- Historic Sites
Voices Of Lexington And Concord
What was it like to actually be there in April, 1775? This is how the participants, American and British, remembered it
April 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 3
[Percy] brought two field-pieces with him, which were immediately brought to bear upon the rebels, and soon silenced their fire. After a little firing [our whole body] halted for about half an hour to rest.
Lord Percy tells how the British march was resumed:
As it began now to grow pretty late, and we had 15 miles to retire, and only our 36 rounds [each], I ordered the Grenadiers and Light Infantry to move off first, and covered them with my Brigade, sending out very strong flanking parties, which were absolutely necessary. …
The rebels … kept firing on us, but very lightly until we came to Menotomy [Arlington], a village with a number of houses in little groups extending about half a mile. Out of these houses they kept a very heavy fire. … The soldiers shewed great bravery in this place, forcing houses … and killing great numbers of rebels.
D’Bernicre exaggerates the slaughter. He doesn’t mention the looting. In the words of the Reverend William Gordon, of Roxbury:
Many houses were plundered of everything valuable that could be taken away, and what could not be carried off was destroyed; looking glasses, pots, pans, etc., were broke all to pieces; doors when not fastened, sashes and windows wantonly damaged and destroyed.
Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie, of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, viewed these acts with concern:
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 staid too long in the houses were killed. …
Attempts were made to start more fires. One of the homes chosen was that of Deacon Joseph Adams. He had just fled, at his wife’s agonized insistence. She relates:
Divers of the King’s troops entered our house by bursting open the door, and three of the soldiers broke into the room in which I was confined to my bed, being scarcely able to walk from the bed to the fire, not having been to my chamber door from being delivered in child-bed to that time. One of the soldiers immediately opened my curtain with his bayonet fixed, pointing the same at my breast.
I immediately cried out, “For the Lord’s sake, do not kill me!”
He replied, “Damn you!”
One that stood near said, “We will not hurt the woman, if she will go out of the house, but we will surely burn it.”
I immediately arose, threw a blanket over me, and crawled into a corn-house near the door, with my infant in my arms. … They immediately set the house on fire, in which I had left five children [in hiding places] ; but the fire was happily extinguished. …
The highest-ranking American officer on the field at this time was General William Heath. Because of the informal nature of the action, his control was limited. But he encouraged the men by riding often where the musket fire was hottest:
… I was several times greatly exposed, in particular at the high grounds at the upper end of Menotomy, and also on the plain below the meeting-house. On the latter, Dr. Joseph Warren—afterwards Major-general Warren—who kept constantly near me, and then but a few feet distant, a musket-ball from the enemy came so near his head as to strike the pin out of the hair of his earlock.
On this plain, Dr. Eliphalet Downer, in single combat with a British soldier, killed him on the spot, by thrusting him nearly through the body with his bayonet.
As the British pressed on through Cambridge, the Americans kept pursuing. Fusilier Lieutenant Mackenzie says:
… Altho they did not shew themselves openly in a body … except on the road in our rear, our men threw away their fire very inconsiderately and without being certain of its effect : this emboldened them and induced them to draw nearer, but whenever a cannon shot was fired at any considerable number, they instantly dispersed.
Daylight was beginning to fade as the weary redcoats headed for the narrow neck of the Charlestown peninsula. Some of the people of Charlestown, feeling trapped on their small triangle of land, took great alarm as the column approached and temporarily abandoned their homes, Jacob Rogers relates:
… it being then dark, Mr. Carey, myself, and one or two more, went into town to see if we might, with safety, proceed to our own houses. On our way, met a Mr. Hutchinson, who informed us all was then pretty quiet; that when the [British] soldiers came through the street, the officers desired the women and children to keep indoors for their safety; that they begged for drink, which the people were glad to bring them, for fear of their being ill-treated.
Mr. Carey and I proceeded to the tavern by the Town House, where the [British] officers were. All was tumult and confusion; nothing but drink called for everywhere. I stayed a few minutes, and proceeded to my own house; and finding things pretty quiet, went in search of my wife and sisters, and found them coming up the street with Capt. Adams.