Visiting with a Wounded Redcoat

In my last post, I shared the story of Mrs. Butterfield – who returned home to Menotomy, after fleeing the Redcoat march to Concord, to find that a wounded patriot and a wounded redcoat were both in a single bed in one of the rooms of her home. 

“While receiving the best of care at the Butterfield home, he (the Redcoat) was visited by Rev. Dr. McClure, a prominent clergyman, who kept a journal, a fragment of which has come to light, and is of great interest, not only to the people of Menotomy, but to all interested in the events of that time.

FRAGMENT OF DIARY.

soldier-1939367_640. . . that it was flattened on one side by the ribs as if it had been beaten with a hammer. He was a plain, honest man, to appearance, who had voluntarily turned out with his musket at the alarm of danger, as did also some thousands besides, on that memorable day. [Doubtless Mr. Hemenway of Framingham.] In the same room lay mortally wounded a British officer, Lieutenant Hull, of a youthful, fair, and delicate countenance. He was of a respectable family of fortune in Scotland. Sitting on one feather-bed, he leaned on another, and was attempting to suck the juice of an orange which some neighbor had brought. The physician of the place had been to dress his wounds, and a woman was appointed to attend him.
      "I observed that he had no shirt on, and was wrapt in a coating great-coat, with a fur cap on his head. I inquired of the woman why he was thus destitute of clothing. He answered, 'When I fell, our people [the British] stripped me of my coat, vest, and shirt, and your people of my shoes and buckles.' How inhuman! his own men! I asked him if he was dangerously wounded. He replied, 'Yes, mortally;" that he had received three balls in his body. His countenance expressed great bodily anguish. I conversed with him a short time on the prospect of death, and a preparation for the solemn scene; to which he appeared to pay serious attention. He lived about a week; and the people conveyed his body in a coffin to Charlestown ferry, where I happened to be present, and a barge from the Somerset took it to Boston.
      "Not far from this house lay four fine British horses; the people were taking off their shoes. One informed me that a wagon loaded with provisions was sent from Boston for the refreshment of the retreating army, under an escort of six grenadiers. They had got as far as this place, when a number of men (ten or twelve) collected, and ordered them to surrender. They marched on, and our men fired, killed the driver and the horses; when the rest fled a little way and surrendered.
      "Another wagon sent on the same business was also taken that day. It was strange that General Gage should send them through a country in which he had just kindled the flames of war, in so defenceless a condition. Saw three regulars in beds in a house in Cambridge; one of them mortally wounded. Conversed with them on their melancholy situation. One of them refused to answer, and cast upon me a revengeful look. Perhaps he was a Papist, and his priest had pardoned his sins. The houses on the road of the march of the British were all perforated with balls, and the windows broken. Horses, cattle, and swine lay dead around. Such were the dreadful trophies of war for about twenty miles.”

 

Taken from Beneath Old Roof Trees, 1896, by Abram English Brown

To Drum or Not To Drum

As a writer, I strive to engage all the senses in my scenes.  In the book I’m working on at the moment, I have Redcoat drums on Lexington Green.  VERY LOUD DRUMS!

Where did I come up with this idea?

You got it, from April Morning.  This time, the movie.  (Read here about me throwing the book across the room.)

One of the things that really made an impression on me when I watched this movie was how loud the drums were as the Redcoats marched onto the Green.  It was the first time I had thought about it.  That roar was very intimidating and I’m certain that the Redcoats made use of them, in part, because of the intimidation factor.

Redcoat Drums

I’m sure that our “shopkeepers and farmers” there on the Green had a visceral response to the sound of the drums.  Hands sweating.  Heart racing.  Head pounding.

Or at least I was certain.

Until I read this.

The story of Patriots' day, Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775; by Varney, George Jones

The story of Patriots’ day, Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775; by Varney, George Jones

It mentions here that the normal drum was suppressed and the men prohibited from conversation.  Okay, the Redcoats, at this point, supposed they were on a secret mission.  As they passed through town after town, hearing alarm bells and signal guns, they began to suspect that the secret was out.

So, no drums?

I’m not so sure.

