The (Really) Thin Red Line

I live in the States. Everyone loves to be “the good guys” (though in war, “good” is even more subjective than usual). Most people who join the hobby, understandably, want to reenact militia or the Continental Army. They want to be patriots and fight for their country in albeit an unorthodox way.

But here’s the flipside of that shilling: it’s hard to have a game with only your side represented. Somebody has to be the offense, and I’m going to stop before I descend into some half-baked sports metaphor because I’ll make a fool of myself.

Reenacting a British regiment largely means two things: one, you’ll get invited to more events because there are less groups out there to choose from; and two, there are often less of you on the field.

Sometimes with hilarious results.

I remember my first outing as a soldier at Bedford in 2009. Not counting mounted troops, there were maybe a dozen Brits. Maybe. And we had to march up a roughly football-length hill with the cover of only one or two lonely trees and force a group of, oh, thirty or forty Continentals to surrender. That’s the thing – if you’re supposed to win the battle, you win the battle. Even if logic says there is no damn way you should make it through alive.

Another of my early outings was one of Fort Montgomery’s annual events. The Rebels holed up in the (makeshift) fort. They had a cannon. There were probably forty of them. As we charged their stronghold, bayonets fixed, our officers hollered at us not to take a hit; that there were too few of us and we needed to make a good show of taking over the fort for the sake of the onlooking public.

Yes. Sometimes we’re told not to die in order to have enough troops at the end of the battle to win.

It leads to a lot of jokes about the immortality of the British infantry. You’d think our regimental coats were made of Kevlar the way we march into the hail of imaginary colonial musket balls – or, even more amusing, cannons – and shrug it off. Sometimes I feel like that guy Alan Cumming played in GoldenEye as I slough on through volley after volley, cackling, “I AM INWINCIBLE!”

BorisI had a GIF for this.  But WordPress didn’t like it
and it froze.  Sad face.

But we do get our time to shine. My regiment is a member of the British Brigade, an organization of British regiments who sponsor local, regional, and national events with their American counterpart, the Continental Line. Those events are such a ride. I’ve fought on fields of nearly a thousand reenactors total, including both sides. Those are the times you really get the feeling of being in the thick of it. It’s a new definition of organized chaos. Even a simple march becomes truly awe-inspiring. My regiment took part in the Saturday events of Battle Road this year, the annual reenactment weekend in Massachusetts to commemorate Lexington and Concord. The first battle that day required a several-mile march from camp to the start of the skirmish, and it gave me plenty of time to reflect on the impressive sight red that stretched far ahead of me.

Those are the moments that I try, as best I can, to picture what it was like to be a soldier. To march to battle with no more than a gun and a bayonet. One person among hundreds, or thousands. To hear the sound of drums echo among the trees, keeping staccato time for the feet that fall in unison on the ground. Fellow soldiers beside you who may not make the journey back with you when the battle is through. Wondering whether you’re the one whose time is up.

Granted, reenacting is far more cut and dry. Even if we “die”, we wait until the guns cease and we’re given the command to, like zombies, rise. At the end of the day, we clean up our stuff, pack it all in our cars, and drive home. But for those moments, whether in line with a dozen other guys or three hundred, it’s humbling to be a part of such a remarkable red line.

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