Sunday, July 29, 2018

Episode 055: British Retreat from Lexington and Concord




Last week, we left off with Lt. Col. Francis Smith having concentrated all of his surviving regulars back in Concord village.  He gave the men a short rest, and prepared for the march back to Lexington.  His men only carried 36 cartridges each when they left Boston the night before.  Thinking this would be a quick raid that would rely on surprise rather than firepower, no one bothered to bring any extra ammunition.

At the same time, thousands of militiamen descended on the region, hearing of the attack at Lexington and looking to exact some payback.  With every hour, their numbers grew..

Return to Lexington

As the regulars left Concord they found about one thousand armed militia shadowing them on either side of the road.  Smith sent out flanking companies to keep the militia at a distance.  Then, about a mile down the road, the regulars had to cross a narrow bridge over a creek, forcing the flanking companies to fall back into the main column. There, Maj. Buttrick, one of the same militia leaders who had attacked the British at Concord North Bridge, led about 300 militia against the rear of the column of regulars.  They got close enough to kill two regulars and wound four others.  The British rear guard returned fire as the column crossed the bridge.

Attack on North Bridge by A. Chappel (from British Battles)
Another mile down the road, Smith’s column had to confront about 500 militia assembled on Brooks Hill.  Smith deployed several companies to scatter the militia.  But with superior numbers on the high ground, the militia held their position and fired on the advancing regulars.  The regulars took more losses but occupied the militia’s attention.  They then retreated back to the column after most of the main column had crossed the bridge.

Minutes later, the column drew more militia fire from the other side of the road near Brooks Tavern.  They returned fire, but continued to move the column down the road.  Next, the British had to pass through an area where the road made two sharp turns.  There, another large group of militia fired on them.  This area provided greater cover closer to the road, allowing the militia to get much closer.  They killed or wounded about 30 regulars while losing four of their own.  To get out of there, the Regulars quickened their step, almost running down the road.  Militia on the side could not keep up through the swampy land and underbrush.

The militia kept up a harassing fire from the sides as the regulars marched toward Lexington.  Flankers attempted to keep them away.  A few militia who got too close sometimes fell victim to the flanking companies.  These tired and angry regulars were not taking prisoners.  If the regulars got close to any militia, wounded or not, they killed them.  No prisoners, no respect for the injured.

March from Lexington & Concord (from Wikimedia)
Around this time Col. Smith took a shot to the thigh and fell off his horse.  He joined the wounded and Major Pitcairn took command.  A few minutes later, Pitcairn’s horse threw him, injuring his arm.  As the militia had tried to target officers, almost all the senior officers were killed or wounded by this time.  Mostly relatively junior officers were in control of the men.  And I use the term “control” loosely.

The normally well disciplined British regulars were barely listening to orders.  It was about 2:00 PM on April 19.  Most of the regulars had now been awake since the morning of the 18th.  They had been marching and fighting with few breaks for the last 16 hours.  Most of them were out of ammunition or close to it.  As they approached Lexington, they knew they were still a good 10 miles from Charlestown and safety, a good three or four hour march even if they could find the energy to keep up a good pace.  The militia seemed to grow with every step, now estimated at over 2000.  Many began to think the unthinkable, surrendering to this mob of civilians whom they had dismissed as incompetent fighters a day earlier.  Many soldiers began to break ranks and run toward Lexington Green, their immediate goal.  Officers only kept most of the men in line by threatening to bayonet any soldier who broke ranks.  Then, as all seemed lost, hope came into view.

Percy’s Relief Force

Back in Boston the night before, after deploying Smith’s column Gage stayed awake and awaiting word from the field.  Once they had lost the element of surprise, the danger to the Smith’s column grew considerably.  Before Smith had even reached Lexington on his way out to Concord, he had sent a messenger asking for a relief column.  Gage received that request in the middle of the night and sent out orders to assemble a relief force at 4:00 AM.  Around the time the relief column was to begin assembling, Col. Smith was approaching Lexington on his advance, with the realization that the element of surprise was long gone.  It should have had plenty of time to march out of Boston and support Smith before things got too out of control.

Sadly for the regulars, that was not the case.  Gage’s obsession with secrecy caused him to send two orders under seal: one to the captain responsible for assembling the soldiers and one to the major responsible for assembling the marines.  The captain, though spent a late night out on the town.  He did not get the message when he returned home late, tired, and probably drunk and went straight to bed.  Gage had to send someone to rouse him around 6:00 AM.  The soldiers rushed to assemble on the green.  They were finally ready to go around 7:30.  The marines, though, were still missing.

Battle Scene by C.H. Granger (from British Battles)
It turns out Gage’s other orders had gone to the home of Major John Pitcairn, who was of course already busy marching along with Col. Smith to Lexington and Concord.  The marines then had to do their own scrambling to get ready, meaning the battalion did not leave until around 8:45 AM.  Gen. Percy led the relief column, which marched through Boston Neck. This  avoided the need for boats, but made for a longer walk.  Unlike Smith, Percy brought with him two field cannon for protection.

Percy did not find out that there had been any shooting until he reached Menotomy around 1:00 PM.  Shortly after that, he met a coach carrying Lt. Gould, who had been scalped and left for dead at Concord’s North Bridge that morning.  Gould had apparently recovered enough to return Boston.  Percy spoke with him and allowed him to continue on his way.  Gould would not make it back to Boston though.  Militia would capture him and hold him as a prisoner of war.

Percy continued on to Lexington with more determination than ever to save the day, hoping he was not too late.  As he approached Lexington, he heard gunfire, and deployed his troops in a line of battle on the high ground to the east of Lexington.  From the hills, he could see Smith’s regulars running in disarray, pursued by large numbers of militia still firing on the column.

Percy directed his artillery to fire at the militia.  Though they were really too far to be effective, the sound of the cannon convinced the pursuing militia to stop and take cover.

Hugh, Lord Percy
(from Percy Family History)
The men from Smith’s column ran behind Percy’s line, and dropped to the ground, eager for a few minutes of rest.  The militia though, had reformed and began advancing on the line.  Several of Percy’s companies, angered at seeing civilians humiliating their fellow soldiers in battle, broke and charged the militia without orders.  The officers had to struggle to get the men back in line.

The regulars also faced sniper fire from nearby houses.  Percy ordered his men to burn three houses that the snipers were likely using for cover.  After that, the harassing militia fire fell off.  The regulars held their lines on the east side of Lexington, while the militia concentrated their forces on the western edge of town.

