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Chapter 29:

Effects of the day of Lexington and Concord: the alarm.

April, 1775.

darkness closed upon the country and upon the
Chap. XXIX.} 1775. April 19.
town, but it was no night for sleep. Heralds on swift relays of horses transmitted the war-message from hand to hand, till village repeated it to village; the sea to the backwoods; the plains to the highlands; and it was never suffered to droop, till it had been borne north, and south, and east, and west, throughout the land. It spread over the bays that receive the Saco and the Penobscot. Its loud reveille broke the rest of the trappers of New Hampshire, and ringing like bugle-notes from peak to peak, overleapt the Green Mountains, swept onward to Montreal, and descended the ocean river, till the responses were echoed from the cliffs of Quebec. The hills along the Hudson told to one another the tale. As the summons hurried to the south, it was one day at New York; in one more at Philadelphia; the next it lighted a watchfire at Baltimore; thence it waked an answer at Annapolis. Crossing [312] the Potomac near Mount Vernon, it was sent forward
Chap. XXIX.} 1775. April.
without a halt to Williamsburg. It traversed the Dismal Swamp to Nansemond along the route of the first emigrants to North Carolina. It moved onwards and still onwards through boundless groves of evergreen to Newbern and to Wilmington. ‘For God's sake, forward it by night and by day,’ wrote Cornelius Harnett by the express which sped for Brunswick. Patriots of South Carolina caught up its tones at the border, and despatched it to Charleston, and through pines and palmettos and moss-clad live oaks, still further to the south, till it resounded among the New England settlements beyond the Savannah. Hillsborough and the Mecklenburg district of North Carolina rose in triumph, now that their wearisome uncertainty had its end. The Blue Ridge took up the voice and made it heard from one end to the other of the valley of Virginia. The Alleghanies, as they listened, opened their barriers that the ‘loud call’ might pass through to the hardy riflemen on the Holston, the Watauga, and the French Broad. Ever renewing its strength, powerful enough even to create a commonwealth, it breathed its inspiring word to the first settlers of Kentucky; so that hunters who made their halt in the matchless valley of the Elkhorn, commemorated the nineteenth day of April by naming their encampment Lexington.

With one impulse the colonies sprung to arms: with one spirit they pledged themselves to each other ‘to be ready for the extreme event.’ With one heart, the continent cried ‘Liberty or Death.’

The first measure of the Massachusetts committee of safety after the dawn of the twentieth of April, [313] was a circular to the several towns in Massachusetts.

Chap XXIX.} 1775. April.
‘We conjure you,’ they wrote, ‘by all that is dear, by all that is sacred; we beg and entreat, as you will answer it to your country, to your consciences, and above all, to God himself, that you will hasten and encourage by all possible means the enlistment of men to form the army; and send them forward to Headquarters at Cambridge with that expedition which the vast importance and instant urgency of the affair demands.’

The people of Massachusetts had not waited for the call. The country people, as soon as they heard the cry of innocent blood from the ground, snatched their firelocks from the walls; and wives, and mothers, and sisters took part in preparing the men of their households to go forth to the war. The farmers rushed to ‘the camp of liberty,’ often with nothing but the clothes on their backs, without a day's provisions, and many without a farthing in their pockets. Their country was in danger; their brethren were slaughtered; their arms alone employed their attention. On their way, the inhabitants gladly opened their hospitable doors and all things were in common. For the first night of the siege, Prescott of Pepperell with his Middlesex minute men kept the watch over the entrance to Boston, and while Gage was driven for safety to fortify the town at all points, the Americans already talked of nothing but driving him and his regiments into the sea.

At the same time the committee by letter gave the story of the preceding day to New Hampshire and Connecticut, whose assistance they entreated. ‘We shall be glad,’ they wrote, ‘that our brethren [314] who come to our aid, may be supplied with military

Chap. XXIX.} 1775. April.
stores and provisions, as we have none of either, more than is absolutely necessary for ourselves.’ And without stores, or cannon, or supplies even of powder, or of money, Massachusetts by its congress, on the twenty-second of April, resolved unanimously that a New England army of thirty thousand men should be raised, and established its own proportion at thirteen thousand six hundred. The term of enlistment was fixed for the last day of December.

Long before this summons the ferries over the Merrimack were crowded by men from New Hampshire. ‘We go,’ said they, ‘to the assistance of our brethren.’ By one o'clock of the twentieth upwards of sixty men of Nottingham assembled at the meeting-house with arms and equipments, under Cilley and Dearborn; before two they were joined by bands from Deerfield, and Epsom; and they set out together for Cambridge. At dusk they reached Haverhill ferry, a distance of twenty-seven miles, having run rather than marched; they halted in Andover only for refreshments, and traversing fiftyfive miles in less than twenty hours, by sunrise of the twenty-first, paraded on Cambridge common.

The veteran John Stark, skilled in the ways of the Indian, the English, and his countrymen, able to take his rest on a bearskin with a roll of snow for a pillow, frank and humane, eccentric but true, famed for coolness, and courage, and integrity, had no rival in the confidence of his neighbors, and was chosen colonel of their regiment by their unanimous vote. He rode in haste to the scene of action, on the way encouraging the volunteers to rendezvous at Medford. [315] So many followed, that on the morning of the

Chap. XXIX.} 1775 April.
twenty-second, he was detached with three hundred to take post at Chelsea, where his battalion, which was one of the fullest in the besieging army, became a model for its discipline.

