8:21 am. Monument Hill. We burst breathless out of the top of the wood like a gang of lethal red-and-white clowns, all of us mad-eyed from the climb and smelling of wild raspberries. Into a little sloped field we come, and from mere yards away, snug behind a stone wall, the waiting rebels let fly with a 30-gun volley as crisp as Judgment. BRRRACK-ACK-CRACK!!! We freeze, and death washes around us like a wind. Then the captain screams at us to form a skirmish line, and Sergeant Jim Savage screams it louder (that’s his job, to scream the same thing louder) and we get to it. Pershyn is already busy, squatting and reloading with a bitten-off cartridge-end between his teeth — he’s game as a beagle, that one. Hobbs, the corporal, scampers ahead. My brave boys!
The joy of re-enacting is no mystery; why, a child could understand it. A child, in fact, might be your best guide to this world of immersive play, deep dress-up, poetic license, and deadly pseudo-seriousness. In the British camp (separated by a hedgerow, symbolically, from the American camp) is a small posse of kids, veterans of many a re-enactment, with whom my 5-year-old son quickly falls in: they run about together in their little tricornered hats and britches, they wave their toy muskets, they go on patrol in search of “bad guys.” I ask a boy named Thomas what he would do if he found a bad guy.
“I’d kick him in the penis,” says Thomas.
“I’d stab him in the heart and he’d never live again,” adds my son.
Re-enacting is not acting: re-enactors, unless they are filling the role of a specific historical personage (General Cornwallis, for example), go by their own names and, unless they are feeling particularly inspired, they do not use 18th-century diction. “We don’t do first person,” says Savage.
On the other hand, at Hubbardton, there is no doubt that the men of the 40th are descending into character: Blair Pershyn, a 22-year-old Somerville resident who writes big-band tunes and does computer work at Berklee, morphs in a matter of hours into a laconic and battle-hardened Redcoat — spitting, drinking rum, chewing on a length of licorice root, or letting go with a wild and loose-lunged war cry as the occasion demanded. Savage, a US Navy contractor, becomes the very model of a regimental sergeant, red-faced and irascible and cursing his men — to their obvious delight. “Silence in the ranks!” he bellows, when there is some backchat during a meeting with an officer. “He’s talking to ME, not any of you scumbag privates!” Stanislavsky would have been proud.
8:23 am. Monument Hill. I’m thrilling the air with my raised saber when I see him: a tall, scholarly Vermonter gazing at me scientifically down the barrel of his musket. As in a dream I recognize him, for he is my doom, elected to this task in the councils of eternity. He shoots and I fall. “Cut down! Our gentleman volunteer has been cut down!” That’s Hobbs. “Damn them!” That’s brave Captain Najecki. I’m on my knees, gaping, a worshipper at the scene of my last moments. Life, oh Life, we never understood each other! “You’ll pay, Brother Jonathan!” yells Hobbs, running at them now. “By Christ, you’ll pay for this!” I can feel the heat of Sergeant Savage behind me, avid, sweating: the faithless bastard is going to loot my still-warm body. “He owes me money . . . ” grunts Savage, rummaging in my jacket. It’s not true, but I bless him. As my breath steals away, I bless all the fine men.