“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777-
Yesterday, on the 20th of April, I started a post which had to after all be put into several parts because it turned out too long. So, continuing from Yesterday’s post on the American Revolution and the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, here is the next part of the story about part of America’s History…..
After Dr. Samuel Prescott arrived with word that the British Regulars were coming, the alarm was given between 1 A.M. and 2 A.M. They then dispersed after arranging to reconvene when the British approached. Messengers were sent to other towns and townspeople hid valuables. After a scout reported that there was firing on Lexington Common. The Concord militia reassembled and decided to march to meet the British Regulars. Roughly two hundred and fifty men set out.
They marched about a mile or so before they saw the Regulars coming. They halted and held position until the British Regulars were within one hundred rods and then they turned around and marched ahead of the British back toward Concord. It was now 7 A.M. Colonel James Barrett and Major John Buttrick, his second-in-command, kept the Concord militia just out of reach, moving from ridge to ridge before the Regulars. They withdrew through the town to another ridge and held a council of war. They decided to withdraw across the North Bridge.
They watched from the west side of the river as the British Regulars entered the town. Lt. Colonel Francis Smith, the commander of the expedition, assigned securing the town to the grenadiers. He sent one company of light infantry to secure the South Bridge and seven companies to the North Bridge. He chose to remain with the grenadiers in the town and kept Major John Pitcairn, his second-in-command, with him.
The grenadiers peacefully went about searching for the supplies accumulated by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress for the provincial army. However, in their impatience, they did a poor job of destroying the supplies. They threw barrels of flour and musket balls into the pond where both were easily recovered by the colonials the next day. Aside from three twenty-four pound cannon that were found and destroyed, the colonials had had three days to remove much of the supplies to other towns.
The North Bridge: April 19, 1775
At the North Bridge, Captain Parson was in command of seven companies of light infantry or one hundred and ninety-six men. There were about four hundred provincial militia on the ridge nearby. He left one company on the west side of the bridge. Two more companies were placed about a quarter of a mile away under the command of Captain Walter Laurie. He then took the other four companies and marched to Colonel Barrett’s farm to seize munitions and supplies as ordered by Lt. Colonel Smith.
When the militia began to see smoke rising from town as the grenadiers burned captured supplies, they worried that the British were going to burn the town, so they now moved to action. They held a council and decided to march back across the bridge into town to prevent its destruction. Colonel Barrett ordered the militia to not fire until fired upon by the British Regulars, then “to fire as fast as we could.” The four hundred militia now began to to approach the lone company at the bridge. After a conference between the junior officers now left in command of the situation at the North Bridge, the other two companies moved back to join the third at the bridge.
The colonial militia had now closed to within three hundred yards of the North Bridge and the three companies of British light infantry regulars. A messenger was sent into town to inform Lt. Colonel Francis Smith of the situation. He returned with word that Smith was sending reinforcements. With the militia continuing to close in, the British Regulars retreated back across the bridge to the east side. They did not have time to properly form lines of defense.
The militia that was bearing down on them was under the command of Colonel James Barrett. It was made up of six companies: two from Concord, and one each from Bedford, Lincoln, Acton and Carlisle. Individual minutemen also came from Westford, Chelmsford and Littleton. As they closed in, the British could not completely form up and then the firing started, most likely from the British. The militia returned fire. The British Regulars returned with scattered fire and began an undisciplined retreat back to Concord.
Halfway back to Concord, they met Lt. Colonel Smith leading a company of grenadiers. He was too late, so they wheeled around and marched back into Concord. The colonial militia remained by the bridge, lining a stone wall along the road. When Captain Parsons and the four companies of light infantry returned from Colonel Barrett’s farm, they were unmolested by the militia and were startled by the sight of the dead and wounded still left at the bridge.
Lt. Colonel Smith remained in Concord for another two hours. Unaware of the events back in Concord, Captain Parson had taken his time returning from Colonel Barrett’s farm. Ha had stopped at a tavern for drinks. The provincials did nothing except find a meal. Colonel Barrett did not even call his officers together for consultation. Lt. Colonel Smith probably delayed in Concord in hopes of having the reinforcements that he had requested hours before reach him before he had to begin the march back.
Retreat: Concord to Lexington
Around noon, Lt. Colonel Smith and the British Regulars made final preparations for a return march. The wounded were taken to local physicians since no army surgeon had accompanied the expedition. The walking wounded lined up in the middle of the columns and some four hours after they entered the town, they set out from Concord. The four hundred militia that had been at the North Bridge as well as another hundred that had turned out from nearby towns had congretated at Meriam’s Corner where the Lexington and Bedford roads forked. They fired upon the British column as it crossed a narrow bridge near here. This began incessant fire that continued along the route.
As they neared Lexington, the British Regulars were running out of ammunition and just plain running in some instatnces. Morale and discipline were all but gone.-Then a cannonball crashed into the Lexington meetinghouse. Lord Percy was on the Boston side of the Common with the reinforcements. Through a set of staff errors, the reinforcements had not left Boston until after 9 A.M. even though Lt. General Thomas Gage had issued the orders at 4 A.M.
Retreat: Lexington to Boston
It was about 2:30 P.M. when Lord Percy’s relief force made contact with Lt. Colonel Francis Smith’s expedition at Lexington Common, where hostilities had begun eight hours earlier.. Lord Percy used his field artillery to keep the militia at a distance while the wounded were tended to and Smith’s men were given a rest.At approximately 3:45 P.M. the entire force was ready to get under way.
Maj. General William Heath, meanwhile, had arrived to assume command of the provincial forces. Dr. Joseph Warren, the Boston Patriot who had sent William Dawes and Paul Revere to warn the countryside the night before, also arrived with Heath to join the militia at Lexington. Dr. Warren had received word of firing at Lexington Common eight hours before. He had followed Lord Percy’s force to Menotomy where he joined the Committee of Public Safety.
Flanking parties and occasional cannon fire by the British Regulars were sometimes effective in reducing the militia firing. Four hours after leaving Lexington, Lord Percy’s force reached Charlestown at 8 P.M. having endured fire nearly the entire route. Once in Charlestown, they were protected by the ships anchored in Boston Harbor. They sustained 273 casualties (73 killed; 174 wounded; 26 missing) during the expedition The provincials suffered 93 casualties (49 killed; 39 wounded; 5 missing).
While the British Regulars reached the safety of Boston on the evening of April 19, 1775, they would not leave again until they evacuated the city a year later. A ring of nearly 6,000 militia and minutemen began to turn out to encircle the city and the Siege of Boston had begun. On April 20th, Dr. Joseph Warren set up a headquarters in Cambridge and took control of the political aspects of the events of the previous day. General Artemas Ward took military command of the miliita companies surrounding Boston.
On May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga, New York. On June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress formed the Continental Army and chose General George Washington as its Commander-in-Chief. On June 17, 1775, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on Breed’s Hill. The British took the hill, but at a tremendous casualty rate. Major John Pitcairn, who has been second-in-command of the British Regulars on the Concord expedition and Dr. Joseph Warren were killed in the fighting that day.
On July 3, 1775, General Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts to take command of the troops arrayed there. He begins drilling and putting together the Continental Army out of the militia forces. On October 10, Maj. General William Howe replaces Lt. General Thomas Gage as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in America. A few days after Henry Knox arrived with the cannon that had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga, the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776.
So, for the second installment of “A Republic…..” This has turned out way longer than I expected, but that is okay. American history is more interesting because it is about this great country. More on this part of American History tomorrow evening. Stay tuned my friends.
God Bless America, her troops, her allies and her people
God Bless my readers, my listeners on BTR and my viewers on You tube….