Revolutionary War re-enactment offers insights

(Original publication: October 5, 2003)

The Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes hung from the entry to Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park in Kent yesterday as costumed Revolutionary War buffs remembered those tumultuous years.

With rain falling yesterday morning, they re-enacted the encampment of the Continental Army from September to November 1778. In the afternoon, they replayed the battle that brought the death of Wappinger Indian Daniel Nimham, who lived in Putnam County and fought alongside the patriots in their campaign to end British rule.

For Tom Seven, of New Canaan, Conn., who was dressed as a member of the 5th Connecticut Regiment, it was a day to share his knowledge of the colonial era and have some fun.

"At these events, you get to be a teacher, an actor and a preacher about the freedoms that they fought for more than 200 years ago," said Seven, carrying a musket and dressed in a blue and red wool jacket. "You also get to pretend you are 13 years old again."

For some, these events are a time to correct the historical record. That seemed especially true for the soldiers in red coats who fought for the British.

Among the redcoats was William Tatum, now studying for his doctorate at Brown University and writing his dissertation on the British Army during the Revolutionary War. He said the British enlisted men have been unfairly maligned by history as incompetents dressed up in bright red uniforms that allowed them to be picked out by the militia.

"We need to redeem the reputation of the British soldier," Tatum said. "These are men who fought and died for their king."

Brian Zawodniak of Enfield, Conn., came dressed in red as an American Loyalist who fought with the British. He said the Loyalists weren't so bad. He said they were supporting the government that was in charge and saw no reason for revolt.

"Taxes were low and they didn't see a need for change," he said.

The event, part of Putnam County's History Day celebration, included a bus tour that went on some of the roads traveled on horseback by 16-year-old Sybil Ludington in April 1777. She rode 40 miles in the rain one night to help rouse 400 members of the local militia to fight the British, who had set fire to Danbury, Conn.

Historian Vincent Dacquino, whose book, "A Call to Arms," details that event, related Ludington's history on the bus tour, which stopped at the site of the Ludington homestead, just off Route 52 near the Dutchess County border.

Dacquino said Ludington's ride should have received more notice in American history. He noted that Paul Revere rode 12 miles on a clear night, had two companions and was captured. Ludington, meanwhile, rode alone for 40 miles on a rainy night, and alerted the militia and eluded the British troops.

He said he hopes that filmmaker Charles Welty's upcoming movie on Ludington's life draws attention to her exploits 226 years ago.

"Maybe then, Sybil will get the respect she deserves," he said.

Send e-mail to David McKay Wilson


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Wednesday, January 5, 2005