- Historic Sites
Rebels And Redcoats
Participants describe the opening of the American Revolution
February 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 2
As there was a piece of morassy ground in front of the left of our regiment, it would have been difficult to have passed it under the fire of the rebels from behind the trees and walls on the other side. Indeed, no part of the brigade was ordered to advance. We, therefore, drew up near the morass in expectation of orders how to act, sending an officer for one of the six-pounders. During this time the rebels endeavored to gain our flanks and crept into the covered ground on either side and as close as they could in front, firing now and then in perfect security. We also advanced a few of our best marksmen, who fired at those who showed themselves. About a quarter past three, Earl Percy having come to a resolution of returning to Boston, and having made his disposition for that purpose, our regiment received orders to form the rear guard. We immediately lined the walls and other cover in our front with some marksmen and retired from the right of companies by files to the high ground a small distance in our rear, where we again formed in line and remained in that position for near half an hour, during which time the flank companies and the other regiments of the brigade began their march in one column on the road towards Cambridge….
Lord Percy, judging that the returning to Boston by way of Cambridge (where there was a bridge over the Charles River which might either be broken down or required to be forced) and Roxbury might be attended with some difficulties and many inconveniences, took the resolution of returning by way of Charlestown, which was the shortest road and which could be defended against any number of the rebels….
During the whole of the march from Lexington the rebels kept an incessant irregular fire from all points at the column, which was the more galling as our flanking parties which at first were placed at sufficient distances to cover the march of it were at last, from the different obstructions they occasionally met with, obliged to keep almost close to it.
Our men had very few opportunities of getting good shots at the rebels, as they hardly ever fired but under cover of a stone wall, from behind a tree, or out of a house, and the moment they had fired, they lay down out of sight until they had loaded again or the column had passed. In the road indeed in our rear, they were most numerous and came on pretty close, frequently calling out “King Hancock forever!” Many of them were killed in the houses on the roadside from whence they fired; in some of them seven or eight men were destroyed. Some houses were forced open in which no person could be discovered, but when the column had passed, numbers sallied out from some place in which they had lain concealed, fired at our rear guard and augmented the numbers which followed us. If we had had time to set fire to those houses, many rebels must have perished in them, but as night drew on Lord Percy thought it best to continue the march. Many houses were plundered by the soldiers, notwithstanding the efforts of the officers to prevent it. I have no doubt this inflamed the rebels and made many of them follow us farther than they would otherwise have done. By all accounts some soldiers who stayed too long in the houses were killed in the very act of plundering by those who lay concealed in them. We brought in about ten prisoners, some of whom were taken in arms. One or two more were killed on the march while prisoners by the fire of their own people.
Few or no women or children were to be seen throughout the day. As the country had undoubted intelligence that some troops were to march out and the rebels were probably determined to attack them, it is generally supposed they had previously removed their families from the neighborhood.
Although Mackenzie had seen few women or children, many were involved in the actions of the day. A man from the British ships in Boston Harbor wrote to England about the fury of the rebel attacks:
… even women had firelocks. One was seen to fire a blunderbuss between her father and husband from their windows. There they three, with an infant child, soon suffered the fury of the day. In another house which was long defended by eight resolute fellows, the grenadiers at last got possession, when after having run their bayonets into seven, the eighth continued to abuse them with all the [beastlike rage] of a true Cromwellian, and but a moment before he quitted this world applied such epithets as I must leave unmentioned….
The British column had been on the march about an hour under heavy, scattered rebel fire, when a little more than two miles from Lexington, it descended the high road to the “Foot of the Rocks” at Menotomy. In the long street of the village, nearly 1,800 fresh rebels descended upon the harassed Britons, and it was here that most of the fierce, bloody, close-quarter and house-to-house fighting of the day occurred. Lord Percy turned his fieldpieces on his pursuers, but the cannon balls only tore up the road, toppled stone walls, and crashed into houses, causing few casualties. The redcoats fought as wildly as cornered game; their officers lost all control of their frenzied men, especially the flankers and the inevitable freebooters. From one house, Deacon Joseph Adams had fled to a nearby barn and was now hidden in the hay. In the house in bed lay his wife Hannah, who later declared: