1775

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A Few Words Before We Begin

1. I cannot do justice in a few paragraphs to the bravery, brutality and plain dumb luck that will occur this year.
2. It is best to have a map of the terrain as it existed. Time has changed that landscape. [1]
3. The Militiamen are not quite the same as the Minutemen but they work together.
4. To this day, no one knows which side fired the first shot at Lexington, but the first shot at Concord was probably British.
5. And remember... both sides think this is going to be a short war. It has to be. Right?

And so it begins as all wars must... at the beginning.

One If By Land, Two If By Sea

It is the 18th of April, but Paul Revere is NOT on the opposite shore! He is at the top of the bell town of Christ Church in Boston. The British are coming "by sea." They will cross the harbor (I thought they said "by sea") and head for Lexington to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock for the Boston Tea Party vandalism. Paul lights two lanterns. It is the prearranged signal in case he cannot get out of Boston. Then Paul rows across the harbor to the opposite shore. (Finally!) He is a member of the Sons of Liberty and the Committee of Correspondence. If the British catch him, he could betray them all. He borrows a horse and by 11 PM he is on his way. (Wait! He was supposed to ride at midnight! Another childhood dream is shattered!) Paul has a backup. William Dawes already left at 9:30 PM, going the long way around. Paul reaches Lexington by midnight, waking every home along the way. A sentry tells Paul to stop making so much noise. Paul replies, "You'll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!" Revere will help Adams and Hancock escape but later Revere will be captured by a British patrol. He will make his way back to Lexington on foot. [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Henry Wordsworth Longfellow published The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in 1863 that brought fame to the memory of Paul Revere. The poem introduced small inaccuracies, but Longfellow was a poet, so "poetic license" seems reasonable. [3]

Parker's Stand! The Battle of Lexington Green

British General Thomas Gage doesn't want this fight, but he has his orders. He has received intelligence of military stores at Concord including brass cannons. He sends 700 infantry the 20 miles to Concord. The troops reach Lexington Green at dawn and are greeted by less than 100 of the Massachusetts Militia led by Captain John Parker. The Militiamen are seriously outnumbered, but this is just a show of force. Then a shot rings out. Who fired first? No one knows for sure. Captain Parker orders his men to disperse, but it is too late. Muskets come up, and fire, fire, fire. 8 of his men lay dead, 1 of them a black slave. Parker retreats and regroups. He wants payback, and he is going to get it... real soon. [4]

"Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here." -- Captain John Parker at Lexington Green.
My Take by Alex Shrugged
There is evidence that General Gage thought that the supplies at Concord had already been moved. (They had.) One wonders why he sent the troops anyway. Certainly, he was under pressure from his superiors to do something, so he did something. The orders he gave to his troops were meant to avoid creating any martyrs to the cause. Oops! [5]

The Shot heard Around the World: The Battle for the Concord Bridge

700 British infantry meet a force of 250 Concord Militiamen on the road that morning of April 19th. The Militiamen retreat across the North Bridge. This is wise. They have no clear idea of what happened at Lexington so they wait and observe. The British search Concord for the Militia supplies they expected but finding nothing, they decide to take the North and South Concord bridges. Smoke from a fire near the courthouse can be seen. (The British are putting out the fire but from a distance it looks bad.) As British forces cross the North bridge, they are trapped on the same side as the Militia. The Militia presses forward, so the British retreat back across the bridge. Then someone on the British side gets the bright idea of pulling up the planks on the bridge to slow down the Militia. Without orders, the Concord Militia rushes to stop the British from destroying their bridge. A British soldier fires a warning shot. The British troops think that the order to fire has been given. They volley fire into the Minutemen and Militia. Two privates are killed instantly. Many more are wounded. Major John Buttrick of the Concord Militia shouts "Fire, for God's sake, fellow soldiers, fire!" The Concord Militia fire into the British. This is often called "The shot heard around the world." There is no going back now. This is war. [6]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The events as they transpired at Concord were recorded years later, except for the British report which was filed reasonably quickly. The British commander admitted that one of his soldiers fired the first shot at Concord. (That seems reasonable.) A different British officer said that the rebels fired first at Concord and Lexington. At this point it no longer matters.

Parker's Revenge! Run! Run! Run!

