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Q&A with Todd Post on Re-enacting

Give Me Liberty

Todd Post, founder and president of the 2d Virginia Regiment was kind enough to answer questions about re-enacting. For more information about the 2d Virginia Regiment, click on www.secondvirginia.org.

How did you become interested in re-enacting?
I had always been interested in colonial history, mostly because I grew up in New Jersey, where there are a lot of historic sites. When I was in first grade, I bought Meet George Washington by Joan Heilbroner at a book fair at my school and I used to read it over and over again. A lot of our field trips in elementary school were to Revolutionary War sites as well. My parents used to take me to re-enactments and when I was fourteen I asked a group how I could get involved and they let me join as a drummer as long as my father joined with me. I was not a very good drummer though, so as soon as I could save enough money with working after school and over the summer, I bought a musket.

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Why the 2d Virginia Regiment?
When I moved to Virginia, I wanted to keep re-enacting, but there was not a group for me to join. About the same time, I met two others who were interested in a new group, so we decided to start one. We knew we wanted to do a Continental Army regiment from Virginia and after reading all of the available information, it was clear the 2d Virginia Regiment had many interesting individuals who served in it, fought well in the battles it was a part of, and had the most surviving information about what their uniforms looked like of any of the Virginia regiments.

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What intrigued you about its history?
When the war started, Virginia raised only two regiments, and the 2d Virginia Regiment was picked to do most of the fighting because its colonel, William Woodford, had experience fighting in the French and Indian War. Colonel Woodford qa_img019.gifwas promoted to general and was followed by Alexander Spotswood, the grandson of Governor Spotswood, who was one of Virginia’s early colonel governors. He trained the regiment to be one of the best in the army. After the Battle of Germantown in 1777, a newspaper article in the Virginia Gazette stated: “The heroism and gallantry of the second Virginia regiment I cannot help particularly mentioning; they would do honour to any country in the world. It is universally believed they behaved the best of any troops in the field.” Colonel Spotswood resigned after that battle because he mistakenly thought his brother had been killed and he went home to Virginia to take care of their families. His brother had really only been wounded and captured by the British, but another officer had already been promoted to replace him named Christian Febiger. Colonel Febiger was born in Denmark and continued the regiment’s excellent reputation as one of the best regiments in the Continental Army until they were captured in Charleston SC in May 1780.

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How did you go about founding the group?
We started with three members, including myself, and we spent several months researching surviving letters, orders, and other accounts about what the uniforms of the 2d Virginia Regiment looked like. Taking place over eight years, the Revolutionary War was a long war compared to most other wars (the War of 1812 was two years long, the Civil War qa_Unit1.giffour years, American involvement in World War I was less than two years, and Americans fought in World War II for just over three and a half years) and because they were starting from nothing, it took the Continental Army a couple of years to determine the best way to do things. For that reason, between 1775 and 1780, the 2d Virginia Regiment’s uniforms changed at least three times, and because there were no photographs at the time, the way we know what they wore and what weapons they used comes from what was written by people in the 2d Virginia Regiment or those who saw them and wrote about it. After we learned all we could about what the uniforms should look like, we started recreating the uniforms as best we could, using the same kinds of fabrics they used. You can’t go to the store and buy Revolutionary War uniforms, so we had to make them ourselves and we sewed anything that could be sewn by hand because sewing machine did not exist back then. With our uniforms complete, we started to attend events and people started to join after seeing us at re-enactments. Now we have over thirty members from all over Virginia as well as other states.

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What do you enjoy most about it?
What I enjoy most about re-enacting is rediscovering information about what the soldiers wore, what weapons they fought with, and how they lived so people can see what it was really like. It is easier with a time period like the Civil War because there are photographs of soldiers and their clothing looks somewhat similar to what we wear today. The only paintings we have from the American Revolution are of fancy officers in clothing that looks funny to us today, like breeches and powdered wigs, or paintings which were done many years later by people who drew a “best guess” of what they thought things looked like, so it is hard to imagine what it was like for the common soldier. By re-enacting, not only do I get a better idea of what it was like, but I can show others. I also have made a lot of friends through re-enacting who love history as much as I do, who come from all over the country, as well as Canada and England!

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What was most surprising?
I am always surprised by how much we don’t know about the American Revolution and how much new information we are finding out all the time. Even though the war happened over two hundred and twenty-five years ago, there are a lot qa_Rack-1.gifof artifacts and writings that have either been lost or very few people knew about that are “rediscovered” from time to time. They can be found some place hidden, like inside the wall or under the floor of an old house, or they can just have been part of a family’s collection that no one ever took the time to look through until now. We are constantly learning new things and our understanding of the American Revolution is constantly being updated.

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What do you like least?
The hardest part of re-enacting is that it is not easy to live like an 18th century soldier for a weekend because their everyday life was so much different from how most modern people live today. Most people back then had jobs that required a lot of physical labor and as soldiers they marched everywhere they had to go, some times hundreds of miles in just a few weeks. Most people today drive where they need to go and often have jobs that keep them in an office working at a computer, so living like an 18th century person for just a couple of days is a big change! Also because the clothing and equipment we use is not common any more, some things can be kind of expensive because they are hard to find.

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Are the clothes difficult to make? How are they to wear?
People don’t sew today as much as they did years ago, but it is a skill that is still common enough that it is not hard to qa_Stony-Point-019.giflearn. The hardest part of making the clothes if finding the right materials and patterns and then making them fit right. What is harder than clothing to reproduce are the things that they made out of leather and metal, since these are skills that people often need to be trained in. However if you really want to learn, there are enough books out there that you could teach yourself. The clothes are actually very comfortable to wear ­ they just look different than what we’re used to ­ but the shoes aren’t as comfortable as modern shoes. However because they’re made of leather, the more you wear 18th century shoes, the more they “fit” to your feet.

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How did you educate yourself about the times?
I educated myself through lots of reading and asking questions from people who knew more than I did. Most history books are too general or based on very basic information about the American Revolution that is often wrong. For instance, for years people thought that the British were “stupid” to wear red coats and march in straight lines, while the Americans shot at them from behind rocks and trees with rifles. The Continental Army wore blue uniforms, our French allies wore white, and the best way to fight using an inaccurate musket was by firing in groups, so actually Americans did not start winning battles until they learned how to fight like the British! If you really want to learn about the American Revolution, it is best to read a lot of different books by authors who based their information on the writings of those who actually fought in the war.

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What kind of food do you eat at events?
We try to cook and eat food like the Continental Army soldiers did. The army promised them a pound of bread and a qa_stonymarch.gifpound of meat every day, along with other things, but they did not always get what they were promised. Also, some times the soldiers were able to find food of their own, often buying or trading with people they met. Most of the time they either cooked over an open fire or boiled their food in an iron pot or tin kettle.

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Other websites of interest for re-enacting are the 1st Virginia Regiment and The Brigade of the American Revolution (an umbrella group for American Revolution re-enactment groups)

I had always been interested in colonial history, mostly because I grew up in New Jersey, where there are a lot of historic sites. When I was in first grade, I bought Meet George Washington by Joan Heilbroner at a book fair at my school and I used to read it over and over again.

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