By Bob Ruegsegger
For more than a quarter of a century, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation has hosted Military Through the Ages at Jamestown Settlement in James City County. This popular annual event chronicles centuries of military history from Medieval to Modern times.
“It’s an excellent event,” observed Todd Johnson, an assistant site manager with JYF. “It gives our visitors a great opportunity to see a time line of military history,” he said. “It’s also what I would call a re-enactors event.”
Johnson has been intimately involved with the event from the very beginning. He initially participated in MTA with the 1st Texas Infantry Regiment, a Civil War re-enactment unit. As an assistant site manager, he now shares the responsibility with Cindy Daniel for overseeing the overall weekend program.
Twenty-six years ago only a dozen re-enacting units participated in the inaugural MTA program. Although most of the groups portrayed Civil War units, the Vikings and the Medieval period were also represented.
“Some units come to this event because it’s the only place they can really showcase the time period they’re portraying,” Johnson observed. “For example, the West Cork Flying Column,” he noted. “Where else can you go to portray the IRA in 1921?”
This year’s event will feature 35 groups of re-enactors, mostly from Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, will be participating in the juried competition. Somewhere between 300 and 350 living historians will be involved.
“Our marketing [department] does a great job of drawing people out for this as far as our regular visitors go,” said Johnson. “Military through the Ages is one of our big events. Foods and Feasts is probably our other most heavily visited event,” he noted. MTA averages somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors on this special weekend. “MTA kicks off our spring season for us, and it kicks it off for the re-enactors too.”
To be considered for participation in MTA, units must apply by submitting a registration form which identifies the unit and outlines the presentation that will be offered. Participants are required to portray their time period accurately. They are also expected to interact with the visitors and provide event patrons with an educational experience related to the period they are portraying. Public demonstrations of diver’s, martial and domestic adeptness are presented to visitors throughout the weekend.
Units compete for honors for best cooking demonstration, camp exhibit, and field demonstration. Knowledgeable judges award blue, red, and yellow ribbons to the units that are judged to be the most outstanding. “I think we could deem this as friendly competition,” offered Johnson. “We use impartial judges—historians, curators, military people—that aren’t necessarily connected with the foundation.”
The 3rd U. S. Regular Infantry, 23rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Rogers Rangers, 51st Combat Engineers, and 8 Kompanie, Infanterie Regiment 459 will be among the award winning units participating in this year’s program.
Last year, 8 Kompanie, Infanterie Regiment 459, led by veteran re-enactor Frank James of Chesapeake, won a host of ribbons. “Frank James has always been very creative and always historically correct in his presentation,” said Johnson. “He’s been one of our mainstays with MTA,” he added. James and his award-winning 8 Kompanie will be a German prisoner of war facility—Kriegsgefangenenlager Seene—during World War I.
Over the years, MTA has a proven track record with both re-enactors and the public. Todd Johnson, as a re-enactor and event promoter, has always looked forward to Military Through the Ages.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a good educational experience for our visitors. It’s one of our big special events,” observed Johnson. “I think twenty-six successful years is an indication that we’re doing something right,” he smiled. “If you keep folks coming back and wanting to come back, that’s an indication that we’re doing something good here.”
Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum operated by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation that daily features 17th century English history in Virginia will host its 26th annual Military Through the Ages event March 21-22. The museum is located on State Route 31 in James City County, southwest of Williamsburg, and adjacent to Historic Jamestowne. Museum hours are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. For additional information call (888) 593-4682 toll free or (757) 253-4838 or visit www.historyisfun.org.
*Don Hulick, a costumed historic interpreter at Jamestown Settlement, began participating in MTA as a re-enactor in ’92. He’s been involved as a staff member or volunteer ever since. Hulick portrays a 17th century musketeer at James Fort.
*51st Engineer Combat Battalion offer visitors an authentic look at World War II era American soldiers who paved the way for the Allied advance through Europe by clearing roads and mine fields and bridging rivers. Military vehicles of the period, cooking, drill, personal items, and demolition displays are among the elements featured by this award winning unit.
*8 Kompanie, Infanterie Regiment 459 portrays a German Imperial Army unit during the Great War. Their authentic, detailed portrayals have earned them numerous awards over the years at Military Through the Ages.
*This young visitor gets instruction in the use of a Civil War era bayonet from a soldier with the 3rd Regular U.S. Infantry Regiment.