Rebels And Redcoats

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Mager Buttrick said if we wair all of his mind he would Drive them away from the Bridge, they should not tair that up. we all said we wood go. We then warnt Loded. we wair all orded to Load and had stricked order not to fire till they fird firs, then to fire as fast as we could, we then marchd on … 2 Deep. It was a long Corsay. … Capt Davis had got, I Be leave, within 15 Rods of the B[ritish] when they fird 3 gons one after the other. I see the Balls strike in the River on the Right of me. as soon as they fird them, they fird on us. their balls whisled well, we then was all orded to fire … it is Straing that their warnt no more kild but they fird to high. Capt Davis was kild and mr osmore and a number wounded, we soon Drove them from the Bridge.

Three regulars were killed, four officers and four privates were wounded, before Laurie’s men fled from the bridge back toward town. The Americans did not pursue them far beyond the bridge, but withdrew to the hill from which they had marched.

The regulars, falling pell-mell back to town, collided with two belated companies of reinforcements under Colonel Smith himself. Lieutenant Barker bitterly accused the Colonel of being responsible for their tardiness: the elephantine commander had insisted on bringing them up himself, which, said Barker, “stopped ‘em from being [in] time enough, for being a very fat heavy man he would not have reached the bridge in half an hour, though it was not half a mile….” Colonel Smith, instead of re-forming the retreating troops and driving back across the bridge to succor Parsons, who had not yet returned from Barrett’s, abandoned him and joined the retreat to town. As it happened, however, Parsons and his three companies were allowed by the colonials to recross the bridge without interference.

The rebels allowed the British to retire in order for about a mile out of town. Then, as the sparkling red ranks, all aglitter in the sun, came to a bridge where the road narrowed, the angry men of the Massachusetts towns swarmed down on them. Of a sudden, Corporal Amos Barrett said, “a grait many Lay dead and the Road was bloddy.” For Lieutenant Barker, of the King’s Own Regiment, a nightmare had begun:

… we were fired on from all sides, but mostly from the rear, where people had hid themselves in houses till we had passed and then fired. The country was an amazing strong one, full of hills, woods, stone walls, etc., which the rebels did not fail to take advantage of, for they were all lined with people who kept an incessant fire upon us, as we did too upon them, but not with the same advantage, for they were so concealed there was hardly any seeing them. In this way, we marched … miles, their numbers increasing from all parts, while ours was reducing by deaths, wounds, and fatigue; and we were totally surrounded with such an incessant fire as it’s impossible to conceive; our ammunition was likely near expended.

Lieutenant Colonel Smith, now nursing a painful leg wound, prayed desperately for the relief column he had ordered so many long hours before, at two or three o’clock in the morning, when he had found the night filled with rebel alarms. General Gage had not waited for his request; on his own initiative he had ordered out Lord Percy’s force at four in the morning, but a series of stupid blunders and misunderstandings had delayed its start until nine. About that hour a thousand troops under Percy had swung out of Boston, toward Roxbury, their fifes and drums impudently shrilling “Yankee Doodle.”

With the relief force marched Frederick Mackenzie, a serious, methodical lieutenant of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. In his diary he wrote that when the column neared Lexington a little after midday, “some persons who came from Concord informed that the Grenadiers and Light Infantry were at that place and that some persons had been killed and wounded by them early in the morning at Lexington.” It was about two o’clock when Mackenzie heard some straggling shots fired about a mile in front.

As we advanced we heard the firing plainer and more frequent, and at half after two, being near the church at Lexington and the fire increasing we were ordered to form the line, which was immediately done by extending on each side of the road. But by reason of the stone walls and other obstructions, it was not formed in so regular a manner as it should have been.

The Grenadiers and Light Infantry [under Smith] were at this time retiring towards Lexington, fired upon by the rebels who took every advantage the face of the country afforded …. As soon as the Grenadiers and Light Infantry perceived the First Brigade drawn up for their support, they shouted repeatedly, and the firing ceased for a short time. [Percy, as a brigadier general, would now assume command over Lieutenant Colonel Smith.]

The ground we first formed upon was something elevated and commanded a view of that before us for about a mile, where it was terminated by some pretty high grounds covered with wood. The village of Lexington lay between both parties. We could observe a considerable number of the rebels, but they were much scattered, and not above fifty of them to be seen in a body in any place. Many lay concealed behind the stone walls and fences. They appeared most numerous in the road near the church and in a wood in the front, and on the left flank of the line where our regiment was posted. A few cannon shot were fired at those on and near the road which dispersed them. The flank companies now retired and formed behind the brigade which was soon fired upon by the rebels most advanced. A brisk fire was returned but without much effect.