The smell of woodsmoke came long before the sight of the American encampment. It was sweet smoke that clung to the air and to clothes. The plumes of smoke rose past the trees and spectators followed those plumes up until they ran into the American camp.
Bivouacked on the banks of Country Park’s murky fishing pond, over a hundred passionate historical reenactors gathered over the weekend to both celebrate and respect the 237th anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, one of the most important battles of the American Revolution.
The feeling at the American camp, a pop up town of canvas tents, fell somewhere between festive and focused. As reenactors, clad in triangular caps and knickerbockers—playing the role of members of the 6th North Carolina Regiment in the Continental Army—practiced their formations, a woman in a white bonnet played a cheerful tune on a wooden flute.
Other reenactors still tended to steaming cast iron pots of food roasting over smoldering campfires dotting the edges of the camp. Carol, one of these reenactors, proudly slid the lid off one of these pots to show its content onlookers. “Apple roasted pork,” she said. The smell alone made the mouth water.
Carol, hailing from Norfolk, Virgina, is one of many historical reenactors who descend on Greensboro every March to recognize the anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle. She, along with her husband, are a part of the 6th Virginia Regiment, which was real regiment of the Continental Army that fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. She explained that they played the role of a frontier couple. Often times, the families of American soldiers marched behind the army, as this was the safest place to be due to the threat of being ousted by loyalist neighbors. It’s Carol’s passion, and she enjoys being a part of the reenactments.
“I’ve always been a history nut,” Carol said from behind a table of bread, strawberry preserves, pork sausage and slices of white cheese. “When the kids moved out, my husband and I decided this was something we needed to do.”
A farther ways down, Bob, of the 6th North Carolina Regiment, polished off his musket. He eagerly answered questions and even let spectators hold his weapon, which would be considered a brutish and inefficient thing by today’s standards, and serves as yet another reminder of just how radically different life was in the 18th century.
The armies, along with Hessian forces on horseback aligned with the British, converged in an open field not far from the original battlefield at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The reenactment covered two days: Saturday recreated various skirmishes, as the Americans engaged in a series of ambushes on the depleted British army before meeting for the full battle on Sunday.
Before an audience of over a thousand spectators, the action started off slowly and out of sight, as isolated exchanges of musket fire deep in the woods. Commanding officers organized their troops and they chased each other through the forest, sending volleys of musket balls back and forth before coming into the open, where American artillery lay in wait.
American and British cannons fired back and forth. With every shot of the cannon—huge, booming sounds that shook the earth—and every volley of musket fire, more reenactors dropped and did not move until the Americans retreated and the day’s action ended. It was a harrowing experience; in this day and age, we’ve become numb to the realities of war.
Charlotte Gardner, running a fabric trading outpost out of her tent back at camp, said, “These reenactments are important for our children.”
“You know, they go and see these things on TV and then it’s over. But seeing those people on the battlefield, hearing the musket-fire, it makes it real. [The kids] are running around with toy guns and wooden swords… they know it’s real. Plus, it’s fun for the adults to dress up,” said Gardner.
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse saw over 750 casualties, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. It is also considered a turning point in the war, as British general Lord Cornwallis’s advance was stopped, and he would eventually be forced to surrender at Yorktown.