Daughter of the Revolution ?

By Underwood, Anne | Newsweek International, February 11, 2002 | Go to article overview

Daughter of the Revolution ?


Underwood, Anne, Newsweek International


They say you can't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes. Andrew Batten has just walked not one but nine miles in the sort of shoes that American soldiers wore during the Revolutionary War--hard- soled, hobnailed, lacking arch supports or padding. Boots like that pinch the feet after blocks, let alone miles. And he's been trudging in them for hours, all the while toting the musket and bayonet of an 18th- century Continental Army soldier. As the bone-chilling cold seeps through his blue wool uniform, Batten asks in mock perplexity, "Do I do this for fun?"

Actually, he does. So do hundreds of thousands of so-called re- enactors--history buffs who go out and replay centuries' worth of American combat. They relive not only the patriotic volleys of the Revolution, but also the goriest battles of the Civil War and even the trench warfare of World War I, complete with vintage planes swooping overhead. On a holiday weekend, it can make for darn good free entertainment.

That's how, on the last weekend of December, my husband and I found ourselves with 18,000 other fans at the same Revolutionary War re- enactment as Batten. Sure, we wondered if we were crazy as we pulled on long johns and wrapped scarves around our ears in the predawn chill. But as the inky darkness lifted, we gazed in genuine amazement as rank on rank of threadbare American soldiers made their way down to the banks of the Delaware River. Suddenly we were back in December 1776. America had declared independence from Britain in July, but lost every battle since. George Washington needed a victory--soon--or he faced the dissolution of his Army. So on Christmas night, he ferried his troops across the Delaware in the sleet and snow and marched them into Trenton, New Jersey, for a surprise attack on the Hessians.

I had read about the Hessians, of course, those fearsome warriors who fought in the pay of King George III. But to behold them that morning, the sun glinting menacingly off their tall brass miter caps, their colonel barking out commands in German, was to despair for our own sorry soldiers. Yet thanks to luck and surprise, the Americans soon had them on the run through the streets of Trenton--"the same streets where the original battle was fought, but with taller buildings," says Richard Patterson of Trenton's Old Barracks Museum. My husband and I rocked to the thuds of cannon volleys--powerful, even though they were blanks. We hung on the words of historian Wayne Daniels, who, microphone in hand, gave a running CNN-style narration of the events as if he were covering breaking news. …

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