Percy now realized that his column was also in a precarious situation.  His roughly 1000 soldiers were facing a far larger force.  The remaining soldiers of Smith’s 700 men were exhausted and out of ammunition.  They were more of an impediment to the column than any assistance. While Percy had confidently told others that the Massachusetts militia would run if they ever came under fire, he began to understand that these locals were standing up well to enemy fire, and were as operating as well as any regular regiments that he had seen in battle.

Like Smith, Percy had left Boston with only 36 rounds per soldier, held in their cartridge boxes.  He did not bring any extra ammunition.  Similarly, he did not bring the ammunition wagon for his two cannon.  They only had a few rounds held in the side boxes.

After Percy had left Boston, Gage sent a wagon with extra ammunition to catch up with the column.  The wagon left town with only a small guard on horseback.  This detachment ran an into an ambush of old militia.  These were old men considered too old to march to Lexington and stationed themselves near home on the road between Boston and Menotomy.  They called for the wagon to halt, but the officer ordered his men to push forward.  The militia opened fire, killing two sergeants and wounding the commanding officer.  They also shot both lead horses, causing the wagon to stop.  The six remaining soldiers on the wagon took off running in panic, throwing their guns into a pond.  Down the road, they found an old woman and surrendered to her.  She turned over the men to the local militia who took them prisoner.

Percy's Return (from Emerging Rev. War)
When the story of these events reached London, one member of the opposition commented “If one old Yankee woman can take six grenadiers, how many soldiers will it require to conquer America?”  More importantly to Percy, it left him short on ammunition and a long march back to Boston with thousands of hostiles all around him.

Percy assembled his forces into a large moving square.  In the center he placed Smith’s column, he deployed flanking companies on both sides of the road to march along with the column, keeping any militia from getting within firing distance of the main column on the road.  He sent forward an advance guard to clear any houses or other possible ambush points ahead of the column.  In the rear, he kept some of his best companies, knowing that the pursuing militia would likely keep up the most fire on the rear of the column.

His men could not run, nor even march at full speed.  His flanking companies had to deal with all sorts of impediments on the fields they were covering.  His rear guard had to walk backwards most of the time and fire on their pursuers while marching.  His advance guard needed to time to clear impediments in front of the column.  So, they retreated slowly back toward Boston, in a constant state of battle.

Gen. Heath Commands the Militia

Around the same time Gen. Percy was taking charge of the regulars in Lexington, Gen. William Heath of the Massachusetts militia was trying to organize the militia into a better fighting force.  Heath had little military experience, but had read a great deal about skirmishing and light infantry tactics, making great use of Henry Knox’s bookstore in Boston for many years.  While his leadership seemed a little more questionable in later battles, historians tend to give him good credit for his work on April 19th.  Part of this may have come from Joseph Warren, who met up with Heath that morning and worked closely with him throughout the afternoon.  Based on the fighting before Heath took charge, he clearly benefited from highly capable and self-motivated field officers and men as well.

Gen. William Heath
(from Wikimedia)
Heath’s main value that day was to provide guidance to all the militia units continuing to arrive on the scene.  Rather than have all of them simply chase the retreating column of regulars, he deployed them at points down the road where he knew the regulars would have to pass.  As a result, the regulars faced a nearly continuous gauntlet harassing fire from all sides as they retreated.  Heath did not attempt to concentrate his men into a line of battle.  That was where regulars were at their best and militia at their worse.  Even if the militia won, such a battle victory might have resulted in a complete capture of the regulars. The patriot leaders were not really sure what they would do with them once captured.  Rather, the goal seemed to be not a battlefield win.  It was simply to convince the regulars that venturing outside of Boston would force them to pay too great a price to try it again.

Percy began to move his men from Lexington around 3:15, slowly heading east with all his defenses deployed.  As expected, the rear guard took the heaviest fire.  Several times, Percy had to rotate new companies to the rear to provide relief.

Many militia were on horses.  They would often take a few shots from a distance, then hop on their horses before any flankers could get near them, ride a distance up the road ahead of the column and repeat the process.

Battle of Menotomy

As Percy’s column passed through Menotomy, both sides saw some of the heaviest and most vicious fighting of the day.  Flanking companies surrounded several militia, who took positions too close to the road, and killed them without mercy.  There is a story of one 78 year old man who was able to fire five shots against the column before they sent a detachment to take him out.  The man did not retreat, but killed three more of his attackers with his musket and two pistols before a regular shot him in the face.  The angry attackers then bayoneted him multiple times leaving him for dead.  The story is a popular one because the old man, Samuel Wittemore, actually survived and lived another 18 years to tell his story.

(from Revolutionary War Archives)
After taking fire from many of the houses along the side of the road, Percy deployed infantry to clear the houses.  The soldiers killed anyone found inside, without mercy.  Some regulars also lingered to loot the house of any valuables.  A few soldiers who lingered too long, ended up getting left behind by the column.  Local militia found several of them still in homes, and killed them too without mercy.

Two unfortunate locals remained in Cooper Tavern drinking away their woes.  Regulars burst in on the tavern, probably looking for drinks themselves.  Although there was no evidence these two men were involved in any shooting, the angry soldiers killed them both with bayonets, and bashed in their skulls with their gun butts.  In another field, British flankers captured several militia and took them prisoner.  They then began executing them one at a time.  We only know this because one prisoner took off running after seeing several of his friends executed.  The British shot him in the back 12 times and left him for dead.  Yet, he survived to tell the tale.

Back to Charlestown

Fighting only intensified as Percy’s column approached Cambridge.  Fresh militia continued to arrive to supplement the existing ranks of continuing fire.  Percy’s men had exhausted virtually all of their ammunition.  As they approached the bridge to Cambridge, they found the militia had disassembled the bridge and were standing in front of it for a showdown.  Rather than attempt a fight, Percy turned his column in a different direction.  Instead of heading back to Boston, now the column made a beeline for Charlestown.  It was closer and had a defensive neck just like Boston.  Troops could take cover there under the protection of the navy vessel guns in the harbor.

This course change threw off the pursuing militia and avoided a battle at the bridge into Cambridge.  Now though, Percy’s column marched directly toward a large line of fresh militia led by Col. Timothy Pickering.  At this point, a good charge probably could have decimated the British column and led to a surrender.  Pickering, however, did not attack.  His men did not even fire.  They simply allowed the column to pass by.  Pickering later said he had orders from Gen. Heath not to engage, something Heath adamantly denied.  Whatever the reason, it was one of the first strokes of luck the regulars had all day as they were able to march into Charlestown.

