Fifes and Drums

When you think of American Revolutionary War, one integral aspect of the picture of that era is the fifes and drums. Along with the army, typically there was a group of teenagers (aged 10 to 18) who would play fifes (ancient flutes) and snare and bass drums. The musician would play tunes that accompany the soldiers marching and to sound signals and alarms to the troops. The tradition went back to the 16th century, and you can still see them in action today though it is mostly ceremonial in nature (for example, during parades).

At Colonial Williamsburg, they continue the tradition of having the Fifes and Drums by recruiting local young musicians to join the corp that play in Colonial Williamsburg or at other occassions throughout the year. These young musicians also learned about the role of music in the 18th century life, so they can teach others and continue the tradition into the future.

I took the photo below at the main street of Colonial Williamsburg, the Duke of Gloucester Street, when the fifes and drums corp marched through the town. It was neat to see people walking along to follow them, and there was a young boy with his drum who marched alongside the corp (the kid at the right of the photo). I thought that was a great picture of the idea of bringing history to life.

Fifes and drums

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Guns of the Patriots

When visiting Colonial Williamsburg, the events that you can participate in may vary depending the time of the year or if there is any special occassion to commemorate. During my visit, it was a particularly special weekend as the town commemorate its role in supporting the Continental Army just before the Siege of Yorktown that was the defining moment that led to the end of the American Revolutionary War. So the events of the day appropriately revolved around this: battle planning, march by the army, soldiers roaming the town, and demonstration of the firearms. You could both feel what it was like to life in the 18th century town and being in a place during a war for independence; there were people walking around in period clothes, some looked like regular citizens of the town, while others wear uniform and looked like soldiers from out-of-town who enlisted in the army to help the cause.

One event I attended was a demonstration of the firearms used during the American Revolutionary War. Several soldiers demonstrated the firing of these guns, and while they were doing so, a narrator provided some explanation to the audience about what was going on. I think the interesting fact I learned was about the two different types of guns used back then: the muskets and the rifles. The muskets were among the earlier firearms used, and while they provided the advantage compared to the enemy without firearms, they are not that accurate so the soldiers would typically march in groups and had several of these muskets fired toward the general vicinity to increase the possibility of hits. Compare that to the rifles. With the rifles, the construction of the barrel allowed them to spin the projectile as it comes out of the barrel, so the marksman can aim more accurately. So you can get quite accurate shooting even from longer distance.

During the American Revolutionary War, muskets were the weapon of choice especially during an open field battle because they were faster to load than the rifles, so when you have two fighting armies shooting at each other you can probably win when you have many people with muskets as supposed to small numbers of people with rifles. But if your goal is to perhaps hit a very particular target from longer distance (where accuracy matters more than rate of fire), then it would be the other way around where one would use rifle and using a musket would be a bad choice. So both kinds had their places during the war.

The photo below was taken during the demonstration of firing the muskets by a group of soldiers. There was a leader who coordinated the firing so the guns were fired roughly about the same time and increasing the likelihood of hitting the opposing army.

Muskets firing

Knox

General Henry Knox was another character that I encountered and learned about when visiting Colonial Williamsburg. I listened to the actors portraying General Knox and General Anthony Wayne discussing about their plan to attack the British troops under Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown.

One of the topics they discussed during the planning was whether the light infantry under General Wayne should attack the British troops first, or whether they should perform a siege using the artillery under General Knox. True to the character, General ‘Mad Anthony’ Wayne suggested they should attack more aggressively, while General Knox suggested for bombardment by the artillery. They could not resolve the decision, and later asked General Washington for his opinion (who went for the siege — as it ended up happening in Yorktown). I thought it was pretty entertaining to listen to these actors reenacting such discussion among the leaders of the Continental Army on this decisive siege that was going to happen. It truly brought the history alive.

I noticed also that General Knox wore a black cloth covering one of his hands. I wondered why, and found out later through reading that Knox accidentally fired a shotgun on his left hand at one point and took off two of his fingers. So true to the real character, the actor also had the black cloth to cover his hands.

Like several other historic characters I ‘met’ during my visit to Colonial Williamsburg, General Henry Knox was honored by having places named after his name (Knoxville, Tennessee; Fort Knox, Kentucky).

Below you can see the reenactment of General Henry Knox addressing the troops before they went to Yorktown.

General Knox addressing troops

Lafayette

After listening to the lecture in front of the Courthouse at Colonial Williamsburg, I stayed to watch a reenactment of the Continental Army under General Washington arriving in Williamsburg. Several actors who played generals of the Continental Army waited in front of the Courthouse until General Washington arrived. He was greeted by one general who spoke in French accent. Later on, I found out that the general was supposed to be Marquis de Lafayette.

The name Lafayette today can be seen in many places in the United States — streets, parks, cities, etc. I remembered also hearing about Marquis de Lafayette as a friend of Thomas Jefferson’s when I visited Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I thought it was quite curious however to have one Frenchman among the Americans during the reenactment in Williamsburg. So later on, I read some more about Lafayette and watched a documentary about this historical figure on Netflix.

There were several facts about Marquis de Lafayette that I found interesting. He was born into a noble family in France, so he was among the wealthiest in the nation during his youth. At early age (sixteen), he joined the French army and he learned about the struggle for independence in America. He decided that he wanted to help the cause, even when it meant he had to find his way to get to America, and even enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer to avoid being perceived as a mercenary. General George Washington took Lafayette under his wings. His first battle was the Battle of Brandywine, where he was wounded but received citation from Washington for his bravery.

Lafayette then was given the command of a division of the Virginia troops, and later fought the British in New Jersey and Rhode Island. He also went home to France to lobby for French aid to America. Working with Benjamin Franklin, he secured French troops under General Rochambeau to come to America and helped the Continental Army to fight the British. When he came back to America, General Washington ordered Lafayette to lead the troops to pursue and capture Benedict Arnold (a Continental Army general who defected to the British). While he was not able to capture Arnold, he was able to help defend Richmond from being occupied by the British. Later that continued to his participation in the Siege of Yorktown, where the British surrendered and marked the end of the Revolutionary War.

After the war, Lafayette went back to France and continued to be an advocate for the Americans. In return he was given an honorary American citizenship by the Congress; he was the only foreigner to receive such honor until Winston Churchill in 1963. He came to America in 1824 to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary at the official invitation of President James Monroe and the US Congress. He was honored as the only surviving general from the American Revolution through a grand tour around to visit all 24 American states in the period of almost a year.

When Lafayette died in 1824, the US gave him the same funeral honors as given to other American heroes. Today, his gravesite in Paris is decorated with an American flag. A park in Washington, DC very close to the White House was also named after him, Lafayette Park.

The photo below was the actor who played Lafayette providing explanation of the plan to attack the British in Yorktown.

Lafayette