Sunday, April 19, 2015
Lexington and Concord - The Shot Heard 'Round the World
Today is the 240th Anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, considered to be the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. This was the culmination of Paul Reveres' "Midnight Ride" captured so eloquently by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem. When I was in fourth grade we had to memorize this lengthy poem. I still know some, if not most, of it by heart. I will reprint it here for those who have never had the pleasure of reading it. But first, as I often say, a little background.
By the spring of 1775 the colonies were seething with resentment and anger at the British for a series of wrongs incurred over the course of a decade. These wrongs included "taxation without representation" and the quartering of soldiers in private residences. The Stamp Act and the tea tax were already behind us on this April morning. The midnight ride that had awakened the countryside was the result of a new transgression on the part of the British and General Gage, who was then the military Governor of Massachusetts.
Sam Adams and a few other of the Revolution's leaders were hidden in the countryside around Boston, most near Lexington and Concord. It was there that they kept a supply of guns and ammunition. General Gage was under orders to take these men prisoner and destroy their supplies. Benjamin Church and Joseph Warren were both still in Boston with Paul Revere as their chief messenger. Revere noticed that the British were making ready several small craft for crossing the Charles River to Cambridge. But they were never sure if the British were going to use the land route instead. So they arranged their signals, just as stated in Longworths' poem.
At 10 PM on the night of April 18th, 1775 Joseph Warren decided that warning needed to be sent to Sam Adams and so he dispatched Paul Revere. They had arranged the lantern signals of "One if by land, two if by sea" to be shown from the tower of the Old North Church. Revere would cross by water as insurance against William Dawes,who would take the land route, being captured on the way to Concord.
Using the petticoats of the boatman's girlfreind to muffle the oars, Revere set out to cross the Charles River. Arriving in Charlestown he began his ride with a narrow escape from 2 British soldiers. Due to this event Revere was forced to use an alternate route to the North, which lengthened his trip by several miles and more than a few precious minutes.
Arriving in Lexington he found Sam Adams and John Hancock. He was then joined by Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott, a resident of Concord. They left quickly, but before traversing the 5 miles to Concord they encountered a British roadblock, which they broke through and then split up. Dawes was thrown from his horse and taken prisoner. Revere was also taken prisoner and under interrogation gave false and misleading information to his captors as to the number of militiamen awaiting the Redcoats at the bridge.
Dr. Prescott, with his keen knowledge of the wooded country between Lexington and Concord, was the only rider to make it. His warning enabled the Militia to arm and ready themselves for the arrival of the British that morning.
Revere, meanwhile, was riding with the British back to Lexington, when he heard the church bells and gunshots that gave proof to his assertation that local militia were waiting the arrival of the British. This convinced the British to turn Revere loose, although they did give him a tired and slow horse as a precaution that he not reach Lexington too quickly. Revere joined Hancock and Adams to retreat into the countryside. Only the fact that Hancock had left some valuable papers at the tavern in Lexington caused Revere to return there.
Upon retrieving these papers, Revere rode out of town past the assembling militia. As he rode on through the countryside he heard the shots and looking back, saw the smoke from the "Shot heard 'round the World."
In April of 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow climbed the tower of the Old North Church and was inspired to write his simplified version of the nights' events. It was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in January of 1861. It has since acquired legendary stature and has served as the inspiration for millions of Americans to learn more about the events of that night. I reprint it here with great pleasure and as a tribute to those men who gathered at Lexington that morning to begin the labor pains that ultimately gave birth to our Nation.
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."
Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.
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 redcoats 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.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
The following is an eyewitness account of that day by 23 year Sylvanus Wood, who wrote the following in 1858. It was sworn before a Notary.
"I, Sylvanus Wood, of Woburn, in the county of Middlesex, and commonwealth of Massachusetts, aged seventy-four years, do testify and say that on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, I was an inhabitant of Woburn, living with Deacon Obadiah Kendall; that about an hour before the break of day on said morning, I heard the Lexington bell ring, and fearing there was difficulty there, I immediately arose, took my gun and, with Robert Douglass, went in haste to Lexington, which was about three miles distant.
When I arrived there, I inquired of Captain Parker, the commander of the Lexington company, what was the news. Parker told me he did not know what to believe, for a man had come up about half an hour before and informed him that the British troops were not on the road. But while we were talking, a messenger came up and told the captain that the British troops were within half a mile. Parker immediately turned to his drummer, William Diman, and ordered him to beat to arms, which was done. Captain Parker then asked me if I would parade with his company. I told him I would. Parker then asked me if the young man with me would parade. I spoke to Douglass, and he said he would follow the captain and me.
By this time many of the company had gathered around the captain at the hearing of the drum, where we stood, which was about half way between the meetinghouse and Buckman's tavern. Parker says to his men, 'Every man of you, who is equipped, follow me; and those of you who are not equipped, go into the meeting-house and furnish yourselves from the magazine, and immediately join the company.' Parker led those of us who were equipped to the north end of Lexington Common, near the Bedford Road, and formed us in single file. I was stationed about in the centre of the company. While we were standing, I left my place and went from one end of the company to the other and counted every man who was paraded, and the whole number was thirty-eight, and no more.
Confrontation at Lexington Green
Just as I had finished and got back to my place, I perceived the British troops had arrived on the spot between the meeting-house and Bucknian's, near where Captain Parker stood when he first led off his men. The British troops immediately wheeled so as to cut off those who had gone into the meeting-house. The British troops approached us rapidly in platoons, with a general officer on horseback at their head. The officer came up to within about two rods of the centre of the company, where I stood, the first platoon being about three rods distant. They there halted. The officer then swung his sword, and said, 'Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men. Fire!' Some guns were fired by the British at us from the first platoon, but no person was killed or hurt, being probably charged only with powder.
Just at this time, Captain Parker ordered every man to take care of himself. The company immediately dispersed; and while the company was dispersing and leaping over the wall, the second platoon of the British fired and killed some of our men. There was not a gun fired by anv of Captain Parker's company, within my knowledge. I was so situated that I must have known it, had any thing of the kind taken place before a total dispersion of our company. I have been intimately acquainted with the inhabitants of Lexington, and particularly with those of Captain Parker's company, and, with one exception, I have never heard any of them say or pretend that there was any firing at the British from Parker's company, or any individual in it until within a year or two. One member of the company told me, many years since, that, after Parker's company had dispersed, and he was at some distance, he gave them 'the guts of his gun.'"