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You say you want a revolution?

The Redcoat diaries, or visiting the Port-o-Potty in a tricornered hat
By JAMES PARKER  |  July 20, 2007

7:50 am. Military Road. We’re all lined up, unit by unit, waiting. Mist moves across fields of waist-high goldenrod, and someone offers me a pinch of snuff from a tiny tin box: one sniff sets off a carcinogenic light show behind my eyeballs. Yes, I am a soldier. I am something deadly, sheathed in tight hemp trousers, thumbing the butt of my saber — I hear the wet crackle of musketry up ahead and I yearn toward it.

To my left, the men of the 40th are playing a murmuring game of dice in an upturned hat. Deeply I love them, this July morning. To my right, a sociopathic lump of a sergeant is free-associating about death and buggery.

“You’re from the 20th, right?” I ask him when he pauses for breath.

“You heard of us?”


“Don’t you worry, boy. We’ll have your ass bleeding by the end of the day.”

On July 7, with my wife and son, I drive up to Vermont to take part in the re-enactment of the Battle of Hubbardton. We travel under the auspices of the 40th Regiment of Foot, a Rhode Island–based group that since 1989 has been recreating a British Light Infantry company — an enemy unit, for those who need a history refresher course — on maneuvers in the Revolutionary War.

Prior contact with the 40th, at a meeting down in Providence, had already enlarged my sense of the re-enactment world: expecting hermetic nerds or history-sozzled weekenders, I found instead a crew of trim, articulate noise-rock fans, into Lightning Bolt and Mastodon, cheerfully sewing buttons onto their regimental pants.

“Re-enacting is where the art fags and the guys who like putting on costumes meet the metal-shop guys and the history buffs,” says 40th corporal Niels Hobbs, a 37-year-old marine biologist who has been “in the hobby” since he was 14. “It’s one of the only places where that happens.”

The 40th are actually very well regarded in re-enactment circles: not a “spit-and-polish” or “parade-ground” outfit, they are lean and dirt-covered “campaigners,” committed to roughing it in the spirit of the original unit.

While Civil-War re-enactment can be complicated by regional allegiances, among Revolutionary War re-enactors there is no stigma attached to playing “the enemy.” For Hobbs and his men, there is even a bit of bad-boy cachet: the 40th Foot were proto-commandos with woodsmen’s ways and close-fitting rock-and-roll uniforms. Among 18th-century troops, they were almost evilly hip.

Within minutes of arriving on the re-enactment site at Hubbardton, as the evening condenses into rain, the four privates from our group disappear into the woods to hew themselves materials for a leaf-and-branch wigwam. At some events hay is provided as rudimentary bedding, but none is made available at Hubbardton. For my family and for corporal Hobbs and his girlfriend, though, there are authentic linen tents.

Despite being constructed entirely of natural camouflage, the green and shaggy wigwam stands out: it is the only one on the campground, and the 40th are pleased. With this rustic bivouac they are making a “progressive” statement. A fellow re-enactor from a different unit wanders over to salute their efforts: “Nice camp, dudes!”

“I dunno,” says Hobbs, tattoos peeping out of his infantryman's jacket at collar and cuff. “I was hoping there’d be a few more of us here for this.”

“Least you guys got a wigwam,” complains the visitor. “I’m over there farbing it up with the 53rd.” 


“I can’t take it any more. It’s just the blatant inaccuracies. Like I spent $2000 of my own money on research, found out a few things, and I dropped it on ’em last winter. They didn’t like it none. We had a big fight about ammunition pouches.”

It has not yet been determined how I, as an embedded journalist, should be dressed, and after an unsatisfying spell as a civilian — sort of a wandering swell in a tricornered hat and frock coat, nodding at the troops as they pass — I enlist: on with the too-tight red-wool jacket, the hemp trousers, and the cocked hat (with green ostrich plume) of the 40th. I have no musket, so Private Derek Heidemann lends me a bright-steel sword. I have no training, either. It doesn’t seem to worry Captain Roy Najecki, one of the 40th’s founders: “Just stay behind us,” he says.


8:10 am. Sucker Brook. “There’s room further up the line if you want to get in this fight!” Captain Cameron of the Company of Select Marksmen strides between pillars of musket smoke with his curls bouncing. We have the Americans pinned at the bottom of a wooded hill, and they’re meat to us now, they’re practice: from two sides we’re reaching into them with enfilade fire, advancing in six-pace surges. Glory! We’ll chase them into the trees and slay them on that dark slope. Redden the mud, choke the roots with carnage. How rich is the eggy after-smell of used gunpowder.


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You say you want a revolution?
I was at Hubbardton as well, although on the American side. It was a very well done reenactment. Have fun at Ti - it is one of the best.
By QB on 07/20/2007 at 1:19:37
You say you want a revolution?
I'm with the CSM - good to have you with us at the top of the hill. I see you didn't notice any interaction between us and the 40th - there actually was quite a lot, including general conversation and the spruce beer ration. Sorry you missed that... the 40th is one of our favorite groups to play with.
By RJJ on 07/23/2007 at 6:33:05
You say you want a revolution?
and such an attractive family you have!
By sparklemoonstarchild on 07/26/2007 at 12:11:10
You say you want a revolution?
Thanks, James, for a trenchant and accurate article about AWI reenactment and about the 40th, of which I've been a proud member since 1998. So many of us in the 40th have been members of ummm...historically-challenged groups, left out of disappointment, and subsequently joined the 40th seeking more, and have got it. One thing you might want to know about the 40th (re-created) is that it is an insular group, but it is also quite protective of its members. Not many are allowed to join; the selection process is mostly done by fit of personality with the rest of the group and by evidence of commitment. Once "in", the member is treated well, indeed, so protected that almost nobody ever leaves, except to retire from living history. Indeed, many, such as myself, now have our sons with us in the unit. The group is now on its second generation of members and the future looks strong for us. It is a band of educated, yet rascally brothers whose singularity developed from the disdain of other Redcoat units in "The Hobby" who preferred to look like bandbox soldiers, even when the historical evidence showed that British soldiers were not scarlet automatons, but, in truth, tough, adaptable men who gave our forefathers a long tough fight. Because many in the hobby didn't know how to treat us, (and still don't) that feeling of shared experience of being different from the rest has produced two things: solidarity in the unit, and a host of bad imitators in other units! :) But I'll leave the rest for you to learn about the next time you come out with us!
By 95thfoot on 08/04/2007 at 12:11:08

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