The British March to Concord and Paul Revere's Famous Ride
Sometime close to 10 p.m. on the night of April 18th, Joseph Warren told William Dawes and Paul Revere that the regulars would soon get into boats and cross to Cambridge from where they would march to Lexington and Concord. The reason for the British to prefer this “water route” to Cambridge was that it would be harder to detect their march. The route through Roxbury went through towns, from which people could spread the alarm that the troops were out. But Gage’s men knew back roads through Cambridge that would allow them to pass unnoticed for much of their route.
Warren feared the regulars would try to capture Adams and Hancock. He wasn’t so worried about the munitions in Concord because he knew the British wouldn’t find any. He wasn’t so sure whether or not they’d find Adams and Hancock.
Dawes left immediately and managed to get by the guards at Boston Neck with whom he had formed a friendly relationship. He rode out through Roxbury and Allston to Cambridge and then on to Lexington. Dawes received little recognition for his work, but Revere (who had been on many missions for the Committee of Correspondence, even as far as Philadelphia) was immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Revere tells us about the arrangements he made:
“About ten o’clock, Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me, and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement, and that it was thought they were the objects.”
Dr. Warren wanted Revere to be the last to leave Boston. He asked him to arrange for signal lanterns to be hung from the steeple of Boston’s tallest building, Old North Church. One lantern would signify that the troops were headed for Boston Neck and on from there by land. Two lanterns would mean a water crossing. The lanterns would alert the countryside in case riders like Paul Revere, William Dawes and others were stopped as they tried to spread the alarm from horseback. The lanterns then were really a back-up, but thanks to Longfellow’s (1861) well-read poem, they became symbolic of the event and an easy idea to remember.
Revere had already arranged for Robert Newman to signal his friends in Charlestown, from where other riders would also spread alarms. Then he roused two friends who rowed him to Charlestown in a boat that had been hidden in a marsh by the shore, its oars muffled with cloth so that his rowers could pass in the moonlight and shadows beneath the British ship Somerset and its night watch.
He was landed in Charlestown where he borrowed Brown Beauty, a mare belonging to John Larkin’s father. (Larkin later lived in a house occupied at different times by George Washington and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.) Revere, on the mare, headed west toward Cambridge. But when he ran into a British patrol he changed his route and headed north through Medford, shaking his pursuers. He did not call out “The British are coming”. Most colonists considered themselves British. He may have told them that the “Regulars” were out or words to that effect.
Paul Revere got through as far as Lexington where he was greeted by the guard outside the door of the house where Hancock and Adams were staying. The man chided him about the noise he was making.
“Noise? You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out,” Revere replied. He was able, with some difficulty, to persuade Hancock and Adams to pass up a salmon breakfast and to make their getaway. Hancock, who could be difficult at times, decided that his place was on the battlefield in charge of soldiers. He often viewed himself as some glorious military leader. It was all the persuasive Adams plus the entreaties of Hancock’s sweetheart could do to talk him out the door only minutes before the leading contingent of redcoats reached Lexington Green near the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, where the two men were ensconced.
Hancock got so involved in searching for a musket with which to arm himself that he left behind a trunk full of important secret papers and had to ask Paul Revere to go back and get them. Revere pulled the trunk out the door and out of sight even as British troops formed on the green. The two refugees made it safely to Woburn and Billerica.
While he was in Lexington, Revere met Captain John Parker, head of the Minutemen of that town. He, of course, informed Parker about the British troops who were headed that way, and Parker passed that information around to his men.
Revere met up with Dawes in Lexington, and then started for Concord. Both riders had met a young man called Dr. Prescott who was returning home after a visit to his girlfriend’s home in Lexington. Prescott joined Revere and Dawes. However, when they reached the town of Lincoln, between Lexington and Concord, the three ran into some of Major Mitchell’s horsemen who were able to corral them in a pasture. Dawes and Revere were cornered, but Prescott was able to scale a wall and gallop on to Concord, warning the townspeople there. Dawes and Revere got away briefly, but other soldiers nabbed Revere and made him dismount. After finding out who he was, they took his horse so he could do more riding and warning. He walked back to Lexington.
