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The winter in Massachusetts had passed gloomily, amidst the din of controversies and the preparations for strife; the scene resembling two adverse camps in presence far rather than one united Colony. At Boston the Governor and the Governor's principal adherents maintained their station surrounded by the Royal troops. At Cambridge, on the other side of the bay, and afterwards at Waterton, an opposite authority, a new Provincial Congress, had assembled, with the popular feeling in their favour, and with several thousands of Militia or Minute-men under their command. No pains were spared by them both to increase and discipline this force. They passed Resolutions for the providing or making of fire-arms and bayonets ; they decreed an issue of bills of credit; they formed a provincial arsenal at Concord, about eighteen miles inland ; they exhorted the Militia to perfect themselves as speedily as possible in military exercises, and denounced all those who should presume to supply the troops of their Sovereign with building or military stores. But the most determined of all their measures was to enlist in their service a company of Minute-men from among the Stockbridge Indians residing in their province. Further still, they directed the writing of a secret letter, and secret it has been kept for more than fifty years, to a Missionary much esteemed by the Indians in the western parts of New York, entreating “ that you “ will use your influence with them to join with us in “ the defence of our rights ;” — in other words, to assail and scalp the British soldiers.* — It is worthy of remark
* This letter, dated Concord, April 4. 1775, and derived from the MS. Journals of the Massachusetts Congress, may be seen at length in the Appendix to Mr. Sparks's edition of Washington's Writings, vol. üi. p. 495. The pretext assigned for the application was a
" that those who are inimical to us in Canada have been " tampering with these nations," - an assertion very easy to make.
that the Massachusetts delegates, the framers of this very letter, were among those who expressed the highest astonishment and indignation when at a later period a similar policy was adopted on the British side.
About a fortnight from the date of this letter, and towards the middle of April, General Gage determined to attempt the destruction of the stores collected at Concord. With this view he sent out a detachment of several hundred light troops under the command of Major Pitcairn and Lieutenant-Colonel Smith. In the night of the 18th these troops were conveyed in boats to the opposite shore. The utmost pains had been taken to keep the expedition secret; nevertheless the men had advanced only a few miles inland when it was perceived from the firing of guns and the ringing of bells that their purpose was known, and that the country was alarmed. In fact Dr. Warren, a physician and patriot at Boston, had succeeded in sending out messengers with early information. Marching all night the first ranks about five o'clock in the morning of the 19th reached Lexington, a small town about fifteen miles from Boston. Here they found a body of Militia belonging to the town and neighbourhood, amounting to seventy men, drawn out on the parade and under arms. It afterwards appeared that these arms, or some of them at least, were loaded. Major Pitcairn, who led the van, galloped up to inquire the cause of their assemblage. It is stated by the one side, but not acknowledged by the other, that he addressed them as "you 66 rebels !” Certain it is that he bade them lay down their arms and disperse. The Americans showed no disposition to relinquish their arms, but they did begin to break their ranks and retire from the ground.
Then it was that some firing occurred. According to the accounts of the British several muskets were discharged at them from behind a stone wall and from some adjoining houses, which wounded one man and shot Major Pitcairn's horse in two places ; upon which they returned the fire. The Americans state, on the contrary, that the British fired first and without provocation. Be that fact as it may, several of the Americans were now killed and wounded; and such was the first encounter, the first bloodshed, in this unhappy civil war.
The British detachment now pressed forward to Concord. Here they had leisure to spike three cannon, and to cast into the river five hundred pounds of ball and sixty barrels of flour, but they found that the greater part of the stores was already removed. Having thus, so far as they could, fulfilled their mission, they commenced their retreat. But by this time the whole country was in arms ; Militia-men pouring in from all directions hung on their flank and rear, and galled them by an irregular but incessant fire. The number of such assailants continually increased; and before the British, now exhausted with long marching, could again reach Lexington their retreat had grown into a rout. Their utter destruction would have ensued had not General Gage, to guard against any adverse turn of fortune, sent forward that very morning another detachment under Lord Percy to support them. That new force they found just arrived at Lexington. Here Lord Percy's men formed a hollow square, into which the British of the first detachment flung themselves at full length, utterly spent with fatigue, says one of their own Commissaries, and “their tongues
hanging out of their mouths like those of dogs after a
chase !”* After some brief interval for rest and refreshment the whole united force, amounting to eighteen hundred men, continued the retreat, and towards sunset reached the shores of Boston Harbour, harassed all the way by the Americans fire from behind stone walls, and every other place of ambush. Their total loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners was 273, while that of the Americans did not exceed 90. It was said (though in all probability the jest was not devised till afterwards) that as Lord Percy marched forward in the morning he had bid his band, in defiance of his adversaries, play the air of YANKEE-DOODLE; but that as he retreated in the afternoon the Americans called out for CHEVY-CHASE! |
* Stelman's History of the American War, vol. i. p. 118.