Percy's Retreat (unmarked map from Revolutionary War Journal)
The regulars took a defensive position at Charlestown Neck, with the bulk of the force taking the defensive high ground on Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill.  Exhausted and angry soldiers shot an unarmed teenager watching them march into the town from a second story window.  It’s not clear whether they feared he might be yet another sniper, as they had faced all day from houses along the road, or were just angry enough to kill any civilian they saw.

Town leaders quickly reached an understanding that they would not attack the soldiers if the soldiers did not attack any other civilians or destroy property in the town. The militia opted not to chase the column any further and halted just outside Charlestown neck.  They eventually pulled back to Cambridge for the night.

General Gage, hearing of Percy’s arrival in Charlestown, immediately sent over fresh companies to take over the defense of the column.  It was around 7:00 PM, just after sunset.  The grateful regulars almost immediately fell to the ground and slept where they lay.  The navy continued to ferry the wounded across the harbor back to Boston, and later than night ferried back the remainder of the force.

Between the first column under Smith and Percy’s relief column, the regulars had taken over 300 casualties, or nearly 20% of the total force deployed.  By contrast, the militia had suffered less than 100 casualties.  Those numbers may not sound large by standards of modern war, but for both sides, it meant blood had been shed.  For the colonists, the King’s troops had killed colonists for standing up for their rights.  For the government in London, they now knew the colonists would not fold with a little pressure.  Both sides would have to ramp up for a larger war.

By morning, the surviving regulars were back in Boston, surrounded by an army of thousands of angry militia.  The siege of Boston had begun.

Next Episode 56: The Shot Heard Round the World (Available Aug. 5, 2018)

Previous Episode 54: British Advance on Lexington and Concord

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Further Reading:

Web sites: 

Patriot’s Day Timeline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/patriotsday/timeline

Eyewitness account of Regulars leaving Boston:
http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/revolution/account1_lexington.cfm

Depositions concerning Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775:
http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/shots/concern.html

Three Boston 1775 Blog posts on the Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould, the officer wounded on the North Bridge:
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-edward-thoroton-gould-wounded-and.html
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-gould-testifies-in-london.html
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-gould-gets-married.html

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

City of Concord Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of Concord Fight, April 19, 1875, by Concord (1876).

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 2, 1904 (pages 24-44 contain eyewitness testimony of the battles of Lexington and Concord).

Abbatt, William (ed) Memoirs of Major-General Heath, New York: William Abbatt 1901 (originally published by William Heath, 1798).

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776,  Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Clark, Jonas The fate of blood-thirsty oppressors, and God's tender care of his distressed people. A sermon, preached at Lexington, April 19, 1776. To commemorate the murder, bloodshed, and commencement of hostilities, between Great Britain and America, in that town, by a brigade of troops of George III, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, on the nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Powers and Willis, 1776.

Coburn, Frank, The Battle of April 19, 1775: in Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville, and Charlestown, Massachusetts, Lexington: Self-Published, 1912.

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) Barker, John John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1924.

Everett, Edward An Oration Delivered at Concord, April the Nineteenth, 1825, Boston: Cummings, Hilliard & Company, 1825.

French, Allen The Day of Concord and Lexington The Nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1925.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926 (Mackenzie was an officer in the British Army, occupying Boston in 1775.  This is his diary).

Frothingham, Richard History of the Siege of Boston, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1903.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Murdock, Harold Late News of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops, Cambridge: Press at Harvard College, 1927.

Seeley, O.G. Views and descriptive history of Lexington and Concord, Lexington, W.B. Clarke Company, 1901.

Smith, Whitney (ed) Concord town records: manuscript transcripts, 1774-1776, Unpublished Manuscript, 1774.

Tomlinson, Abraham (ed) The Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, 1758-1775, Poukeepsie: Museum, 1855.

Varney, George The Story of Patriots' Day, Lexington and Concord, Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1895.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Bell, J.L. The Road to Concord, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016 (Book Recommendation of the Week).

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Daughan, George C. Lexington and Concord: The Battle Heard Round the World, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2018.

Fisher, David Hackett Paul Revere's Ride,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hallahan, William H. The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775, New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  You can also click on the link below to go to Amazon, buy whatever you want, and American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Amazon Books on the American Revolution



Sunday, July 22, 2018

Episode 054: British Advance on Lexington and Concord




Last week I talked about Paul Revere’s ride to warn the colony about the imminent raid by soldiers on Concord.  The week before that, I left off with Gen. age getting ready to deploy his soldiers on the evening of April 18, 1775.  Today we will pick up there and follow the army along its route to Lexington and Concord.

Regulars Deploy

At around 10:00 PM on the evening of April 18, after the ferry out of Boston and the land exit over Boston Neck were both closed, Lt. Col. Francis Smith, per Gen. Gage’s orders, began to assemble his soldiers.  Smith had only received his orders a few hours earlier and had to work quickly to collect his forces for the march.

Lexington (artist's conception) (from BritishBattles)
The soldiers deployed for this mission did not come from any particular regiment.  In a typical regular army regiment, there were two special companies.  Regimental commanders would put the largest and strongest soldiers in the company of grenadiers.  Their original purpose a century earlier was to hurl large heavy grenades at the enemy.  Although they no longer did that, commanders found grenadiers useful as shock troops.  They were the most effective in hand to hand combat.

The light infantry constituted the other elite company in each regiment. This was a relatively new innovation.  These soldiers were selected for being particularly active and energetic.  A regimental commander would use the light infantry as skirmishers or flanking guards to protect the main body of soldiers from snipers or other smaller attack parties.

Gage decided to pull the grenadier and light infantry companies from each of his regiments, to create a single brigade of elite soldiers for this particular mission.  The detachment consisted of eleven companies of grenadiers and ten companies of light infantry.  The detachment also included a few companies of royal marines.  This probably meant Gage had all his best fighting men on this mission.  But it also meant the companies were fighting alongside other companies outside their regiment.  They had not worked together before and were serving under unfamiliar regimental commanders.  This could be why many of the regulars seemed more inclined to act on their own initiative during this battle, rather than strictly following the orders of their officers.

Col Francis Smith
(from Wikimedia)
Gen. Gage also decided that his soldiers would travel to Charlestown by boat, so that his soldiers could start their march from there.  Admiral Graves did not supply enough boats to take all the 900 or so soldiers across the harbor in one trip.  As a result, the marines had to take half in one trip, then return to take the other half.  Even on two trips, the boats were so full that soldiers had to remain standing to fit everyone.  On the other side, again in the interest of secrecy, the ships landed in an unused area away from Charlestown to avoid prying eyes.  The reason the area was unused was that it was wet swampy land.  The soldiers had to tramp through wet mud up to their knees in order to get to dry land.  April in New England is still pretty cold.  There were still patches of melting snow on the ground.  Since this mission began without notice at 10:00 PM, the men had already been awake for a full day before being called to arms.  So before even starting their march, the men were wet, cold, and tired.

