The soldiers were filthy. Their uniforms stank. The women tending the fires at the campsites were tired and haggard, their dresses tattered and stained.
"It's been a long six years of war now. I don't even know if these shoes will last through the war," sighed Carol Deakin, fingering cardboard-thin soles.
Deakin stood in the living room of her Reston home, surrounded by stacks of ragged clothes, wooden kegs and iron pots: paraphernalia for a long haul on the battle trail.
This weekend Deakin will trade her comfortable town house and microwave oven for a crude tent and a 35-pound cast-iron pot. She will slip into a homespun dress and the role of a Revolutionary War camp follower, part of the ragtag group of wartime wives and girlfriends who trailed the soldiers, cooking, mending and caring for the wounded.
And while Carol Deakin is stoking a campfire, her husband Thomas will leave his real-life role as an FBI agent to command Colonial troops waging a fierce battle against the British.
The Deakins have been reliving the battles of the American Revolution for the past six years. This weekend, the war reenactments and the nation's Bicentennial celebration will climax with the recreation of George Washington's victory over Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown.
The Deakins are in charge, coordinating the movements of the 3,000 troops and 1,000 camp followers who will recreate the four-day battle, beginning with the first siege Friday afternoon and ending with the surrender of the British Monday afternoon.
For the Deakins, reconstructing the Battle of Yorktown has been almost as grueling as the original battle fought 200 years ago.It has taken two years, dozens of practice sessions at lesser-known battle sites and hundreds of hours of research, sewing and cooking to perfect authentically ragged clothes and original campfire recipes.
"Without our home computer, this battle would never have gotten on the road," Deakin admitted. "It's been much harder for us to create it than it was for Washington to fight it. He didn't have to answer telephones and get out this much paperwork."
But that's where modern technology stopped.
The 4,000 soldiers and camp followers from 145 regiments in 23 states have been given explicit instructions:
* No modern down jackets over petticoats or Army coats when cold winds blow off the York River. By the time of Yorktown, the American Army was shivering, too.
* No makeup, no wristwatches, no modern eyeglasses. If you're nearsighted, just squint; if you want to know the time, look at the sun.
* Only fresh vegetables in the campfire pots.
* Don't make a new uniform just for Yorktown. Uniforms look much more authentic if worn, faded, torn, patched and mended -- much as the American Army uniforms looked during the battle.
* And above all, please look appropriately dirty, bedraggled and generally disgusting.
"We try to look as dirty as possible," Carol Deakin said. "Sometimes the people on the sidelines are disappointed. But we would really turn the crowd off if we smelled and looked as bad as the soldiers must have in 1781 after six years of war."
All this emphasis on rags and dirt has a purpose: to create, as nearly as possible, the battlefield as it originally appeared. And nothing, but nothing, should destroy that illusion for the dozens of dignitaries and hundreds of news cameras that are expected to descend on the 400 residents of Yorktown this week.
"Camera crews will appear when you least expect it," the Deakens warned soldiers and camp followers in a preliminary letter. "As soon as you forget to hide in a tent and pour the Coke into an 18th-century cup, as soon as you light a cigarette instead of a pipe and as soon as you drag the cooler out from under the blanket in the tent. Beware -- you will go down in history as they catch you."
The dedication to authenticity began with the first round of selections.Although regiments from all over the country wanted to participate in the festivities, several were rejected because their soldiers refused to shave 20th-century beards or because their uniforms were made from fabrics that weren't used in the 18th century.
That same dedication extends to the drill lines and trenches of the battlefield and continues most of the night at the campsites.
"Don't be any more miserable than necessary," Carol Deakin cautioned in a note to the soldiers and camp followers who will participate in the mock war. "But hide modern items in linen bags so we don't disappoint the public."
And to make the recreation even more lifelike, the women and soldiers have been versed in the slang of the day and have brushed up on common camp problems, like plagues and fevers.
Throughout the battle, camp followers will stage scenarios of camp life for spectators, all with the purpose of breathing life into 18th century history. Those small dramas, Deakin said, often shock modern visitors, as did a conversation she recalled from a recent reenactment.
A distraught Colonial mother was discussing her sick child.
"The fever has been with him for days now," she was telling another concerned mother.
On the sidelines, a young visitor piped up, "Why don't ya give him an aspirin?"
"It came as a real shock when we told the crowd there was no aspirin back then." Deakin said. "It really hits a modern-day child when you tell him that if he had been around 200 years ago, he probably would have died from strep throat because there was no aspirin or penicillin."
The Yorktown reenactment will culminate years of demonstrations and research for the participating regiments. Most of the regiments, including the First Virginia, were created during the 1970s as nonprofit education groups by history buffs interested in portraying "living history."
In addition to Bicentennial celebrations, the groups have participated in dozens of local camp and tactical demonstrations and reenactments of Revolutionary battles.
For the Deakins and the approximately 80 other members of the First Virginia Regiments, the Revolutionary recreations have become as much a way of life as their Monday-to-Friday 20th-century lives.
They load the family van with iron pots, wooden kegs, old muskets and patched cloothes and set out for their "other" life.
The participants in the Yorktown event will each have spent about $1,-000 on their hand-sewn tattered garments, guns and other personal equipment, Carol Deakin said.
"I don't play an officer's wife," she said. "I like to stay grubby. My house has probably been burned. I'm a camp follower. A lot of my friends are homeless. We're just trying to survive. We cook for the soldiers, do the mending and the laundry. For that, we get half-rations and the children get quarter-rations."
For a moment, she is lost in a bygone era.
"Every once in a while you get a cold shiver down your back," she said. "You'll be involved in one of the public demonstrations, and you'll feel like there are ghosts walking along beside you."
During one battle recreation on a sweltering summer day, soldiers were fainting from the heat.
"It was one of the most miserable weekends of our lives," Deakin recalled. "And when it was over, we realized, 'My God, that's the way it really was -- awful.'"
After six years of spending weekends in smelly clothes and non-weatherized tents, Deakin said, grinning, "You get used to it, but that doesn't mean it gets comfortable. You really appreciate the microwave and the dishwasher when you get home."