It is noon on April 19th. The British infantry leave Concord after their battle with the Concord Militiamen that morning. The Militiamen seem stunned. They fail to press the attack. The British are marching back to Boston, but they must travel through Lexington Green once more. Captain Parker and the survivors of Lexington Green have laid an ambush for the British along the road. Unfortunately, Captain Parker has no experience with large forces in the field. The British commander has flanking forces out that could wrap up Captain Parker's men fairly quickly if the terrain wasn't so difficult. When Parker's ambush is hit from the side, he retreats in good order and continues to hit the British forces along the road. (The road is no longer as treacherous in the modern day as it once was.) The British commander is wounded, but not dead. His officers can no longer hold the troops. They have stopped retreating. They are now running. [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The British commander (Colonel Smith) took the blame because he delayed at Concord for two hours before leaving... apparently to have a good lunch. Making sure the troops are fed before a 20 mile march seems reasonable, but the delay allowed Captain Parker to organize his men for a substantial series of ambushes. A statue stands at Lexington Green, a monument to Captain Parker. He died of tuberculosis a few months after the battle.

Bunker Hill: A Battle Worth Losing

On the evening of April 19th, Admiral Graves suggests to General Gage that he take Bunker Hill and fortify it. (It is currently unoccupied.) Gage's forces have been weakened after the battles of Lexington and Concord. Beyond that excuse, historians cannot explain why Gage delayed. Breed and Bunker Hills should have been fortified long ago. The rebels decide to seize this ground. On the evening of June 16th, dressed as farmers, William Prescott and the rebels march up the hill and set up barricades. On June 17th, the barricades are noticed, so General William Howe works out a plan to push the Americans off of Breed Hill and Bunker Hill. At the beginning, Howe's plan seems like a good one. He takes some casualties, but he figures that once the rebels break he can swing his forces to the side and wrap them up. The problem is that a critical group of battle-hardened veterans refuses to break. So the British are forced to come straight in and very dumb. The carnage is incredible. Colonel William Prescott shouts the old battle cry, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" After Howe's third assault the fighting breaks down to hand-to-hand. The American Rebels are forced to retreat. The British win! With 282 soldiers dead and 800 wounded, they can't afford to win many more battles like this one. [9] [10] [11]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
In fact the Battle for Breed Hill and Bunker Hill defined how the war with the Americans would be fought... with a mind that all British resources were limited and already in place. No more resources were coming. For the Americans, the resources were unlimited. That was NOT reality. That was the British perception and it colored most of their decisions thereafter. The Battle for Bunker Hill was important but it wasn't a war-winner, except that it changed the behavior of the British. Something similar occurred during World War 2 after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. A small raid was put together to bomb Tokyo in reprisal. From a military perspective, the Doolittle Raid was a useless gesture. Yet, it worried the Japanese commanders, so that they changed their plans just a little. Had they kept to their original plans, they might have won that war. [12]

George Washington Is Appointed Commander-in-Chief

I am briefly mentioning something that is incredibly significant: the colonies are banding together for the sake of mutual defense. During the spring the whole mess came apart, and now Congress must figure out what to do with the pieces. The King has declared that the American colonies are now in a state of rebellion against the King. No more fooling one's self that these injustices were caused by the King's ministers giving the King bad advice. The King knows and he doesn't care. Now the Congress appoints George Washington as commander-in-chief. Why? He is tall and he looks good in a uniform... and he acts honorably... for a Virginian. Congress needs the backing of Virginia to legitimize its authority. Washington buys 5 books on military tactics and begins to read. (That's right. In any other man's army he'd be lucky to rise above the rank of major, but he's grabbed this bag of cow manure and now he has to hold it.) His major talent is that he knows genius when he sees it... and he listens. [13]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1775, Wikipedia.

See Also

References

  1. Battle of Lexington and Concord Map - Parker's Revenge. campaign1776.org (2016). Retrieved on 27 April 2016.
  2. The Real Story of Revere's Ride. The Paul Revere House (2013). Retrieved on 27 April 2016. “Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green.”
  3. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. nationalcenter.org (2014). Retrieved on 27 April 2016. “
    Listen my children and you shall hear
    Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
    On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
    Hardly a man is now alive
    Who remembers that famous day and year....”
  4. Battles of Lexington and Concord - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 28 April 2016. “Eight Lexington men were killed, and ten were wounded; only one British soldier of the 10th Regiment of Foot was wounded. The eight colonists killed were John Brown, Samuel Hadley, Caleb Harrington, Jonathon Harrington, Robert Munroe, Isaac Muzzey, Asahel Porter, and Jonas Parker. Jonathon Harrington, fatally wounded by a British musket ball, managed to crawl back to his home, and died on his own doorstep. One wounded man, Prince Estabrook, was a black slave who was serving in the militia.”
  5. Borneman, Walter R.. American Spring:, American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, Little, Brown and Company. “
      Having received Intelligence, that a Quantity of Ammunition, Provision, Artillery, Tents and small Arms, have been collected at Concord, for the Avowed Purpose of raising and supporting a Rebellion against His Majesty, you will March with the Corps of Grenadiers and Light Infantry, put under your command, with the utmost expedition and Secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy all the Artillery, Ammunition, Provisions, Tents, Small Arms, and all Military Stores whatever. But you will take care that the Soldiers do not plunder the Inhabitants, or hurt private property.
      You have a Draught (map) of Concord, on which is marked, the Houses, Barns, &c., which contain the above Military Stores. You will order a Trunion to be knocked off each Gun, but if its found impracticable on any, they must be spiked, and the Carriages destroyed. The Powder and flower, must be shook out of the Barrells into the River, the Tents burnt, Pork or Beef destroyed in the best way you can devise, And the Men may put Balls or lead in their pockets, throwing them by degrees into Ponds, Ditches &c., but no Quantity together, so that they may be recovered afterwards.
      If you meet with any Brass Artillery, you will order their Muzzles to be beat in so as to render them useless.
      You will observe by the Draught that it will be necessary to secure the two Bridges as soon as possible, you will therefore Order a party of the best Marchers, to go on with the expedition for that purpose.
      A small party on Horseback is ordered out to stop all advice of your March getting to Concord before you, and a small number of Artillery go out in Chaises to wait for you on the Road, with Sledge Hammers, Spikes &c.
      You will open your business, and return with the Troops, as soon as possible, which I must leave to your own Judgment and Discretion.
     