It took nearly two hours to ferry all the soldiers across the harbor.  Because they were not from any single regiment, and because the company officers still had no orders on what they were doing or where they were going, the soldiers collected into disorganized groups on the Charlestown side of the harbor.  Col. Smith had to waste even more time assembling the units in proper order for march.

British March to Concord (from Wikimedia)
Next, the soldiers had to march through more swamps to avoid roads where they might encounter civilians.  Some soldiers later reported that they were in water up to their waists.  Finally, after reaching dry land, the army had to spend more time waiting for the navy to deliver two days worth of rations to the soldiers for their march.  By the time they were ready to march, it was already 2:00 AM.  Before they had even left Charlestown, Paul Revere had already reached Lexington, left, and had been captured.  Samuel Prescott had arrived in Concord to deliver the alarm. Messengers had already spread word of the march all over the region and militia were on the march to meet the regulars.

As the soldiers passed through Cambridge and on the road to Lexington, more and more locals were alerted to the march.  As they passed by, more militia units assembled behind the column and began to follow at a safe distance.  Col. Smith began to hear gunshots, ringing bells, and other indications that the element of surprise was gone.  Fearing this surprise attack would not go well, he sent word back to Boston that they had better start preparing a relief force in case the column came under attack.

Pitcairn’s Advance Column

Once the column reached Monotemy, still about five miles from Lexington and twelve miles from Concord, Smith deployed his second in command, Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines with six companies of light infantry and marines.  Pitcairn would march his men quickly ahead of the main column.  Smith ordered him to secure the two bridges north and south of Concord.  The detachment moved forward at the quickstep, making up for lost time.  They encountered multiple riders along the road, whom they took prisoner.  But it became clear that the entire countryside was now alive with innumerable riders spreading the alarm everywhere.

Maj. John Pitcairn
(from Wikimedia)
Along the way, Pitcairn’s column met up with the officers who had captured Revere, interrogated him, and released him.  The officers repeated what Revere had told them, that the mission was to seize munitions at Concord, something the junior officers in the advance column were learning for the first time, and that there were about 500 militia assembled in Lexington, armed and waiting for them.  Another rider captured on his way from Lexington told them there were at least 1000 militia in Lexington.  Though not accurate, the information must have unnerved the men that they might be walking into a trap.

Around 4:30, as Pitcairn’s advance column approached Lexington, they encountered two riders ahead of them.  One shouted a warning that they should turn back.  Another fired his pistol. There are differing accounts as to whether he fired in the air as a warning, or took aim at the column.  In any event, he was too far away to hit anyone.  But firing the weapon convinced Pitcairn that it was time to stop the column and have the men load their weapons.  He also deployed flanking units to make sure there was not ambush waiting for them as they marched into town.

Lexington Green

Pitcairn’s advance column arrived at the outskirts of Lexington just about sunrise, around 5:00 AM.  Both sides greatly overestimated the other.  British accounts estimate 200-300 militia still assembling on Lexington Green.  Most estimates by the militia seem to put their numbers at 60-70.  Similarly, the militia estimated the British force to be 1200-1500 men, when in fact the advance column totaled about 250.

Maj. Pitcairn was bringing up the rear of his advance column while a young Lieutenant named Jesse Adair led the front.  Pitcairn had planned to march past Lexington straight to Concord. Rather than remain on the road to Concord, Adair steered the column toward Lexington Green to confront the militia.  As the column turned, Pitcairn realized what was happening, galloped forward and rerouted the column along the road to Concord.  But the first two companies were already moving with Adair to confront the militia.  Before Pitcairn could do anything, they charged forward, nearly running as they quickly assembled into a line of battle.  The Regulars began shouting, making it difficult for everyone to hear orders.

British fire at Lexington (from BritishBattles)
Witnesses differ on the exact words, but some British officers called the militia rebels and villains and demanded they drop their arms and disperse.  Captain Parker, commanding the Lexington militia, ordered his men to disperse.  Some began walking away, but others apparently not hearing the orders or ignoring them, remained standing.  No one laid down their weapons..

Everyone seems to have a different account about what happened next. Several militia report a British officer firing his pistol, followed quickly by a ragged volley from the regulars.  More accounts seem to indicate the first shot came from a pistol off to the side, either behind a fence or hedge. Paul Revere, who was still struggling to hide Hancock’s trunk in the woods, could not see the encounter, but said he heard a pistol then quickly followed by the volley from the regulars.

Although the two lines were probably only 50-70 yards apart, few men fell in the first volley.  Many at first thought the regulars might have fired blanks.  But they soon realized they were using live rounds, just poor shots.  The regulars continued to reload and fire as fast as they could.  The militia scattered for cover.  A few militia returned fire, but most ran.  Most of the casualties were shot in the back while running away.  A few were bayoneted.  The regular officers lost control of their men, who began charging off in different directions after militiamen, or entering buildings.

After about 15 minutes, Col. Smith arrived with the main column.  He immediately rushed onto the field, found a drummer and ordered him to beat to arms, the instruction to the regulars to return back to their lines.  Within a few minutes, he had restored order.  Seven Lexington men had been shot dead.  An eighth man, one of the prisoners taken on the road to Lexington was shot and killed while trying to escape.  Nine other militiamen were injured.  The regulars suffered only one injury, a soldier shot in the leg.  Maj. Pitcairn also claimed his horse had been shot twice.

Onward to Concord

Finally, Col. Smith revealed to his officers that the mission was to advance on Concord and seize the supplies there.  Many of his junior officers objected, pointing out that they would be marching another seven miles into unknown territory, while the militia, who would now be angered at the attack at Lexington continued to assemble all around them.  Smith, however, was determined to carry out his orders and reach his objective.  After a few victory cheers, the column continued its march toward Concord.
March to Lexington & Concord (from Wikimedia)

In Concord, a rider from Lexington arrived with the news that the regulars had fired on the militia there.  He did not stay around long enough to know if there were casualties, but clearly things were getting serious.