On Wednesday morning, April 19, 1775, the vanguard of the British troops under Maj. Pitcairn reached Lexington where they were met by militia at Lexington Green where the grass stood inordinately tall due to the early spring and sunlit days. Parker’s men had been up for hours, but the early morning air had been cold, so they were told to repair to their nearby homes or to Buckman’s Tavern across the green, but to be ready to return at quick notice. Parker had sent scouts down the road toward Boston to learn where the British were, but, unknown to him, these men had been captured. Parker learned of the British approach only when a second scout, sent to find them, spotted the troops coming. The sun had not yet risen when he re-assembled the 38 men who had weapons and, according to tradition, told them: “Stand fast. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
The minutemen were not blocking the road to Concord where the British were headed, but, Major Pitcairn ordered his men into a battle line, and turned them so that they were heading directly at the minutemen. He then spurred his horse forward so that he stood between his men and the colonials, and told the minutemen to: “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse.” Parker could see that his men were badly outnumbered and told them to break up, which they did. But they took their guns with them. Major Pitcairn said in his official statement that he had told his men not to fire. However, according to his post-battle report to Gage, shots were fired at his men and they returned fire. When that happened it brought fire from the British lines.
It’s unclear who fired first. Jonathan Harrington, a farmer, fell before the British fusillade, looked down at his chest where blood seeped onto his tunic, crawled to the doorstep of his home across the road, and died at the feet of his wife. Eight Americans were killed and the British regulars moved on to Concord, arriving by 10 a.m. But they would have to come back that same way, and the minutemen would be ready with their revenge.
When the British troops got to Concord, they found little in the way of arms or ammunition, but did find a substantial body of armed men waiting for them across the bridge on the Concord River on Barrett’s Farm where they were supposed to find military supplies. The Americans were armed and dangerous and they held the high ground. Had they but known it, the regulars went right by a place where military stores were being hidden even as they marched. A farmer could be seen on a rise, moving along behind his plow. What could not be seen was that his plow was covering over a furrow where supplies had freshly been hidden. But he did not draw the attention of these men who were so intent on following their orders.
The main body of troops remained in town. They did locate a pair of 24-pound cannons at Jones Tavern, which they spiked so that they wouldn’t operate. Some of the troops found minor supplies and made a bonfire. When the regulars started a fire to burn some cannon mounts, having found no cannon, the Americans saw the smoke rising higher than the town buildings, in fact the meetinghouse had caught fire and the soldiers and some citizens were putting it out. But those who were across the river thought they had set fire to the town. They advanced down the hill and across the bridge toward the three companies of British soldiers, killing three and driving the regulars back.
Col. Smith would have been smart to get moving and get his soldiers out of there, but he thought and acted slowly. He had the wounded brought to Wright’s Tavern in town and it was noon before the troops started out. This further delay allowed more American militia to arrive from towns even more distant.
'By the time the British column began its march back to Boston, more than 1,000 militiamen had taken up positions along the winding road to avenge the deaths in Lexington. What followed was a bloody running fight'
The Americans, led by the Lexington militia and Colonel Parker, pursued the British out of town. About a mile out they reached Merriam’s Corner, and it was there that a running battle began with the outlying troops staying concealed behind hills and rises until they were able to get into position to take shots at the British. The marching British were pulling their wounded in the center of their line while those on the outside tried to shoot at the snipers. The marchers were getting much the worst of it.
This continued back to Lexington where the regulars received temporary respite from reinforcements under Lord Percy whose troops had followed the first wave out of Boston. Percy had brought field pieces with him, and most of the Americans had never been shot at by cannon before. It was a while before their attack regained momentum. But American volunteers kept arriving and they chased the British all the way back to Charlestown, Colonel Smith was wounded in what came to be known as “Parker’s Revenge.” The Americans fired at the British from behind trees and walls and took a toll on the regular soldiers who weren’t used to this type of open-country fighting. The fiercest fighting and the largest number of casualties took place after the troops had left Lexington, in a town called “Menotomy”, now Arlington. (The Battle Road Trail, part of the Minueman National Park runs parallel to Route 2A in Concord, Lincoln and Lexington.)
The Battle Road back through Lincoln, Lexington, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown.
The main road between Boston and Lexington ran through Menotomy, and at dawn on April 19, 1775, the British marched through on their way to the confrontation on Lexington Green that touched off the American Revolution; their light infantrymen, in a foul mood after a sleepless night, had gunned down more than a dozen militiamen. The Americans had assembled at sunup on the Lexington Green as far from the road as possible. They had not been looking to start a war. They had assembled to show the British they did not appreciate the armed intrusion into the countryside—a message they and other militias had sent several times since tea tax protesters dumped several hundred thousand dollars worth of tea into Boston Harbor in late 1773. The British had responded by closing the port and occupying the city with 4,000 soldiers.
