Even Revolutionary War action figures need spring training to get their spit-and-polish act together.
The men of the Fourth Legionary Corps got back into character for the long re-enacting season with a weekend at Fort Frederick just south of Hagerstown. They didn't shave, fended off the evening chill by gathering around the barracks fireplace and practiced the tactics of 18th century warfare.
"It's clearing away the cobwebs and seeing that we have everything we need before we go out," said Mike Nigh of Annapolis, who has been a corps member since 2007.
The unit, founded in the mid-1990s, draws troops from the mid-Atlantic to fill the ranks of the light infantry or the horse-mounted dragoons. Salesmen, retired police officers, doctors — they have forged a brotherhood based on itchy wool and an insistence on historical accuracy.
Part of the authenticity is Fort Frederick itself, a massive stone fortification built in 1756 to protect colonial Maryland's frontier settlers during the French and Indian War. The fort was used as a prison for British soldiers during the Revolutionary War and it guarded the C & O Canal from Confederate raids during the Civil War.
The state bought the fort in 1922. During the Great Depression, Civilian Conservation Corps workers restored the walls, conducted archaeological digs and began creating a park. The Maryland Park Service built two barracks inside the walls in 1975.
The Corps has been a part of Fort Frederick for many years, said Park Ranger Bob Study.
"They get to drill and our visitors get to see what life was like for the Continental soldiers. They volunteer their time and talent to bring the fort back to life," said Study. "They look forward to this because we have a fort to stay in so they can actually live in the 18th century."
About 25 history buffs spent Saturday in marching drills and other staples of re-enactment. That evening, they had an initiation ceremony for recruits and debated Revolutionary War-era politics into the night.
Some of the veterans got an early start for home Sunday morning "to ensure domestic tranquillity," quipped Bill Ochester, commander of the infantry who lives in Philadelphia. Those who remained participated in the musket marksmanship contest.
Paper targets bearing the images of Mohican warriors and French soldiers were set up 35 yards down range as the light infantry carefully loaded and took aim five times. The most accurate shooter was Nigh, who put all five shots in a fist-sized circle in the middle of the target.
The action switched to inside the fort, where saber-wielding horsemen slash melons and cabbages impaled atop poles.
"Huzzah," the infantrymen and spectators shouted after each horse trotted by.
The men said it's hard to compete against Civil War reenactment groups for recruits and the public's attention.
"It's so far removed and it's funny clothes," said Study, who dabbled in Civil War history before being won over by the War of Independence. "It's not as relevant as the Civil War, which is still shaping who we are."
So it was with no small degree of satisfaction that the Corps added to its ranks two pre-teen boys from Cecil County who will serve as "bowmen," or apprentices, until they turn 15.
Their parents beamed and took pictures as Collins Jones, 12, and George Jones, 11, handled chores inside the fort.
"We worked on their uniforms over the winter," said Beth Jones, their mother. "The shirts and trousers are homemade. The boots, hats, hatchets and canteens we bought. They've always been interested in history, so this is right up their alley."
Fort Frederick will be staffed by interpreters in period garb every Saturday and Sunday and will be open seven days a week through the summer starting May 28. Several weekends will be devoted to the war. Members of Joshua Beall's Company will have musket and artillery firing presentations on May 12 and 13. On June 23 and 24, the Brigade of the American Revolution will assemble for living history demonstrations and battle reenactments.