A group of Concord militia under the command of Col. James Barrett, moved out to a hill overlooking to road into town.  As the British approached, they spotted the militia and deployed a line of skirmishers against them.  The militia retreated in good order before the regulars could get close enough to engage.  They returned to town ahead of the regulars.  The outnumbered militia decided there was little point in confronting the regulars in town as had happened in Lexington.  They retreated north of town, across the north bridge onto higher ground.

The regulars marched into Concord unopposed around 7:00 AM.  Col. Smith deployed one company of light infantry to secure the south bridge and sent seven companies to secure the north bridge.  Four of those companies were tasked to continue about two miles beyond the bridge to Col. Barrett’s Mill.  Spies had indicated he kept a large cache of munitions there.

British burning arms at Concord (from Sutori)
The grenadiers remained in Concord, searching those houses and buildings where informants had reported there were military stores.  But the people of Concord had received enough advanced notice to hide or remove just about anything of military value.  The only weapons found were three cannon.  Maj. Pitcairn burst into the local tavern pointed a pistol at the owner, and threatened to fire unless he revealed where they were hiding their weapons.  The owner led Pitcairn to three large 24 pounders buried in his yard.  After that, Pitcairn released his prisoner and offered to buy breakfast for his men.

Beyond that, the soldiers destroyed a few bags of powder and burned some wooden tools.  They cut down and burned the town’s Liberty Pole.  They also found a cache of lead balls which they dumped in a local pond.  The next day, the locals simply waded into the pond, and salvaged the balls for later use.

As the regulars burned the gun carriages and other wooden items, they accidentally set a house on fire.  The regulars and locals worked together to form a bucket brigade and quickly extinguished the house fire.

The detachment of regulars at Barrett’s Mill did little better.  Again, the locals had enough warning to remove or hide virtually anything of military value.  The regulars forced Mrs. Barrett to provide them with breakfast.  Mrs. Barrett fed the men but refused money when offered, calling it blood money.  The men threw a few coins at her feet anyway and began to move back to the north bridge.

Battle of the North Bridge

The Concord militia observed events from high ground near the north bridge.  As they waited, minutemen from all over the area continued to join them and swell their ranks.  Soon they had over 500 men against about 100 regulars holding the north bridge.  They also saw smoke from the fire in Concord, and grew worried that the regulars were burning their town.

Col. Barrett advanced his militia against the regulars holding the bridge.  The two companies of regulars that had taken high ground near the bridge began to retreat back toward the bridge so that all three companies would be together on the other side of the bridge from the militia.  The one company at the bridge, however, had set up in a defensive line that made it difficult for the other two companies to cross.  The men became tangled in a mess and broke formation.  Several regulars then discharged their weapons at the advancing militia, killing two men and wounding four others.

Regulars had a disdain for militia, thinking they would often run at the first hint of fire.  To their surprise, the militia continued to march forward, maintaining formation.  They got within 50 yards of the regulars and opened fire.  Many of the militiamen targeted the officers.  In the first volley, they hit four of the eight officers at the North Bridge.

Battle at Old North Bridge (from Liberty Seed)
To almost everyone’s surprise, the regulars then turned and fled.  They were outnumbered, the enemy fired bravely, accurately, and remained in proper formation.  The soldiers fled for their lives, leaving behind their wounded.

The militia did not seem quite sure what to do next.  Some men advanced on the retreating regulars.  Others decided they had given the soldiers a good shellacking and turned around to head home.  One young militiaman approached the bridge to find Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould lying wounded but alive on the bridge, abandoned by his men.  The militiaman pulled out a hatchet and struck the lieutenant in his head, cutting off part of his scalp and exposing part of his brain.  Amazingly Gould survived to tell this story later, though the militia left him for dead on the bridge.

Meanwhile, back in Concord village, Col. Smith heard the gunfire as the battle began at the North Bridge.  He immediately took two regiments of grenadiers and personally led them toward the bridge.  On the way, he encountered the fleeing remnants of the light infantry companies who had retreated from the bridge.  Smith pressed forward, with the intention of retaking the bridge so that the four companies returning from Barrett’s Mill would be able to cross and return to the main column.

He never reached the bridge though.  About 200 militiamen had already crossed the bridge and positioned themselves on a hill behind a stone wall along the road to the bridge.  Smith and his grenadiers saw the line of militia from about 200 yards away.  The two lines faced one another for about ten minutes, neither firing a shot.  Smith decided his outnumbered men with the inferior ground could not face down the militia.  They turned around and went back to town.

The four companies of regulars returning from Barrett’s Mill also heard the gunfire and rushed to the bridge, only to find the regulars gone and a disorganized group of militia surrounding the bridge.  The regulars marched forward and crossed the bridge, walking right past the militia.  Neither side opened fire and the militia allowed the regulars to cross.

The crossing regulars saw the wounded Lt. Gould on the Bridge.  There was no ethic of “no man left behind” in the British army of the time.  They allowed him to lay there, though word of his scalping spread through the British ranks, exaggerated so that word got around that the colonists were torturing wounded soldiers.  This story would contribute to further atrocities as the day wore on.

By 10:00 AM, Smith had collected all of his forces back in Concord.  He packed the wounded officers into wagons.  The walking wounded soldiers would have to keep up.  They would leave behind the severely wounded to whatever fate they faced from the angry colonists.  All Col. Smith would have to do now is lead his tired, hungry, force of soldiers, who were running low on ammunition on a twenty mile march back to Boston.  They would have to pass through a gauntlet ever growing number of angry and heavily armed militiamen bent on revenge.

Next Episode 55: British Retreat from Lexington and Concord

Previous Episode 53: Paul Revere Rides

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American Revolution Podcast is 100% free and completely ad free.  I appreciate any support. If you are not in a position to help, please continue to enjoy at no cost.  Also, see the bottom of this page how you can support this Podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.
Thanks, Mike Troy

Visit http://amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.

Visit https://amrev.podbean.com for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web sites:

Patriot’s Day Timeline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/patriotsday/timeline

Gen. Gage's orders to Col. Smith, April 18, 1775:  http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/revolution/account2_lexington.cfm

Eyewitness account of Regulars leaving Boston:
http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/revolution/account1_lexington.cfm

Depositions concerning Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775:
http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/shots/concern.html

Three Boston 1775 Blog posts on Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould, wounded on the North Bridge:
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-edward-thoroton-gould-wounded-and.html
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-gould-testifies-in-london.html
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-gould-gets-married.html

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

City of Concord Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of Concord Fight, April 19, 1875, by Concord (1876).

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 2, 1904 (pages 24-44 contain eyewitness testimony of the battles of Lexington and Concord).

