I couldn’t sleep Friday night for thinking about what was about to happen on Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13 at the Reenactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. It was cold but at 3:30 AM, I got up, went to the Blue Springs, dressed in my battle clothes, laid back down and waited. Last year, I was Molly Spyder, your humble servant, indentured, who followed the men, read the drama in their faces and in the tenseness of their bodies as they marched up to their doom. The thought passed through my mind that I wanted some of this action. A chance remark from Commander McCroskey saying he wanted to see a hundred men out on the field, me saying that I’d even wear a binder if I could fight, and him showing me documentation that, indeed, women did and can fight as it happened during the time, made donning britches and taking up a musket a reality for me this year. As I was laying on my cot early Saturday morning, I kept thinking about the instructions Mike gave me, the commands I had to follow . I was nervous about handling a musket for real, my mind kept wandering over the fact that people really died here and that this battle in this place was THE pivotal battle in the Southern Theater that made Corwallis’s defeat at Yorktown a reality. This was no fantasy, no X-Box game, and that we were actually living a bit of history. The moon was a quarter and, in the dimness of the moonlight, if one had a vivid imagination, ghosts were rising like a miasma from the campfire smoke that drifted across the field.
Saturday broke clear and crisp; there was plenty of banter and activity at camp.
Getting ready for the day
The men were rolling cartridges or cooking, the officers were at meetings, and I was figuring out how to look mean and ready for war. It was a bit of doing, let me tell you but made better when I saw how many women actually donned men’s uniforms and were doing what I was doing. Througout the morning, there was good natured talk about how this newbie was going to be on the line and how a monster was being unleashed. Time was spent on what to call me and they settled on Ray ( “You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay, or you can call me Johnny or you can call me Sonny, or you can call me RayJay, or you can call me RJ… but ya doesn’t hafta call me Johnson. ” BILL SALUGA ) The fellows also offered fashion advice and I went on a shopping spree. Godsey had clothes he couldn’t sell because they were too small or miscut so it was like a sale day at Macy’s and I came out with a complete set of man-clothes for a fraction of the cost. What was funny was the comments from the men like ” I like the blue great coat on you; the other one fades you out”. Fades me out???? You guys actually pay attention to this? What is this , the Ray-bow Colition??? I did get a royal blue great coat like Ronnie’s in the picture above; I looked like a mini- Ronnie and called myself “Mini Me” (Dr. Evil: “Mini Me? Mini Me? Could someone put a freakin’ bell on (her) or something?” Austin Powers. Note: Been there, doing that! :o) ) Jacob also got a new green frock, looking pretty handsome, Earl got measured for a new coat and Mike is sporting a new look too. I wasn’t the only one who sported some habedashery.
Ronnie and me???
The Regiment formed the largest group on the field and teaming up with the Virginia Militia, we were a force to be reckoned with and totally impressive as we splayed across the field . The Washington County Regiment responded to the call to arms in an unbelievable way. Every able bodied man, boy (and me) showed up. Randy Curde estimated that there was at least 20 dressed, maybe more and we picked up five from the Virginia Militia. The original North Carolina Regiment was estimated at a little over a thousand. We weren’t doing so bad at half a hundred. How this translated was the boom effect. With all this fire power, the battle had to be the best yet.
I heard the number 42, comprising both groups. I suspect it was more… When we formed for inspection Saturday , the knot in my stomach was the size of an orange; I was hoping I wouldn’t disgrace myself, misstep, or otherwise make a fool of myself or the Regiment. Such was not the case, however. Chris Taylor generously lent me his Brown Bess which was a good break for me as that is the same musket I trained on earlier in the week. Mike left to go onto the field so my security blanket wasn’t on the line but I followed all the directions to the letter and, as we marched up the hill in formation counting the cadence, I could feel the fear and excitement as a real being, thrilling my whole body. When we entered into the woods, the knot was as big as a grapefruit and I was breathing hard from excitement. My panties were even in a wad !!!
Finally, it was time and let me tell you, there is nothing more scary than seeing those red- coats with the white bulls-eyes in the trees. Commander McCroskey was vigilant and hovered to make sure his men were all right. Cannon was blaring, and at the charge, Chad was barking orders- ready, steady, load, FIRE!!! Oh MY GAWD!!!!! I was so scared! They were coming; will I die? Will I get caught? Will my gun misfire? Mike stood close, whispering direction and watching out for me. I fired off about 10 shots when my flint cracked in half on the field. Not too bad for a beginner but darned bad luck, nonetheless ! The commander from Virginia wanted some men to go down and Earl knew I had a dilemma so he told me to hit the dirt since my musket was useless. When it was time, four of us heard the direction “DOWN” and I flopped over on my side.
Dead and Dying at Guilford
Do you know how HARD it is to lay in the grass with the bugs crawling on your face and itching to scratch but can’t move? I kept one eye open and watched the Continentals and British running over us, literally. One fellow stepped on my fingers, his leader telling them to “watch the dead..” Kim said a dragoon’s horse was inches from me- what a thrill…. and indeed, upon resurrection, it was the most thrilling afternoon I can remember in a long time.
