They travel hundreds of miles to sweat in woolen clothes and chat around campfires about how to pour musket balls and where to buy the proper lace or buttons to complete the uniforms of the particular soldiers they are portraying.
They have been in battle, lots of battles, from re-enactments of the American Revolution to the Viet Nam War.
Many of them specialize in just one period of history or one war. But others have uniforms that allow them to participate in a variety of re-enactments spanning centuries, from the French and Indian War.
And they don’t just dress the part, they live the part — at least for the weekend. They can describe what the soldiers ate, how they drilled, how they slept and even, maybe what they thought about the particular conflict and the politics behind it.
These re-enactors read books about history, peruse original manuscripts and diaries and some even take a few university classes — all to enable then to create the perfect portrayal of “their” chosen soldier’s life.
Some even use the name of an ancestor they know took part in a particular war. Others adopt the persona of a well-known general, officer or public figure of the era.
At Audubon State Historic Site Friday and Saturday, re-enactors from several states converged to give demonstrations and re-enact the 1779 Battle of Baton Rouge (or New Richmond, as the British preferred to call it.)
This battle was one of a very few fought outside of the 13 “original colonies.” The participants this year came from Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Audubon site manager John House dressed as a colonial militiaman fighting on the Spanish side.
He carried a large drum. “The Spanish didn’t have a drummer with them, so I’m filling in,” he explained.
He was speaking about the half-dozen or so men dressed in the white coats of the Spanish army, most of whom were from Louisiana or Mississippi.
Paul Bergeron, Richard Gentry and Dexter Doucet hailed from Baton Rouge, Monroe and Lafayette, respectively, while Jimmy Vickers and Rusty Daigle traveled from Gluck, Mississippi, and Carriere, Mississippi.
They wore white coats trimmed with blue and blue pants favored by the Spanish Colonial Militia, which was part of the regular Spanish army.
Bergeron, who portrayed an officer, wore a brown wig under his hat. “Only the officers actually wore wigs,” he said. “And the white powdered wigs you often see in films were not worn in battle, they were for formal settings and social occasions.”
The British 16th Regiment of Foote were some of the most colorful participants in the battle re-enactment, resplendent in their red coats. All of them had traveled from Arkansas, where this particular group of re-enactors had decided to portray one of the British regiments that had been stationed in the Gulf Coast region during the American Revolution.
The other regiment, they said, was the British 60th Regiment.
Sgt. William Hardage spoke for the group, as he gave a brief history of the original regiment, listing the various battles they had fought from 1763 until 1782, when the foot weary veterans were allowed to return to Britain. Representing the 16th Foote, also known as the “Old Hand or Old Man” regiment were Alan Tetkoskie, Richard Holloway, Michael Bright, Mackey Bright and Leonard Heard, all from Arkansas.
The variety of uniforms and clothing worn by Saturday’s participants made for a very colorful reenactment. Re-enactors wore Spanish and British uniforms as well as colonial militia uniforms and just regular 1779 clothing styles. Female re-enactors wore styles favored by women in the colonies at that time. They participated mainly in dancing demonstrations, but a few ventured into battle to try to aid fallen men.
One female re-enactor, Isabelle Pecquet, of Baton Rouge, celebrated her “sweet 16 birthday” with her fellow re-enactors.
Patrick W. Johnson a re-enactor who does not belong to a formal group or particular military regiment was one of several re-enactors from Baton Rouge.
He said his love of history brought him to re-enacting. He hopes to teach history one day and is studying history at a community college.
His companion Rhett Termini, who attends LSU, echoed Johnson, saying he re-enacts out of a love of history and a desire to preserve the past. He was portraying a Louisiana colonist this weekend, but he is a member of a an organized Civil War re-enactors’ group, the 5th Company of the Washington Artillery, a Louisiana Confederate unit.