Abbatt, William (ed) Memoirs of Major-General Heath, New York: William Abbatt 1901 (originally published by William Heath, 1798).

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776,  Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Clark, Jonas The fate of blood-thirsty oppressors, and God's tender care of his distressed people. A sermon, preached at Lexington, April 19, 1776. To commemorate the murder, bloodshed, and commencement of hostilities, between Great Britain and America, in that town, by a brigade of troops of George III, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, on the nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Powers and Willis, 1776.

Coburn, Frank, The Battle of April 19, 1775: in Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville, and Charlestown, Massachusetts, Lexington: Self-Published, 1912.

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) Barker, John John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1924.

Everett, Edward An Oration Delivered at Concord, April the Nineteenth, 1825, Boston: Cummings, Hilliard & Company, 1825.

French, Allen The Day of Concord and Lexington The Nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1925.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926 (Mackenzie was an officer in the British Army, occupying Boston in 1775.  This is his diary).

Frothingham, Richard History of the Siege of Boston, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1903.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Murdock, Harold Late News of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops, Cambridge: Press at Harvard College, 1927.

Seeley, O.G. Views and descriptive history of Lexington and Concord, Lexington, W.B. Clarke Company, 1901.

Smith, Whitney (ed) Concord town records: manuscript transcripts, 1774-1776, Unpublished Manuscript, 1774.

Tomlinson, Abraham (ed) The Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, 1758-1775, Poukeepsie: Museum, 1855.

Varney, George The Story of Patriots' Day, Lexington and Concord, Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1895.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Bell, J.L. The Road to Concord, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Daughan, George C. Lexington and Concord: The Battle Heard Round the World, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2018.

Fisher, David Hackett Paul Revere's Ride,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Fowler, William The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1979.

Hallahan, William H. The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775, New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  You can also click on the li nke below to go to Amazon, buy whatever you want, and American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Amazon Books on the American Revolution


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Episode 053: Paul Revere Rides




Last week, I noted Gen. Gage’s receipt of Lord Germain’s orders to make more of an effort to suppress the rebellion.  Colonists had been training and preparing for armed conflict for months.  Everyone anticipated a deadly encounter. It was just a matter of when, where, and who would fire first.

Gage Prepares for a Deployment

On Easter Sunday April 16, 1775 Paul Revere rode out to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams that some raid was imminent.  Thanks to Benjamin Church’s regular messages, Gage had known for some time that most of the colonial stores were in Concord and Worcester.  Worcester was nearly 40 miles away.  Soldiers could not march there and back in one day.  Concord was only 20 miles away, meaning troops could march out, capture or destroy the munitions, and return in a single day.  Gage hoped the militia would not have enough time to react.

On Tuesday, April 18, Gen. Gage received intelligence that the stores in Concord remained there and had not been removed.  The Provincial Congress had adjourned until May meaning defenses were lower as well.  This was the time to strike.

Paul Revere's Ride (from biography.com)
Gage also knew from earlier alarms that the necessary element of surprise had been impossible.  Riders always seemed to reach their target faster than his soldiers could march.  He did not have any significant cavalry for fast moving actions.

To counter this problem, Gage deployed 20 officers and sergeants on horseback on April 18.  Their mission was to stop any riders attempting to alert the countryside to the movement of British troops.  Yet this unusual deployment of soldiers in the evening was itself enough to raise a general alarm that something was happening.

The Patriots fully expected Gage to try to prevent any alarm, and that he would likely shut down Boston to prevent word reaching the militia.  In Boston, Joseph Warren planned for multiple riders using different routes.  He would send one messenger by land across Boston Neck.  Although Gage would likely shut down Boston Neck at some point, doing that too early would set off alarm bells.  Therefore, a messenger might pass through before the gates closed.  Another messenger would row across the harbor to Charlestown, where a horse would be waiting. The river crossing had its own dangers, since the navy deployed ships to block any such crossings.

The third method was a pre-planned signal from Christ Church, also known as the Old North Church.  When troops were leaving town, which would happen at night, patriots would raise a lantern signal in the church tower.  One lantern meant the soldiers were marching overland through Boston Neck.  Two lanterns meant they were deploying in longboats to cross the harbor.  A rider in Charlestown, waiting for the signal, would ride out to alert the countryside.

To use any of these methods, Warren had to figure out when the British were leaving, and what they planned to do.  The soldiers would most likely leave at night after night time roadblocks prevented any civilians from leaving town.  By late afternoon, it seemed clear that a deployment would take place that night.  Warren went to confer with one of his top secret intelligence sources.  No one knows for certain who this source was.  Warren alone knew the identity, knowledge that he carried to his grave.

Margaret Gage (from Wikimedia)
Some stories indicate that Warren’s spy was none other than Gen. Gage’s wife, Margaret Kemble Gage.  Thomas and Margaret Gage had married in 1758 and by all accounts had a close and loving marriage, producing 11 children.  Her brother Stephen served as one of Gage’s officers. Another brother, Samuel, served as Gage’s private secretary. Yet there is some evidence that Margaret, who was born and raised in New Jersey, and whose family had lived the colonies for generations, had some sympathy with the patriot cause.

According to one account, on the afternoon of April 18, Gen. Gage informed on of his generals, Lord Percy, of his plans to take Concord the next day, Gage made clear that this was top secret, not to be revealed even to his other officers.  While walking back from headquarters, Percy heard several men discussing the planned attack and that the target was Concord.  Percy immediately returned to Gage to tell him this, at which point Gage became irate.  He said he had only shared his plans with one other person so far, besides Percy. 

This story is not in any contemporary records, and seems to have been written years later.  Therefore, it may be apocryphal.  Even if true, Gage did not say who that other person was.  No other officer ever received any sort of reprimand.  That is one reason why some people point the finger at Margaret. As evidence, they point to the fact that he shipped his wife back to London shortly after these events, and that their marriage was strained after he joined her in England.  But Margaret did not leave Boston until August, four months after the fact. There was good reason for her to leave at that time since hunger and disease were spreading through Boston by then.  Also, as far as any estrangement, Margaret was about one month pregnant when she left, and the couple would have another child after Gen. Gage returned to England.

What makes me question this even more is that Warren’s message was wrong.  He sent his riders to Lexington saying the British would attempt to capture Hancock, Adams, and possibly other leaders.  That was not part of Gage’s orders to his commanders.  He was after the munitions at Concord.  It was only after the army marched that patriot leaders decided that it was too large a deployment to capture a few men and that they must be going after the munitions. Warren was still guessing at Gage’s ultimate goal, as were just about all the British officers sent out under secret orders.

