The Rocket's Red Glare
and Other Unfortunate Results of Reenacting The War of 1812
by Mal Stylo
I applaud reenactors for being interested in the experiences of reenactors of periods other than the American Civil War. In this spirit I would like to share my experiences as commander of the Torbay Independent Congreve Rocket Troop with your readers. As far as I know I was involved in the first, and likely the only, reenactment of this major battle of the War of 1812. The event was called "Bladensburg - the Dark Beginning" by its sponsors.
And what a fantastic event it was! Our conveniently-situated camp was located on the traffic island in the intersection of Maryland Routes 1 and 450 that also housed the majestic "Peace Cross." We were within easy walking distance (except having to play "traffic tag") of an 18th century historic tavern, a topless go-go bar, two liquor stores and a fast food joint - reenactor heaven! All except the liquor stores had indoor bathrooms of varying degrees of cleanliness available for our use. The event sponsors sure did a great job of planning, and by charging only a $50 per participant registration fee provided a modestly-priced one as well! The use of the fast food joint as our unit "commissary," however, was unfortunately lost to the rocket troop for reasons described below.
The battle began at noon on August 24th. The event sponsors couldn't get US Route 1 closed to modern day vehicular traffic and it required all our first person, or FIRPER in reenactor parlance, skills to ignore it. (The dignified memorial service for the commander of the Baltimore Land-Sea Fencibles, Brigadier General Buck N. Ball, who completely ignored a north-bound tractor-trailer, was held on August 28th.) The entire remaining American force - both of them - acted in a totally uncool and farby manner by seeking cover behind a 20th century mailbox and refusing to "take a hit." Clearly, flushing them out was a job for the Torbay Independent Congreve Rocket Troop.
As commander of the rocket troop I supervised the aiming of our full scale reproduction congreve rocket and personally applied the pointe-de-feu. With a roar and a shower of flame our glorious unit's full scale reproduction Congreve rocket took flight! The rocket troop knew this could be the decisive moment of the battle, but didn't then realize it was going to be as decisive as it turned out!
The event would have continued to follow the scenario if our Congreve had gone at least generally in the direction in which I aimed it, but alas it did not. There's an old saying among us rocketeers, "Grizzly bears and Congreve rockets go wherever they darn well please" and this time was no exception.
Straight through "Funland" of the fast food joint streaked our errant missile, decapitating a 20-foot tall plastic clown in the process and causing pandemonium with an unknown child's birthday party by bursting in the air. The rocket troop, after some collective gasps of "Oh S--t!," did not remain at the scene long enough to ascertain the tyke's and guests' names. Happily, according to the next day's newspaper the little nippers escaped with only first degree burns, abrasions and minor psychic trauma, plus, one must presume, a healthy respect for the firepower of a Congreve rocket troop! Talk about educating the public!
The sounds of many approaching police sirens brought the event to a premature and hasty close with the both of the American participants fleeing toward Washington, just as the Americans in 1814 actually did, and the Congreve rocket troop hiding out in the topless go-go bar, just as it probably would have done if the bar had been there back then. I caught a brief glimpse of the event sponsors commandeering a passing car at musket-point and rapidly effecting egress from the scene, as event sponsors sometimes do. They were recently profiled on "America's Least Wanted" so I know they made good their flight and will be planning many more educational and fun events! Huzzah!
I can't talk the next event up enough; it shows great promise and the Torbay Independent Congreve Rocket Troop plans on making the next Bladensburg a "maximum effort" unit event. It will be held the very first August 24th after the statute of limitations on the criminal and civil charges from this one expires!
Our unit later received a hastily scrawled note from the event sponsors stating that due to the witch-hunt of respectable event sponsors resulting from the "Bladensburg - the Dark Beginning," their next event "Fort McHenry - the Bright Conclusion" was indefinitely postponed. No cash registration fee refund for the Ft. McHenry event was possible, although reimbursement in "Bladensburg" ball caps, teeshirts, plastic tumblers and participant's medals could be made. I'm certain these unique souvenirs are certain to become sought-after collector's items, much like historic "art" prints.
Unfortunately, as the envelope lacked a return address, it was difficult to apply for a merchandise reimbursement. The best advice we could give our rocketeers was to keep watching "America's Least Wanted" for event sponsor location updates.
Meanwhile, the Torbay Independent Congreve Rocket Troop is preparing to take to the waves and sponsor the first-ever reenactment of the Battle of St. Leonard's Creek, the largest naval battle ever fought in (on?) Maryland. Fortunately the site is in a different county than Bladensburg, but we still may have to move the battle out of state.
We are trying to get the US Navy to loan the rocket troop the USS Constitution for this one and the outlook is favorable! The event will also feature a "Miss Teenage `Battle of St. Leonard's Creek' Bikini Contest" and other historic vignettes. I'll keep you informed.