A Whole Campful of Soldiers

A Whole Campful of Soldiers

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.

From the 1813 Egerton first edition of Pride and Prejudice.

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!

British soldiers drilling

British soldiers drilling with drummer

Continental soldiers drilling

British soldiers drilling

British soldiers firing

British soldiers reloading

British troops in pursuit

British troops firing

GR tent

British tents and soldiers

British camp

British soldier tending fire

Silver tea set, table, chairs, uniform jacket

British soldiers and tents

Lodestone magnetic demonstration

Cooking in the Continental camp

Smoking a pipe in the Continental camp

Eating lunch in the Continental camp

Clerk's tent in Continental camp

British officer stands out in the crowd

People in period dress conversing

Continental artillery prepares for battle

British troops take aim

British troops fire, muzzle flashes

Continental troops on the move

Cavalry rider's head obscured by pistol smoke

Cavalry rider rides on, with pistol

Riding into the fray

British troops fire in line

Crazy little smoke ring

Cavalry sword fightContinental army

Continental army fires

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!

10 Responses to A Whole Campful of Soldiers

  1. I love reenactments. The think I wondered was why did the British soldiers march head on into fire during a battle. Sitting ducks if you ask me. The pictures and videos were awesome, plus I liked the gernadiers music.

    • The military commentator talked a bit about that…it wasn’t necessarily just the British. i think that was the oversimplified version. The Americans did take advantage of knowing the terrain but the reenactment showed both sides going head-on at each other as well as engaging in a fight in the woods. Although some of them played dead it wasn’t necessarily an accurate body count but I basically got the impression that we’re imposing the accuracy of modern firearms on less-accurate and less damaging muskets. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Great photos and videos! I haven’t been to an American Revolutionary enactment, but have been to a Civil War one. That was very interesting! Thank you!

  3. Amazing pictures and videos. Thank you for sharing them with us. I can now understand how that gleam in Lydia’s eyes was put there. My goodness. Seeing that row upon row of tents… who in their right mind would send a young unmarried girl to Brighton with a campful of soldiers… expecting a busy Colonel and his silly wife to keep an eye on her. Goodness. As I look at the camp pictures and see how hard those women who follow the drum had to work in order to survive… OMG! I feel so useless and would probably die if it was left up to me. Man… my respect and admiration goes out to our forefathers and mothers [on both sides] who fought for their countries. Man…

    • Thank you for your comment! And yes, it was completely ridiculous to think Lydia was NOT going to get up to a whole lot of no good in Brighton…yet you’re right the women who did follow the drum had to work so hard. It was absolutely not the life for Lydia, I think. One of the women there was talking about how it must have been at Valley Forge, when the snow was so high it would cover the entrance to the tent, and there might be one woman living in a group of men and helping tend them all. It must have taken serious fortitude!

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