Revolutionary War history depicted in miniature
By Linda Braden Albert | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
They are vignettes frozen in time, depictions of some of the most well-known moments surrounding the Revolutionary War and a fledging country’s struggle for independence.
Patrick Henry, delivering the famous line, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” during an impassioned speech on March 23, 1775, at the Second Virginia Convention held in what is now called St. John’s Church near Richmond, Va.
The Battle of Brandywine, fought Sept. 11, 1777, between the American army led by Major Gen. George Washington and the British-Hessian army of Gen. Sir William Howe near Chadds Ford, Pa.
The Battle of Cowpens on Jan. 17, 1781, in South Carolina, a decisive victory by Continental army forces under Brigadier Gen. Daniel Morgan over British forces led by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.
Curtis Wells, an avid student of history and particularly Revolutionary War history, has each of these scenes and much, much more, perpetually acted out by small soldiers painstakingly painted to accurately represent the people who were present at the birth of the United States.
A room in the Wells’ home is dedicated to Revolutionary War history, and some items spill over into other rooms of the house, as well. The figures, made of a metal alloy, range from ½ inch to 4 inches in height and include men, women, weaponry and animals. Most are about 2½ inches high. Wells has painted the majority of his collection and also has purchased completed soldiers from other sources.
The massive collection is quite overwhelming, even for students of history such as members of the Mary Blount Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.
“This is just amazing,” said Charlotte Miller as she and several other DAR members inspected the vignettes.
Wells began his collection in 1995 and has dedicated himself to it ever since.
“My object was to have a representative sample of every unit that fought in the American Revolution,” Wells said. “That would include the Continental Army, the Americans, each one of the 13 colonies, the troops they had, the militias from the colonies. And then you had our allies, all the French and the Spanish. A lot of people forget that the Spanish were allies. They fought mostly in Florida and Louisiana. The French came in, in 1778, and once the French came in, things changed dramatically.”
Several misconceptions exist in people’s minds about the Revolution. For example, “What people don’t realize is that the Red Coats had different color lapels and tiebacks,” Wells said. “The blue lapels are what are called household regiments — regiments of the king or queen. White or yellow are for ‘fodder’ regiments. Then you get into my ancestry. All the Royal Irish regiments wore green.”
He added that the Revolutionary War was the last time uniforms varied in color. After that, uniforms were either blue or olive drab, he said.
Another surprising fact: 5 to 10 percent of the forces were black. “The British used blacks as hostlers, taking care of the horses, but in the American forces they were freemen,” Wells said.
Women were also associated with the Revolutionary forces. “The natural assumption was that they were camp followers, but some of the men took their families with them,” Wells said. For the most part, the women would cook and mend torn uniforms, but some, such as Deborah Sampson, fought in battle disguised as a man. Others served as nurses, while some became spies like Lydia Darragh, who found out about a surprise attack the British were planning and notified a Patriot officer.
Wells has paintings depicting scenes from Revolutionary War battles as well as replicas of weapons in the room, including the British Brown Bess and the French weapon given to the Continental Army is 1778. “We mostly used that for the remainder of the war. Before that it was catch as catch can. You brought your own weapon.”
Wells said his collection is a labor of love.
“I work in here, paint, think,” he said. And he shares his knowledge with anyone who asks.