By the twenty-third, there were already about two thousand men from the interior parts of New Hampshire, desirous ‘not to return before the work was done.’ Many who remained near the upper Connecticut, threw up the civil and military commissions held from the king, for said they: ‘The king has forfeited his crown, and all commissions from him are therefore vacated of course.’

In Connecticut, Trumbull, the governor, sent out writs to convene the legislature of the colony at Hartford on the Wednesday following the battle. Meantime the people could not be restrained. On the morning of the twentieth, Israel Putnam, of Pomfret, in leather frock and apron, was assisting hired men to build a stone wall on his farm, when he heard the cry from Lexington. Leaving them to continue their task, he set off instantly to rouse the militia officers of the nearest towns. On his return, he found hundreds who had mustered and chosen him their leader. Issuing orders for them to follow, he himself pushed forward without changing the check shirt he had worn in the field, and reached Cambridge at sunrise the next morning, having ridden the same horse a hundred miles within eighteen hours. He brought to the service of his country courage which, during the war, was never questioned; and a heart than which none throbbed more honestly or warmly for American freedom. [316]

From Weathersfield, a hundred young volunteers

Chap. XXIX.} 1775. April.
marched for Boston on the twenty-second, well armed and in high spirits. From the neighboring towns, men of the largest estates, and the most esteemed for character, seized their firelocks and followed. By the second night, several thousands from the colony were on their way. Some fixed on their standards and drums the colony arms, and round it in letters of gold, the motto, that God who brought over their fathers would sustain the sons.

In New Haven, Benedict Arnold, captain of a volunteer company, agreed with his men to march the next morning for Boston. ‘Wait for proper orders,’ was the advice of Wooster; but the selfwilled commander, brooking no delay, extorted supplies from the committee of the town; and on the twenty-ninth, reached the American Headquarters with his company. There was scarcely a town in Connecticut that was not represented among the besiegers.

The nearest towns of Rhode Island were in motion before the British had finished their retreat. At the instance of Hopkins and others, Wanton, the governor, though himself inclined to the royal side, called an assembly. Its members were all of one mind; and when Wanton, with several of the council, showed hesitation, they resolved, if necessary, to proceed alone. The council yielded, and confirmed the unanimous vote of the assembly which authorized raising an army of fifteen hundred men. ‘The colony of Rhode Island,’ wrote Bowler, the speaker, to the Massachusetts congress, ‘is firm and determined; and a greater unanimity in the lower house scarce [317] ever prevailed.’ Companies of the men of Rhode

Chap XXIX.} 1775 April.
Island preceded this early message.

The conviction of Massachusetts gained the cheering confidence that springs from sympathy, now that New Hampshire and Connecticut and Rhode Island had come to its support. The New England volunteers were men of substantial worth, of whom almost every one represented a household. The members of the several companies were well known to each other, as to brothers, kindred, and townsmen; known to the old men who remained at home, and to all the matrons and maidens. They were sure to be remembered weekly in the exercises of the congregations; and morning and evening in the usual family devotions, they were commended with fervent piety to the protection of Heaven. Every young soldier lived and acted, as it were, under the keen observation of all those among whom he had grown up, and was sure that his conduct would occupy the tongues of his village companions while he was in the field, and perhaps be remembered his life long. The camp of liberty was a gathering in arms of schoolmates, neighbors, and friends; and Boston was beleaguered round from Roxbury to Chelsea by an unorganized, fluctuating mass of men, each with his own musket and his little store of cartridges, and such provisions as he brought with him, or as were sent after him, or were contributed by the people round about.

The British officers, from the sense of their own weakness, and from fear of the American marksmen, dared not order a sally. Their confinement was the more irksome, for it came of a sudden before their magazines had been filled; and was followed by [318] ‘an immediate stop to supplies of every kind.’

Chap. XXIX.} 1775. April.
The troops, in consequence, suffered severely from unwholesome diet; and their commanders fretted with bitter mortification. They had scoffed at the Americans as cowards who would run at their sight; and they had saved themselves from destruction only by the rapidity of their retreat. Reinforce ments and three new general officers were already on the Atlantic, and these would have to be received into straitened quarters by a defeated army. They knew that England, and even the ministers, would condemn the inglorious expedition which had brought about so sudden and so fatal a change. As if to brand in their shame, the officers shrunk from avowing their own acts; and though no one would say that he had seen the Americans fire first, they tried to make it pass current, that a handful of countrymen at Lexington had begun a fight with a detachment that outnumbered them as twelve to one. ‘They did not make one gallant attempt during so long an action,’ wrote Smith, who was smarting under his wound, and escaped captivity only by the opportune arrival of Percy.

Men are prone to fail in equity towards those whom their pride regards as their inferiors. The Americans, slowly provoked and long suffering, treated the prisoners with tenderness, and nursed the wounded as though they had been members of their own families. They even invited Gage to send out British surgeons for their relief. Yet Percy could degrade himself so far as to calumniate the countrymen who gave him chase, and officially lend himself to the falsehood, that ‘the rebels scalped and cut of [319] the ears of some of the wounded who fell into their

Chap. XXIX.} April.
hands.’ He should have respected the name which he bore; famed as it is in history and in song; and he should have respected the men before whom he fled. The falsehood brings dishonor on its voucher; the people whom he reviled, were among the mildest and most compassionate of their race.

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