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Chapter 28:

To Concord and back to Boston.

April nineteenth, 1775.

the British troops drew up on the village green,
Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
fired a volley, huzzaed thrice by way of triumph, and after a halt of less than thirty minutes, marched on for Concord. There, in the morning hours, children and women fled for shelter to the hills and the woods, and men were hiding what was left of cannon and military stores.

The minute companies and militia formed on the usual parade, over which the congregation of the town, for near a century and a half, had passed on every day of public worship; the freemen to every town meeting; and lately the patriot members of the provincial congress twice a day to their little senate house. Near that spot Winthrop, the father of Massachusetts, had given counsel; and Eliot, the apostle of the Indians, had spoken words of benignity and wisdom. The people of Concord, of whom about two hundred appeared in arms on that day, were unpretending men, content in their humility; [298] their energy was derived from their sense of the

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divine power. This looking to God as their sovereign, brought the fathers to their pleasant valley; this controlled the loyalty of the sons; and this has made the name of Concord venerable throughout the world.

The alarm company of the place rallied near the liberty pole on the hill, to the right of the Lexington road, in the front of the meeting-house. They went to the perilous duties of the day, ‘with seriousness and acknowledgment of God,’ as though they were to be engaged in acts of worship. The minute company of Lincoln, and a few from Acton, pressed in at an early hour; but the British, as they approached, were seen to be four times as numerous as the Americans. The latter, therefore, retreated, first to an eminence eighty rods further north, then across the Concord river by the North bridge, till just beyond it, by a back road they gained high ground, about a mile from the centre of the town. There they waited for aid.

About seven o'clock, the British marched with rapid step under the brilliant sunshine into Concord, the light infantry along the hills, and the grenadiers in the lower road. Left in undisputed possession of the hamlet, they made search for stores. To this end, one small party was sent to the South bridge over Concord river; and of six companies under Captain Laurie, three, comprising a hundred soldiers or more, were stationed as a guard at the North bridge, while three others advanced two miles further, to the residence of Barrett, the highest military officer of the neighborhood, where arms were thought [299] to have been concealed. But they found there

Chap. XXVIII.} 1775. April 19.
nothing to destroy except some carriages for cannon. His wife at their demand gave them refreshment; but refused pay, saying: ‘We are commanded to feed our enemy, if he hunger.’

At daybreak, the minute men of Acton crowded at the drumbeat to the house of Isaac Davis, their captain, who ‘made haste to be ready.’ Just thirty years old, the father of four little ones, stately in his person, a man of few words, earnest even to solemnity, he parted from his wife, saying, ‘Take good care of the children,’ as though he had foreseen that his own death was near; and while she gazed after him with resignation, he led off his company to the scene of danger.

Between nine and ten, the number of Americans on the rising ground above Concord bridge had increased to more than four hundred. Of these there were twenty-five minute men from Bedford, with Jonathan Wilson for their captain; others were from Westford, among them Thaxter, a preacher; others from Littleton, from Carlisle, and from Chelmsford. The Acton company came last, and formed on the right. The whole was a gathering not so much of officers and soldiers, as of brothers and equals; of whom every one was a man well known in his village, observed in the meeting-house on Sundays, familiar at town meetings, and respected as a freeholder or a freeholder's son.

Near the base of the hill, Concord river flows languidly in a winding channel, and was approached by a causeway over the wet ground of its left bank. The by-road from the hill on which the Americans [300] had rallied, ran southerly till it met the causeway at

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
right angles. The Americans saw before them within gunshot British troops holding possession of their bridge; and in the distance a still larger number occupying their town, which, from the rising smoke, seemed to have been set on fire.

In Concord itself, Pitcairn had fretted and fumed with oaths and curses at the tavern-keeper for shutting against him the doors of the inn, and exulted over the discovery of two twenty-four pounders in the tavern yard, as though they reimbursed the expedition. These were spiked; sixty barrels of flour were broken in pieces, but so imperfectly, that afterwards half the flour was saved; five hundred pounds of ball were thrown into a mill-pond. The liberty pole and several carriages for artillery were burned; and the court house took fire, though the fire was put out. Private dwellings were rifled; but this slight waste of public stores was all the advantage for which Gage precipitated a civil war.

