Smoke, Bullets, Mayhem

And free apple pie to the Nixon Librarys first 100 visitors

Receiving more accurate treatment was the role of the colonial militia in the war. Portrayed in movies such as Mel Gibson's The Patriot as a wily band of citizen soldiers who sniped and harassed the British into submission, the militia was in fact a disaster.

"It is absolute myth that colonial militia using [guerrilla] tactics won the war," said one actor portraying a Pennsylvania rifleman, explaining how the militia was a frightened, disorganized rabble that ran from nearly every battle throughout the entire war. "The militia was worthless."

Ironically, not everyone in the re-enactment group seemed so well-briefed. Not 15 minutes after this valuable history lesson, a woman dressed in period costume informed the crowds waiting to see a re-enactment of the bloody battle of Breed's Hill that "militia troops fought as professionally as any soldier in Europe."

In fact, the American army wasn't a serious contender until it achieved discipline—the trust each soldier needed in his commander and his cause to stand in close ranks under withering musket and artillery fire. That wouldn't come until the end of the war, and by then, the landing of thousands of French troops by a powerful naval squadron had tilted the balance of power irreversibly against the British.

By then, the war had become too expensive, and it was obvious that the Americans weren't going away. Besides, Britain had more important fights with the French closer to home. America had become a quagmire, which the British escaped when Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781.

But clearly, as the tiny acting troupe of Delaware colonials swept the Pat Nixon Amphitheater of redcoats at 3 p.m. amid a wildly cheering crowd, that kind of history was forgotten. What can you expect from an event during which photocopies of royal proclamations were nailed to palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights?

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