents of the American minutemen. With regimental standards fluttering in a slight breeze, the professional soldiers in their bright red coats mustered for their morning roll call.
We chatted with a sergeant from Yorkshire who was showing another trooper how to fix a spring that had broken in the sear of his Brown Bess. That was the most popular musket issued to the troops of the time.
The colonials preferred rifles, and were crack shots. After all, they often fed their families by hunting in the woods and bullets were expensive.
Women in the two camps were dressed in the fetching fashion of their times. They looked beautiful, leading me to believe they were the wives and daughters of the commanding officers. Who else could afford such luxurious garments?
Upon receiving word that the British were marching on Lexington, the colonial troops gathered to confront their royal masters on the village green. The long red line of British regulars trooped on the field in an orderly fashion, while the Americans milled about across the field.
After warning the rabble to dispel, the British commander ordered his men to form a line abreast to sweep the colonials from the field. The Americans took exception to this plan and the battle began.
The red line held their fire, shooting in a massive volley that filled the air with the distinctive crack of musket balls flying through the air and massive amounts of smoke obscuring the advancing British.
The Americans bravely stood their ground, returning fire with their long rifles. They paid the price as many fell to the ground. It was harder to see the extent of the British injuries because their bright red jackets absorbed the pulsing blood.
As might be expected, the British overwhelmed the Americans. Pushing them from the Lexington commons. But while they may have won the battle, we all know who won the war.
Another valuable history lesson that I couldn’t help but absorb as the muskets rang out and colonial voices faded into history.