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Snow makes re-enactment more like ‘real thing’

Mike Cecere stood in the cold in near ankle-deep mud with a smile on his face, watching his regiment of troops stow away their guns and equipment as a heavy snow fell from the sky.

“This is perfect,” said Cecere, captain of the 7th Virginia Regiment, which had minutes before concluded its participation in Saturday’s 232nd Anniversary Commemoration of the Crossing of the Dan River.

Historians say Feb. 14, 1781, the day that Gen. Nathaniel Greene’s army won the race to the Dan River and turned the tide in the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War, was a snowy, icy day, a day in which troops braved wet, cold and very muddy conditions as they plodded along their route.

“It’s hard for us to exactly re-enact everything the way it was back then,” Cecere explained.

“These are perfect conditions, especially with the mud. We have 30 or 40 guys walking around here and moving canons and things. Imagine what it was like with 2,000 to 3,000 men with the horses, wagons, canon and supplies.”

Only a small handful of hardy souls made their way to the banks of the Dan River Saturday afternoon to watch as re-enactors from the 7th Virginia Regiment, the 2nd North Carolina Regiment, His Majesty’s Marines and His Majesty’s Regiments of Foot Royal Provincials played out the scenes of the Battle of the Dan River at Boyd’s Ferry.

“It’s miserable out here,” Cecere admitted, “but it’s miserable in an authentic and happy way. This must have been something like what they went through.” 

 John Arrington another member of the 7th Regiment agreed.

“In real life they had to fight in the snow, so this gives us a chance to see what they went through,” Arrington said.

He traveled all the way from Lorton to be part of Saturday’s events, and while it was not his first re-enactment, it was his first time re-enacting the Crossing of the Dan.

“This was a key piece in our country getting free. This allowed us to push the British out of North Carolina, and it also allowed us to start pushing them toward Yorktown which ultimately ended the war,” Arrington said.

 Mary Mansouri, another member of the regiment, was excited about Saturday’s events despite the harsh weather conditions.

“Even with the snow, everybody is laughing, everybody is in good spirits. We enjoy each other’s company, and we trust each other,” Mansouri said.

 She said she made the pilgrimage from Fairfax just because she really wanted to be part of this particular event. She had re-enacted other historic events, but never the Crossing.

“A lot of the patriots did some amazing things, so we can have the freedoms that we have today. It’s important to remember all our veterans,” she added.

Mansouri explained women also played a role in the Revolutionary War, but they wouldn’t have been in a position of command and weren’t known as women. Some even dressed as men and were never discovered to be women.

Members of the 7th Regiment, Carl Elsea and his son, Hugh, traveled from Roanoke for the second time to have a role in Saturday’s event. 

Carl is responsible for making one of the cannons used during the re-enactment.

“Boys and their toys. I guess I’m a boy with a bigger toy,” Carl said when asked why he decided to design the cannon used at many re-enactments.

He and his son enjoy re-enacting the Crossing because of the camaraderie with their friends, and it was an important point in American history, he added.

“Do we like the fact that we have a country called the United States of America where we believe in unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as opposed to following a king, and that one person is better than another just because who their parents were?” Elsea asked explaining the reason why Crossing of the Dan and other events of the Revolution are so important.

Direct descendants of Colonel Green, Elsea and his son both carry Green as their middle names.

Prior to the re-enactment, dozens gathered in the Chastain Theatre Saturday morning for the annual wreath-laying ceremony. Keynote speaker for that event was Travis Bowman, a direct descendant of Peter Franciso, also known as the Giant of the Revolution.

Bowman, the author of “Hercules of the Revolution,” dressed as Francisco and told his story.

“Peter Francisco is a hero here in Virginia. They observe him every March 15, and he served in the Virginia Senate after the Revolution, but yet sadly most people don’t know who Peter Francisco was, and so as a true descendant of Peter, that of course, inspired me to want to get out and tell his story,” Bowman said.

He and Francisco are connected in a unique way, Bowman said, because Francisco was known for his size. 

“He stood six-foot six, while the average man in that day stood five -foot six, and I’m also six-foot-six,” Bowman said.

Virginia passed the resolution to observe Peter Francisco Day on February 24, 1973, the day he was born.

 Bowman traveled from Davidson, N. C. to attend Saturday’s Crossing of the Dan events. His first time attending the Crossing, he said he decided to come because it was very likely Francisco could have taken part in it.

“It’s a very, very, very good chance that he was here, so it’s great to remember this historical site, this incredible tactical maneuver by General Greene and be able to say my ancestor was part of this,” Bowman said.

Glenn Sappie, the state president for the North Carolina Sons of the Revolution, said he enjoyed Bowman’s presentation.

 Sappie traveled from Raleigh, N.C. to attend the event.

 He has attended the crossing many times before.

“I never had heard of it before I came the first time, so it’s an exciting point in history that we are able to relive every year. It’s amazing to me that 232 years later we can put the call out and call the arms and have 100 people or more show up for an event like this to commemorate it,” Sappie said.

Other Sons of the Revolution also in attendance dressed in their Continental uniforms as part of the Virginia Color Guard.

Dennis Fritts of Roanoke attended the event for the fifth time.

“I had relatives who actually fought at Guilford Courthouse in the battle, and after the battle of Guilford Courthouse was over with, they were taken out and executed by the Loyalists. So to me, it’s a way of paying tribute to those relatives in particular,” Fritts said.

He looks forward to seeing the Crossing of the Dan display in The Prizery Banquet Hall each year.

Andrew Johnson of the George Mason Chapter of the Sons of the Revolution and the Sons of the Revolution Virginia Color Guard has attended the Crossing almost every year since it began.

He said he always looks forward to the march down to the monument, firing over the river and the boat crossing.

David King of the George Waller Chapter Sons of the Revolution also attended Saturday’s event marking his fourth time participating, and he always looks forward to the lunch and the re-enactment, he said.

 Lunch Saturday was Brunswick stew provided by members of the Virgilina Fire Department.

Like Fritts, King said he attends because he also had a relative who fought in the Revolution.

“I had a relative in the American Revolution, but this was in the north. This keeps me connected with that period in history, and it’s a very important event because had General Greene’s army gotten caught and defeated, there would have been no battle in Guilford Courthouse, and there’s a possibility we would have lost the South in the Revolution and ultimately the Revolution,” King said.

In all, an estimated 200 people attended Saturday’s 232nd Anniversary Commemoration of the Crossing of the Dan.


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