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Published: Sunday, 6/29/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Soldiers for a day: Children get a taste of military life in 1794

BY JENNIFER GERSTEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kidsplay Gage Winebernner, 10, sucks in his stomach and throws his shoulders back as he leads a group of six soldiers in training to stand at attention during a historical lesson of life in the 1794 military at the Fallen Timbers Monument in Maumee. Kidsplay Gage Winebernner, 10, sucks in his stomach and throws his shoulders back as he leads a group of six soldiers in training to stand at attention during a historical lesson of life in the 1794 military at the Fallen Timbers Monument in Maumee.
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“Shoulders back. Very good, very good. Face forward. And… Left face!”

The troop of five, holding their muskets like ballet dancers would a barre, pivoted nimbly in place. At the far end of the line, one straightened and sucked in his stomach, awaiting the next command with bulging cheeks.

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“Gage, that is your right face.”

Gage Winebernner, 10, exhaled impatiently and swiveled the other way. Satisfied, his commander and the program’s coordinator, Jennifer Christensen, led the children through their next set of drills at Fallen Timbers Battlefield National Park on June 21.

August 20th marks the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, in which General Anthony Wayne led the United States army to victory over the Northwest Indian Confederation in 1794 and allowed for American settlement of the Ohio Valley. That Saturday’s “Soldier for a Day” program was one of several historical reenactment activities Toledo Metroparks has planned leading up to the 20th.

Kidsplay Silas Keaton, 7, struggles to bite into a piece of hard tack. Kidsplay Silas Keaton, 7, struggles to bite into a piece of hard tack.
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Frank Butwin, playing General Wayne for the day, wore a wig, coat, hosiery, and hat, all borrowed from the Metroparks.

“I’m comfortable,” he insisted. It was 79 degrees.

After Ms. Christensen had helped the children put up a canvas tent, Mr. Botwin cooked the children a frontier lunch of beef, kohlrabi, and potato, and led them through a musket demonstration.

A chemist by trade, Mr. Butwin has been performing historical reenactments for the past 10 years. He learned most of what he does from his reading.

“My friend George Washington,” he said, shifting into character, “had a lot of confidence in me.” Nodding, he continued: “He knew I would be able to do the job.”

Silas Keaton, 7, the youngest and smallest of the troop, teetered after the other four as they headed back to “camp,” while the burlap satchel slung over his right shoulder smacked repeatedly into his ankles. With effort, he chewed the hard tack, typical soldier fare with the consistency and look of concrete, that Ms. Christensen was now distributing to his classmates.

Ms. Christensen had prepared the hard tack herself, made from flower, salt and water. She is the program production specialist for Toledo’s Metroparks, where she develops historical and nature programs for adults, families, and students.

Kidsplay As Gage Winebernner, 10, left, takes a closer look at his wooden musket. Kidsplay As Gage Winebernner, 10, left, takes a closer look at his wooden musket.
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“[Reenactments] help them relate,” Ms. Christensen said. “They show that history’s not just numbers and faces and names, that these soldiers were actually real humans, and that these wars had real costs to daily lives. ”

Later, she gathered the children and asked them what they had learned.

“Everything,” Silas volunteered helpfully. Amelia Fowler, 8, was more specific: “Fighting was scary.” Still, she nodded cheerfully when asked if she would have been brave enough to fight herself.

At the end of the day, when the children had lain down their wooden muskets -- with the exception of Gage, who roguishly pointed his at a passing biker -- Ms. Christensen announced that General Wayne was about to depart.

The parents looked on as the troops, forming a little line, gave General Wayne a firm farewell salute. Waving, Mr. Butwin, his shoulders back, marched slowly back to his car.

Contact Jennifer Gersten at: jgersten@theblade.com, on Twitter @jenwgersten, or 419-724-6050.



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