Re-enactment 101

Why would anyone dress up like a solider – march around for 3 days – and go back for more.

Excellent question. And this time – we are doing 2 re-enactments. First we’ll re-enact the Quatre Victories in Montmirail, France. Then we’ll journey to Elba to celebrate Napoleon’s arrival on the Island – not so good for him – but great for Elba.

But first Montmirail. Instead of doing one battle each day in each or the Quatre Victories locations – we’ll do 2 battles in 2 days – both on just one battle field, the Montmirail-Marchais.

But first – we must arrive, find our friends, set-up a tent, get started. It turns out that Victor is well-known by almost everyone – including the Emperor. We barely walk 20 paces before people recognize Victor and rush over to say hi.

For this re-enactment – Vic is going as Marin de la Guarde and I’m a doctor. Not a very high-ranking doctor – a low-level doctor, who has just graduated. My uniform is perfect for this role – and it gives me the opportunity to march with the troops, provide them with water, tend to the ‘wounded’, and move among both enemy. Which is why I’ve been shot at several times by my own troops. Nice guys, eh? Don’t they know a doctor when they see one?

We’re bivouacked with the other Marin – who are staying with the Grognards de Fontainebleau. And we are on the right flank of the Emperor’s tent. Which means we get to watch him (in civilian dress – actually combat fatigues) – setting up his tent! Naturally – the emperor doesn’t get his feet dirty – once he’s the Emperor. So first thing is to lay down huge carpets to form the ground of the ten and dinning/meeting/combat prep room. In his sleeping area there’s a cot with a leopard skin spread, several of his saddles on display, and various other items, including a wash cabinet. In the ‘Pavilion’ area there is a huge table with chairs bearing the Emperor’s Bee’s – cabinets for holding his silver, candlesticks for light.

The Marin and the Imperial Guard set up guard posts – 15 to 20 minutes on guard when ever the Emperor is in ‘Residence’.

When all is done – the transformation happens – and out from the tent strides the Emperor. Cheers from every corner as he visits each bivouac – troops line up at ‘Gardez Vous’ – and he strolls down the line – commenting here and there on this and that. He remembers Victor from Fountainbleu and singles him out for a comment. He gives the young son of one of our officers a coin with his likeness – and after prompting (this is how it would have happened) – gives a Medal of Honor to one of the troops that displayed great bravery at a previous battle.

More Cheers – and he moves on.

Friday night we eat dinner late, relax around the campfire, visit the tavern (there is always a tavern), and eventually people drift off – some like us to a hotel, others to bed down in tents or even in the open air.

Saturday is the day of the great battle – all day friday and all friday night troops and Calvary and cannon crews have been arriving. The number of re-enactors has grown from one or two, to several hundred, to several thousand. There are well over 100 horses, and I counted over 20 large cannons. But not everything is for us – there are also facilities that have bloomed up overnight for the spectators – and that’s a source of much fun for the re-enactors.

There are several different food vendors – this is France – so the cheese is amazing, there are croissants available to buy – 1/2 price for re-enactors. We spot tents with books on Napoleon, others with antiques (and not so antiques) for sale. Ladies in long gowns, white parasols and long gloves stroll amid soldiers in various uniforms, officers in gold braid, Calvary in all their finery, and the strangely dress tourists!

Bleachers have been built with seats – but standing room only space is the norm, and provides great views of the entire battle field. To the amusement of the growing crowds, the French Line decides to drill in the middle of the space allocated to the viewers. We do our drill in a separate area, and I’m not sure where the allied forces were drilling. Everywhere there is Calvary – and the cannon crews practice their drills.

As a doctor – I’m free to roam – and I watch the cannon crew for a while. Cannons are very very loud – and there’s a ton of smoke released – much to the surprise of a photographer who had gotten up close for a perfect shot. It was perfect ok – until he had to run out of the dense smoke cloud!

Drill complete – we resume camp life – then gather for the muster of the troops prior to the battle.

We don’t really know the plan – we just follow the shoulder pack of the guy in front of us. I spot a collection of Medical men – all French – standing off behind the army. But I greatly prefer to be in the heat of the action, and stand directly behind our troop of around 100 Imperial Guard, made up of Marin, Grenadiers, Moyan Guard and Jeune Guarde. Victor is positioned to the front – and acts as an NCO, repeating orders as the Marshal and Generals and Majors yell them out.

Napoleon canters by with his entourage – to gay cries of Vive L’Emporeur.

For this battle, we are being held in reserve – so while the solders of the line see plenty of action, our involvement is limited. When we finally do charge the enemy – we quickly over-run their lines – and I’m busy helping the wounded – of both sides. I suddenly realize that I’ve become separated from the Imperial Guard. There are soldiers every where – just done of them my ‘team’.

Shoot.

This is awkward.

I search madly for someone – anyone I recognize the uniform of – and eventually spot Rudy marching with the 85th. At least I know for sure they are on ‘our’ side. I march with them off the battle field – relieved to get off the field, and to put down my now depleted supplies of water.

We re-form lines for a final salute – we break ranks to ‘Vive L’Emperour’ – and collapse into our tents, our piles of straw – or head to the tavern. Whew – one battle down, one to go.

Sunday we repeat as above – only this time we start the battle much earlier in the day – around 10:00 am – and thus it is neither so hot – not so ‘touristy’. And this time the guarde is called upon to fight. We rush uphill towards the ‘town’ – firing as we go. We are rushed by Calvary – and form square to defend ourselves. As the doctor, I’m ‘smushed’ into the middle of the square – unable to see much besides the heads of the horsemen as they gallop around our outward facing bayonets.

At the town, we rescue the townsfolk, and defend the town. We even take over several cannon positions  – it’s really hard to move a cannon quickly. I minister to the wounded – narrowly avoiding being shot by my own troops again. I heard the command to load the muskets this time – and fled before they could fire. Whew.

The battle continues, boiling down the hill of long grasses towards the bleachers – until the Marshal’s call for a cease-fire. When I finally catch up to the Guarde – Victor proudly shows me his saber – nicked in battle with a Prussian who was up for a bit of a fight.

Eventually we march off the field, dismantle the camps, and head back to the hotel for a very much-needed bath and shower.

Success was ours today!

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