When writing a book, one of the most important initial aspects is picking a title. The author needs one that is expressive, attracts attention, but has some overall tie-in that provides a fitting capture of the essence of the book.
One of the advantages of writing history is the use of quotes. Let the participants, combatants, or witnesses of the event provide the context for a title. When one resonates, go with it!
With the recent publication, the co-author, Robert Orrison and myself bounced various potential titles off each other. Then we had a list of our favorites included in the initial information sheet sent to Ted Savas, of Savas Beatie, LLC, the publisher. Yet, one continued to stand out, as it was written in a diary by a British junior officer slightly more than a month before the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
The entire inscription is below:
“It is certain both sides were ripe for it, and a single blow would have occasioned the commencement of hostilities.” —Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie, Royal Welch Fusiliers, March 6, 1775.
Mackenzie’s uncanny foresight predicted the exact outcome of the fighting that erupted on April 19, 1775. With casualties suffered by both sides, the war of words and near-misses became a war of shot and shell.
Hostilities had commenced and we had a title. A Single Blow: The Battles of Lexington and Concord and the The Beginning of the American Revolution.
Love brought Dr. Samuel Prescott, a practicing physician, to the town of Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775. The young doctor was courting Ms. Lydia Mulliken, when the alarm of the British soldiers marching from Boston went out to the local militia. Lydia’s brother was one of those called to gather.
Love. That emotion also drew Dr. Prescott back toward his hometown of Concord—this time to alert friends, neighbors, and family members of the urgent news of the evening. En route, Dr. Prescott along with Paul Revere and William Dawes, alerted the countryside of the moving British troops. After being vetted and vouchsafed as a true friend of liberty, Dr. Prescott rode posthaste to his hometown, where his word carried greater weight.
With autumn just around the corner, cooler weather on the horizon, and the holidays quickly approaching. Some stores in the local area have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations all for sale currently, Emerging Revolutionary War wanted to bring your attention to a few different Revolutionary War Era happenings to mark on your calendars. Continue reading “Upcoming Lectures, Talks, and/or Events”→
“Minutemen” on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord have always been grouped together in history and textbooks. But, is that completely historically accurate? Well, no. There is a common misperception that most of the Americans that went to arms on the morning of April 19, 1775 were “Minutemen.” This view has become part of American mythology and popular memory, referenced in most histories dealing with this April day. Despite all of this, the fact remains that many of the men who answered the call that day were not “Minutemen” at all.
The British colonies in North America had a long standing tradition of locally based military units. Most men between the ages of sixteen and thirty five were required to be part of the local militia and these units would meet periodically throughout the year for basic training. Many of these occasions became festive events for the local community. The colonial militia was called out often by the colonial governor to defend against Native American attacks or foreign invasions. Frequently, the militia would supplement a professional force for short campaigns. This was especially common in the French and Indian War, fought between 1756 and 1763.
But the militia was far from a professional and well trained force. Colonies, such as Massachusetts, began to create select companies of men chosen from the local militia regiment. These companies would train more often and be better equipped. They were to be the “elite” force of the militia. Also, these men would be required to respond to an emergency at a short notice. The rise of the “Minuteman” concept can be found as early as 1645. In response to an Indian tribe disturbance, the Massachusetts Council of War created a new regulation. This regulation ordered militia companies to “appoint out and to make choice of thirty soldiers of their companies in ye hundred, who shall be ready at a half an hour’s warning.” The need for a quick response force was already recognized by colonial leaders.
Though the idea of the “Minuteman” can be found in 1645 Massachusetts, the more popular idea of the “Minuteman” came from Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1774 the town was in the forefront of opposing Governor (and General) Thomas Gage’s efforts to enforce Royal authority. The Worcester County Convention passed new militia regulations that highlighted/reinforced how the populace was getting closer and closer to open confrontation with the British Crown. In these new regulations, the Worcester Convention called for “officers in each town of the county, to enlist one third of the men of their respective towns, between sixteen and sixty years of age, to be ready to act at a minute’s warning…” Thus the “Minuteman” was born.
As events in Massachusetts spiraled into open confrontation between the Whigs (Patriots) and the Crown, every town in Massachusetts ramped up their military training of their militia and created “Minuteman” companies. These units became a source of local pride. Along with the militia forces, towns and counties created a complex network of communication via riders that could notify hundreds if not thousands of militia units of possible threats. As Gage began to use his growing military force in Boston to search for colonial military stores, these riders and “Minutemen” showed their effectiveness.
