Adopting the uniform

We headed out to Yorktown this morning (7/12/16). Despite the construction underway, there are great things happening at Yorktown.  Right when we walked in, one of the interpreters noticed Corban’s tri-cornered hat and loaned him a jacket and musket for a photo. Even without your own tri-corner, any visitor can choose a side and a uniform and pose similarly, which is a lot of fun.

From there, we wandered out to the garden area.  One of the interpreters talked to Corban about doing chores.  She explained that in Colonial times, you didn’t feed your children unless chores were done. Otherwise, they felt you were feeding the devil in your child because you were encouraging sloth.  Wouldn’t that be interesting with today’s youth.

Interpreters of the future

As we walked further in, I noticed a group of students in blue shirts.  I was curious what kind of group they were, so I asked an adult on the fringe of the crowd.  She referenced the website on the back of their shirts where you can get more information.  (Feel free to check out
http://www.historyisfun.org.)  She explained that these students were part of a program called Boot Camp for grades 6-8.  It lasts a total of 4 days from 9:00-12:00.  These are students who think they might like to be interpreters when they grow up, so this is their opportunity to see how other interpreters interact with the public.  After Boot camp, these students are able to come and help out during special activities days.  Even out of town visitors can participate!  I think it sounds like an amazing program!

Fire!

While in the military camp, the interpreter explained a bit about firing a weapon that I had never considered.  He referred to Baron Von Steuben who trained by the discipleship method (train the officers who will train their men.)  A cool thing I learned was that when the officer shouts, “Make ready,” soldiers actually turn their bodies 45°. Because soldiers were fighting shoulder to shoulder, they needed room to load their weapons.  The 45° turn allowed them that space to load.  As he was explaining the loading process, he mentioned that soldiers didn’t sharpen the edges of their bayonets because otherwise they could cut them while they’re using the ramrod. Both of these tactics seem obvious in retrospect, but I’d never considered them.  One Hollywood inaccuracy he exposed was the idea that bayonet charges were random.  In actuality, soldiers were all in a line, not haphazard at all. The reason for this is that a haphazard charge results in separate soldiers being targeted.  When they all charge together, they’re an intimidating defense!

“Are you sure you’re 16?”

After the demonstration, would-be soldiers went over to enlist.  The gentleman there explained that to enlist in the army, you had to be 16 and 5’4″. For you weren’t, you’d often lie about your age.  If they were in need, they’d take you.  They would look at your teeth and hands to make sure you had no diseases–after all, you want someone who will actually make it through the war. The pay rate $6 and 2/3 a month ($6.66–a rather ominous total!) with the army providing a uniform, a pound of meat a bottle of rum rations (promised, anyway).  Soldiers who would sign up for three years or the duration of the war received a $20 signing bonus and 100 acres of land when the war is over.  Not too shabby if you could not die!  I loved that my 6 year old nephew (who incidentally wants to be a soldier when he grows up) literally got to sign on the dotted line with a feather and ink.  He was handed a land deed and colonial money and told to report for duty at 6:30 in the morning (a fact we had to convince him was not true, since he was all set to go to bed early and be there.)

Tools of the trade

At the doctor’s tent, we learned that more casualties were from disease than injuries.  He also explained that a lot of the things they tried genuinely worked, at least for a short time. Bloodletting actually worked to bring fever down–unfortunately, it made you weaker.  Washington himself was bled several times.  In fact, on Washington’s deathbed, a young doctor wanted to do new procedure called a tracheotomy.  Unfortunately for Washington, older doctors overruled him and Washington died.  Purging and flushing were also ways to heal.  Unfortunately, both of these caused dehydration, the cure to which was drinking the same water that probably got you sick in the first place. Another early remedy was Peruvian bark tea which was used to treat malaria, which literally means “bad air.”  While it wasn’t the air that caused the malaria, Peruvian bark contains quinine, which is still used today to treat malaria.

Make ready!

Finally, we went over to the artillery demonstrations.  They had a 4 1/2 inch mortar and 6 inch battalion gun. During a siege, both sides build up walls.  Mortars were good in these circumstances because they can fire at a 45 degree angle.  They fire a 10 or 14 inch mortar which could weigh up to 200 lbs!  Guns, on the other hand, are direct fire usually at 3-5 degrees.  Guns are categorized by the weight of cannonball.  The guns themselves weighed about 1400 pounds.  He explained that if you fired 6 pounders, it would take a long to do any damage. Usually, they used 24 pounders since the 6 pounder wouldn’t kill many troops–around 2-3 men, which isn’t a good use of resources.   A regular rifle has an accurate range of 100 yards.  Cannonballs, however, have about a mile range. These worked for intimidation and causing disarray by breaking up straight lines.  They could also fire case, canister,or grape shot.  As the name implies, this is a can full of musket balls fired from a cannon.  Essentially, it turns the cannon into a machine gun.  These work at 300 yards.  It is amazing to think what all our troops experienced.

Fire!

After he had explained the guns, the interpreter assembled a crew of audience members to simulate firing the gun before the actual staff fired it.  Corban was selected to fire the cannon, so he got to hold the long “match” which set the cannon off.  The positions of the gunners were explained, including the fact that you can’t stand behind the gun, since cannons also have a recoil, which can be about 8 feet.  The front members of the gun crew serve to mark the place for the cannon, since if your shot was one you’d like to repeat, you don’t want to have to figure out how to reposition it.  It was definitely a fun experience.

The Nelson House

As we were heading out, I overheard one of the managers explaining all the construction.  He explained that they are actually building a redoubt for the guns to lend to the authenticity.  Now, instead of the guns firing into the woods, it will actually appear to be firing on an enemy encampment, and they’ll actually have many more guns.  I have definitely been excited by the improvements at Yorktown with the visitor center, and I’m excited to see the changes they continue to make!

At last, after a picnic in the visitor center’s picnic area, we headed by the Nelson House in town (the one with a cannon ball still stuck in the building) and called it a day.  Definitely a place to recommend!

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