June 3, 2006
British Army re-enactors occupy CW as Gen. Cornwallis orders martial law June 23-25
Guests in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area witness a rare experience June 23-25 as hundreds of British Army re-enactors take the capital city and subject the citizens of 1781 to martial law. “Under The Redcoat,” an annual weekend-long program, re-creates the occupation of the city by British Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis near the end of the American Revolution.
Guests see first-hand the trials and tribulations, hardships and loss of liberties suffered by the city’s 18th-century citizens at the hands of the world’s dominant military power. The portrayal of a most difficult time in our infant nation’s history begins at noon Friday as the 17th Light Dragoons, accompanied by a patrol of light infantry, enter the Historic Area near the Capitol. Forcibly removing the American flag from the Capitol and replacing it with the British flag, the patrol proceeds to Market Square and secures the area for an encampment of the occupation troops.
More British army re-enactors – 300-500 strong – converge on the town throughout the afternoon. Cornwallis declares martial law at 5 p.m. and the terms of occupation are read to the citizens. British dragoons, searching for patriot sympathizers, patrol the streets as the townspeople congregate and cope with the realities of military occupation, including the loss of personal freedom.
Guests are encouraged to experience the occupation by visiting the British encampments to observe the soldiers as Cornwallis and his officers plan a trap near Williamsburg for the advancing Continental Army units led by the Marquis de Lafayette. While Cornwallis prepares his battle plan, his troops drill and pursue various military activities in camp through the weekend.
While they are not patrolling the streets of Colonial Williamsburg and keeping the patriot citizenry in line, the redcoats perform military drills and other duties. Gun crews practice with an assortment of artillery batteries, while surgeons care for the wounded in a military field hospital.
From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 24, the role of the women who traveled with the army is highlighted in “Women on Campaign” in or near Market Square in the Historic Area. Through demonstrations and explanations, guests explore how women supported the troops by nursing, teaching, mending, sewing and cooking for the officers.
The re-enactment draws to a close late Sunday afternoon as Cornwallis marches his troops out of the city to meet Lafayette’s Continental Army forces on the field of battle less than a dozen miles to the west of the city.
“Under the Redcoat” is the first of three re-enactor weekends – special events to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the Oct. 19 British surrender at Yorktown that effectively ended the Revolutionary War – in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area during 2006. Continental Army re-enactors liberate 18th-century Williamsburg from redcoat rule June 30-July 2 during “The Town Unchained.” and return Oct. 13-15 for “Prelude to Victory” to prepare for the siege of Yorktown, the final battle in the War for Independence.