News of the shootings on Lexington Green sparked fury among the thousands of American militiamen who had been drilling for the previous year, forming an embryonic army. The 700 British regulars had marched on from Lexington to Concord, their original destination, where they searched in vain for a reported cache of gunpowder and weapons. Again encountering several hundred armed American militiamen, the Redcoats fought a skirmish at the famous North Bridge, where, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (erroneously) claimed, the Americans fired “the shot heard round the world.”
By the time the British column began its march back to Boston, more than 1,000 militiamen had taken up positions along the winding road to avenge the deaths in Lexington. What followed was a bloody running fight, a kind of serial ambush that surprised and bedeviled the British, hardened the rebellious Americans’ resolve and spawned the legend that the Continentals fought “unfairly” like Indians, hitting and running and sniping from concealed positions.
Indeed, at several points American ambushes killed more than a few Redcoats. By the time the British reached Lexington, they were low on ammunition and out of food and water. Demoralized, they were considering surrender when the boom of cannon scattered their swarm of attackers.
In the hills east of Lexington Green, more than 1,000 reinforcements appeared, led by Brig. Gen. Hugh Percy, one of the best generals in the British army. Word of the Lexington contingent’s troubles had reached Boston, and General Thomas Gage had sent Percy’s men to rescue them. Percy gave the survivors of the march from Concord a half hour to eat, drink and rest, while he planned their return march to Boston.
West of Lexington, the Americans were also regrouping. They finally had a general—a portly, baldheaded farmer named William Heath. With him was a far more important and more magnetic figure, Dr. Joseph Warren, Sam Adams’ right-hand man in Boston. Warren had rushed into the countryside the moment he heard about the bloodshed in Lexington. “They have begun it,” he told a friend. “That either party can do; and we’ll end it—that only one can do.”
At Lexington, Heath found four complete regiments and four others at half strength. Though he had never been in a battle, he had long been fascinated by military matters and had read widely on the subject. He decided that, without artillery, it would be folly to attack the British in a frontal assault. Instead, he advised the colonels and majors of the regiments to circle around the British and attack them as they retreated down the road to Boston. He ordered his subordinates to take over every empty house on or near the road and convert it into a fortress.
With the same cool competence he had displayed in rescuing the 700 retreaters from Concord, Lord Percy planned his withdrawal to Boston. At the head of the column, where he expected little trouble, he placed the worn out retreaters and their portly commander, Lt. Col. Francis Smith, who had taken a ball to the thigh and was riding in a chaise. The elite Royal Welsh Fusiliers would man the rearguard. Percy ordered two other regiments, the 47th and the King’s Own, to sweep the flanks of the column with three companies each. He positioned his artillery just ahead of the fusiliers to deliver blasts of grapeshot as necessary.
The road to Boston sloped down to the village of Menotomy. A crossroads town, it was a logical gathering place for arriving minutemen and militia from eastern Middlesex County and southern Essex County. They had been pouring into the village for hours. In addition to Heath’s men, no fewer than 34 fresh companies, each numbering some 150 men and all carrying full ammunition pouches, were waiting for Percy in the mile-long stretch of houses between the base of the hill, called the Foot of the Rocks, and Spy Pond. They had taken up positions in and around the deserted houses and barns and behind the stone walls that enclosed nearby pastures.
Typical of the new arrivals was the minuteman company from Danvers, led by 26-year-old Lieutenant Gideon Foster. He and his men had reached Menotomy—a 16-mile march—in just four hours. Foster positioned his men along a stone wall flanking a hillside orchard, alongside minutemen from Lynn, Needham and Dedham. Some of Foster’s company took cover behind a wall at the Jason Russell house.
Fifty-nine-year-old Russell joined them, determined to defend his home. An elderly neighbor, Ammi Cutter—who earlier had helped capture several British supply wagons and a wounded lieutenant—tried to persuade Russell to flee. Russell shook his head. “An Englishman’s home is his castle,” he said. Cutter, too, stayed to defend the town.
