Disperse, You Rebels! Posted by: Dale Franks
on Saturday, April 19, 2008
Today is an important day in American history. It is not, oddly, a day we commemorate in any particular way. But April 19th, 1775, is the day American independence truly began. Because today is the day the country began fighting for it.
In the evening of April 18th, General Thomas Gage ordered Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith to take command of 10 elite light infantry companies under Major John Pitcairn and 11 grenadier companies under Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bernard. Col. Smith as given sealed orders, and instructed by Gen. Gage to embark his men across the Charles River from Boston, and march them to the east. Once the march was under way, Col. Smith was to open his sealed orders and carry them out.
Four days previously, Gage had finally received orders from Lord Dartmouth, the British Secretary of State, to disband the Massachusetts militia, impound their arms, and arrest the rebellious ringleaders of Boston's disobedient citizenry.
The orders given to Col. Smith were considered most secret by Gage. Col. Smith's 700 regulars were ordered to make a quick march at night, so as to retain the element of surprise, and to proceed "with utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy… all Military stores… But you will take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants or hurt private property."
Secrecy, however, was not a strong suit of Gage's headquarters. His orders from Lord Dartmouth had already been transmitted from London to the rebellion's ringleaders in Boston by sources in London, weeks before Gage even received them. Moreover, his new Jersey-born wife, Margaret, was in all likelihood passing on information from inside his own house. The militia powder, shot, and cannon at Concord had already been removed from the armory, and secreted about the countryside (although, as it turned out, they weren't all secreted well enough to prevent some of them from being found).
Gage passed on his orders to Smith at about 8:30. The troops were assembled soon after, and by 10:00 pm, departed Boston Common for barges waiting for them on the banks of the Charles.
As the troops were departing, one of Gage's subordinates, Hugh, Earl Percy, took a stroll through the town. As he did so, he heard a number of people discussing the troop movements. When Percy asked one of the people what he thought of the activity, he received the reply, "Well, the regulars will miss their aim".
"What aim?" asked Percy.
"Why, the cannon at Concord" was the reply.
Percy immediately reported this to Gen. Gage. Stunned, Gage issued orders to have the entire 1st Brigade under arms, and ready to march at 4:00am.
It was too late. The rebellion's ringleaders had all departed Boston except for Joseph Warren, Paul Revere, and Charles Dawes. As the British were preparing to March, Warren dispatched Dawes to ride south, across the Boston Neck and across the Great Bridge to Lexington and sound the alarm. Paul Revere was to cross the Mystic River to the north, and do likewise, meeting Dawes in Concord or Lexington. Dawes left immediately, and Revere shortly after, stopping only to give word to place signal lanterns in the belfry of the Old North Church, to signal Charlestown that the British were on the march.
For the British marching with Col. Smith, it quickly became obvious that they had lost the element of surprise. As Revere and Dawes rode ahead of them, the British kept hearing the sounds of the alarm being given. As they reached Lexington at Dawn, the militia was already turned out.
John Parker, the milita commander, however, had ordered his men to stand fast, not to molest the British, and to let them pass. When Major Pitcairn rode forward, and saw the militia, he advanced to the head of his troops, and, and shouted, "Disperse, you rebels; damn you, throw down your arms and disperse!"
In the noise and confusion, not all of the militia began to disperse. Those that did, simply began going home, but none of them laid down their arms. Both Parker and Pitcairn ordered their men not to open fire, but someone—who, and from what side is not known—fired a shot. This was "the shot heard 'round the world", and to this day, no one knows who fired it.
A desultory scattering of fire commenced on both sides. Then, without orders, the British infantry began giving volley fire, followed by a bayonet charge. After a brief mauling, the Lexington militia began to quickly disperse.
The British then marched to Concord. As they closed on the town, the concord militia, under the command of Colonel James Barrett, began a series of retreats that let them keep the British under observation, while keeping out of range of the British guns. They knew that something had happened at Lexington, but no clear reports of what had actually transpired.
Meanwhile, with the help of Concord loyalists who pointed out the hiding places of three cannon, some shot, and other supplies, the British searched Concord. They threw the cannon, supplies and shot into the Concord River, and burned the gun carriages.
Upon seeing the smoke from the fires, Col. Barret feared that the British were firing the town, so he led the militia back. As they proceeded towards the town, the came across two British companies holding the North Bridge. By this time, the Concord militia company had been met by militia companies from Acton, Bedford, and Lincoln.
Upon seeing the five militia companies marching towards them, the British troops, about 90 in number, began pulling planks off the bridge to prevent the militia from crossing it. The militia the began to quick-march to the bridge to prevent its destruction. The commander of the British detachment, Captain Walter Laurie of the 43rd Regiment of Foot, ordered his men into firing positions.
Inevitably, seeing a force of about 400 militia approaching their detachment, some of the British troops began opening fire. At a range of about 50 yards, the return fire of the Americans was devastating. Even worse, four of the eight officers and sergeants were wounded immediately, along with ten other troopers, and an additional three more killed outright.
Faced with a superior force, the loss of their leadership, and their own inexperience, the British troops panicked and retreated.
