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 OFF THE BEATEN TRAIL
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 Menotomy and the Long Retreat
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Author Previous Topic: Mystic Seaport, Conn. Topic Next Topic: Revolutionary Concord  

James N.
Colonial Militia

James N
USA



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October 24 2007

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Posted - February 28 2012 :  3:11:53 PM  Show Profile  Send James N. a Yahoo! Message  Reply with Quote
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,-
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.


Though considerably oversimplified, Longfellow at least captured somewhat the flow of events during the British retreat from Concord; it is this part of the running "battle" that most interests me, because it unfolds more like a real military campaign than a poorly-executed outing in the country. Lt. Col. Francis Smith, commanding, seemed to be living up to the "fat, slow, stupid" part of his description following the action at the North Bridge onver the Concord River, wasting almost two hours before getting his force of some 700 men in motion for the return to Boston. As they marched out of town, they were shadowed all the way by the militia companies on or behind the ridge to the north.

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The British Golgotha may be said to have begun here on the eastern outskirts of Concord at Meriam's Corner where the road crosses a small creek. ( The Seventeenth-Century Meriam House, shown here, is one of the oldest in Concord. ) Contrary to "Hollywood" representations of the British army ( including Michael Mann's! ), marching columns were regularly proceeded and accompanied at a distance by flankers whose job was to keep hostile forces at bay, and Smith was using them as prescribed. Unfortunately, they had to rejoin the column to cross the creek; their drawing in encouraged the by-now-overpowering numbers of militia to attack, coming down and around the ridge towards the British as they bunched up at the tiny bridge.

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Just before the Hartwell Tavern, the road made a couple of fairly sharp turns, known as the Bloody Angles; places like this were proving deadly, as the militia firing from cover could largely shoot down the length of the marching column. The flankers, drawn mainly from the light infantry companies, were rapidly becoming exhausted and suffering a disproportionate share of casualties as they tried to keep the militia back.

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Smith was making the same military "mistake" as would Napoleon on a much greater scale 37 years later in his retreat from Moscow: returning over the same exact route he had come. The British, being relatively unfamilliar with the land, were tied to the roadway; all along their route they faced NEW groups of angry militia in addition to those from Concord and its surrounding area. At Meriam's Corner, Billerica and Reading militia joined in; at Hardy's Hill, those of Framingham and Sudbury arrived, soon joined by men from Woburn. The Captain William Smith House ( above ) which stands a little past Hartwell Tavern is that of the leader of the Lincoln Minute Men.

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These views are of an original stretch of the Nelson/Battle Road that preserves the original appearance ( and surface ) of the 1775 route. Much of the land between Meriam's Corner and the outskirts of Lexington are today a part of Minute Man National Historical Park; other units of the park include the area around Concord's Old North Bridge and Nathaniel Hawthorne's home, The Wayside. This stretch of road is near where Revere, Dawes, and Dr. Prescott were stopped by the British mounted patrol and the current NPS Battle Road Visitor Center. As the British column neared Lexington, at Fiske Hill, another unwelcome surprise awaited them: though Capt. Parker's company of Lexington militia had fled that morning from the Common, possibly without firing a shot, they were by now regrouped and ready to take their revenge!

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The by-now exhausted British stumbled back past the scene of the first shots of the day on Lexington Common at a fairly rapid pace and were beginning to degenerate into a mob; If the pursuit had continued, likely they would all have been killed or captured. But here at Munroe's Tavern, fortune smiled on them again in the form of a thousand fresh reenforcements. When Gen. Gage in Boston got word of the many alarms spreading through the countryside and the "resistance" at Lexington, he dispatched additional troops under the command of Gen. Hugh, Lord Percy. A much more able and energetic officer than Smith, Percy had drawn up his men around the tavern which became briefly his headquarters; cannon he had with his column kept the militia at bay for an hour or so while Smith's men rested from their ordeal. But the day wasn't over yet!







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James N.
Colonial Militia

James N
USA



Bumppo's Patron since [at least]:
October 24 2007

Status: offline

 

Posted - February 28 2012 :  4:21:20 PM  Show Profile  Send James N. a Yahoo! Message  Reply with Quote  Copy this URL to Link to this Reply
Lord Percy continued the retreat to Boston, his fresh men replacing Smith's as flankers, but along the way still-new groups of militia and even individuals continued to contest their way. Some of the Concord militia had by now dropped out from their own exhaustion and gone home and the rest were discouraged by Percy's cannon from getting too close, but most continued to shadow the Regulars. Things took an even uglier turn, however, as the British approached the largest town so far, Menotomy, now known by the far more pedestrian name of Arlington. The roadside was bad enough, with its trees and stone and rail fences to shelter militia marksmen, but the houses lining a typical town street were far worse: direct assaults had to be ( and were ) made to drive out those who would ambush the column; and since they were closer to the column, more casulties could be expected. The greatest number of militia casulties were incurred here in the savage house-to-house fighting, often inflicted by British bayonets.

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The Jason Russell House on Menotomy's main street saw the greatest number of Americans killed this day in a single spot, including homeowner Jason Russell himself, dead on his own doorstoop. Today it is a pleasant colonial restoration, tastefully furnished "in period"; then it was a charnel-house with ten more besides Russell dead inside! A lucky few survived the British assault by barricading themselves in the cellar; others were bayonetted indiscriminately in other rooms.

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Following the savage battle in Menotomy, Percy's entire command was showing signs of strain and exhaustion. His reenforcing troops had come from Boston the long way ( or "by land" in the parlance of the poem ), across Boston Neck and thence around Back Bay; that route was about to be cut off by still more militia arriving from Brookline and even as far away as Salem. Continuing past another ambuscade at Watson's Corner and knowing the survival of his entire force depended on returning to Boston by what remained of the rapidly-fading day, Percy suddenly turned his column left at Cambridge, heading for Charlestown instead. Avoiding further harassment, the British crossed narrow Charlestown Neck to the safety of the heights of Bunker Hill, protected by the guns of their warships in Back Bay. The long retreat was finally over!

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Following the battles, most houses along the route became makeshift hospitals; the dead were gathered and returned to their hometowns, or in the case of the British, buried where they fell. In Menotomy ( Arlington ) they lie here in the Old Burying Ground, the unfortunate Jason Russell at the base of the obelisk dedicated to them. According to the NPS folder, Percy suffered a total loss of 73 dead, 174 wounded, and 26 missing, likely captured or deserters; American losses were smaller, 49 dead, 40 wounded, and 5 missing. Though by soon-to-come standards these were relatively small losses, at the time, especially for Gen. Gage, they were a staggering forecast of what lay ahead. He soon drew Percy's men into the Boston garrison, abandoning the heights of Bunker and Breed's Hills, a further mistake to be paid for that summer with an additional thousand British casualties!



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USA



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Posted - February 28 2012 :  5:08:16 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote  Copy this URL to Link to this Reply
Great pictures & description James. - Knowing the area, - it would indeed be a "long retreat" while on foot and under fire.

you can keep "The Change"
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