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Cannon roar and belch fire and smoke. Eyes sting and blur, trying to make sense of the forms emerging through the haze. Hundreds of men march down the cobblestoned street, ten or more across, wearing red and carrying muskets - and now they halt - kneel - and fire!
Thrilling and terrifying, despite the knowledge that it is all smoke and no real ammunition, this is the annual reenactment of the Battle of Germantown that will take place this Saturday, October 2, 2010. Hundreds of re-enactors bring to life the events of 1777 as Hessians, Highlanders, and British battled the Colonials led by General George Washington.
Activities throughout the day include a performance by MacGregor's Pipe Band, jugglers, puppeteers, and an Oktoberfest. You can also meet some fascinating characters, including Washington, British General Sir William Howe and Ned Hector, a patriot and Revolutionary War hero of African descent. For a complete schedule, click here.
You can see the battle for free - it is reenacted twice, at noon and three p.m., along Germantown Avenue and on the grounds of Cliveden and Upsala, historic mansions that face one another across the cobblestoned street. Children's activities and a presentation by Ned Hector, a teamster who participated in both the Battle of Germantown and Brandywine take place at Upsala.
On Battle Day, you can tour Cliveden for just $2 (between the battles). This was the gracious and elegant summer residence of Benjamin Chew, who at the time of the Battle of Germantown was not at home. A Loyalist and a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania under the British Crown, he was being held in New Jersey, under orders of the Continental Congress when the battle took place. His wife and daughters were at one of the family's other estates.
There are special events at several additional sites. An unusual example of wartime chivalry will be reenacted at Historic Rittenhousetown at about 10:30, when General Washington returns General Howe's wayward dog, which had strayed into American territory. After getting his dog back, Howe will proceed to the Deshler-Morris House, where he had his headquarters at the time of the battle. (Ironically, Washington later lived here when he was President during the summers of 1793 and 1794, when Philadelphia, then the capital of the country, was suffering from a yellow fever epidemic.)
Representing the considerable Quaker presence in Germantown and in Philadelphia at the time, Wyck will host picnickers on its beautiful grounds from 1 - 4 p.m. Tours of the house will be offered, and visitors will learn about the Quaker response to war, including the use of Wyck as a hospital following the battle.
The Germantown Mennonite Meetinghouse, Johnson House and the Upper Burying Ground and Concord School House will also offer tours and ceremonies. The day culminates with an Oktoberfest at Grumblethorpe, offering food, beer, cider-pressing and house tours.