GREENSBORO — The air is cool and the sun is shining. Men gather under a tent, engaged in conversation. A woman sitting on a small chair plays a wooden flute while children try to color hard-boiled eggs.
Just another day at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, right?
The tent is made of canvas, rope and wood, not nylon and aluminum. The men are dressed in 18th century military uniforms. The women and children are in period-correct clothes. And the colors they are using to dye eggs are made from red cabbage, turmeric, and cochineal, just as they might have been in 18th century North Carolina.
Over 200 volunteers, history buffs and Revolutionary War enthusiasts are gathered at the park this weekend to re-enact the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, down to the last detail — even washing the dishes.
Ted Yates of Richmond, Va., dips a small metal pitcher into a pot of water that’s been boiling over a fire. He walks it to the “cleaning station,” a wooden stand with three large, shallow bowls, and pours hot water into each. It takes several trips to fill them all.
“We do it just like they did it back then,” he said.
Yates, 74, is part of the 7th Virginia Regiment, Continental Army. He’s been participating in Revolutionary War re-enactments for about five years.
Yates feels that presenting the battle with authentic uniforms and cannons and muskets, visitors get to exist in history. Plus, Yates likes the battles.
“It’s a rush,” he said.
Further down Richland Creek, a group of larger tents encapsulates an 18th century market square, where merchants sell clothing, shoes, pottery, and toys for children — all in keeping with that century. A pair of hand-made wool pants for a Continental soldier fetches $125.
Under a large tent past the market, a group of wooden chairs wait for people to sit in them. At the other end, Ray Sheen from Greenville, South Carolina, is talking to visitors about hemp. It’s not a 21st century conversation about CBD oil, but an 18th century conversation about rope made from hemp. He has a small rope-making jig, along with samples in jars (authentic to the era, of course) of the process that the hemp plant goes through before it can become rope.
“I’m too old to roll in the mud, so I decided to do this,” he said.
Sheen has been involved in re-enactments for about 12 years, first with a Civil War group and then the Revolutionary War. His wife and two daughters participate too.
“We are a family of history nuts,” he said.
At one of the many camp fires on the site, 66-year-old Nick Cirocco from Anderson, South Carolina, finishes his lunch. Dressed in the distinct “redcoat” uniform of the British Army, Cirocco’s been a part of the 64th Regiment of Foot for 44 years.
“44 years in the same regiment and I’m still a private,” he said.
He likes the British uniform, which is a big part of why he participates, but says he also enjoys learning about the war from a different perspective. He has a large group of friends through re-enacting, and enjoys sharing stories with the visitors.
Brian and Kristin Bailey and their kids Zack, 11, and Kaitlyn, 8, love hearing those stories. The Greensboro family is here for the second time; Brian and the kids came last year.
“I love how willing (the re-enactors) are to teach and talk about the history,” Kristin said.
The Baileys, along with the hundreds of other visitors, perk up when the first shot goes off in the woods beyond an elevated clearing. The Continental Army is lined up in the clearing. An announcer explains what is happening out of sight, and more shots ring out. A cannon blasts, letting out a circular smoke ring. Spectators are a safe distance away, where the smell of gunfire is evenly matched by the smell of fried dough and popcorn from nearby food trucks.
“Some historians call this battle the ‘Super Bowl’ of the Revolutionary War,” the announcer says. “You had the best British troops fighting the best Continental troops.”
A smaller contingent of British soldiers, under Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, scores a tactical victory over Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene’s larger American force at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. However, Cornwallis loses about a quarter of his troops, which leads him to leave North Carolina and ultimately to surrender to Gen. George Washington in Virginia.
As the battle ends on Saturday, re-enactors make their way back to camp. Visitors ask questions about 18th century life and take selfies with the soldiers, who make allowances for the anachronism.
Brian Bailey says this realism is what’s worth it.
“It gives our kids an opportunity to get hands-on with history.”