Russell, Cutter, Foster’s men and almost every other man waiting for the British trained their eyes on the Lexington road. None had fought the British earlier in the day, and none knew the British were anticipating an ambush, with 100 to 150 men sweeping the fields on both sides of the road. One veteran of the French and Indian War warned Foster about possible flankers but was ignored. Foster and his men wanted to be close to the road to get a decent shot at the retreating column.
The British were also ready for snipers in deserted houses. As they entered Menotomy and musket fire erupted from the first houses, Percy ordered Lt. Col. Smith’s troops to split into squads and attack every building with the bayonet. “The soldiers were…enraged at suffering from an unseen enemy,” Mackenzie wrote. Rage on both sides thus ensured these encounters would be savage.
Russell and the Danvers men under Foster were among the first to incur the British wrath. The flanking parties of the King’s Own Regiment suddenly appeared, pinning the Danvers men between them and the road, now crowded with British troops. Those who did not die at their walls ran for the Russell house, joined by men from Lynn and Needham. Two bullets struck and killed Russell in his doorway. Twenty- one-year-old Perley Putnam of Danvers also fell dead just outside the house. The aged Cutter dove behind a pile of logs and miraculously escaped a hail of Redcoat bullets.
The fiercest fighting took place inside the Russell house. Daniel Townsend and Timothy Monroe were trapped on the first floor. “Townsend,” said Monroe, “leaped through the end window, carrying sash and all with him.” Flankers waiting in the yard shot him dead. Monroe followed, and a musket ball tore into his leg. He staggered to his feet and fled as bullets hummed around him from both the flankers and British regulars in the column. Later he reportedly counted 32 holes in his hat and clothes.
Others were not so lucky. Eleven militiamen, including seven from Danvers, died during hand-to-hand fighting in the Russell house. The struggle raged from cellar to attic, the odds heavily in favor of the British trained in use of the bayonet. Foster claimed that three or four of his men surrendered only to be “butchered with savage barbarity.” Supporting his allegation was 19-year-old Dennis Wallis, who said he surrendered in the yard and then bolted when he realized he was about to be killed. He was hit by several bullets but survived. In most houses, the British gave no quarter. “All that we found in the houses were put to death,” stated Lieutenant John Barker of the King’s Own.
On the north side of the road the British encountered 80-year-old Samuel Whittemore. A onetime captain in the Royal Dragoons, Whittemore had a musket, two pistols and a saber. He was crouched behind a stone wall behind Cooper’s Tavern at the junction of the road to Medford when flankers from the 47th Regiment came upon him. Whittemore killed one with his musket and emptied both pistols at the rest, killing or wounding at least one more soldier before being shot in the face. Militiamen around him fled as enraged British soldiers bayoneted Whittemore 13 times. Incredibly, he survived to live another 18 years.
When the British burst into the home of Deacon Joseph Adams, they found Mrs. Adams in bed, holding her newborn and flanked by her daughters, aged 20 and 14. Nine-year-old Joel Adams peered from under the bed.
“Why don’t you come out here?” asked one of the soldiers.
“You’ll kill me,” the boy replied.
“No, we won’t,” the soldier said.
The boy came out and watched the soldiers prowl through the house, stealing silver and jewelry. They then ordered the family out of the house, broke up some chairs in the parlor and set them ablaze. The moment they left, the children doused the flames with a pot of their father’s homebrewed beer.
The savage street fight continued, as British regulars looted and burned houses. More than one British soldier died when he lingered to see what else he could steal and was caught by minutemen as the British moved on. Each side grew more and more infuriated—the British because, in Mackenzie’s words, they “had very few opportunities of getting good shots at the rebels”; the Americans by the sight of their own casualties and the rampant plundering and destruction.
Several British officers were distressed by the thievery and later mentioned it in their letters and diaries. Barker called the plundering “shameful” and said some soldiers “hardly thought of anything else; what was worse, they were encouraged by some officers.”
At the same time, men on both sides exhibited remarkable courage. Lord Percy saw Americans advance “within 10 yards to fire at me and other officers, though they were morally certain of being put to death themselves in an instant.”
Muskets roared all along the mile-long British column as Menotomy erupted into a melee involving as many as 5,500 men. The brawl spilled from the road into fields, orchards and farm buildings. Shouts of American defiance mingled with the battle cries of charging British flankers. The colonel of the rearguard fusiliers staggered as a bullet ripped into his thigh, while his frantic men—having suffered some 30 casualties and exhausted their ammunition—cried for help from the flankers. The Royal Artillerymen responded, working their guns to repeatedly break large concentrations of militiamen into smaller groups. If a whole militia company could have gotten close enough to deliver a massed volley, the carnage and ensuing panic might have broken the British column.
