Rebels And Redcoats

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For a short distance, he refused to dismiss Revere. Then he commandeered Deacon Larkin’s horse from Revere for the use of the sergeant, whose mount was tired. The sergeant’s horse was stripped and turned loose. The patrol rode away and, ironically, Deacon Larkin’s gallant little horse that had borne Revere and his news to every Middlesex village and farm carried a British soldier off on the King’s business and forever disappeared into the British Army. Revere was left to make his way afoot through the fields in what he guessed was the direction of Jonas Clark’s:

I went across the burying ground and some pastures and came to the Reverend Mr. Clark’s house, where I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams. I told them of my treatment, and they concluded to go … towards Woburn. I went with them and a Mr. Lowell, who was a clerk to Mr. Hancock. When we got to the house where they intended to stop, Mr. Lowell and myself returned to Mr. Clark’s to find what was going on.

By now, a great many men of the neighborhood were doing the same thing. At Lexington, an hour or more earlier, Revere’s alarm had brought out the captain of the minutemen, John Parker. He lost no time in assembling his company. From warm beds his men hurried in their workaday clothes to the common before Buckman’s Tavern “to consult what to do.”

Captain Parker, “a great tall man with a large head and a high, wide brow,” did not think his handful of rustics could halt the regulars, but he determined to protect the town and its women and children if the redcoats grew mischievous there on the way to Concord. He and his men had stood waiting for a time in the clear, cold moonlight, stamping their chilled feet and blowing on their stiff fingers. When the British failed to appear and riders sent toward Boston to spy them out failed to return, Captain Parker assumed Revere’s report was false or exaggerated. After about an hour, he dismissed the company, but he warned the men they should reassemble instantly at the call of the drum. Those who lived nearby straggled home, muttering to their wives as they crawled back into bed that some tarnal fool was making another false alarm. A number of them sought the warmth and conviviality of Buckman’s Tavern to while away the rest of the uneasy night. It was already far spent; darkness was about to flee before the misty gray shadows of dawn.

Had everything gone as smoothly for General Gage’s expeditionary force as he had planned, it would probably have passed through Lexington by this time. From the beginning, however, it seemed doomed to irritating failures. Before Gage marched his men to the Boston Common, he knew that his secret was out.

In the evening he informed Hugh, Earl Percy, the young but battle-tested commander of the 5th Regiment, that Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith was to command a force of 700 to be sent to seize the stores at Concord. Very likely because he was senior field officer in town, Colonel Smith was chosen to head the force. Although a friend called him “a gallant old officer,” most of the army knew him to be grossly fat, slow-thinking, and often tardy. Perhaps that is why Gage had named Major Pitcairn of the marines second in command. The major was a portly, comfortably middle-aged, devout Scotsman, an old army man who was a rigorous disciplinarian, but who tempered his strict demands with humanity, patience, and tact—the kind of man General Gage would want on a difficult command such as this. Lord Percy was told he would command reserves which would be ordered up to support Smith if the Colonel should run into trouble. But the General added he probably would not have to call them out, for he “did not think the damned rebels would … take up arms against His Majesty’s Troops.” Percy rather agreed. He had come to Boston only a short time after Gage’s return last spring, and although Whig-principled, he quickly had decided “the people here are a set of sly, artful, hypocritical rascals, cruel and cowards.”

At dusk, Lord Percy left the general’s office at Province House for his own quarters. He walked unrecognized up to a group of eight or ten men on the common. One of them said, “The British have marched, but they will miss their aim.”

“What aim?” Percy asked.

“Why, the cannon at Concord,” said the loiterer.

Percy quickly retraced his steps to Gage’s headquarters and repeated what he had heard, much to the General’s consternation. But it was too late to abandon the enterprise. Gage, hoping his plans were not too widely known, decided to proceed, with all possible secrecy. His men moved silently through the dark streets and were rowed, oars muffled, across the Charles to Cambridge.

Lieutenant John Barker, of the King’s Own Regiment, a peevish, carping young man who was a little contemptuous of his superiors, kept a diary in which he described the landing at Phip’s Farm on Cambridge Marsh. The heavily loaded boats could not get close in. The men dropped overboard into shallow water.

After getting over the marsh, where we were wet up to the knees, we were halted in a dirty road and stood there till two o’clock in the morning waiting for provisions to be brought from the boats and to be divided, and which most of the men threw away, having carried some with them. At two o’clock we began our march by wading through a very long ford up to our middles.