My son and I strolled carefully through the wooded glen. A light mist hung in the air, a combination of morning dew and the smoke of several small campfires. Sunlight pierced the canopy of green leaves overhead in diagonal shafts. Ahead of us, we could hear the sounds of many feet stomping through the moist underbrush. The sounds of men shouting commands in clipped words carried over the foggy air. Then, one final command and a thunderous peal tore through the early morning calm, followed by applause.
As we made our way out of the glen toward the parade ground, we saw men engaged in various routines simulating typical camp activities of the American Revolutionary War time period. Many wore uniforms of white linen shirts, off-white britches and vests of wool. Others wore dark blue coats festooned with numerous gold colored buttons. Some wore fringed hunting shirts and slouch hats. Their clothing and accoutrements were all historically accurate.
When we finally reached the parade ground we were in time to watch an authentic musket drill performed by a group of rag-tag colonials and more formally dressed soldiers. The musket fire resounded though the field and choked the air with clouds of grey-white smoke.
This was the first time my son and I had ever attended the New Windsor Cantonment, which is basically a standing reenactment of a winter base used by George Washington’s army in the winter of 1782. Like the Fishkill Depot on the other side of the Hudson, the Cantonment featured 600 log cabins to house nearly 8,000 soldiers and their families on a more permanent basis than a tent camp. In addition to quarters for the troops there were also support people such as carpenters, blacksmiths, apothecaries and any number of services that an active military camp would need.
Muskets and More
While my son and I did enjoy the musket fire, we also enjoyed viewing some of the less martial aspects of military camp life. In addition to trades with direct military application, there are also demonstrations of 18th century camp medicine and simple camp cooking. The first thing that struck us was the lack of automation. Nearly everything was done by hand. And every piece of equipment requires care and knowledge in its use. Re-enactors are, as a group, very methodical and well researched. And the people at the New Windsor Cantonment are incredibly knowledgeable.
The Indoor Exhibits
The exciting thing about the New Windsor Cantonment is that it requires more than one visit to see it all. The indoor exhibits are great for younger visitors or visitors who prefer a museum experience. All the galleries offer a wealth of information and house some truly entertaining and enlightening displays. One of our particular favorites was a gallery devoted to the artillery of the day.
There are walking paths everywhere on the property, where you can take in the scenery accompanied by a soldier or a soldier’s wife and see demonstrations of musket firing or blacksmithing. Summer features costumed soldiers and civilians demonstrating period skills such as 18th century medicine, drilling with muskets or cannon, cooking over an open fire, laundering clothing, or hewing timbers for log huts. Visitors can also get a sense of everyday life as seen through the games and other leisure activities of the day.
Living in the Hudson Valley we are surrounded by historical sights and attractions. The New Windsor Cantonment is one of the premiere historic sites in the lower part of the state and is really fun for the entire family.
Bob Berry is a frequent contributor to Westchester Family.
When You Go …
The New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site
374 Temple Hill Road, New Windsor, N.Y.
• Museum and grounds open year round, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.
• Visitor Center exhibits open year round, Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.
• Living History Events: Mid-April through October, Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.