History is Fragile

Recently, I have been working on the puzzle of the Acton Minutemen.  As I’m working to put flesh and blood on people who lived over two hundred years ago, I scour the Internet and as many old books as I can get my hands on. 

Specifically, I have been seeking the names of the Acton Minutemen that marched early on the morning of April 19th to join their brothers-in-arms on Punkatassett Hill in Concord. 

How many were related?  As the day wore on and men were killed and injured, how many of these men were dividing their attention between fighting and grief, fighting and worry about brothers and cousins and friends?

That’s what I was thinking about as I searched for the list of names.

But here’s what I found.

There were no lists.  It was dangerous to be on a list. That was something so simple that I hadn’t thought of. 

What I’m finding is that history is fragile. 

That’s even true in our families.  As one generation passes on and their stories disappear, we all lose.  Young people think the older folks are boring and therefore they don’t take the time to sit with them and let them talk about their lives. 

Or siblings fight over the estate of the deceased and in the warfare, destroy their own history.

And without our history, we don’t know who we are.  And, thus, are easy pickins for tyrants.

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.

Captain David Brown – Concord

4S Capt David Brown

Captain David Brown was the leader of the Concord Minutemen.  He had trained and drilled his company (about forty men) within sight of the North Bridge.  His home was very nearby.

Captain Brown and his wife Abigail Munroe (no doubt related to Will Munroe of Munroe Tavern, Lexington) had nine children on April 19th, the youngest was two.  They would have another child in ’76.

When they were gathered on Punkatasset Hill, overlooking the North Bridge, Brown’s men had taken up their position on the left of the front line.  This arrangement would have put Isaac Davis and his Minute Men in the rear as the line went down the hill.

Colonel Barrett asked Captain Brown if he would lead the attack.  Brown said he would rather not.  So Barrett asked the same question of Captain Isaac Davis.  His response rings in history:  “I have not a man who is afraid to go.” http://s4.evcdn.com/images/block200/I0-001/003/258/907-5.gif_/captain-david-browns-concord-minute-company-07.gif

Now, to be fair, Davis’s company was better equipped than Brown’s.  Each of Davis’s men had a bayonet affixed to his musket.  They were exceptionally well trained.  And we won’t ever know why Brown hesitated.  But  knowing how the charge turned out for Captain Davis, is it any wonder that Brown was never able to cross that bridge again without thinking of that day?  (See In a Nutshell)

Captain Brown went on from that day to lead an exemplary career in the Continental Army.  As a member of the Committee of Correspondence for Concord, he was a delegate to the state conventions in ’79.  He ran for state senate in ’89 but lost the election.  He is buried in the Old Hill Burying Ground Cemetery next to two of his sons.  His home, that witnessed the days events was torn down in 1865.