Just call me Private Ato!
Sunday was more of the same but better! Mike’s legs were hurting so he watched the camp but he let me borrow his belt and accessories. The men dressed me up, reminding me of boys playing with a GI Joe, getting the uniform on him just right (“Put that belt buckle over to the center…Now when you run out of cartridges, sling your box over to your back and go for the belt box…” ) The battle that afternoon was even better than Saturday as the plans were more elaborate. I replaced Chris’s flint, bought a pick and brush and a screw tool thing to tighten the screw at the top and I used these tools, too. We took out positions in the woods, ready to fight in the exact place where the militia had fought two- hundred- thirty years before. I think everyone was at the ready, intensely alert and on edge. Because of that, though, when the Brits had the misfortune of having to pass us to go to their positions, we pounded them with good natured banter ( everyone sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy, “Hey you, with the bullseye on your back… ” Look at the sheepskin pillow on that guy’s rear- he’ll fall softly when he gets shot in the behind”… )You could see some of them grit their teeth in passing. The Hessians also took some verbal hits (” Achtung!!! Sprechen de Americaner?, Hey you, weiner schnitzel! Feiger hund!!!..) They took it a little better than the Brits and even grinned and waved back. Finally we saw Cornwallis and his second themselves moving towards us (” Man, look at all that gold- what a target” ) When they heard us, they backtracked like big-rigs backing up (you could almost hear the beep beep beeeep as they backed up) and walked out-of-their-way, heads bowed, to stay as far away from us as they could.
It was time to form our sections; the British were coming! let me tell you, there was an immediacy that I have only experienced at the beginning of a car wreck. Everything is fast but in slow motion like a freeze frame. We were shooting in teams; I kept watching Doug Ledbetter , shooting with him and Chris Keene (, a really fine fellow with a beautiful wife and two pretty little girls. I’ve met him though emails here but he and his family was here for this event with us. ) I kept hearing the screams of soldiers and over the top, McCroskey and Bogart yelling “prime, load,fire; prime, load and fire.” Chris’s brown bess performed like a chanp; I loaded shot after shot, felt the black powder scorch my face at time, the barrel so hot it blistered my skin… and the red line and the green of the Hessians kept surging foward. The Regiment broke into the open; we had to cross through brambles, the needles ripped open my right hand and arm but I didn’t feel it… The regiments were together at that point and we literally spanned the field, half a hundred strong. We had practiced shooting in kneeling formation and that was unreal exciting and had to look unbelievably good from the spectator point of view. First line kneel, prime, load, shoot; second line, prime (one step foward, knee in the back of the front guy), load, shoot!!! Oh my GAWD!!! We fell back; I thought Chad said “fall down” not “fall back” and I hit the dirt again but picked myself back up and moved out,shooting as I went. I ran out of cartridges a long time before, Adam and Sterling ably provided us with more shot. I thought I shot 34 or so, but Mike knows how many cartridges his bags hold and he said I let off 42. The barrel was so hot, it blistered my left hand and the thumb of my right as I was cocking. The best part was at the end, though. I had one shot in my gun; it misfired and so I used my pin, unplugged the touch hole , reprimed and poured what turned out to be a load and a half in my musket. It was time to retreat becasue the dragoons were coming but what was I supposed to do with all this powder? Heck, I shot it off- a final salvo, a HUGE boom- right into a dragoon on a white horse!! I didn’t understand why Chad was screaming “don’t do that!” I didn’t realize how close the horse was, a white horse surging out of white smoke. All I knew was that it was divine justice for almost tromping on me on Saturday. What if that white charger had left me a little meadow muffin gift all over my new man-clothes????
Now I’m Private Raybo!
I’m still on a high from this weekend; can’t sleep for trying to get the excitement down to moderate levels. It was a unique experience to do what the men allowed me to do this weekend. I have to thank each and every one of them for their forbearance and humor. I understand Gail Ellis’s passion about being a male cannoneer much better now. The thing about this particular weekend was that this was a battle that was a strategic loss. We were Col. William Campbell’s Riflemen, we fought Cornwallis’s Regiment and the Jagers, we shot within the killing distance of 40 yards, we , like them, felt the fear, the urgency. We were “in the moment”, looking with horror as the British charged us with fixed bayonets and “ran like hell” http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_battle_of_guilford_courthouse.html
We shot as one, line over line, looked death in the face, even if fleetingly as those thousand or so North Carolina Militiamen and all the rest, looked death in the face for a certainty two-hundred and thirty years ago. They won our freedoms; we recreated their lives.
Stay tuned for pictures as I gather them in from Retha who took great pictures and others from the event. i’ll be posting them in Webshots.
Doug Ledbetter who made our new Regiment flag and Private Rambo