It wasn’t long after this that the Redcoat forces were flagged down by Major Mitchell.  He’s the one that captured Paul Revere.  Revere told him that there were five hundred militia men waiting in Lexington and Mitchell high-tailed it to report this to Colonel Smith.

When Smith heard this, he ordered his army to affix bayonets and load their muskets. The secret was most definitely out.

It’s just an informed guess at this point – and I won’t stop looking for an answer.  But I think they enlisted the drums for the rest of their march to Lexington.  And on to Concord.

So, when you read my next book, the response of our men to the drums will be in there.  Unless I find out  differently.

No Fairy Tales Needed

Mrs. Pamela Fisk of Arlington is ninety-four years of age, and her stories seem like a new chapter in the history of April 19, 1775. Mrs. Fisk is a granddaughter of Francis Brown and of Edmund Munroe, both of Lexington, where she was born and spent her early life. Her paternal grandmother was Mary Buckman, who lived at the old Buckman Tavern. So, on all sides, she inherits the blood of true patriots, and has heard the story from their own lips.

Buckman's Tavern"Grandfather Brown," she says, "told me this story :

‘I was out here near the meeting-house at the early hour of two o’clock, and answered the roll-call of our company, and in response to the order of Captain Parker, loaded my gun with powder and ball. I heard the discussion as to the safety of Hancock and Adams, then sleeping over at the home of Parson Clark. I went back home and waited until half-past four o’clock, when I heard the alarm guns and the drum beat to arms, and I was again on the Green.

‘"The order not to fire unless fired upon deterred me and all of us from having a shot as the British soldiers came up. I participated in the early action, and, having cared for our dead and wounded neighbors, I was in the afternoon attack; when I was wounded by a ball which entered my cheek, passed under my ear, and lodged in the back of my neck, where it remained nearly a year.’ " Mrs. Fisk said : "I used to put my finger on these scars, as he told me just how the ball went. We needed no fairy tales in our youth; the real experiences of our own people were more fascinating than all the novels ever written.

The Story of Patriot’s Day, Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775 By George Jones Varney – copyright 1895  (Available on Google Books)

… to unborn ages.

You’ve heard the phrase “too many irons in the fire.” Yes, that’s me. Once again, I need to prioritize my busy-ness. One of the things that fell through the cracks a bit is this blog. I missed a post or two. I shall do better.

Here’s another treasure from Charles Hudson’s History of the Town of Lexington Massachusetts (1868)

"The whole movement of General Gage was simply a secret expedition of a well-appointed corps to destroy a few unguarded military stores – a march through a country of un-offending citizens, where there were no troops to oppose. It was not an expedition into an enemy’s country in time of war; but a sort of excursion party in times of peace, sent out by the acknowledged Governor of the Province, some twenty miles into the country.

And yet the fate of two mighty empires hung upon the conduct of this party. Their excursion was among men who knew their rights, and knowing dared maintain them.

If their march was peaceable, and the rights of the people were respected, they had nothing to fear from the inhabitants. But if they should invade the rights of the citizens by destroying their property or ruthlessly entering their dwellings; and especially if their march should be marked by violence and massacre, it would in all probability cause a wound never to be healed. And yet this party, with a haughty disregard of the rights of the inhabitants, wantonly commenced a system of pillage and massacre, as though it were a mere holiday pastime ; and thus brought on a collision, the effects of which were not only felt in both hemispheres at that day, but may yet extend to unborn ages. "

A libel on their character. . .

    No Taxation without Representation I may have blogged about this before. One sometimes loses track. But I continue to read through the History of the Town of Lexington by Charles Hudson, published in 1868. It is so beautifully written and gives such an inspiring view looking back on these people and these times.
     If we were to do a “man on the street” interview with folks, and asked them why the Colonists fought for Independence, if they had any idea at all, the likely answer would be a rote “no taxation without representation.”
     I can’t refute that statement any better than Hudson does, so I’ll just leave you with this passage:

It is a libel upon the character of our fathers, to say that they involved the country in all the horrors of war, rather than pay a petty tax upon stamped paper and tea. They had motives higher, purer, and holier, than that of avoiding the payment of an insignificant tax. They planted themselves upon the great principles of human rights — of fealty to their country, and fidelity to their God. They felt that they had personal rights which they were bound to defend — a duty they owed to posterity, which they were under a sacred obligation to discharge — a devotion to the Most High, which it were treason to disregard. Such were the motives and the convictions of our patriot sires. They fought not to conquer, but to defend; not to humble a foe, but to build up a commonwealth on the great principles of equal rights. To these duties they were prompted by the dictates of patriotism, and the teachings of the Word of Life.

Classic New England “Democracy” in Concord

Punkatasset HillIt’s early morning in Concord, April 19th, 1775. Young Dr. Samuel Prescott rode through, alerting the town to the oncoming Redcoats. By morning three groups of men gathered in the center of town.

The Minutemen – these were the young bucks. They had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The Militia – these were the “middle aged” group – late-20’s into their 40’s.

The Alarm Listers – these were the “old guys” – the over 50’s group – veterans of the French and Indian war – much too old to fight.

In classic New England style, they discussed the situation. Everyone had a chance to voice his opinion.

The Minutemen were gung-ho. They wanted to rush out and meet the oncoming Redcoats – to take the fight right to the enemy.

The Militia didn’t like that idea. They wanted to stay put and protect their town.

The Alarm Listers – remember, these are the guys who’ve got the most combat experience – they wanted to wait until the numbers were more even.

“Town is no place to fight a war, boys.”

Their suggestion was to go to their training field – on Punkatasset Hill – wait for reinforcements there. From that Hill, they can see down into town and see the roads. It was a good, strategic spot.

So, after much discussion, in classic New England style, they did all three things.

The Minutemen marched out with their own fifer and drummer. They didn’t have to go far. When they realized what eight-hundred Redcoats looked like, they decided to turn around. They didn’t turn and run though. They neatly turned around, and marched back into town.

The towns people said it was a rather comical sight. Their Minutemen leading the Redcoats into town.

When they got to town, they discovered that the Militia was no longer in town. They had seen the wisdom of the “old men” and waited on the training field. So, the Minutemen just kept marching until they joined their own forces and the gathering forces from the surrounding area.

And, by the time the men on Punkatasset Hill were engaged in the battle, the old Indian fighters had what they wanted. . . A fair fight.

And now for something a little different. . .

 

I’m a day late, here.  Had some issues getting this thing put together and online.  I hope it was worth the wait.

Last week, I was privileged to tell the overview of April 19th, 1775 to the local Kiwanis Club.  Now, mind you, I can tell this story in about an hour and a half.  We had 30 minutes and had a few other stories to tell.  The gauntlet thrown down, I picked up the challenge and here is a "short" version of this inspiring story.  Enjoy. 

 

Colonel James Barrett – Concord

 

James Barrett, Colonel of the Concord Militia. He left his home early on the morning of April 19th, 1775 to join his troops first in town, then on Punkatasset Hill.

The Concord forces had been warned earlier in the week by Paul Revere that something was up – the Sons of Liberty in Boston didn’t know quite what. But they urged the Concord folks to make sure their arms and ammunition were hidden.

And, they pretty much were.

Now, Concord was not Lexington. In Lexington, they say, there were no Tories (folks loyal to the Crown) but that wasn’t true in Concord. And the Tories had been taking note of who the “Insurgents” were and passing that information on to General Gage in Boston. So, when the troops arrived that morning, they had specific places to search. And Barrett’s farm was one of those places.

Once in Concord, Colonel Smith, heading up the Redcoat column, split his men up. Some searched the town. Some went across the North Bridge to Barrett’s. And a third group was in charge of holding the North Bridge so the troops who went to Barrett’s wouldn’t be cut off.

When they got to Barrett’s, they searched but found nothing. Mrs. Barrett was there but the Colonel was with his troops. I can only imagine how scared Mrs. Barrett was. The Redcoats, while not being overly vicious, must have been completely intimidating. They forced Mrs. Barrett to make them breakfast.

Then, they offered to pay her. She told them to keep their blood money.

They began their march back to town. On their way, they saw boys up on the hills plowing. The boys waved. The Redcoats waved back.

What they didn’t know was that the boys were planting muskets in the furrows as they dug them.

