Rebels And Redcoats

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We met with no interruption till within a mile or two of the town, where the country people had occupied a hill which commanded the road. The Light Infantry were ordered away to the right and ascended the height in one line, upon which the Yankees quitted it without firing, which they did likewise for one or two more successively. They then crossed the river beyond the town, and we marched into the town, after taking possession of a hill with a liberty pole on it and a flag flying which was cut down. The Yankees had that hill but left it to us. We expected they would have made a stand there, but they did not choose it.

Upon occupying Concord, the British troops systematically searched for stores to destroy. Observed Corporal Barrett:

Thair was in the town House a number of intrenchen tools witch they Caried out and Burnt them, at last they said it was Best to Burn them in the house and Sat fire to them in the house, but our people Begd of them not to Burn the house and put it out. it wont Long before it was Set fire again but finaily it warnt Burnt, their was about 100 Barrels of flower in Mr. Hubbards malt house, they RoId that out and nocka them to peces and RoId some in the mill pond ….

While the grenadiers went about their work and the officers refreshed themselves in the local taprooms, advance companies marched to secure the bridges across the river beyond which the minutemen and militia were retiring. Captain Munday Pole marched left from the square past Jones’ tavern and posted his company at the South Bridge, but it was along the road that crossed the North Bridge that trouble promised. Colonel Smith ordered seven companies of light infantry in that direction, under command of Captain Lawrence Parsons of the 10th Regiment. Captain Walter Sloane Laurie of the light company of the 43rd recalled:

As we advanced to the bridge a large body of people under arms, assembled on the hills near the bridge, immediately retreated over it and took post on the rising grounds on the other side. As soon as we got possession of the bridge, Captain Parsons ordered my company and the company of the Fifth Regiment to remain at the bridge, whilst he and the other four proceeded [toward Barrett’s farm]. On his advancing towards the heights the country people retired at a great distance to the woods.

The light company of the 23rd, accompanied by two officers jouncing along in a chaise, passed Laurie’s handful of men a few minutes later and crossed the bridge to overtake Parsons. A courier came back from Parsons with orders for Laurie to advance the light company of the 5th, leaving only Laurie’s men at the bridge.

The “large body of people under arms” on the height overlooking Laurie’s position steadily increased in numbers. From Acton came 38 minutemen under a gunsmith, Isaac Davis, and two companies of militia. Several score from Bedford were there. Men from Lincoln came, and other small groups. The force of aroused rebels grew to about 450 strong, standing menacingly on the hill. Colonel Barrett was on the field among them consulting a group of citizens of the town.

There was uneasy waiting on both sides.

Captain Laurie passed a tense hour. Although there were about 700 British troops in and about the town, his company of thirty-odd men, advanced about a half-mile beyond town, alone facing the mass of rebels, was piteously outweighed. The rebels shifted a little closer. Laurie reported:

… as they came nearer, the Light Company of the Fourth Regiment posted on a height immediately retreated to me at the bridge as did likewise the Light Company of the Tenth Regiment, who also had been at no great distance. Upon this, I sent Lieutenant [Alexander] Robertson … to acquaint Colonel Smith of my situation, desiring he would send some of the Grenadiers to support me in case of their attacking. Mr. Robertson brought for answer that two companies would be sent me. By this time the body of the country people arrived on the heights which the company of the Fourth Regiment had occupied, and there drew up with shouldered arms …. They halted for a considerable time looking at us and then moved down upon me in a seeming regular manner. … I determined to repass the bridge with the three companies, retreating by divisions to check their progress, which we … did, lining the opposite side of the river with one company to flank the other two in case of an attack. By this time they were close upon us.

Both sides were moving cautiously, neither eager to be guilty of opening fire. It was now half past nine, or a little later, of a bright, cool morning. The rising smoke from the fires in town inspired Colonel Barrett and the rebel officers assembled on the hill to advance to the town and defend it. The troops, commanded by Major John Buttrick with Captain Davis of Acton at the head of the column and Colonel John Robinson as a volunteer aide, formed in a column of twos and started down the hill toward the British. Colonel Barrett, who remained at the crest of the hill, ordered the column not to fire unless fired upon. The two Acton fifers struck up “The White Cockade,” and the rebels strode resolutely forward. The road off the hill met at right angles the road that led to the bridge. Major Buttrick’s men turned toward the British soldiers and formed up on the causeway that led over a meadow to the bridge. At the bridge a small detail of redcoats left by Laurie were pulling up the planks.

Corporal Amos Barrett marched in the third company of minutemen; this is the way the next moments appeared to him: