Tag Archives: Martin’s Station

Time to fort up, folks!

If you’re fond of the eighteenth-century frontier, Native Americans, the Revolution, palisaded forts, and living history, then this is going to be a good month for you.  (And in truth, you should be fond of all these things.)

This weekend is the Raid at Martin’s Station, hosted by Wilderness Road State Park near Ewing, VA.  It’s become one of the finest living history events in the region.  The recreated fort onsite is one of the most authentic structures of its kind anywhere, the setting is gorgeous, and the interpretation is top-notch.  Plus, they’re going to let me help shoot a cannon again.

Next weekend is yet another Indian assault on yet another recreated fort at yet another fine state park—the Siege of Ft. Watauga, hosted by Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton, TN.  Sycamore Shoals is a must-visit for anyone interested in early Tennessee history; I’ve only been to the site once, and I’m hoping to visit again this month for the event.

Let’s have a HUZZAH!

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Filed under American Revolution, Museums and Historic Sites, Reenacting, Tennessee History

And the reports are filtering in

…from the 2010 Raid at Martin’s Station.

The fort’s website has posted a slew of fine images, including some photos of the artillery in action, with your humble blogger making an appearance.  Here we are maneuvering the grasshopper into position, and here we’re giving the Indians a dose of canister.  Note the fellow with the wide-brimmed hat, dark waistcoat, green breeches, and fingertips hardened from blogging.

I had a glorious time, gained a new perspective on Revolutionary-era warfare, and did not blow my own face off.  HUZZAH!

While browsing around the web in search of photos of the event, I also ran across a few items posted by participants with their own historical blogs, which I’ve added to my blogroll here.  Let me direct your attention to a series of posts (here, here, and here) by a physician who was on hand to tend to the wounded and instruct the young in the art of eighteenth-century medicine.

While I was standing inside the fort with the rest of the cannon crew before we went into action, I spotted an intrepid frontierswoman shouldering a firelock in order to head out and do battle with the menfolk.  It turns out she has a blog, too, and you can read her account of the raid here.

Finally, you’ll find a number of additional photos by browsing through recent threads at this discussion forum, which is well worth your time.

My thanks to the park staff and all the living historians who were present for making a first-time reenactor feel welcome.  When do we get to do it again?

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Here’s a little sample

…of how I spent my Saturday.

I didn’t take my camera, and couldn’t have used it if I had.  (It wouldn’t do to have a member of the cannon crew standing there taking pictures and video.)  Here, though, is some footage the 2009 Raid at Martin’s Station that’s available on YouTube.  If I can get my hands on any pics or videos from this year’s event, I’ll post them, too.  Enjoy!

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I’ve finally seen the elephant

A lot of people ask me if I reenact, and they’re sometimes surprised when I say no.  In fact, it surprises me a little.  I’ve been seriously interested in history for about ten years now, but I’ve never engaged in living history, although I’ve helped organize events.  I suppose it’s been a combination of lack of time, severe allergies, and a general aversion to being hot and sweaty that’s kept me from it.

Not long ago I plugged the tenth Raid at Martin’s Station, a frontier/Rev War event held at Wilderness Road State Park near Rose Hill, VA.  I’ve been to it several times, but always as a mere spectator.  WRSP has an active group of living history interpreters, one of whom is a schoolteacher I’ve known for many years.  In fact, it was my dad who got him involved in reenacting when the hobby took off after the Civil War centennial.  This year he asked me if I’d be interested in taking a spot on the cannon crew for the Martin’s Station event, and I said yes.

The cannon in question was a “grasshopper,” a light bronze gun which fires a three-pound projectile.  I knew a little bit about grasshoppers, because they were used in some of those Rev War battles in the South that fascinate me to no end; Tarleton had two of them at Cowpens.

This grasshopper in the visitor center exhibit at Cowpens is very similar to the one I helped service. From Cowpens National Battlefield's website

While the infantry assembled within the fort walls, we went over the routine.  My task was simple.  When the battery commander gave the order, I was to remove a round of canister from the box and hand it off to a runner.  I’d also be responsible, as were all the men on the crew, for helping move the piece into position.

The battle itself was a surreal experience for me, and not just because it was not the sort of thing you get to do every day.  One of the things I found while researching my master’s thesis is that accounts by men in the ranks differed greatly from those by officers.  Commanders remembered the battle with a bird’s eye perspective, as a set of objectives to be accomplished.  Accounts by average militiamen, such as the memoir by James Collins (who was only sixteen when he fought at King’s Mountain), tended to be more impressionistic, consisting of a series of kaleidoscopic and fragmented details: the thirst, the sweat, Ferguson riding into and out of view, and so on.

Once the shooting started during my own little trial by fire, I understood why this was the case.  When the gun crew was still inside the fort, I could observe the infantry assembling in the yard, the riflemen on the walls, and the officers passing around giving orders.  I couldn’t see what was going on outside the walls, of course, but my perspective of the action within the fort itself was pretty good.  Once we were ordered out, though, my perspective shrank to a pinpoint.  I knew nothing but what was happening right in front of me, and my memories of that part of the battle are exactly the sort of disjointed details I’d read in veterans’ accounts: the smell of gunpowder, the ungodly and inhuman yells of the Indians (a sound that raised the hair on the back of my neck), the shouted orders, the breeze, the pain in my feet, the red ammunition box with the word VENGEANCE painted in black on the top, the blurred faces of the spectators as we rolled the cannon past them.

Here’s an anecdote that will illustrate how much my point of view diminished once the frantic process of hauling and firing the cannon started.  After the battle was over, when we had the gun back at the fort and the tourists were allowed in, I looked around to see that an outbuilding had been set on fire and was now a smoldering ruin.  Right in front of me were the sprawled bodies of the “dead.”  I had passed directly in front of all this twice during the engagement, but didn’t notice any of it until it was over.

I also lost all sense of time.  I didn’t have my wristwatch on, for obvious reasons, and I have no idea how long the battle lasted.  It could have been twenty minutes or an hour.  Things seemed to speed up once we were ordered to take the grasshopper out of the fort, but I don’t know if this last phase of the battle was actually shorter or if it was simply due to the haste with which we had to move and load the grasshopper.

I was also surprised at how easily and quickly I forgot things that I’d long known—at least in an abstract sort of way—about eighteenth-century weapons.  Before we wheeled the cannon outside, I was given a pistol and told to take a post on the fort wall.  I hadn’t taken three steps before I absent-mindedly lowered the pistol barrel to the ground, dumping out every bit of the powder.  Once I finally stepped up onto a platform and stuck the pistol out of a firing port, I made an even more basic mistake.  Despite reading countless descriptions of the procedure for cocking and firing flintlock weapons, I neglected to pull back the frizzen before pulling the trigger.  Even in a mock battle in which no one’s life was in serious danger, it was easy to see how the uproar of things could get the better of you.

I’ve long believed that living history is a fantastic instructional tool when it comes to the general public, but now I’m more convinced than ever of its value for the researcher.  I didn’t “learn” anything about the eighteenth century in the sense of increasing my store of knowledge.  Instead, the information that I already had became deeper and more visceral.  I already knew that common soldiers experienced battle as a disjointed series of impressions, that their perspective of time changed, and that they often did things (or failed to do things) for which they couldn’t account afterward.  I knew all that, but I knew it in only the abstract.  Now I know it with a kind of visceral certainty, and from participating in only one event.  So to any researchers who wonder if reenacting will be of any benefit to their work, let me assure you that it will.  And the fact that it’s just plain fun doesn’t hurt, either.

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Looking for something to do this weekend?

Over the years, history buffs here in the Cumberland Gap region have watched Wilderness Road State Park near Ewing, VA become a first-rate center of historical interpretation.  In addition to a beautiful visitor center and a gorgeous setting, the park features a reconstruction of Martin’s Station, which was once the last outpost settlers reached before heading through the mountains into Kentucky.  Today it’s the most accurately rebuilt frontier fort anywhere in America.

For ten years now, WRSP has hosted an annual reenactment which has become one of the most exciting living history events in the South.  It’s happening again this weekend, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the eighteenth-century frontier, the American Revolution, or Native American history.

In addition to the usual reenactment goings-on—demonstrations, a mock battle, sutlers, music—one especially nifty feature of this event is a staged nighttime raid, in which visitors get locked inside the fort with the militia while Indians attack in the dark.  This is one of those rare experiences that does what good living history is supposed to do, which is give you a sense of a long-past event that’s difficult to convey through any other medium.  It’s one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had at any historic site.

Here’s some additional information.  Check it out.

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