The Army Moves on Lexington and Concord

Francis Smith (from Wikimedia)
Gen. Gage granted command of the expedition to Lt. Col. Francis Smith, a competent officer though not particularly outstanding.  Neither Gage nor any of his three division commanders would participate in the mission.  Smith would lead about 700 men to Concord via Lexington.  His goal was to capture or destroy all arms and ammunition in Concord.  Gage’s orders say nothing about capturing any patriot leaders.  It is possible the riders he had sent out earlier that day, whose primary mission was to stop any couriers, may have been ordered to arrest leaders as well.  According to some of the locals they stopped that night, they interrogated them about the whereabouts of Hancock and Adams.  But if it was a consideration at all, it did not seem to be a primary one.  Rather, this seemed to be just another mission to capture or destroy munitions, much like earlier raids on Quarry Hill, Portsmouth, and Salem.

Smith informed only a few top officers of the mission.  Most of the junior officers would not learn of the mission objective until they reached Lexington.  They simply received orders that evening to assemble their men on the beach near Boston common at 10:00 PM.

The Rides to Lexington

At around 8:00 PM, Warren summoned William Dawes, a Boston tanner who was part of Paul Revere’s spy network.  Although Dawes was a loyal Patriot, he seemed to have a friendly relationship with the soldiers and regularly passed through Boston Neck on business.  He was able to ride out of Boston around 9:00 PM.  A few minutes after he left town the guard received word to shut down for the night.  No one else would pass in or out that night.  Dawes headed for Lexington.  He did not hurry there, nor is there good evidence that he alerted anyone along the way, although some claim he did.  Warren simply directed him to warn Hancock and Adams that they might be targeted for arrest the following day.

William Dawes
(from Wikimedia)
After troops began to assemble around 10:00 PM, it became clear that the raid would begin that night and would involve hundreds of troops.  Warren met with Revere around that same time to tell him to cross the harbor where a horse would be awaiting him in Charlestown.  From there, he could ride to Lexington and Concord to warn everyone.

Before Revere crossed the harbor, he went to find a friend at  the North Church.  According to the pre-arranged plan,  Robert Newman, a sexton and or Thomas Pulling, a vestryman at the Church (accounts differ) climbed to the steeple a little after 10:00 PM.  They lit two lanterns, hung them out for about one minute, then climbed back down.  That was enough to alert patriots in Charlestown, who sent out at least one rider.  My sources seem a little vague and contradictory on how many riders set off from Charlestown, but some indicate more than one.

It appears, though, that any rider or riders that started the trip, did not finish it.  British officers doing their job to intercept any riders that night probably captured whoever had been sent.  The signal also told the Charlestown patriots to have a fast horse waiting for Revere as soon as he crossed the harbor.

Aided by two other patriots, Revere crossed the harbor in a small rowboat.  They used muffled oars to avoid notice by the naval vessel keeping watch in the parbor.  By 11:00 PM, Revere had crossed the harbor, found his horse, and left Charlestown on his way to Lexington.  Before leaving Charlestown, locals warned him that they had seen soldiers on horseback along the road, possibly waiting to intercept riders.

Rides of Revere, Dawes, and Prescott (from Weebly)
Shortly after starting down the road, Revere saw two men on horseback under a tree up ahead.  He soon realized they were British regulars.  He turned around and took off at a gallop.  The British riders gave chase, but Revere’s knowledge of the land and a faster horse allowed him to leave his pursuers behind.

Instead of riding down Lexington Road, Revere detoured up Mystic Road, to the north, heading through what is today Medford.  This route was a little longer and out of the way, but it also turned out to be free of any more sentries.

Along the way, Revere alerted any farms or small towns that he passed through.  Many of Revere’s calls to alarm were not random houses that he happened to pass. Revere knew very well who the militia leaders were, who could be available to ride to other towns and continue to spread the alarm.  This night was the culmination of months of organization and planning.

By midnight, multiple riders were spreading over the colony while militia captains began summoning their units.  Revere’s word that the regulars were marching toward Lexington and Concord that night was all they needed to know to call up their men and move toward their target.

Following his detour through Medford, Revere turned south again to the town of Monotomy (current day Arlington) and continued on the main road to Lexington.

Revere Confers with Leaders at Lexington

Revere finally arrived in Lexington a little after midnight on the morning of April 19.  He went straight to the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, where Hancock and Samuel Adams had been staying for more than a week.  Along with them were Lydia Hancock, John’s Aunt and adopted mother, as well as his fiancĂ©e Dorothy (Dolly to her friends).

Revere in Lexington (from National Park Service)
The Lexington militia had already mustered, after being put on notice by the British sentries that rode out earlier that day. They posted a guard around the house were Hancock and Adams were staying, with the main force drinking over in Buckman’s tavern.

The guard in front of the house told Revere not to make so much noise at this late hour as people inside were trying to sleep.  Revere responded “Noise! You’ll have noise soon enough before long.  The Regulars are coming out!”  After rousing Clarke, Hancock and Adams, the men went over to Buckman’s Tavern to discuss matters over a few drinks.

A short time later, William Dawes, who had left Boston hours before Revere, finally arrived.  He had taken a longer route on a slower horse, resulting in his late arrival.  The group decided that such a large force would not be out to arrest a few leaders.  They must be after the munitions at Concord.

Hancock wanted to collect his arms and fight with the Lexington Militia.  But Adams and Revere quickly convinced him that he was too important a target for the regulars and needed to leave town before they arrived.  Adams and Hancock prepared to flee to another safe house farther away.

Revere Captured on Ride to Concord

The militia was already gathering on Lexington Green.  Revere and Dawes continued their ride to Concord to alert the militia there.  The two men set off around 1:30 AM.  Just after leaving town, they met another rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott, a young man who was returning home to Concord after a late night visit to his girlfriend.  He agreed to join the men and assist them.  Fearing they might meet another military patrol, the group warned every house they passed, each man in turn stopping to alert a house while the other two rode to the next ones.

After a few miles, the three men met another patrol.  Officers on horseback with pistols demanded their surrender.  Instead they made a run for it.  Revere dashed for the woods but ran into another group of soldiers and was captured.  On his slow horse Dawes somehow rode away after the patrol chased after Revere and Prescott.  After he got away though, his horse threw him and took off.  Without a horse, Dawes walked back to Lexington.