The Americans had as yet received only uncertain rumors of the morning's events at Lexington. At the sight of fire in the village, the impulse seized them ‘to march into the town for its defence.’ But were they not subjects of the British king? Had not the troops come out in obedience to constituted and acknowledged authorities? Was resistance practicable? Was it justifiable? By whom could it be authorized? No union had been formed; no independence proclaimed; no war declared. The husbandmen and mechanics who then stood on the hillock by Concord river, were called on to act, and their action would be war or peace, submission or [301] independence. Had they doubted, they must have

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.

But duty is bolder than theory, more confident than the understanding, older and more imperative than speculative science; existing from eternity, and recognised in its binding force from the first morning of creation. Prudent statesmanship would have asked anxiously for time to ponder, and would have missed the moment for decision by delay. Wise philosophy would have compared the systems of government, and would have lost from hesitation the glory of opening a new era on mankind. The humble trainbands at Concord acted, and God was with them. ‘I never heard from any person the least expression of a wish for a separation,’ Franklin, not long before, had said to Chatham. In October, 1774, Washington wrote, ‘No such thing as independence is desired by any thinking man in America.’ ‘Before the nineteenth of April, 1775,’ relates Jefferson, ‘I never had heard a whisper of a disposition to separate from Great Britain.’ Just thirtyseven days had passed, since John Adams in Boston published to the world: ‘That there are any who pant after independence, is the greatest slander on the province.’

The American revolution did not proceed from precarious intentions. It grew out of the soul of the people, and was an inevitable result of a living affection for freedom, which actuated harmonious effort as certainly as the beating of the heart sends warmth and color and beauty to the system. The rustic heroes of that hour obeyed the simplest, the highest, and the surest instincts, of which the seminal principle [302] existed in all their countrymen. From necessity they

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
were impelled by a strong endeavor towards independence and self-direction; this day revealed the plastic will which was to attract the elements of a nation to a centre, and by an innate force to shape its constitution.

The officers, meeting in front of their men, spoke a few words with one another, and went back to their places. Barrett, the colonel, on horseback in the rear, then gave the order to advance, but not to fire unless attacked. The calm features of Isaac Davis, of Acton, became changed; the town schoolmaster, who was present, could never afterwards find words strong enough to express, how his face reddened at the word of command. ‘I have not a man that is afraid to go,’ said Davis, looking at the men of Acton; and drawing his sword, he cried, ‘March.’ His company, being on the right, led the way towards the bridge, he himself at their head, and by his side Major John Buttrick, of Concord, with John Robinson, of Westford, lieutenant colonel in Prescott's regiment, but on this day a volunteer without command.

Thus these three men walked together in front, followed by minute men and militia, in double file, trailing arms. They went down the hillock, entered the by-road, came to its angle with the main road, and there turned into the causeway that led straight to the bridge. The British began to take up the planks; the Americans, to prevent it, quickened their step. At this, the British fired one or two shots up the river; then another, by which Luther Blanchard and Jonas Brown were wounded. A volley [303] followed, and Isaac Davis and Abner Hosmer,

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
the latter a son of the deacon of the Acton church, fell dead. Three hours before, Davis had bid his wife and children farewell. That afternoon, he was carried home and laid in her bedroom. His countenance was little altered and pleasant in death. The bodies of two others of his company who were slain that day were brought also to her house, and the three were followed to the village graveyard by a concourse of the neighbors from miles around. God gave her length of days in the land which his generous self-devotion assisted to redeem. She lived to see her country touch the gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, and when it was grown great in numbers, wealth, and power, the United States in congress paid honors to her husband's martyrdom, and comforted her under the double burden of sorrow and more than ninety years.

As the Britishfired, Emerson, who was looking on from his chamber window near the bridge, was for one moment uneasy, lest the fire should not be returned. It was only for a moment; Buttrick, leaping into the air, and at the same timepartially turning round, cried aloud, as if with his country's voice, ‘Fire, fellow-soldiers, for God's sake fire;’ and the cry, ‘fire, fire, fire,’ ran from lip to lip. Two of the British fell; several were wounded. In two minutes, all was hushed. The British retreated in disorder towards their main body; the countrymen were left in possession of the bridge. This is the world renowned battle of Concord; more eventful than Agincourt or Blenheim.

