Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Road to Concord

"They did not fight us like a regular army, only like savages behind trees and stone walls, and out of the woods and houses, where in the latter we killed numbers of them."
(Source)
I confess, while I wanted to write something new to commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, while digging through the archives to see what I had offered in years past, I did not feel I could top the one I wrote back in 2016. Though this one from 2015 was a close second.

While that April morning in 1775 was a long time ago, many of us old time New Englanders can still imagine the lobsterbacks marching down that long road, then back again, bloody and beaten. I can almost smell the powder smoke when the wind is out of the north, from Lexington, from Concord, and from that long road out of Boston leading to the bridge where a shot rang out and was heard 'round the world.

Mortem ad tyrannis. Be they foreign or home grown.

Give me liberty...



(Source)
19 April, 1775 - Willie Cruikshank rested his hunting rifle on the stone wall in front of him. He could hear musket shots farther up the road, up towards Lexington where the day's events had begun. Cruikshank's militia company had hurried to this position and were just getting settled in. The day was turning hot.

Around the bend in the road Cruikshank could see dust rising above the trees. The lobsterbacks had to be close. He removed his hat and ran his sleeve over his forehead, the day was getting warmer and the run up from Menotomy had him sweating.

"Steady Willie, don't bounce around so much. Those bloody lobsterbacks might see you. Steady lads." Sergeant Sullivan muttered to the other men nearby. He liked Willie, even if he was a Scotsman, and didn't want the lad to feel singled out.

"Sully! I can sees 'em. There the bastards are!" Young McGilvary could barely contain himself as the red coated column began to come around the bend in the road.

"Be still Mac! Jesus, Mary and Joseph can't you lads be quiet?" Sergeant Sullivan's first thought was that the British looked dirty and tired. He almost felt sorry for them. Almost, but he'd had to flee Ireland on account of the English. There was no pity in his breast this day.

"Willie, you take the first shot. Aim at the fancy boy on the horse..."

Cruikshank laid his cheek against the stock of his rifle and focused on the horseman. An officer, he guessed. Soon to be a dead 'un. Willie seldom missed.


Lieutenant Anthony Williams-Beckworth of the Grenadier Company of His Majesty's Fourth Foot* slumped in his saddle. It had been a very long day. Up well before dawn, getting the men down to the boats and then across to the mainland, he had been very busy. He had wanted to leave his horse behind but Captain Adams had told him in no uncertain terms that he wanted his officers on horseback.

While it had been difficult getting the horses across, he was glad they had. He was tired, his men looked exhausted. The march back from Concord had been a passage through Hell itself. As far as he could tell, his platoon had suffered only a single casualty. Light losses to be sure, but tell that to Jackson's mother.

This was the lieutenant's first fight, his first excursion into the field, truth be told. Seeing the perpetually cheerful Jackson shot down right in front of him had nearly caused him to vomit.

Who knew there was so much blood in a man?


Corporal Wilkerson tramped wearily along next to the lieutenant's horse, The captain had taken him aside that morning and bade the corporal keep an eye on the new officer. At first he'd been annoyed at having to babysit this youngster, little bastard couldn't be more than 17. "I joined the regiment before this lad was even conceived," Wilkerson thought to himself.

At that point the experienced corporal thought he saw something just up ahead.

"Look alive lads, the damned rebels seem to be about!"

Cruikshank settled himself, a breath in, let some of it out...

When the powder in the pan flashed and the rifle kicked back into his shoulder, it was, as always, a surprise. "A good steady squeeze is the way to go laddie," as his old Da' always said.

He couldn't see shite because of the powder smoke but he didn't have time to gawp anyway, he needed to reload, and fast.

Eric Johnson Photo (Source)
Wilkerson saw the flash and then the smoke from a shot just ahead, couldn't be more than a hundred paces away. Before he could react he heard a muffled grunt and then a choking sound coming from his right. And why was he wet all of a sudden? It wasn't raining.
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Lieutenant Williams-Beckworth felt as if he'd been shoved back slightly, then his hands went to his throat as suddenly he couldn't breathe right, perhaps he should loosen his cravat. But then, then, he realized that something, something...

As the lieutenant slid to the road, his world went dark.

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Wilkerson turned just as the lieutenant began to slide from his horse, his waistcoat was soaked in blood, his horse's neck was soaked in blood. My Lord, my lieutenant's been shot, what will the captain say?

As he reached for the lieutenant he felt his arm swatted away, as if the lieutenant didn't want to be touched. Odd though, the lieutenant has both hands to his throat, how did he...

Wilkerson stared in some puzzlement at his shattered right forearm. Then he realized, he too had been hit.

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The other non-commissioned officers had no time to assist the corporal or his lieutenant, the rebel fire was coming in thick and fast.

"Form up you bastards!"

"Present your firelocks! Fire! Fire at will!"

Eric Johnson Photo (Source)
But the rebels were already melting into the trees. A small group of fusiliers began to jump over the wall to pursue but were ordered back onto the road.

