Living History Days at Middleton Place recreates Nathaniel Greenes encampment of the southern army in 1782
Life in Revolutionary War times was rough. Just ask William Sullivan Jr.
The 8-year-old Summerville boy, his father and 14-year-old sister attended Living History Days at Middleton Place on Saturday and stopped to hear a short talk by Larry Tillman, a re-enactor who played the role of the surgeon for the 2nd South Carolina Regiment.
As Tillman, who in real life is a medical professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, talked about medical procedures in the early 1780s — amputations, digging out musket balls from wounded troops, the process of bleeding sick patients and small pox vaccinations — the 8-year-old’s eyes got bigger and bigger in disbelief.
When asked what he thought about life back in those times, the boy was speechless and seemed a tad queasy.
His father, firefighter William Sullivan, said that William and Megan love to go to history re-enactments held around town and that he thinks it’s important for them to learn in a living format.
“I want them to know about history, especially South Carolina history, because that’s where we’re from.”
This weekend, more than 100 Revolutionary War re-enactors from 10 states brought Middleton alive with history for the two-day event, which resumes at 9 a.m. today.
Tropical Storm Beryl – as of midday Saturday – didn’t seem to threaten today’s encampment and activities, which include a military demonstration at 1 p.m., cavalry demo at 2 p.m. and infantry demo at 3 p.m.
If today’s weather seems questionable, people can call Middleton at 266-7489 to confirm whether the event is still taking place, according to Ron Vido, the stable yard interpretive programs manager at Middleton and Living History Days organizer.
The second Living History Days commemorates the 230th anniversary of Nathaniel Greene’s encampment of the southern army at Middleton Place during the Revolutionary War.
Programs and interactive demonstrations focused on the Continental Army’s tactics and camp life, which included open hearth cooking, carpentry and blacksmithing. Just like in 1782, the army also had British and Hessian prisoners of war in the encampment.
While Living History Days aren’t planned to be a Memorial Day weekend event, Vido said this one just happened to be convenient for the re-enactors and was an appropriate way to help remember those who perished in the Revolutionary War.
He noted that the encampment in 1782 was originally expected to be two or three weeks and turned out lasting six months. As a result, nearly 200 soldiers died from diseases, including malaria and dysentery.
Troops were staging from Middleton and the Ashley in the effort to get the British out of Charleston.
And while Memorial Day has its roots in the Civil War, Vido said South Carolina’s role in the Revolutionary War was just as significant.
“Not to belittle what happened during the Civil War but a lot of people here in Charleston, and I’m from here, think history starts in 1861, but South Carolina military history starts way before that. In the American Revolution, many people forget that there were more battles and skirmishes, by far, fought in this state than any other state,” said Vido.
Meanwhile, in an age where most people are plugged into technology, re-enactments provide a different way of learning for both spectators and participants.
“It’s so much fun,” said Debrus Eng, a 14-year-old girl from Bunnlevel, N.C., who came with her family to participate in the re-enactment. “I don’t want to miss the re-enactment.”
But both she and her 12-year-old sister, Samantha Eng, played boys at the camp.
“I like being a boy at re-enactments because you get to do a lot more stuff. When you’re a girl, you have to sit around and cook.”
Debrus joined her mother, Sarah Hoskins, and fellow Bunnlevel re-enactor friend, Chris Puckett, on a horseback rides through Middleton. Hoskins and Puckett rode side-saddle, while Debrus rode straddling the saddle.
Puckett said taking children to reenactments not only teaches them history from inside out, it helps them learn how to communicate with adults, gives them primitive camping skills and more.
“It makes you appreciate a nice hot bath and a soft bed at the end of the weekend.”