And Colonel Barrett on Punkatasset Hill? Well, the Concord boys saw smoke coming from town and decided to march to town to stop the Redcoats from burning the town (that’s a whole other story for another time.) They began marching toward the North Bridge and the Redcoats opened fire on them. The Militias returned fire, killing almost half of the officers at the bridge and wounding many more. And the Pride of the British Army turned tail and ran for town.

Barrett held the bridge and, when the other detachment that had been at their house came back, the militia let them pass unmolested.

Remember the orders of the day were: Do not fire unless fired upon. To do so was a hanging offense.

But the Concord Militia and the other Militias that had joined them by now followed the Redcoat column out of Concord as they headed back to Boston. They’d have their chance soon enough.

Context and Culloden

One of the many complaints I have about the way history is taught in schools is how disconnected it is. I was visiting yesterday with a former history teacher that said she remembered one test she had to give that had a number of famous generals that the kids had to identify by first, middle and last name. If the student missed any part of that the answer was wrong.

What is that about? Does that kind of “history” light a fire in students that will lead them to finding out who they are? I’m not thinking so.

History is STORY. It’s real people set in real circumstances who have their own context.

Here’s an example: General Thomas Gage.

In his book, Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer puts General Gage into context.

In 1775, Gage was a man trying hard to avoid war. Gage had been a soldier for over thirty years. And he was a good commander, a good soldier. But he had learned to detest war.

In 1745, he’d been present at Fontonoy, one of the bloodiest battles in the 18th Century, where 30,000 men fell on Flander’s Field.


One year later, he watched the defeat of the Highland Clans on Drumossie Moor. The slaughter at Culloden broke the Highlanders, leaving that field knee-deep in blood and tartan.

Gage then was sent to America, where he commanded the vanguard of General Braddock’s expedition against the French. That mission turned to disaster as the British troops were ambushed by the French and Indians. General Braddock was killed. Gage, though wounded, kept the way open for George Washington and his men to escape. Ironic.

By April 19th, 1775, Gage was a man who wanted peace. But he was stuck between those pesky Insurrectionists and King George. The King had ordered Gage to put this rebellion down. After the Powder Alarm of September ‘74, Gage realized that his troops were sorely outnumbered and asking the Parliament for 20,000 more men. Parliament said no.

Gage’s only option, at that point, was to use the troops he had to disarm the American Patriots.

I guess the point is: Context. Without context, how can history mean anything? What was Thomas Gage’s middle name, anyway?

Captain John Parker – Lexington

Captain John Parker. Age 46 on the morning of April, 19th, 1775. He’d been a soldier in the French and Indian War. He was the father of seven. Puritan. Farmer. Head of the Lexington Militia.** Dying of tuberculosis.

The leaders of the militia were not appointed, they were elected. Parker wasn’t the smartest or the richest man in town. But he was well respected.

On that fateful morning, after getting word that the Regulars were out, Parker gathered his forces on the Lexington Common. The men he commanded that morning were friends, family, neighbors. Some of the younger men, John had known since they were born. It was not lightly that he ordered these men, “Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it start here.”

They stood on the Green that morning, not to start trouble, not to start a war. Over the last few months, General Gage had sent troops out into the countryside several times to confiscate arms and powder. The Colonials had made a show of standing, not to fight, but to let the Redcoats know they were there. On a recent occasion, Colonials had stood fast and the Redcoats had been turned away empty handed. No shots were fired.

Parker may have expected a similar effect. Though he knew that the Regulars were headed to Concord, he was not about to let them come into Lexington without resistance. There is also speculation that the Lexington boys were there to stand between the Redcoats and Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were staying just up the road from the Green.

When faced with a force over ten times the size of his band of brothers, Parker ordered his men to disburse. When they turned to leave, a shot rang out. In the following volleys from the Redcoats, seven of his friends were killed, seventeen more wounded. His cousin, Jonas, lay dead as well. The last thing Parker heard as he got his boys to safety was a victory cheer from the Redcoats.

Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah!

Parker would not forget. The same Redcoats that left his men dead and injured on the Green would have to come back through Lexington later in the day.

Parker would have his revenge.

** Lexington didn’t have a militia, it had a training band.