General Percy’s Really Bad Day

“Farmers and merchants with pitchforks.”

That’s what the Redcoats thought we were. And the terms were said with jeers and taunts. One of the most vocal in the British derision of the American Patriots was from Lieutenant-General Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland.

General Percy wakes on the morning of April 19th, after a good night sleep, drops his feet to the floor, where his Lordship’s slippers wait for him. He puts on his Lordship’s dressing gown and sits down to sip tea. And that’s the high point in his day. It’s about to get much worse.

His assistant enters with this mail and, there he finds orders that he should have gotten hours ago. He was called to lead the reinforcements to back up the eight hundred troops that headed out last night on a not-so-secret mission to confiscate weapons and ammunition from the Patriots in Concord.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/26/2ndDukeOfNorthumberland2_cropped.jpg/200px-2ndDukeOfNorthumberland2_cropped.jpg

That mission had gone horribly wrong early on. And reinforcements had been called for.

But General Percy hadn’t gotten the message.

So now, he’s rushing to put the back-up expedition together without the help of his second in command, Major Pitcairn who is already out in the American countryside, playing second-in-command for the earlier mission.

General Percy will take the relief column out and will get to Lexington in time to see the earlier force returning from being trounced by “farmers and merchants.” At the point the Percy first sees the troops he’s meant to reinforce, what he sees will shock him.

Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn are out of the battle, both having been wounded. The younger officers and sergeants of His Majesty’s Forces – the finest professional army in the world at the time – are threatening to shoot their own soldiers to regain order. It’s chaos!

Percy actually did save the for those Redcoats. If he hadn’t shown up at that time, there might have been nothing left of the original eight hundred. Even so, getting his troops and Smith’s troops back to Boston was no easy task. It was a grueling retreat.

His report of that day stated: During the whole affair, the rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but with perseverance and resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into a regular body. Indeed they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken. They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about, having been employed as rangers against the Indians and Canadians, and this country being very much covered with wood, and hilly, is very advantageous for their method of fighting.

So, disdain turned to grudging respect for his Lordship that day. Those farmers and merchants with pitchforks turned out to be decent soldiers after all.