The Americans had acted from impulse, and stood [304] astonished at what they had done. They made no

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
pursuit and did no further harm, except that one wounded soldier, attempting to rise as if to escape, was struck on the head by a young man with a hatchet. The party at Barrett's might have been cut off, but was not molested. As the Sudbury company, commanded by the brave Nixon, passed near the South bridge, Josiah Haynes, then eighty years of age, deacon of the Sudbury church, urged an attack on the British party stationed there; his advice was rejected by his fellow-soldiers as premature, but the company in which he served proved among the most alert during the rest of the day.

In the town of Concord, Smith, for half an hour, showed by marches and countermarches, his uncertainty of purpose. At last, about noon, he left the town, to retreat the way he came, along the crooked and hilly road that wound through forests and thickets. The minute men and militia, who had taken part in the fight, ran over the hills opposite the battle field into the east quarter of the town, crossed the pasture known as the ‘Great Fields,’ and acting each from his own impulse, placed themselves in ambush a little to the eastward of the village, near the junction of the Bedford road. There they were reinforced by men who were coming in from all around, and at that point the chase of the English began.

Among the foremost were the minute men of Reading, led by John Brooks, and accompanied by Foster the minister of Littleton as a volunteer. The company of Billerica, whose inhabitants, in their just indignation at Nesbit and his soldiers, had openly resolved [305] to ‘use a different style from that of petition

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
and complaint,’ came down from the north, while the East Sudbury company appeared on the south. little below the Bedford road, at Merriam's corner, the British faced about; but after a sharp encounter, in which several of them were killed, they were compelled to resume their retreat.

At the high land in Lincoln, the old road bent towards the north; just where great trees on the west, thickets on the east, and stone walls in every direction, offered cover to the pursuers. The men from Woburn came up in great numbers, and well armed. Along these defiles, eight of the British were left. Here Pitcairn was forced to quit his horse, which was taken with his pistols in their holsters. A little further on, Jonathan Wilson, captain of the Bedford minute men, too zealous to keep on his guard, was killed by a flanking party. At another defile in Lincoln, the minute men of Lexington, commanded by John Parker, renewed the fight. Every piece of wood, every rock by the wayside, served as a lurking-place. Scarce ten of the Americans were at any time seen together; yet the hills on each side seemed to the British to swarm with ‘rebels,’ as if they had dropped from the clouds, and ‘the road was lined’ by an unintermitted fire from behind stone walls and trees.

At first the invaders moved in order; as they drew near Lexington, their flanking parties became ineffective from weariness; the wounded were scarce able to get forward. In the west of Lexington, as the British were rising Fiske's hill, a sharp contest ensued. It was at the eastern foot of the same hill, [306] that James Hayward, son of the deacon of Acton

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
church, encountered a regular, and both at the same moment fired; the regular was instantly killed, James Hayward was mortally wounded. A little further on fell the octogenarian Josiah Haynes, of Sudbury, who had kept pace by the side of the swiftest in the pursuit, with a rugged valor which age had not tempered.

The British troops, ‘greatly exhausted and fatigued, and having expended almost all their ammunition,’ began to run rather than retreat in order. The officers vainly attempted to stop their flight. ‘They were driven before the Americans like sheep.’ At last, about two in the afternoon, after they had hurried with shameful haste through the middle of the town, about a mile below the field of the morning's bloodshed, the officers got to the front, and by menaces of death, began to form them under a very heavy fire.

At that moment Lord Percy came in sight with the first brigade, consisting of Welsh fusiliers, the fourth, the forty-seventh, and the thirty-eighth regi ments, in all about twelve hundred men, with two field pieces. Insolent as usual, they marched out of Boston to the tune of Yankee Doodle; but they grew alarmed at finding every house on the road deserted. They met not one person to give them tidings of the party whom they were sent to rescue; and now that they had made the junction, they could think only of their own safety.

While the cannon kept the Americans at bay, Percy formed his detachment into a square, enclosing the fugitives, who lay down for rest on the ground, ‘their tongues hanging out of their mouths like those of dogs after a chase.’ [307]

From this time the Americans had to contend

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
against nearly the whole of the British army in Boston. Its best troops, fully two-thirds of its whole number, and more than that proportion of its strength, were now with Percy. And yet delay was sure to prove ruinous. The British must fly speedily and fleetly, or be overwhelmed. Two wagons sent out to them with supplies, were waylaid and captured by Payson, the minister of Chelsea. From far and wide minute men were gathering. The men of Dedham, even the old men, received their minister's blessing and went forth, in such numbers that scarce one male between sixteen and seventy was left at home. That morning William Prescott mustered his regiment, and though Pepperell was so remote that he could not be in season for the pursuit, he hastened down with five companies of guards. Before noon, a messenger rode at full speed into Worcester, crying ‘To arms;’ a fresh horse was brought, and the tidings went on; while the minute men of that town, joining hurriedly on the common in a fervent prayer from their minister, did not halt even for rest till they reached Cambridge.

