May 31, 2006


Greene's story, Day 4: 'There is war,' and Rhode Island responds (GERALD M. CARBONE, May 31, 2006, Providence Journal)

These are the orders that started the American Revolution:

"You will march with the Corps of grenadiers and Light Infantry put under your Command with the utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy all the Artillery, Ammunition, provisions, Tents & all other military stores you can find."

Thomas Gage, the general commanding the British garrison at Boston wrote those orders; Francis Smith, a fat lieutenant colonel, received them at 8 p.m. on April 18, 1775.

For secrecy, Smith was to march his soldiers in small groups to the Boston Common, where they would rendezvous at 10 p.m. From the Common the 700 men would row across the bay to Lechmere's Point on Charlestown, to begin their long march to Concord, where British spies had determined that the rebels had a large store of gunpowder, artillery and shot.

The secret of Smith's nighttime mission was poorly kept. As the troops stepped into their transport boats under cover of darkness, the city's apothecary, Dr. Joseph Warren, dispatched Patrick Dawes and the silversmith Paul Revere to carry the alarm to Concord.

A friend of Revere's bravely carried two lanterns up the narrow stairwell in the steeple of the North Church. Here he hung the lighted lanterns as a signal that the British were coming via the bay to Charlestown. The British in Boston weren't stupid; they knew that lanterns burning in the belfry were some sort of a signal. They hustled over there to catch the messenger, but he had already doused his lanterns and run.

Dawes spurred his mount along Boston Neck, through Roxbury and Brookline; two men silently rowed Revere past the British warship Somerset to the Charlestown shore.

Revere wrote: "It was then young flood, the ship was winding, and the moon was rising."

In Charlestown Revere borrowed Deacon John Larkin's horse, a mount the deacon would never see again. The horse thundered across a bridge spanning the Mystic River to Medford.

"The regulars are out!" Revere called into the moonlit night. "The regulars are out!" [...]

On the way to Concord lay the town of Lexington, a sleepy crossroads of 750 people. Warned by Revere and Dawes before their capture by British troops, a band of 70 minutemen awaited the arrival of Smith's soldiers.

Leading the minutemen was Capt. John Parker, at 45 a veteran of the French and Indian War. Only 38 of Parker's men brought arms and ammunition with them; these he formed in a line across the Lexington Green.

At dawn the British troops came in view from the south. John Pitcairn, 53, a captain in the Royal Marines led the advance guard as the British swept on toward Lexington.

Pitcairn ordered his men to form the battle line; his troops smartly moved into formation, pointing their muskets and yelling "Huzzah! Huzzah!"

Pitcairn spurred his mount toward the small line of rebels; he drew up before them with his troops bristling at his back. "Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse!"

There was no way 38 farmers could hold off a battle line of the British Army, Parker knew that. He ordered his minutemen to leave the green. They began to break up, but they refused Pitcairn's demands to drop their muskets. As the rebels left the field, somebody's gun flared. No one will ever know for certain who fired this, "the shot heard 'round the world." What is certain is that it touched off a storm of fire from the British lines. And when the shooting stopped, eight minutemen lay dead on the blood-spattered green.

The British rolled on for Concord, six miles away, stopping to fire their traditional victory volley. Their only casualties had been a wounded man and Pitcairn's bloodied horse.

On the return march from Concord to Boston, the British marched for eight hours through a gauntlet of armed and angry minutemen. Nearly 4,000 men fired at them during the march; the muskets of that time were wildly inaccurate, so the farmers and merchants of Massachusetts just kept firing and firing 1-ounce balls of lead. They shot about 80,000 rounds in all, an average of 3 blasts every second.

The British troops that made it as far as Concord had to march 16 miles back in wet boots, carrying 60 pounds of gear, with no sleep, while the trees, walls and houses around them exploded.

"We were fired at from all quarters, but particularly from the houses on the roadside, and the Adjacent Stone walls," wrote British Lt. Frederick Mackenzie of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. "Several of the Troops were killed and wounded in this way, and the Soldiers were so enraged at suffering from an unseen Enemey, that they forced open many of the houses from which the fire proceeded, and put to death all those found in them. . . .

"Our men had very few opportunities of getting good shots at the Rebels, as they hardly ever fired but under cover of a Stone wall, from behind a tree, or out of a house; and the moment they had fired they lay down out of sight until they had loaded again, or the Column had passed. In the road indeed in our rear, they were most numerous, and came on pretty close, frequently calling out, "King Hancock forever."

By day's end, Mackenzie tallied 168 British soldiers wounded, and 68 dead.

The British troops were lucky enough not to have Predators circling overhead filming their actions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2006 7:20 PM

The shot heard round the world, fired when the jack-booted thugs came to sieze the weapons of the minutemen.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 31, 2006 8:31 PM

And laid the groundwork for the Sunni resistance.

Posted by: oj at May 31, 2006 8:39 PM


"the muskets of that time were wildly inaccurate"

Is this true? I am aware that these were probably smooth bore but I remember my uncle shooting (and hitting) rabbits with a pre-Civil War flintlock. Seems like they had some accuracy, at least at shorter distances.

Posted by: Rick T. at June 1, 2006 9:42 AM


My (possibly incorrect) understanding is that muskets were inaccurate; early rifles were accurate at considerable distance, but weren't commonly used as infantry weapons because they were much slower to reload (although a few Americans used them to good effect during the Revolution).

Posted by: Mike Earl at June 1, 2006 11:22 AM

It is not the ignition sysem that makes a smoothbore innacurate, but the absence of rifling, which is a system of spiral grooves cut or pressed into the inside of a barrel which impart a stabilizing spin to the projectile.

Before the adoption of hollow based bullets, the "Minie ball," most military weapons were smoothbore, and used loosely fitting balls, since rapid reloading was more important than accuracy. A smoothbore musket could be loaded and fired about three times faster than a rifle, but might have less that one-third the effective range.

The problem was magnified by the fact that the propellant used in those days, blackpowder, left solid residue, "fouling," which so clogged the barrel that a rifle became unusable after a few shots unless cleaned out. Some specialized troops, Jagers, Rangers, or commonly just "Rifles," used rifles, but for the most part massed fire was more important than accuracy.

All this accuracy business is relative. A Minuteman with a musket had a fair chance of hitting a Redcoat at a hundred yards, and a very good chance of doing so with a rifle at three hundred.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 1, 2006 1:22 PM