At the Battle of Lexington, the British soldiers were so incensed at the Yanks that they raided a saloon on their way back to camp. Entering the bar, they saw two old men, retirees, sitting at a table quietly drinking their beer. The old duffers had not been involved in the battle, and were no threat to anyone, but the British bashed in their skulls anyway.
The obscene cruelty of war is far too common. Near battle grounds, the soldiers have it best of all. Civilian lives are a dime a dozen. The sacrilege of wasted life prompts us to consider the hope within the human heart, that candle-flicker of will that somehow urges us to persevere despite the bleakest of winds.
Painfully aware of life’s brevity, a special event took place halfway through the Revolutionary War. A gentleman farmer, who also served as a cavalry officer, threw a great party in honor of his fifty horsemen and their ladies. Everyone in the area was invited. Hundreds attended the summer fete galante.
The officer tidied up one of his pastures, which was lined with cypress trees and a thick wall of shrubbery. At the entrance to the field, the commander had some local artisans construct what looked like the tremendous remains of ancient Grecian pillars, twelve feet in diameter, fifteen feet high. The pillars were made to look as if they were the ruins of an ancient temple fit for titans. As the guests arrived, the wives and consorts of the cavaliers were alternately given silk scarves of pink or blue.
What followed was a feast of high extravagance. Sides of beef, roasted pork, lamb chops, pheasant, and shellfish from the bay. They had chocolate cakes, cherry pies, and fluffy French pastries oozing with whipped cream. Kids joyfully jabbed their grubby mitts into fancy glass bowls filled with hard candies galore. Not least of all, there were many barrels of beer, casks of wine, and jugs of whiskey and rum.
The dinner tables formed a semi-circle for the soldiers and their wives. Each table was uniformly decorated with crisp white tablecloths festooned with ribbons and bows. The country folk ate in picnic style, atop blankets in the field.
Following supper and a digestive respite, a band was formed and everyone danced. Remember, this was the era when dancing was like a grand display of performance art, where each song indicated a certain pattern of steps, and partners were swapped frequently as the music progressed.
Come sunset, everyone gathered for a show, lolling on their blankets as the pastel hues of evening sky seeped gently into inky night. When sufficiently dark, the fireworks began. The crowd was ensorcelled. The display was said to be so fantastic the locals talked about it for years, and the commanding officer was reprimanded for wasting resources, but he argued that it was good for moral, which it was.
After the fireworks, the cavalrymen excused themselves and the guests gathered round a great circle of torches in the center of the pasture. When the full moon had fully risen, bathing the sky in a faery light, a clarion sounded and the cavalrymen reappeared. Proudly, they trotted in unison through the Grecian gates, their buttons aglitter in the quicksilver light. With practiced pomp, the platoon paraded into to the circle astride their steeds.
Once the troops were in order, the commander fired his flintlock pistol into the air. His men broke ranks. Each trooper galloped into the crowd, searching for his paramour. Once he found her, he dismounted, knelt at her feet, drew his sword into the air, and said something epically poetic, like “May I have the pleasure of defending your honor?” or “I have sworn myself to fight for your love.”
Here, each lady tied her silk scarf to the hilt of her knight’s sword. The men then remounted their stallions and split the field to opposing sides, the pink versus the blue.
A bugle called. To arms! With a mad howl the cavaliers charged at full speed until they clashed with a roar midfield, clinking and clanking their swords. Horses reared. Men leapt from saddle to ground like swashbucklers engaged in an elaborate duel.
Such bravado. Such was the climax of the eve. One wonders what happened, later that night? When all the mom’s and dad’s went home? Crawling into bed, I’m sure they did what anyone would do. They fell fast asleep, and dreamed of a world without war.
Happy Fourth of July.