War games: Old Sturbridge Village hosts 'Redcoats to Rebels' this weekend
Normally law-abiding citizens, attorney Alex Cain and biotech engineer Paul O'Shaughnessy are getting their guns ready for a wild weekend of popping muskets and booming cannons at Old Sturbridge Village.
Wearing the uniforms of the Lexington Training Band and Royal Irish Artillery, the Merrimac and Lexington residents, respectively, will join 800 military re-enactors who'll transform OSV into a Revolutionary War-era camp to entertain and educate the public about American history.
"I hope our presence at Sturbridge Village helps people understand how wars were fought (in 1776) and have always been fought," said Cain who's been re-enacting for 30 years. "Understanding the history of mankind helps people understand what's going on in modern times."
For the sixth year, "Redcoats to Rebels" will bring about 40 groups of re-enactors from across New England and beyond to demonstrate the martial and domestic arts of Colonial-era America in the 200-acre village.
"This is going to be one of the very best Revolutionary War encampments in New England," said Jim O'Brien, OSV coordinator of special events. "Both days, Saturday and Sunday, will be full of events. There's going to be lots of chances to see lots of action."
Visitors of all ages can get up close and personal with American patriots and their loyal wives, British lobster backs and their ale-chugging Tory supporters and lots more.
On Saturday and Sunday, numerous events are scheduled rain or shine from 10 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Usually taking about 20 minutes, they include such activities as marching, music, fencing and artillery.
As the sun sets and campfires flicker, visitors can mingle with Colonials and Redcoats throughout a special Saturday evening "Twilight Encampment" from 5 to 8 p.m. A special late-day admission is available.
O'Brien said re-enactors from both sides will demonstrate how the Revolutionary War was fought but won't be performing "any particular battles."
Male and female re-enactors will show a broad spectrum of colonial life from marksmanship and bayonet drills to weaving and cooking, he said.
O'Brien said past audiences enjoyed specialized groups such as the crew of HMS Somerset, Loyalist patrons of The Sign of the Roaring Lion tavern and the Royal Irish Artillery who bring their own cannons.
Whether dressed as patriotic Minutemen or Irish cannoneers, the King's rangers or French volunteers, re-enactors almost always share a love of history.
Growing up in Andover, Cain developed a teenage fascination with the American Revolution when his parents visited Concord and Bunker Hill on family vacations.
For more than 20 years, he belonged to the Lexington Training Band and generally appears as Samuel Hastings Jr., a teenager who faced British regulars on April 19, 1775, and escaped by "retreating from the green."
Over years of research, Cain learned the real Hastings was only 17 the day of "the shot heard 'round the world." "He enlisted in the Continental Army and was later captured in the Battle of Long Island. To earn his release, he took an oath not to fight the British again," he said.
A former prosecutor with the Essex County District Attorney, Cain discovered a document written by Hastings in which he "expresses frustration" because his oath kept him on the war's sidelines.
Meeting the public, he shares a little-known fact about the so-called Lexington Minutemen that flies in the face of popular belief.
Cain said, "It's a big misunderstanding there were Lexington Minutemen."
Militiamen from Lexington and several neighboring towns who fought the British that day were classified as a Training Band because they lived around Lexington while Minutemen were selected from smaller groups for more disciplined training.
Like most re-enactors, Cain dresses and equips himself as authentically as possible including his replica 20-gauge shotgun, known then as a New England club butt fowler.
"Whether it's history or equipment, we want to be as accurate as possible," he said. "We want people to ask us questions. We love to take any chance to talk about history."
Raised in Lexington, O'Shaughnessy developed his passion for history in the 1970s as a teenage tour guide leading visitors around the town Common. During the bicentennial summer of 1776, he saw his first Revolutionary War re-enactors "in their wonderful red coats and brass buckles" and was hooked.
Despite growing up in the cauldron of the revolution, O'Shaughnessy has performed for 36 years as Lt. Col. Francis Smith who led the Tenth Regiment of Foot, a British light infantry unit, to Concord that historic day.
In real life, Col. Smith was wounded in his foot and carried back to Boston in a carriage. According to his research, O'Shaughnessy found his British opposite "became a general, eventually retired and returned to his estate."
When meeting the public, he engages in "myth-busting" particularly the stereotyped view "the British army was overly regimented and couldn't adapt" to colonials who fired from behind stone walls and fled to the woods.
"Nor was the typical British officer an aristocrat who cared more for his liquor cabinet than his men," he said. "By and large, the British army was a very capable and tough opponent. Based on their experience fighting Indians, they were very well-schooled in what we'd call today counter-insurgency."
While acknowledging it's a touchy subject, O'Shaughnessy said the British faced logistical problems in North America that U.S. forces 200 years later experienced in Vietnam: "Getting caught in the middle of a civil war that was very unpopular back home."
"It's pretty difficult waging a war in a faraway situation you don't understand," he said. "We really try to bring a more balanced view."
For 30-year re-enactor Edward Kreutz, the Revolutionary War is a "family affair."
Growing up in New York, he read history novels and was excited by stories that the town church in Setauket, N.Y., still had bullet holes from the war.
Kreutz generally appears as a major in the Royal Irish artillery, a unit that was "virtually wiped out" except for five men in the Battle of Saratoga.
Viewers are often surprised, he said, to learn an Irish artillery unit wore blue coats like Colonial regulars.
Asked why he chose to join an Irish artillery unit, Kreutz answered, "I like the noise. I like the boom. Our cannons were the Tomahawk missile of those times," he said.
In recent years, he's faced in mock battle his sons, Jonathan, 17, and Ryan, 20, who serve with the 85th Regiment de Saintonge which portrays French soldiers and citizens who aided colonials during the Revolutionary War.
"We fight each day and toast each night," Kreutz joked. "My artillery group is like a family we've been together so long. When you're a musket man you're alone so artillery provides the teamwork I enjoy."
For times and details about "Redcoats to Rebels" at Old Sturbridge Village, call 800-733-1830 or visit www.osv.org.
To learn about the Tenth Regiment of Foot, visit www.Redcoat.org.
To learn about the Royal Irish Artillery, visit www.royalirish.com.
To learn about Lexington Training Band, visit www.lexingtonminutemen.com.