If you’re looking for a place to go for vacation, you could do worse than to travel up to Gettysburg, Pa. You don’t even have to get out of your car. You can just roll down the windows, drive around the pastures on the outskirts of town and see all of the impressive statues at the famous, memorial battlefield there.
It’s quiet and quaint and safe and clean. A trip worth making, especially for kids studying history.
Or closer to home you may drive to the north side of Greensboro and to the Guilford Courthouse battlefield. City folks jogging on the walking trails distract from the aura of history there and make you think you’re having a day in the park. You want to look for picnic shelters.
You do have to get out of your car at the Kings Mountain battlefield west of Charlotte. The wooded ridge is silent except for the birds flitting in the trees, and only the trees and a few granite outcroppings serve as hosts at the historic scene.
But to truly know the fortuitous battles that forged our country, to hear history ringing in your ears and to feel the fight in your bones, you need to see a historical reenactment, as we had in Elkin last month in the field next to the railroad trestle.
The highlight of the Overmountain Victory Trail weekend, a first for Elkin, was a dozen guys in costume with flintlock rifles who met on a mock field of battle. That’s something you don’t get in history class in school.
To see the rifles’ flash of fire and to hear the crack of their thunder teaches that the Revolutionary War was not antiseptic and academic but instead loud and angry and sweaty and dirty. “Fire at the dirty dogs,” one of the patriot reenactors yelled before a crowd of about 50 onlookers as redcoat and loyalist actors ran for the woods.
Reenactors must be clean and serene and can’t show the blood and screaming and agony and death on the battlefields that accompanied the birth of our country, and has been its sustentation. Yet during the Revolutionary War some 350 common folk from our area braved the reality and answered the Overmountain call, gathered at the north end of what is now Elkin Park and began a horse ride or hike on a western swing through what would become Morganton and Rutherfordton to end up on a fateful ridge near Gastonia.
And the remarkable part of the story is that the impromptu Overmountain army was composed of militia — civilians whose forebears had organized generations before to defend and confront Indian conflicts. Think of the volunteer fire department with guns.
It’s one thing to hunt animals and maybe even practice in a militia drill, Lexington reenactor James Daniel told an Elkin High School JROTC class during the Overmountain event. It’s another to stroll into a battle and spend up to a minute at a time loading a musket ball into a flintlock rifle while a soldier with a long, sword-like bayonet charges at you.
The victory of the Overmountain Men — so called for their Abingdon, Va., and Bristol, Tenn., area contingents — at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 was credited with turning the tide toward victory during the Revolutionary War. Future president Thomas Jefferson called it “the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War with a seal of our independence.”
If the reenactors ever return to Elkin, you’d do yourself a favor to go and see, hear and taste a history lesson like none you had in school.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
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