Friday, September 20, 2013

Let it start here!" prt 2

With the first shots of the war already fired, the match of rebellion had been irrevocably laid to the powder keg that was the unrest in the colonies. Men on both sides had been killed in open conflict, now, like it or not, the colonies were in open war against the greatest military power of the time. Britain's Vietnam had begun and Concord would prove a fatal error in judgement and logistics and tactics on the part of Gage, the British commanding officer.

It was 8am when the British entered from the east of Concord, looking for militia weapon stores stored up by the rebels. The men had been marching since 8pm the night before and were in full pack and gear, weighing close to 75lbs. The men were tired and hungry as they marched into the town. They searched house to house for weapons, some men finding weapons, business end first as the residents of Concord had been warned of the British attack by Paul Revere.

In another hour, once the British realized the weapons stores had been moved, Colonial militia had formed across the river and had begun firing into the British. Colonials had been trained to aim for officers, and soon the formations of Redcoats were falling back without commanders. The British mounted an offensive and were able to control most of the important points of the town, both the bridges and the main road were under control, but soon the men ran low on ammunition. Each man had been given 36 rounds before marching, but many had fired shots at Lexington, and with their training, most would fire 3 aimed shots in a minute. This meant that in a direct fire fight, most men ran out of ammunition within 12 minutes. The fighting lasted until 11am with the British taking heavy casualties.

Exhaustion had set in and ammunition was all but expended,but the rebels still came on. The ranks began to break and the men began their 20 mile retreat back to the safety of Boston. Militia and Minutemen harassed the Redcoats all along the way, small groups popping up out of fields to fire a few rounds and disappear. Ten or twelve would pop up from behind a wall or fence, fire a volley and leave. It was a masacre, the dead littering the 5 mile path from Concord back to Lexington, some from musket ball, others from exhaustion.

When the sun set on Boston, over 300 redcoats were dead, wounded or missing in action. The colonists had lost less than a third of that number. The realization set in on the British High Command that the Colonists were not just a rag-tag group of untrained rabble that would be easily dissuaded from their rebellion with a few pounds of powder and a few musket rounds. Their resolve could not be broken even at bayonet point. One thing was clear, this only the beginning of a long and dangerous conflict.

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Let it start here!"

Many are the personalities we remember from the American revolution. We remember the founding fathers, George Washington both as the general and the eventual first president. We remember the great traitor Benedict Arnold and maybe even a few of the the English personalities. As a whole though, many people today don't remember much about what happened during that long struggle all those many years back. They don't remember that this was a war not fought by professional armies in the fields of Europe or the Jungles of Southeast Asia. This was a war on the American continent, in the backyards of the men doing the fighting. This war was fought by men with passion for freedom in their hearts and muskets in their hands. Victories were won and lost on the backs of the American fighting man, the militia and the minuteman.

Minute Man Memorial
  With the Seven years war, Stamp and Townsend acts in the past and the open wound from the Boston massacre and subsequent closure of the port still open and festering, the pot of American discontentment had begun to boil over. Boston was the hotbed and Lexington and Concord would provide the spark needed to turn the American colonists from disgruntled subjects into fighting men and women.

British Grenadiers
"The shot heard round the world" as many now call it happened late in the evening of April 18, 1775. The British were moored in Boston Harbor and had received word that the Colonials had been stockpiling a cache of weapons, powder, ammunition and cannons at Concord. It was a target that Gage, the commanding officer could not pass up. At 8pm, Gage mobilized his troops and gave them marching orders to Concord - a destination of some 20 miles distant. The officers were informed of the target but the men were not told anything. They knew there was a high chance of contact with rebel elements, though no one expected the rabble to be stupid enough to attack the most professionally trained army on earth.

Advanced elements were made up of Light infantry (marksmen) and Grenadiers (Heavy, strong and tall troops) under the command of John Pitcairn. They marched with their heavy packs from Boston to Lexington where they arrived at around 5am, having marched all night long. 77 militiamen under the command of Veteran John Parker who told his men through his rough tuberculosis ridden voice told his men
"Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

"Let it start here!"
Over 350 Redcoats were assembled on Lexington Green with the rag-tag militia assembled on the opposite end, less than 100 paces distant. A single shot fired. Some sources credit it coming from a rooftop, others claim it was fired from behind a wall on the common. What all sources agree upon is the fact that it was neither the British nor the Militia on the Green that fired the opening shot. What they also agree is that the next shot came from the British infantry. The first volley wounding 7 men and killing the first official recorded KIA of the conflict - Prince Estabrook, a black slave, serving in place of his master.