Prescott, who knew the area best and had the freshest horse, jumped a stone wall and escaped his pursuers.  He stayed off the roads, riding over fields to reach Concord in time to deliver the alert.  Prescott continued to alert other houses along the way and recruited other riders to spread out across the countryside.  He arrived in Concord around 2:00 AM where he used the church bell to alert the militia.  He delivered the alarm and then continued on to other towns.  Others used prearranged signals including three gunshots, or signal fires on top of hills to spread the alarm.

Revere’s ride was over for the night.  The angry and tired officers took him into custody and held him along with four other riders that the patrol had stopped earlier.  The patrol questioned their prisoners, particularly about the whereabouts of Hancock and Adams.  While Revere was not going to give up that information, he was happy to tell them his own identity.  They already knew the name Revere.

Revere also told them more about their own mission.  Gage had deployed these soldiers the day before with instructions to detain riders, but did not tell them why.  Revere informed them of the soldiers deployed under Col. Smith who had crossed the harbor to Charlestown and were marching out in their direction.  He also told them that the militia was already on high alert and was gathering in Lexington.  He may have been trying to discourage the group from returning to Lexington and possibly finding Hancock and Adams still there.

Revere Returns to Lexington 

The party, however, rode their captors back toward Lexington.  Upon approaching Lexington a little after 2:00 AM, the group heard gunfire, most likely militia members discharging their weapons before entering Buckman’s Tavern.

The sound of gunfire unnerved the British officers.  They released their prisoners and rode quickly back to Boston, without entering Lexington.  Though they confiscated Revere’s horse, preventing him from spreading further alarm.  Revere walked back to Lexington.

Revere Gets Hancock and Adams out of Lexington

Around 3:00 AM, Revere reached Lexington.  He returned to the Clarke house only to find that Hancock and Adams were still there.  Hancock had decided not to leave town and was cleaning his gun and sword in preparation to join the militia.  Although he had never seen combat, Hancock had been commander in the Boston militia for decades and considered himself a military man.  Adams was still trying to convince him he needed to leave.  Revere weighed in, discussing his own capture only hours before.

The men received a report that an  British officer had asked a local where the Clarke Tavern was.  There was no such tavern, but it was clear the British were looking for the men staying in Clarke’s home.  Finally, Hancock agreed to leave with Adams and Revere for Woburn, a small village a few miles northwest of Lexington.  They took Hancock’s coach, which was a fancy and highly recognizable.  Fortunately, they did not encounter any soldiers during their escape.

Buckman Tavern (from Wikimedia)
Hancock left behind his aunt and fiancee, but made it to Woburn without incident.  Revere decided to return to Lexington to see what was happening.  Hancock sent his coach back to Lexington.  Someone had given him a fresh salmon the night before, and he wanted to collect the fish for his dinner.  Oh, and as long as he was collecting his dinner, the coach could also bring Aunt Lydia and Dolly.

When Revere returned to Lexington, one of Hancock’s aides asked him for help.  While Hancock had secured his family and his dinner, he had neglected to collect a trunk full of top secret papers with all sorts of information about the Provisional government’s activities and strategy.  That trunk was still sitting in Buckman’s Tavern.  Revere and the aide went to secure it.

While in the tavern, Revere heard the men saying that the whole night had been a false alarm.  The Lexington militia had turned out hours earlier.  Tired of waiting, they had sent riders to look for the regulars.  One rider had returned saying there was no sign of any army.  The militia commander dismissed his troops but told them to stay in the area just in case.  Most of them continued to hang around Buckman’s Tavern, enjoying a few beers.

While Revere was arguing with the men that it was not a false alarm and that he had seen the soldiers himself, the other militia rider returned saying that the soldiers were, in fact, on the way, and were almost in town.  The militiamen scrambled to get into formation before the British arrived.  Meanwhile, Revere struggled to get Hancock’s top secret papers out of the tavern.

Around this time, near dawn, the army entered the town to face the quickly assembling militia on Lexington Green.  Revere carried Hancock’s trunk into the woods as he heard the first shots of the Revolution.

Next Episode 54: British Advance on Lexington and Concord

Previous Episode 52: Salem and Hearts & Minds

Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is 100% free and completely ad free.  I appreciate any support. If you are not in a position to help, please continue to enjoy at no cost.  Also, see the bottom of this page how you can support this Podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.
Thanks, Mike Troy

Visit http://amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.

Visit https://amrev.podbean.com for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web sites: 

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth The Midnight Ride of Paul Reverehttp://poetry.eserver.org/paul-revere.html

Margaret Kemble Gage: http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2009/05/margaret-kemble-gage.html

Beck, Derek "Joseph Warren's Informant" Journal of the American Revolution, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/dr-joseph-warrens-informant

Beck, Derek "Dissecting the Timeline of Paul Revere’s Ride" Journal of the American Revolution, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/dissecting-the-timeline-of-paul-reveres-ride

Anderlik, Todd "How Paul Revere's Ride was Published and Censored in 1775" Journal of the American Revolution, 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/02/how-paul-reveres-ride-was-published-and-censored-in-1775

Bell, J.L. "Did Paul Revere's Ride Really Matter?" Journal of the American Revolution,  2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/did-paul-reveres-ride-really-matter

Weisberger, Bernard A. "Paul Revere: The Man, the Myth, and the Midnight Ride" American Heritage Magazine, 1977: http://www.americanheritage.com/content/paul-revere?page=show

The Real Story of Paul Revere's Ride: https://www.paulreverehouse.org/the-real-story

Letter written by Paul Revere describing his famous ride:  http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=99&img_step=1&mode=dual#page1

Bell, J.L. Series of articles about the lanterns in Old North Church, Boston 1775 Blog, 2018:
Online Videos: 

David Hackett Fischer discusses his book, Paul Revere Rides, C-SPAN, 1994: https://www.c-span.org/video/?58074-1

Jane Triber discusses her book: True Republican: the Life of Paul Revere, C-SPAN ,1998: https://www.c-span.org/video/?110989-1

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) Barker, John John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1924.

French, Allen The Day of Concord and Lexington The Nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1925.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926 (Mackenzie was an officer in the British Army, occupying Boston in 1775.  This is his diary).

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Smith, Whitney (ed) Concord town records: manuscript transcripts, 1774-1776, Unpublished Manuscript, 1774.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Bell, J.L. The Road to Concord, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Daughan, George C. Lexington and Concord: The Battle Heard Round the World, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2018.

Fisher, David Hackett Paul Revere's Ride,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hallahan, William H. The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775, New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Miller, Joel The Revolutionary Paul Revere, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2010.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  You can also click on the link below to go to Amazon, buy whatever you want, and American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Amazon Books on the American Revolution