"Retreat, fall back lads, keep your intervals. Steady lads, steady!"

As night fell Corporal Wilkerson regained conscientiousness. His arm was on fire and his throat was parched. In the wan light of the moon he realized that he was alone on the field, his mates had left him for dead.

Struggling to his feet, he looked about for his musket. There, under that body. Rolling the dead man off, he began to lift his weapon out from under the corpse, then the moonlight fell on the man's face enough to recognize him.

Wilkerson sank back to the ground with a sob. The dead man was his lieutenant. The boy he was responsible for. Damned infernal rebels, they will pay.

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Two months later, less two days, the rebel who had slain the young lieutenant, Private Willie Cruikshank did pay. He lost his life at the end of a British bayonet as he tried to flee from a bloody hill just outside Charlestown. A hill known as Breed's Hill, where the battle to be remembered in later years as The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought.

Corporal John Wilkerson was there as well, his wounded right arm just beginning to feel right again. The corporal had gone up that hill two and a half times, he'd been forced back twice. Angry, wanting revenge for his dead lieutenant, wanting revenge for the humiliation of the retreat from Concord. So many good lads lost that day.

But as the sun set on another bloody day of this young revolution, Corporal Wilkerson's war was over. As was his life.

He and 206 other British infantrymen lay dead upon the bloody slope. Nineteen officers had also perished. 828 other men of the Royal Army had been wounded, some would die of those wounds.

135 of the rebels had perished (20 after being captured). A further 305 had been wounded. So yes, the rebels had "paid" for Concord and Lexington. But the bill to the British Crown was far too steep. Any further victories such as this and His Majesty's army in the Colonies would be bled white.

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Though Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem "Concord Hymn" was written to commemorate the events of 19 April 1775, the "shot heard round the world" refers to the first shots fired by the Colonial militia at the North Bridge outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

That shot had actually been fired earlier in the day, at Lexington green. To this day, no one knows who fired that first shot. The British soldiers present deny having fired, given the strict discipline of the British, I believe they did not fire first.

The British did not mention seeing those militia gathered on the green firing the shot either. Perhaps it was someone coming late onto the scene, who saw the militia standing as the British officer in command demanded they lay down their arms and disperse.

Perhaps that individual, in rage or in frustration, loosed that first shot. Which caused the redcoats to loose a volley on the men to their front. Of whom eight perished and ten were wounded. Some in sight of their homes.

Who fired that "shot heard round the world" that day? Who knows?

A long, bloody revolution followed but in the end, a new Nation was born.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

"Concord Hymn" - Ralph Waldo Emerson**



* The 4th Foot is recorded as having been present in this source.
** Source for the Concord Hymn

The original, with comments.

22 comments:

  1. History is a tapestry woven of individual actions, a fine effort here Sarge. It's a good thing to be reminded of how this country came to be and what it stands for despite the efforts of those that want to erase it. For all of you who served, a heartfelt thank you.

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    Replies
    1. History is important to me, those who forget it or worse still deny it. are scoundrels of the worst sort.

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  2. As always, you work in the human element. Thank you.

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  3. Well done, indeed. Thank you. Some days we seem awash in deniers. And far too many blank faces when the date is mentioned in public. Headed out now to hoist the colors.

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  4. Replies
    1. Argh! Blogger strikes again. Didn't find it in the spam filter or anywhere else for that matter.

      Apologies!

      Delete
    2. No sweat. I was just pointing out that "The shot heard 'round the world" was fired by a "Well regulated militia" using essentially the same firearms as those of the government troops attempting to disarm them.

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    3. Precisely!

      Damn that court in Maryland, they got it WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

      But I think you knew that Cap'n.

      Delete
  5. Once again ( or, in this case perhaps, twice again ) you have made the perfect post.

    I pray that we don't have to do that again.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  6. Fighting to defend the Second Amendment before there was a Second Amendment . . .

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  7. When I think of just average farmers, and millers, and laborers of every stripe, standing on the village green, against the finest army in the world I stand in awe of their bravery. They were out numbered and under equipped. They faced highly trained soldiers armed with better weapons and triangular bayonets that could inflict wounds that could not be closed. But, on that day, and in that place, those brave patriots launched a marvelous experiment in democracy that endures today.

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  8. I would love your original source material. Nothing I have found thus far has referenced a Rifle in Massachusetts prior to the arrival of the Rifle companies from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania involved in the siege of Boston. Everything I have read only recognizes smoothbore muskets and fouling pieces.

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    Replies
    1. Artistic license. Who's to say that a fellow from further south couldn't have moved north and brought his hunting rifle with him?

      Yes, the first units equipped with rifles were as you say. Again, artistic license.

      Delete
  9. Been busy I have. Plus, the laptop, my normal morning reader is in the shop needing new drivers to replace those who gave up the ghost and disappeared. I had to return to read this post. I saw it on the first day but just didn't have the time. Thanks for your labor of love and your love of history.

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    1. And we're commenting with a "new" name.

      I use a laptop at work, required. I won't have one at home, too finicky.

      Delete

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