Estabrook Memorial
After the initial volley, the British troops broke rank and charged the Americans with their bayonets. The colonists let out a volley that felled a few troops before their lines broke and fled. It would be another hour before the British troops were recalled and reformed to continue their march on to Concord.

More next week!

Friday, September 6, 2013

"Just Infantry, Poor Beggars"

At 18 years old I was not the smartest person. I didn't make the best life choices, but none of my choices precipitated a revolution. The poor souls we met last week were not much older when their actions were borne onto the world's stage, their every act under intense scrutiny.

These boys were young, not liked and above all, not in their native land. They were not surrounded by their countrymen, but a whole city of angry colonists crying for their blood to run in the streets. They were scared and no one wanted to help them. They were the "Lobsterbacks" the "Red Coats", in short, the enemy. The war for America's independence had not officially begun, but one of its first battles was about to begin in a courtroom in Boston Proper. Their only advocate was a man dedicated to the preservation of liberty at all costs, John Adams.

John Adams, the "younger years"

Adams was a young lawyer who had struggled to make a living. He knew that by taking this case, he was not only subjecting himself to peril from the incensed city, but his law practice and his family would also be thrown into the hazard. The gamble for the lives of 8 lowly infantrymen had begun.

The prosecutors started their case, painting the gory picture of 5 patriots, innocent and harmless men, killed in that cobbled square. They presented evidence of the British troops harassing the "peaceful" assembly of colonists, attempting to rile the crowd to violence with murderous intent. The whole city's rage was kindled against the 8 personifications of the tyrannical oppression of the British government. As in all wars, truth was the first casualty. fabrications and false testimony permeated the courtroom. Men that were at home, asleep in their beds testified as eye witnesses to the "massacre" as Paul Revere would deem it. The men were guilty, and anyone who thought else-wise was a traitor against God, liberty and common sense.

It appeared to all the world that John Adams had lost the case before it had even begun. Might as well give up now and save the shame, but John loved a good challenge, especially when liberty was on the line. He knew that these raids on customs houses, looting, rioting and lynchings happened, just as any Bostonian did. The burned effigies of King George were still smoldering outside the courtroom from the night before, the lingering smoke and ash a testament of the common displays of the discontent. Like any Bostonian, he knew the violence that happened and knew how a dog reacts when backed into a corner. The truth was there, but he had to bring it to light, or 8 unfortunate boys would see the gallows and have their bodies paraded through the streets.

Adams found his redemption in two unlikely places. His witnesses were not high standing members of society as the prosecution had called, but simple men, hard men, workers and patriots, ropers and dock-hands. His key witness was a black man, Holmes, bore witness that the shots were not fired into the crowd until after snowballs, rocks, clubs, oyster shells and chunks of ice were thrown at the customs house guards, clearly showing that this "peaceful gathering" had quite the opposite intention. His other key witness was a man by the name of Richard Palms, a roper by trade. Palms testified that Preston, the Captain of the 8 men, was not behind his men screaming "Fire, Damn your blood FIRE!" as the prosecution's key witness alleged, but that he was in front of them, making a fire command counter-productive to a long and happy life.

Roper's club used to beat the slack out of rope under tension, or to throw at Red Coats!

All but two of the soldiers were acquitted. Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Killroy were let go with a branding on their right thumbs.

Though Adams would count the defense of the patrol as one of the highlights of his legal career, it carried terrible consequences for his practice as his clientele dropped by half and, as seen in an entry in his journal depicts after leaving the courthouse after the sentencing hearings:

"a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes, and mulattos, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tars...shouting and hazing and threatening life...whistling, screaming, and rending an Indian yell... throwing every species of rubbish the could pick up in the street."

Next week, we'll discuss the opening moves of the revolution. The pot finally boils!

For your viewing pleasure:

John Adams - Courtroom scene - HBO Series staring Paul Giamatti