Gage Winebernner, 10, sucks in his stomach and throws his shoulders back as he leads a group of six soldiers.
“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.
“Gage, that is your right face.”
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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 Monument on June 21.
Aug. 20 marks the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, in which Gen. 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. Last weekend’s “Soldier for a Day” program was one of several historical re-enactment activities that Metroparks of the Toledo Area has planned leading up to the anniversary date.
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 helped the children put up a canvas tent, Mr. Butwin cooked them 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 re-enactments 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.
Ms. Christensen had prepared the hard tack herself, made from flour, salt, and water. As the Metroparks’ program production specialist, she develops historical and nature programs for adults, families, and students.
“[Re-enactments] 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 asked the children what they had learned.
Amelia Fowler, 8, left, and Gage Winebernner, 10, right, work together to put up a canvas tent during a historical lesson of life in the 1794 military.
“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 to his car.