Get Lost: Vermont’s Reenactment Inception

I’ve an incredible “true” tale from Vermont’s storied history to share! Picture it – the autumn of 1862 in the Champlain Valley, leaves all aflutter in brilliant hues of amber, crimson and gold.

A merry band of history enthusiasts, some dozen strong, have gathered atop Scoot Hill for a two-celebration to proudly commemorate a centennial of critical import – one hundred years prior, those intrepid Rogers’ Rangers did confound the French and Native allies through cunning ambushes in the neighboring woodlands.

Clad in hand-stitched hunting frocks of suede and linen, cocked hats of felt perched atop graying heads, this troupe aims to resurrect that frontier world for a spell through living history.  What better way to honor than through a reenactment of a French and Indian war skirmish, did it matter the actual American Civil War was going on at the same time.  Not to these men.

Day one, with reverence they prime their grandfather’s flintlock muskets, puffs of powder illuming weathered faces. At the signal, the performance commences in earnest. Faux volleys echo amidst the valley as they dutifully reanimate a legendary Ranger assault on the redcoats from a century before. They battled throughout the day and celebrated in the afternoon.  If you were an onlooker it would have looked as real as any battle.

In keeping with the rustic 18th-century theme, the provisions were simple fare. Spit-roasted wild turkey dressed with oil and seasonings turned slowly over the dancing flames, their skins growing crisp and savory. Pewter plates were heaped with earthy corn mush, boiled beans simmered with salt pork, as well as cast iron kettles brimming with white onion soup.  You know, the typical celebration foods we still enjoy today.

There were loaves of coarse bread and wheels of hard, nutty cheese. And to slake their mighty thirst, casks of fresh cider from Bennington orchards were breached, frothy nectar pouring into wooden tankards. Dried apple tarts served as sweet closure to the frontier-style meal, enjoyed amidst retellings of the day’s harrowing events.

In the evening, some reenactors broke out fiddles and rustic instruments, playing jaunty tunes from the colonial era. Songs were sung in robust voices, ballads of old battles, heroes, and Vermont’s storied past. The night wore on, and the bonds of camaraderie increased as did their drunkenness.

By the glow of campfires, they commemorated the present day’s unforeseen drama, that accidental skirmish that would loom as large in memory as the Rangers’ deeds of old. And so history was honored through action and sustenance alike on that autumn eve.

On day two calamity descends from the surrounding mountain pines, dispersing the colonial-era musket smoke and spoiling the innocent affair. For stumbling upon their exhibition are two companies of the 12th Virginia Infantry, Yankee-hating Confederates who spy those antiquated blue coats and tricorn caps and assume a Union regiment hides in the glen.

In truth, these were merely credulous history buffs engaged in harmless pay. But the rebels see only despised Yankees before them, and with rebel yells they wildly unloose live rounds into the October air. The smell of gunpowder sharp, the reenactors abandon their charade and flee into the brush for safety, discarded props are strewn about.

The intrepid Vermonters do not panic, even harried by minié balls and the Confederates’ frenzied whoops. Finding their courage, they turn to make a stand as their Ranger forebears once did. Taking rusty muskets in hand, the ragtag band gives voice to a cry that echoes through the valley as it had in ages past.

The stunned rebels arrest their fire momentarily, so bizarre is the archaic armed rabble that now bars their path. Leveling Brow Bess muskets, the motley crew returns fire with powder but no shot. Still, their audacity staggered the Confederates for precious moments…enough time for Union reinforcements to arrive, driving the rebels back towards Dixie.

As the smoke clears a stillness descends, broken only by the groans of the injured. Though battered and decreased in number, the reenactors had stood bravely at Scoot Hill alongside those Rangers of old and Union Soldiers of new. And around campfires in the years beyond, their courage would be lauded alongside the heroes of ages past.

So you see, young ones, ordinary folk can achieve extraordinary feats, even accidentally! By honoring our history, the spirit of our forebears carries forth through the generations. Now, to bed with you all so you may dream of bold adventures past and still to come!

Every year reenactors reenact the reenactment at Scoot Hill.  It’s a confusing celebration of their ancestor’s confusing celebrations.

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