On the morning of April 19, 1775 riders rode out to a very well prepared countryside west of Boston. Paul Revere, William Dawes and many others connected each town with the news that the British regulars were marching on Concord to capture provincial military stores (and possibly capture colonial leaders). Militia and “Minutemen” by the hundreds began to arrive along the road from Cambridge to Concord.
The first Americans the British confronted on the road to Concord were members of Captain Parker’s Lexington Militia. These men, gathered the night before at Buckman’s Tavern in Lexington after an early warning, were still in the area in the early morning of April 19th as the vanguard of the British column neared Lexington. As they formed up in two lines on the Lexington Green, the British quickly came onto the Green to confront the armed colonials. What happened next set off a shockwave not just through Massachusetts, but the entire British colonies in North America. These first shots were fired by militia, not the famed “Minutemen.”
It is here in Lexington that the confusion and myth of the “Minutemen” was born. Several of the monuments around the Lexington Green are dedicated to the “Lexington Minutemen.” But the men on the green were typical militia; they ranged in age and skill levels. They were not highly trained like a “Minutemen” company.
As the British made their way to Concord, Militia and “Minuteman” companies began to answer the well-traveled call that the British were marching on to Concord. After the skirmish at the North Bridge in Concord, more and more colonials answered the call and began to confront the British column as it made its way back to Charlestown. Thousands of militia and “Minutemen” made their way to the towns of Lexington, Menotomy, and Cambridge to confront the British. Because of the great response of these men, there was no turning back after April 19th.
The importance of the “Minutemen” cannot be exaggerated but neither can the importance of the militia. They were two distinct colonial military forces, both created with their own specific uses. In modern times, most wanted to attach their local story to that of the famed “Minutemen.” Though it is most likely that more militia turned out on April 19th than “Minutemen.”
Many monuments in Lexington, Concord and along Battle Road mention the “Minutemen” of 1775. Also, many of the sites associated with the events of April 19th are preserved by Minute Man National Park. I guess “Militia National Park” didn’t have as good of a ring to it.
The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American Revolution by John Galvin
On this date, 241 years ago, the first salvo of what would become the American Revolutionary War, was fired on Lexington Green and North Bridge in Concord.
Historian John Galvin once wrote about the Battles of Lexington and Concord that they were the “least known of all American battles.” I never really understood what Galvin meant, as I had read extensively about April 19, 1775 and thought I understood the details of that day in history.
Yet, until this past weekend, when I spent the better part of four days touring the sites and walking the trails, talking to the historians around the towns, I did not realize how much more there is to what actually happened on that April day.
For starters, did you realize that Paul Revere did not go town-to-town calling out, “The British are Coming” to homesteads and roadside taverns? Instead, he was the catalyst that started a chain reaction of messengers and runners to different towns throughout the countryside that cast the alarm in a wide net.
He also would have told farmsteads and meetinghouses along the way that the “Regulars are Coming,” since the colonists still thought of themselves as British.
Or that the unofficial birth of the United States Army is attributed to the militia that followed Colonel James Barrett and Colonel John Buttrick down the hill toward the British at the North Bridge?
That was the first time that men, formed in regiments with officers, made an advance against what they perceived as an enemy force, and did so in a “very military manner.”
What prompted the various militia companies, which came from other towns than just Concord, to sally forth from the hill toward the now infamous North Bridge? The main reason was what was happening in Concord was the mistaken reason behind the smoke emanating from the town?
In the town, the British were burning military supplies and the wooden gun carriages found in the hamlet. Sparks landed one of the nearby dwellings and British soldiers actually put down their muskets to form a bucket brigade, with civilians, to help put out the flames. The smoke that billowed from the doused fires is what prompted the militia and minutemen response.
With water being dumped on the flames, smoke billowed up, which prompted milita Adjutant Joseph Hosmer to ask the officers; “Will you let them burn the town down?” That prompted the forward movement of the militia down the hill and against the British.
Or did you realize that some of the militia, from the nearby town of Acton, suffered some of the first casualties at North Bridge, including their militia captain, Isaac Davis, who was one of the first killed in the engagement?
Somewhere in the midst of the action in Concord was Reverend William Emerson, the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson who would later write that the action on April 19, would be known as the “shot heard round the world” years later.
These are just a few of the interesting tidbits that I picked up this past weekend. Altogether, they reinforce the historic events that I knew unfolded on this day in American History. However, along with reflecting on what transpired in my visit to Massachusetts, these new tidbits of valuable information underscore the important stories and accounts that shape this spring day that are beckoning to be told.
There is so much to be gained by walking the grounds, talking to the historians and historical enthusiasts of the area, and just taking time to appreciate what this day, April 19th, meant to the future of the United States and the era it was leaving behind as part of the British Empire.