Through the remainder of the day, and the next, the British began retreating to Boston, even as reinforcements from the British 1st Brigade began marching to their relief. Eventually, Smith's forces met 1st brigade in Lexington, and the combined force of 1,900 men began retreating the 17 miles to Boston, harrassed by the militia every step of the way.
By the time the British reached the safety of Boston, 73 British soldiers had been killed, 26 were missing, and 174 were wounded. On the American side, 50 had been killed, 5 were missing, and 39 were wounded.
At Concord's North bridge, the British faced 400 armed militiamen. By the end of the day, at Lexington, they were being harried by 4,000. The morning after they arrived back in Boston, General Gage's headquarters city was under siege by 20,000 militiamen.
These militiamen, sponsored by the Continental Congress, became the beginning of the Continental Army.
The war for American independence had begun.
In the aftermath, Gage not only lost the battle of Concord and Lexington, he lost in starting the public relations war that immediately commenced. When word leaked out that General Gage was sending his official report to London, the Congress, who had already collected over 100 depositions describing the battle from the American point of view, dispatched them to London as well.
On a faster ship.
By the time Gage's report arrived, the stories sympathetic to the Americans had been in British newspapers for two weeks.
One of the militiamen who supposedly harassed the retreating British troops was a guy who was about 80 years old. His name was Samuel Whittemore, and he had fought for the Crown in the 1750s and 1760s. However, he joined the American Revolution this time. Armed with a few old pistols (and against the better advice of friends and family), he managed to take out a few of the British troops before being charged and bayoneted by a dozen more. He was severely wounded and left for dead. However, Whittemore managed to survive that attack and died in 1793, well into his 90s.
Dirty rebel....inexcusable that the British troopers failed in their duty in bayoneting this traitor. I hope their corporal gave them a good talking to and they had lots of extra duty!
Not to thread jack, but to thread jack...McQ don’t you find it ironic that you have posted all these articles on the "Revolution"-more like the usurpation of power by White, Propertied, European Males designed to foster sexism, racism and exploitation on the body politic-whilst at this very moment the US wages a war of aggression against the people of Iraq...DOOM...QUAGMIRE...DECLINE...RETREAT.
Three Cheers and a TIger for Washington and the Founding Fathers....
For the militia..a rousing chorus of "Yankee Doodle"-in its most true and therefore derogatory meaning...they sucked. They fired an extimated 50,000 rounds at the Brit’s and killed 73? Serioulsy the militia did not win the Revolution and the armed People of the United Staets did not liberate us from British oppression...Regular forces liberated us from British oppression, an army the equal of the British regulars...and the militia ran everyone time they met the British. The "Swamp Fox" would have lost, in the end, if it hadn’t been for Gates, Cowpens, Lafayette and the Siege of Yorktown.
Just a note for the Second Amendment?An-Casp fanatics out there....
Bottom-line: We owe a debt to Washngton, Pulaski, Kościuszko and Von Stueben.
They fired an extimated 50,000 rounds at the Brit’s and killed 73?
Ah yes, but they wounded 174. And wounding is far more effective at reducing a fighting force than killing.
Plus the fact that with the weapons of the time unless you were a true marksman with a quality weapon your chances of actually hitting what you were aiming at were better if you just threw the musket ball. Which is why the bayonet charge was a standard tactic of the time.
All in all they reduced the effective fighting force of the British by probably 1/3. Not bad for a bunch of untrained hicks with guns.
I find it ironic, that McQ and you wing nuts are celebrating "Patriot Day" whilst supporting the oppression of the Iraqi people thru our war of aggression....I think you will soon learn what Good King George felt in about 1783. The pity is that we have to learn this lesson at all...but then YOU elected Dubya not me.
Nicely put, timactual, though you are otherwise a slimy wing nut who’s irony can normally be palpitated in this one point you see th truth...now soon you will see other truths, I’m sure, truths about decline, quagmire, defeat, and disaster.
When I visit New England with a grandchild or a niece, we make the trip to Lexington and Concord. It’s a beautiful area, well preserved and maintained. Lexington Green is a small triangular piece of land barely 50 yards wide. It’s hard to picture a company sized infantry engagement there with so few casualties. Remember, it all started with citizens who kept and bore arms.
At the North Bridge in Concord, the approach is through a maple wood. There would have been few leaves on the trees. The path would have been muddy and cold. (We were still in the Little Ice Age.) The colonials would have been in a skirmish line, not visible until the British column reached the top of the bridge; not the best way for a professional army to initiate a fire fight.
Arch, if I recall correctly, at the, and I’m going to be geographically challanged with compass direction on this one...so let’s say, British end of the Concord bridge....there’s a patch of ground that ’will be forever England’.
A company of infantry for the period isn’t very big at all.
I belive somewhere between 35 and 50 men, plus officers, with file closers, etc. A company front would probably be 20 or so files wide, given a two rank line with file closers to the rear..so a couple of companies could easily meet on/around Lexington green.
Probably safe to presume the Americans and British are using roughly equal size formations (on paper) at the outset of the war for obvious reasons.