  6. Borneman, Walter R.. American Spring:, American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, Little, Brown and Company. “What is almost certain, however, is that the first shot came from the British side. Captain Laurie himself reported as much to General Gage in an after-action report: "I imagine myself that a man of my company (afterwards killed) did first fire his piece."” 
  7. John Parker. campaign1776.org (2016). Retrieved on 28 April 2016. “After rallying his men, he chose a position along the road to Boston and awaited the British return. His ambush, Parker’s Revenge, was part of the long string of attacks by American militia and minutemen that harried the British on their way back to Boston and inflicted heavy casualties. Parker, suffering from tuberculosis, would not live to see the culmination of the revolution he helped start at Lexington and Concord; he died five months later, on September 17, 1775, at age forty-six.”
  8. Borneman, Walter R.. American Spring:, American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, Little, Brown and Company. “The flankers on either side of the British column, slowed by fatigue and the boulder field, had momentarily fallen behind. Blinded by the terrain and without protection on his flanks, Colonel Smith was very vulnerable despite his need for speed. Once again there was a unit of militia on hand to take full advantage of this, but unlike most of the other swarming rebels, these troops had already encountered Smith earlier that morning, and they were determined to avenge their dead neighbors who had fallen on Lexington Green.” 
  9. Borneman, Walter R.. American Spring:, American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, Little, Brown and Company. “Like the British, the rebels had also recognized the importance of the hills above Charlestown and Dorchester, but except for Israel Putnam's parade through Charlestown they had been as slow to act as General Gage. The first call for action came from a joint committee organized to reconnoiter "the Highlands in Cambridge and Charlestown." On May 12, after its examination, the committee recommended erecting breastworks flanking the Cambridge-to-Charlestown road on the Cambridge side of the neck and building redoubts with "three or four nine-pounders planted there" atop Winter Hill on the Cambridge side of the neck and Bunker Hill on the Charlestown side of the neck.” 
  10. Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution. Viking. “By June 15, with the British about to strike at Dorchester and Charlestown, Warren and the others were finally convinced that the provincial army must make a preemptive move of its own. After determining that General Thomas's forces in Roxbury were not strong enough to take and hold nearby Dorchester Heights, the Committee of Safety decided to implement a plan along the lines first proposed by Putnam. In the early-morning hours of June 17--a day before the British were to begin their assault on Dorchester Heights--the provincial army would seize the currently unoccupied high ground above Charlestown.” 
  11. Bunker Hill. campaign1776.org (2016). Retrieved on 28 April 2016. “The patriots eventually retreated and returned to their lines outside of the perimeter of Boston. The butcher’s bill for the British had been lengthy, with 282 of the King’s troops dead and another 800 wounded. Patriot casualties were less than half of the British total. British General Henry Clinton was appalled at the carnage, calling it 'a dear bought victory.'”
  12. Doolittle Raid - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 28 April 2016. “The raid caused negligible material damage to Japan, but it achieved its goal of raising American morale and casting doubt in Japan on the ability of its military leaders to defend their home islands. It also contributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's decision to attack Midway Island in the Central Pacific—an attack that turned into a decisive strategic defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) by the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Midway.”
  13. Alex Shrugged notes: I am pulling all of this from memory. I've read a number of books on the subject of George Washington. I'm not kidding. He was not a very good general, but he was a reasonable judge of character and he had a set of principles that he held dear that kept him out of much trouble. He still has a tempter though. And he gambles.

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