George Santayana, 20th century American thinker, wrote it best in The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense, when he said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” With that notion in mind, the historians of Fort Lee took to the streets on November 19 and marched a few blocks from the Fort Lee Historic Park to Monument Park right off Main Street to reenact General Washington’s 1776 Retreat to Victory.
Dressed like revolutionaries, with muskets in hand, eager participants faithfully created the event which did actually take place in Fort Lee 240 years ago, when George Washington and his soldiers abandoned the fort. In their retreat, Washington and company left behind tents and heavy artillery to avoid a surprise invasion of British and Hessian forces who were coming from Lower Closter Landing. At the time, Washington was in Hackensack; the British had already captured many soldiers and had control of Manhattan.
Back in present-day Fort Lee, participants dressed like revolutionaries but opened with a brief mention of the current political climate. The election was not mentioned outright, but the speeches by veterans, historians and politicians, including Mayor Mark J. Sokolich, alluded to a nation in transition without taking any sides.
The curtsy of women. The onslaught of Red Coats. The sound of muskets firing. If it weren’t for the “revolutionaries” taking selfies with the George Washington Bridge and New York skyline in full view, visitors might have truly believed they had gone back in time.
Santayana’s words – while never directly quoted – hung in the air as thick as the smoke of musket fire at the 240th anniversary of our country’s first president and his military being run out of town. While everyone in attendance enjoyed watching the authentic reenactment of events, it’s important to also remember that history was the takeaway of the day.