Massachusetts learned the realities of war in the Battle of Menotomy. Most of the Patriots who died on April 19 fell in and around the once-peaceful houses and barns. The air was thick with the smell of gunpowder, and men’s faces and hands were black with it. Wounded men cried out in agony, and everywhere houses evinced smashed windows, wrecked doors and bullet-riddled walls. The neat, quiet village through which Smith and his column of regulars had earlier marched in the predawn darkness had become a charnel house.
As his column emerged from Menotomy, Percy ordered the Royal Marines to replace the Welsh Fusiliers as the rearguard. Their casualties—more than 50 dead and wounded—testify that Warren and Heath maintained ferocious pressure on the retreating British. The going grew easier for Percy’s men up front, as his flankers forced the minutemen to fire from such a distance that one American officer termed it “useless and trifling.”
Ahead of Percy, as the British entered Cambridge, Heath made a final attempt to trap the column. At Watson’s Corner, Major Isaac Gardner waited with a squad of men behind a roadside stack of dry water casks. It was their first fighting of the day, and like the men at Menotomy they had not foreseen the British flankers. Trapped by a bayonet charge from the rear, Gardner and two members of the Cambridge militia were killed.
Beyond Watson’s Corner, Percy saw the rest of Gardner’s regiment blocking the road. The Americans hoped to force the British to return to Boston the way they had come—across the Charles River. Heath had ordered the Watertown militia to tear up the planks of the bridge and build a barricade on the Brighton side, hoping to pin the British against the river.
But Percy had anticipated the rebels’ action. Moreover, he understood the other reason the Americans were blocking the road ahead of him: It led to the Charlestown peninsula, across the harbor from Boston, on a route five miles shorter than the march back through Roxbury. Once on the peninsula, Percy would have the benefit of high ground on Bunker Hill, while British boats could ferry reinforcements and ammunition across the harbor to him. Percy ordered his two cannon to the head of the column and opened fire. The Americans fled as Percy resumed his march, letting his flanking parties deal with the rebels as they attacked “in the same straggling manner the rest had done before.”
Ahead loomed Prospect Hill, atop which several companies of minutemen and militia stood ready to swarm down on the British. Again Percy brought his cannon into play and sent his 47th Regiment up the hill. The Americans fired a few rounds and then retreated—all but 65-year-old James Miller, whose house sat just downslope. Saying he was “too old to run,” Miller stood his ground, firing steadily at the oncoming British until cut down.
As evening came on, British flankers continued to search and loot every house along the road. By this time, noted Barker of the King’s Own, the men were “so wild…there was no keeping them in any order.”
The rest of the British column was in excellent order, however, moving toward Bunker Hill. The Americans no longer had a hope of annihilating the British column or preventing it from reaching safety.
As the head of Percy’s column crossed Charlestown Neck and skirted the village, a stream of frightened civilians headed in the opposite direction. Near the ferry landing, 14-year-old Edward Barber peered from his house as the regulars passed. By this time, the British considered anyone moving inside a house a sniper. A regular killed the boy with a single shot. His 12 brothers and sisters ran screaming into the streets, intensifying the panic in Charlestown.
As the British column ascended Bunker Hill, some of the town’s selectmen hurried to Percy and swore that no one in Charlestown intended to fight the British. Earlier in the day, British commander Gage had sent a message from Boston warning that if anyone in Charlestown was seen with a gun, there would be “disagreeable consequences.” Backing up that threat, the 70-gun HMS Somerset anchored just off the ferry landing and trained its cannon on the town. Percy told the selectmen to clear the streets of people and produce food and drink for his tired soldiers. On the other side of Charlestown Neck, Heath issued orders “to halt and give over the pursuit, as any further attempt upon the enemy in that position would have been futile.” Aboard Somerset the sailors stood with guns primed. A handful of American muskets barked in the darkness, then fell silent.
The Battle of Menotomy was over. The war was on.
Source: Battle of Menotomy – First Blood, 1775 By Thomas Fleming
Source: The Battle of April 19, 1775: In Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington By Frank Warren Coburn
Source: Arlington Historical Society
Originally Posted at The Right Way Blog 19-APR-16