Philadelphia in 1776 Spoiler: Near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 5, 1776 George Lake wanted to whistle along with the fifers, his heart was so high as they marched through Philadelphia. The regiment looked splendid, in good brown coats and new breeches, all of Russian linen that wore like iron. Their hats were already showing the signs of shoddy workmanship and poor edging. George had made his share of hats as an apprentice, and his own was stiff with shellac and as fine as any regular’s, as well as possessing the fine quality of shedding water. And George had a white mohair knot on his shoulder, indicating that he was a corporal in the Virginia Regiment, and hence in the Continental Army. He’d obtained the knot only because he could read and write, but he’d held it fair and square, though there were other men with more experience. His company looked well, and they marched well, too, thanks to the drummer. Although more than half the men were back-country hicks who were fighting only for the pay, the other half were men of conviction, who had read all the letters from the Continental Congress and felt honored to be allowed to stand up for their colony and their conscience. George was honest enough to admit that the back-country men were harder, tougher on the long marches coming north, and stronger in the daily camp fights, but the younger men were coming along, and George thought they’d have the edge when it came to battle. He’d heard a great deal about battle from the older men. Some had fought Indians in the West, although that seemed neither here nor there. McCoy had fought in Europe and been in a real battle. Simmons, another older man, had been all the way to Fort Pitt in the last war, and though he’d never come to grips with the French, he knew his way around the camp like the other veterans. But all the veterans agreed that it was no easy thing to stand and receive the enemy’s fire, the great crashing volleys that sent thousands of musket balls whirling about your ears. And it was there, where it came to standing your ground, that George felt the younger men had an advantage. They believed. They wanted their liberty with a passion, and that liberty had some very concrete meaning. Other men might fight for rations, comrades, or a land grant in the Ohio country. They might stand the enemy’s fire, or they might not. But the true believers would be there until the end; of that George was sure. George could see the second platoon sergeant, Bludner, slightly out of place as he always was on the march. Sergeants had their spot in the line, marching even with the front rank and just to the right of the rightmost man, and Bludner was never quite there, as if he wouldn’t quite admit he belonged to the regiment despite his rank. He tended to carry his weapon, one of the company’s few rifles, in the crook of his arm instead of at his shoulder or at the advance like the other sergeants in the regiment. But Captain Lawrence seemed to tolerate him, despite the fact that even now he wasn’t in step. George had heard him tell his men that “marching in step is taking orders from the Negro.” It made George wild. He’d never seen much of black men, working in a trade as an apprentice until his master went broke and headed west, but Noah was the company’s pride, the best drummer in the regiment, and he made them look better in the drill. Bludner enforced discipline with a cheerful violence that Lake hated. He didn’t want the Continental Army run by bullies like the despotic British, but an army of men of conviction who didn’t need petty tyrants to beat them into line. Lake was determined to outshine Bludner. He wanted Bludner’s type out of the army, and he wasn’t alone. As the true believers hardened their muscles, they also became firmer in their convictions: the old ways had to go; there could be no compromise with the king; America must be free and independent. He had heard the rumors that the Congress intended such a declaration, and it raised his heart to think that soon they would not just be defending their liberties but taking the cause of liberty to the enemy. He looked across the front of his rank. Tanner was inching up and just out of rhythm, although not quite out of step. He prodded the man with his eyes until Tanner caught the signal and adjusted himself, and then they were entering the main concourse of the city of Philadelphia, and the cheering began. Lake knew from the meetings in camp that many of the inhabitants were Tories or worse, or Quakers who wouldn’t fight for the cause. But he saw many a pretty face under black bonnets in the crowd, and many in caps as smart as anything he had seen in Williamsburg. Philadelphia was the largest city he had ever been to, and he was finally seeing the world. He tried not to turn his head to watch the crowd, but he did from time to time and what he saw always pleased him: men cheering lustily, and women waving and yelling with shrill, clear voices. They halted several times, not from purpose but because the long column of companies regularly jammed when an inept officer timed his wheeling motion badly, or just because of the different marching rates of all the battalions. When they halted, men and women would come out and offer the troops bread or beer. Near the City Tavern, in the prosperous heart of the city, they halted in the sun for so long that men were calling out to Captain Lawrence asking if they could fall out. Tanner took his tinderbox from his coat and lit a pipe, which the men passed around while Lake glowered. A very young girl, barely old enough to be thought a “young lady”, came out to them from a fine brick house with a stone pitcher of milk. Another older woman in an apron followed with another pitcher, and they began to serve it to the men. One of Bludner’s men laughed. “I thought all you Phillydelps was Tories or Quakers.” The older woman stopped and glared at him. “I think it no shame to say that I remain loyal to the king. He has some poor ministers, that I’ll allow, and no man serving this province should stand in the sun in front of my house without a drink. But if you want to argue politics, lad, then you can just hand me back my pitcher.” The man looked shamefaced, then he laughed along when he was jeered by the others. George smiled at the pretty girl. “That your ma?” he asked. “Yes,” she said, her eyes cast down. Close up, she was a little older than he had thought, perhaps fourteen or fifteen. She wore a printed cotton gown from England that would have cost him a year’s wage and he grew shy. “She put him in his place,” George said, at a loss for anything better. She looked up from under her cap, and he saw her eyes were dark blue, with a sparkle he’d not seen before. She smiled impishly. Tanner jogged his elbow. “Don’t keep her for yourself, George,” he said. Ahead of them, the column was moving again, and George regretted it, although this little sprig of a girl was three years his junior and several classes above him. “Betsy, is your jug empty?” asked the older woman, coming up George’s file. George handed the jug back to Betsy, aware suddenly that he must be wearing milk on his mouth like a fool. She smiled as he wiped it off, and gave him a little wave when they marched. And then they were gone.