Saturday, October 3, 2015

Camp 2015 - Battlegrounds

So you thought the Camp series was done? Well, it pretty much is. However we made a couple of side trips worth telling you about. 

Having grown up in Upstate New York, you would think that I would have been more aware of the state's significance in the Revolutionary War. You might think that living next to a town named for George Washington ("Washingtonville" isn't exactly a vague name...), driving past places like the New Windsor Cantonment almost daily, going to West Point fairly regularly, and that sort of thing would have sunken through my thick skull somewhere along the way, and you'd be right. Sort of. I think I just took it for granted. 

Now that we're studying the Revolutionary War with Olivia, it occurred to us that there might be some great opportunities that we could take advantage of while we were up there. My Aunt Shelley suggested that either Saratoga Battlefield or Fort Ticonderoga would be an excellent day trip since they were each an hour or so from Camp. 

We decided to do them both! We went to Saratoga first and took a tour of the battlefield.
 The Visitor's Center had some fun displays of cannon and clothing. They had a tent and clothes that the kids could dress up and play in. 

 Outside, we took a driving tour of the battlefield. 
 There wasn't much to see except wide-open fields, but the narration from the audio tour filled in where we were and what happened there. FYI, if you go, bring a smartphone. The website says they have the tour available on an audio CD, but they don't anymore. 
 At various points, we stopped and could see authentic cannon used during the war.
The significance of the Battle of Saratoga is that the British General Burgoyne came south out of Canada hoping to catch Washington's army off guard. He had pretty good success until he got here. The land forms a natural bottleneck between mountain ridges and the Hudson River which allowed the Colonial forces to wear Burgoyne down and defeat him. Interestingly, Benedict Arnold, whose name is now synonymous with "traitor", was one of the great heroes of the battle. But Saratoga is not the only place that he was instrumental. a couple of years prior to Saratoga, he and Ethan Allen (funny... I thought he made furniture) captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British. 

As our time at came came to a close, we decided to stay one extra day and go out to Fort Ticonderoga rather than going to Williamsburg on the way home like we had originally planned. With the fort being a similar experience to Williamsburg, we figured that the Revolutionary War theme of the fort was more appropriate to what we were studying.

We are very glad we did. 

 Here's the history. Read away. The gist is that the Colonials captured it in 1775 from the British, but then Burgoyne took it back in 1777 before moving on and being defeated at Saratoga, about 70 miles south. The Colonials attempted to retake the fort but were driven back. Eventually, the fort was abandoned. 
 We happened to come on a day when they were holding a re-enactment of the Colonial Army's attempt to retake the fort. This was really cool because everyone in the fort was in a British uniform and they had an encampment right outside the walls. 

 I know they didn't build the fort here for the view, but it sure is a nice side benefit. The mountain up on the right was instrumental in the Colonials losing the fort because Burgoyne hauled cannons up there and was able to fire down into the fort. It's an amazing feat considering the size, weight and distance they had to haul them without roads. Then the sheer distance from the mountain to the fort (a little over a mile) makes it even more impressive that they could fire 8-, 16-, and 24-pound balls that far with any accuracy.

 The British Encampment just outside the walls
 They had a fife and drum corps demonstrating the various beats and calls.
 Then we were treated to a demonstration of the Hessian (German mercenary) soldiers that the British employed.
 The kids got a good, up-close look at the uniforms and their equipment. (Interesting note: the uniform trousers were actually made from mattress fabric.)
 We were treated to a full squad musket drill. It was somewhat funny to me the way the guy shouted at them in German.
 We got to see them fire a cannon. Irene was none-too-pleased with the noise.

 Nearby, there was a camp kitchen set up. They would dig trenches in the clay and make small ovens with holes in the tops to act like stove burners.
 This was kind of impressive. It's like a "Who's Who" of Revolutionary War heros.
 The soldiers' barracks

 This is Justin. He was the horse for one of the British officers.
 An officer's tent inside the fort. After seeing the inside, we took a walk through the encampment outside the fort. We walked all the way to the end and were treated to a few minutes alone with a British Lieutenant (Leftenant?)  and his Sergeant-at-Arms. 
 The Sergeant showed the kids all the workings of his flintlock. Then he showed them how he would help his Lieutenant get dressed for battle. 
 These guys were so kind and patient with all the kids' questions. We then moved on to see the battle itself. 
 We were struck by the fact that there wasn't an open field that they fought in. It was in the middle of the woods! How in the world did they ever keep themselves organized in that environment?
 If you look closely, you can see one of the Colonial lines through the smoke. The two sides were less than 50 feet apart. The battle slowly moved away from the fort as the British drove the Colonials back. 
 Olivia managed to get close to one of the Brits. What did she ask him? "Did you win many battles?" He told her, "Not enough..." :)
 The Colonials attempted to rally and formed up lines right in front of us.

 One of them fell "dead" almost right at Olivia's feet.
 It was furious fighting for a while, but eventually, the Colonial Army was driven off.
 A very cool smoke ring from the cannon. 
On the walk back to the car, the kids got to meet another British horse.

We were really glad that we had the opportunities to see both of these significant places from our history. I think it really made some of what Olivia had been studying come to life. 

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