Sharing a memory from this past weekend's American Liberty Festival, as presented by We Make History.
They are young, patriotic, and they can't wait to get their hands on a small wooden musket.
Waves of children rush up to me, the Continental Army private in full uniform, and volunteer to fall into line and drill. A fellow soldier passes out the arms to all but one recruit who stands a little taller and older.
"I have something special in mind for you," I say before ducking into the Quartermaster's tent to produce a mock Brown Bess. Aside from a plugged barrel and a painted gray exterior, it looks and weighs like the real thing.
"Dress this line!" I tell the recruits, imploring them to line up straight facing me. "The first command I'm going to teach you is 'Order firelocks.' That means you hold your musket at the right side of your feet like this with the lock facing out."
Some of them stand it by their left side. I correct where needed and move on to the next command.
"When I say 'Shoulder Firelocks,' bring your musket up to your left shoulder like this and hold it by the end with that little tab on the top -- that's the frizzen -- pointing up."
They fumble into line and I begin smoothing them out.
"Order Firelocks! Shoulder Firelocks! Order Firelocks! Shoulder firelocks!"
As they get the motions down, I hear ramrods clinking behind me. The Redcoats are lined up and going through weapons inspection. I have to get this band into shape quickly before the battle starts without us.
"When I say 'Prime and Load,' you're going to reach into your cartridge box" -- which is in their imagination -- "pull out a cartridge, tear it open with your teeth and pour it down the barrel." Some of the young ones have lost their front teeth, but they can work with the others. "Then you will 'Come To The Ready,' take aim and fire!"
I keep getting my Civil War drill mixed up with my Revolutionary War drill. The manual of arms is similar, but the commands are different. I should be saying, "Present Arms" instead of "Come To The Ready." But what has been drilled into to me is hard to undo.
The Lobsterbacks are standing at attention across from us and getting the command to load. It's time to do battle.
"Prime and Load!" I go through it with them standing at the end of their line, my buckled 18th Century shoes next to their sneakers.
The Redcoats are loading and aiming.
"Present Arms! Take Aim! Fire!"
Some of them pop a banging sound with their mouths, and right on cue, a Redcoat topples.
"Prime and Load!"
We go through it again, pouring that imaginary powder down the barrel and taking aim. Another Lobsterback crumbles to the ground.
"Let's advance on them!" I cry. "Company, two paces forward, march!"
"Company, two paces back!" I hear my counterpart bark.
"Prime and Load! Take Aim! Fire!"
Two of His Majesty's Finest bite the dust. "Well done! Company, two paces forward, march!"
Again we serve another volley, and within minutes we've whittled the line down to a pair of frightened Regulars.
"Let's charge them! Company, fix bayonets! Charge!"
The kids run all over them, throwing in a few mock blows to the head with the rifle butt. I have profound respect for our Lobsterbacks' willingness to play the fall guys over and over. They lie all around the overjoyed children who are shouting for joy.
"Huzzah!" I add. "Great work!"
The kids make way for the next round of recruits, and the vanquished enemy picks itself up. Keep calm and carry on. The young patriots eventually see the big boys at play, firing real muskets, chess pieces in a duel of liberty against tyranny -- or in the final climatic battle skirmish of the day, straight-men in a saucy exchange between British and Patriot commanders.
"You forgot your white flag!"
"Oh, I'll accept your surrender now!"
In the end, we beat the Brits, but their commander marches away with a small detachment, retreating to fight another day. The rest is history.
I later realize that during my instruction in the manual of arms, I've been having the children order their firelocks by the wrong foot... over and over. Facing them, I forgot left and right are flip-flopped. That would explain why I'm a private and not a commander.