So first things first, until now I had not realized that Jane Austen made up the word campful. That is how it appears in the novel — well, actually, it is on a line break and hyphenated, so it appears as “camp-ful” in the first edition. But while Austen has had a strong influence on language (probably inventing, among other things, “dinner party”) this one does not seem to have caught on.
This is not a post about etymology, however — it’s a post about the campful of soldiers. I’ve decided this year to make an effort to do more British-ish things even outside of my annual trip to the UK, and one such opportunity came my way last weekend. I live about an hour from Mount Vernon, and they were having a Revolutionary War weekend. I’ve never been to such an event, and it was a chance to see up close and personal what this campful of soldiers Austen wrote about might have looked like (while the dates are some 30 years off, the uniforms and certainly the military technology had changed little). And, of course, to see some battle action.
I was particularly impressed by the authenticity the reenactors achieve, even in their camping. I have a hard enough time setting up a modern tent and making camp food with such technology as aluminum foil and a butane stove, and here they are cooking everything on real fire with authentic cookware, and while some appeared to be using more modern cots covered with cloth, others were truly bedding down on straw with blankets. And the clothes are impressive, both for women and men. They did a great job with the battle reenactments, particularly in having commentary from a military history expert over the loudspeaker (in particular, he discussed the historical fallacy I learned in school that the British just marched in lines and got picked off in their red coats; in truth they learned techniques for fighting in the US terrain just as the Continental troops had to learn how to fight with more discipline). There were two mock battles on the day, a first skirmish where the British ended up pursuing the Continental forces, and a later, larger battle where the Continental forces of course won.
So instead of my usual verbose post, I’m going to reel through a whole lot of photos and videos instead, with some closing words. I hope you also enjoy getting a sense of what a whole campful of soldiers looks like!
As the quantity of photos and video show (and this is just a fraction of what I shot), I quite enjoyed myself. One of the things you may have noticed, and that I thought was very cool, was that there were a large number of women — not only in period dress as women, but also participating as soldiers. The uniforms are such that you have to look closely, particularly since the long hair of the time makes it tougher to distinguish.
The other noticeable thing is that while the cavalry charges look the most awesome during the charge portion, they tend to fall apart once they all get together. This makes sense — they’re the only people fighting hand to hand, and with actual swords and it’s very different to reenact with swords (on horses, no less) and not try to maim your friends vs. trying to do maximum damage with those swords, I must presume. Still, you can see they got the biggest audience reaction, because horses. It did get more interesting during the brief time they armed themselves with pistols. One thing that’s also noticeable about their kit is the horses are wearing halters and lead lines (either tied back to the saddle or I think I saw some folks holding theirs with their reins). It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine to see on adaptations or in fiction where horses are tied by the reins: no good horseman/woman does that, because if the horse spooks it can do tremendous damage to its mouth with a metal bit in it. So this was clearly a practical means of tying up a horse while leaving it fully saddled, and while I haven’t researched it, it seems authentic because of that practicality.
Those of you who’ve read my Constant Love series know I’ve generally focused much more on the British navy, rather than the army, but it was very interesting to get a taste of what army life and battle was like, and who knows, maybe it’s something I’ll wind up using in the future!