Aware of his perilous position, Percy, after resting but half an hour, renewed the retreat. The light infantry marched in front, the grenadiers next, while the first brigade, which now furnished the very strong flanking parties, brought up the rear. They were exposed to a fire on each flank, in front and from behind. The Americans, who were good marksmen, would lie down concealed to load their guns at one place, and discharge them at another, running from front to flank, and from flank to rear. Rage [308] and revenge and shame at their flight led the regu-

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.
lars to plunder houses by the wayside, to destroy in wantonness windows and furniture, to set fire to barns and houses.

Beyond Lexington the troops were attacked by men chiefly from Essex and the lower towns. The fire from the rebels slackened, till they approached West Cambridge, where Joseph Warren and William Heath, both of the committee of safety, the latter a provincial general officer, gave for a moment some little appearance of organization to the resistance, and the fight grew sharper and more determined. Here the company from Danvers, which made a breastwork of a pile of shingles, lost eight men, caught between the enemy's flank guard and main body. Here, too, a musket ball grazed the hair of Warren, whose heart beat to arms, so that he was ever in the place of greatest danger. The British became more and more ‘exasperated;’ and indulged themselves in savage cruelty. In one house they found two aged, helpless, unarmed men, and butchered them both without mercy, stabbing them, breaking their skulls, and dashing out their brains. Hannah Adams, wife of Deacon Joseph Adams of Cambridge, lay in child-bed with a babe of a week old, but was forced to crawl with her infant in her arms and almost naked to a corn shed, while the soldiers set her house on fire. At Cambridge, an idiot, perched on a fence to gaze at the regular army, was wantonly shot at and killed. Of the Americans there were never more than four hundred together at any one time; but as some grew tired or used up their ammunition, others took their places, and though there was [309] not much concert or discipline, the pursuit never

Chap. XXVIII} 1775. April 19.

Below West Cambridge, the militia from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Brookline came up. Of these, Isaac Gardner of the latter place, one on whom the colony rested many hopes, fell about a mile west of Harvard college. The field pieces began to lose their terror, so that the Americans pressed upon the rear of the fugitives, whose retreat could not become more precipitate. Had it been delayed a half hour longer, or had Pickering with his fine regiment from Salem and Marblehead been alert enough to have intercepted them in front, it was thought that, worn down as they were by fatigue and exhausted of ammunition, they must have surrendered. But a little after sunset, the survivors escaped across Charlestown neck.

The troops of Percy had marched thirty miles in ten hours; the party of Smith, in six hours, had retreated twenty miles; the guns of the ships of war and a menace to burn the town of Charlestown saved them from annoyance during their rest on Bunker Hill, and while they were ferried across Charles river.

During the day, forty-nine Americans were killed, thirty-four wounded, and five missing. The loss of the British in killed, wounded, and missing, was two hundred and seventy-three. Among the wounded were many officers; Smith himself was hurt severely.

All the night long, the men of Massachusetts streamed in from scores of miles around, old men as well as young. They had scarce a semblance of artillery, or warlike stores; no powder, nor organization, [310] nor provisions; but there they were, thousands

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with brave hearts, determined to rescue the liberties of their country. ‘The night preceding the outrages at Lexington, there were not fifty people in the whole colony that ever expected any blood would be shed in the contest;’ the night after, the king's governor and the king's army found themselves closely beleaguered in Boston.

‘The next news from England must be conciliatory, or the connection between us ends,’ said Warren. ‘This month,’ so William Emerson of Concord, who had been chaplain to the provincial congress, chronicled in a blank leaf of his almanac, ‘is remarkable for the greatest events of the present age.’ ‘From the nineteenth of April, 1775,’ said Clarke, of Lexington, on its first anniversary, ‘will be dated the liberty of the American world.’

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