† Grahame's History of the United States, vol. iv. p. 374. In my Appendix will be found, as derived from the State Paper Office, the Report of Colonel Smith to Governor Gage on the whole transaction. This officer, it will be seen, distinctly charges the Americans with having“ scalped and otherwise ill-treated one or two of our men This affair, as is well observed by an American historian, was trivial in itself, though in its consequences of the utmost importance.
The Americans at the timne proclaimed it as their glorious victory in the “ battle of Lexington ;” for it is worthy of note that through the whole ensuing war they were inclined to give the name of “ battle” to almost every action which occurred, even down to a slight skirmish. In the case of Lexington the greatest exaggerations flew from mouth to mouth, and from pen to pen.
The retreat of the British troops to Boston, which was always intended as soon as they had accomplished the object of their march, was held forth as an undesigned and ignominious flight before a conquering enemy, and their far greater loss in killed and wounded was ascribed to the military prowess of their adversaries, and not to the plain fact that these adversaries were prac. tised marksmen, and had fired from places of ambush. Such highly coloured representations of the conflict removed the doubts of the wavering, while the conflict itself added ardour to the resolute. From all parts of Massachusetts the Militia-men flew to arms, and flocked to the popular standard. In the other New England provinces a similar spirit was roused. Thus in Connecticut a brave and deserving officer, Colonel Israel Putnam, had since the peace retired to cultivate a farm and also to keep a tavern. † The Lexington news was brought him while he was dressed in a leathern frock and apron, and working at the stone fences of his land. He hastened home, mounted his horse, and by sunrise the next morning was at Concord. There he was soon afterwards appointed to head three thousand men who had followed from Connecticut. In this manner a force
“ who were either killed or severely wounded, this being seen by a
party that marched by soon after.”
† Gordon's History, vol. ii. p. 2. “ Such a junction,” adds Dr. Gordon, “ is frequent in New England, and not at all inconsistent “ with a Roman character.” Yet this latter point of the tavern is, I scarce know why, (for what possible discredit could it bring ?) eluded – that is, neither affirmed nor denied, — in the recent biography of General Israel Putnam by his countryman Mr. Oliver Peabody (Boston, 1837).
amounting, on paper at least, to twenty thousand men, was speedily collected around Boston harbour. The chief command was vested in, or rather was allowed to, Colonel Artemas Ward, with the rank of Major General. Under his direction a long line of blockade was formed. On the other hand General Gage had not as yet received his expected reinforcements from England. The works which he had constructed on the Neck secured him from assault, but he durst not stir beyond them, and found himself encompassed on every side by foes. And thus by a singular turn of fortune the town of Boston, which had been the principal hot-bed of disaffection, became the chief stronghold of the Royal troops.
Such being the state of Boston, many of the inhabitants were desirous to leave the town, which General Gage agreed that they might do with their families and effects on giving up their arms. Neither party appears to have fulfilled their part in this agreement. General Gage complained that the arms had not been faithfully delivered; and he further contended that the word "effects” was never meant to include merchandise. On the other part the people ill-affected to the Government declared, and not without some show of reason, that the main object of Gage was to retain them or their families as hostages within his hands. In the result therefore but few of the desired passports were accorded.
It was not only by sending auxiliaries to Massachusetts that the people of Connecticut displayed their zeal. Some leading men in that province, -as Wooster and Silas Deane, — deeming war inevitable or resolved to make it so, formeil the project of marching across the frontier of New York, and surprising the forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain. Some forty volunteers well supplied with arms and money set out in secret for this object. Near the Green Mountains they received an accession of almost three hundred men under Colonel Ethan Allen, an active partisan of that district, who now assumed the command in chief. Further onward they were also joined by Benedict Arnold, lately a druggist and horsedealer at Newhaven, who had received a commission as Colonel from the Massachusetts