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Frank1
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Book Review: 'The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the Amrcn Rev.
Feb 13th, 2015 at 8:25pm
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Book Review & Commentary  2/13/15
The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American Revolution

This book was a pretty light read.  It deals mainly with the ‘Minute Man’ concept, its use and development, and the lead-up to Lexington and Concord.

One of the main things I got out of it was that the concept of the minute man, rather than being new at the time of the Revolution, was rather by that point a time-tested concept.  Though it is not much discussed in the book, it is mentioned that the Massachusetts colonists had already been used to musters for town defense while in England, and when they got to America the system of muster was changed to meet the different circumstances of the New World.  The first mention of the idea that each town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should have a contingent of men ready at a ‘minutes notice’ to respond in case of Indian attack was in 1643, 15 years after the founding of the colony.  At around the same time the idea of alarm riders who would ride out from the town under attack to warn surrounding areas was developed.  Thus when Paul Revere made his famous ride this was not a dashing new concept but simply a man doing something the colonists had been doing in case of Indian attack for over 125 years at that point.

As far as the purely military aspect of the immediate lead-up to Lexington and Concord it is an interesting psychological lesson when one observes how the colonists and the British drew opposite conclusions, each favorable to themselves, from the same events.

In the months leading up to the battle General Gage had developed a habit of sending bodies of British troops out into the countryside surrounding Boston, both as a way to keep the troops occupied as well as to keep the colonists in hand by these persistent shows of force and by using his troops to capture rebel weapons caches and leaders when and if possible.

So when the British would set out into the countryside with their troops they usually had predetermined a point at which their march would end after which they would turn around and head back to Boston.  Often when the British set out the colonials would muster to meet them and more than once the colonials met the British at the point where the British had already decided to turn back.  The colonists did not know this, however, and they form the opinion that whenever they met the British in sufficient force the British would tuck tail and run.  As to the British, as the colonists never actually took to firing on them they drew the lesson that the colonists were all bark and no bite.  The British decided that as long as they were firm in their displays of force the colonists would not dare confront them with any more than show and bravado.

Overall though, the British were more in the dark as to the intentions of their enemy than were the colonists.  Not only did the British misjudge the willingness of the colonists to openly engage them, they also were unaware that the colonists were organizing and training what could truly be called an ‘army’ right under their noses.  The British of course knew that the colonists could muster some armed men on short notice, but they did not regard the minute men as capable of engaging a force of ‘regulars.’  Furthermore, while the British knew some of the colonists had experience fighting alongside them in the French and Indian wars it apparently did not occur to them that the colonists could use the knowledge they had gained to form their own organized field force.  In fact the colonists were organizing and training both militia and minute men regiments throughout the months leading up to Lexington and Concord.  By the time the British undertook their fateful march to Concern they were marching into the territory of an army 30,000 men strong with a mere 800. 

As to the day of the march to Concord both sides expected things to go as they had for months.  The British expected they would go to Concord and the colonists would not stop them and the colonists expected that if they confronted the British on the way the British would turn and go back to Boston. 

One of the main factors that seems to have changed things for this day was a small scouting party that the British sent ahead of their main force.  This scouting party had a jittery and short-tempered officer at its head.  At one point in the dark of the early morning of April 19th (the day of the march to Concord) this scouting party encountered an American who asked them a question and received in response a wack on the head with a saber.  The colonist ran off to show his wound to others.  There might have been another small incident or two before Lexington, I cannot remember and do not feel like looking it up at this time.  At any rate, I believe the nervous report of the aforementioned scouting group contributed to putting the forward most British troops in the column on edge.  The result was that as the first British companies reached Lexington, rather than waiting for the officer commanding the column to come forward and order the armed colonists on Lexington Green to disperse, they simply opened fire on the colonists.  At this point some of the British officers urged the officer commanding, Colonel Smith, to turn back, but Smith said he had his orders and the column would march on to Concord. 
« Last Edit: Feb 13th, 2015 at 9:18pm by Frank1 »  


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Re: Book Review: 'The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the Amrcn Rev.
Reply #1 - Feb 13th, 2015 at 8:26pm
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So Smith’s column moved on to Concord, where the real fighting started.  Smith’s troops, after arriving in Concord, attempted to destroy some of the rebel stores kept there, but it was not long before colonial forces were on the march toward Concord and Smith’s troops had to abandon their work and begin the long march back to Boston.

For most of the way back to Lexington the British column was pressed hard, and in fact as the column approached Lexington on the return it was on the verge of collapse, the soldiers exhausted and just barely holding together.  The British were completely caught off guard by the speed with which the colonials had mustered and marched to the battle; practically every feature of the terrain on the British line of march from Concord back to Lexington contained new colonial companies waiting in ambush.  The British were also of course furious at what they perceived as the cowardly ‘Indian’ tactics the colonists employed, the tactics of hiding behind walls, trees and other features of the landscape.

Luckily for Smith he had sent to Boston for reinforcements even before the morning encounter at Lexington and these reinforcements, 1000 strong under the command of one Brigadier General Hugh Earl Percy, a well-liked young officer, were waiting outside Lexington just as Smith’s troops approached the town on their return.  Percy could not believe his eyes when Smith’s ragged column first came into view, but for Smith’s soldiers, the sight of a fresh brigade and the boom of the Royal Artillery, were a most welcome combination.

Percy’s troops opened their line so Smith’s column could pass through and then Percy and his officers conferred with Smith and his command.

The British officers decided Smith’s troops needed time to rest, but they also knew they were up against the clock.  Percy’s troops held the colonials at bay for about 90 minutes and then the combined British column set out again towards Boston and safety.

Percy and Smith knew they would be pursued on the way back to Boston but they did not imagine that the colonials could have assembled a force between them and Boston in the short interval between Percy’s arrival in Lexington and the beginning of their return march – but they were wrong.  In fact the rebels were assembling between the British and Boston as the redcoats began their march back.  Thus Smith’s exhausted troops, who had been marching and fighting most of the day, would have to go to it again.  For Smith’s troops had been placed at the front of the column on its return to Boston, assuming that they would have a quiet march back while Percy’s forced covered their retreat from the pursuing colonials.

For Smith’s troops the return fight included a brutal house to house slog through one of the villages strung out on the road between them and Boston.  Percy later described the return march from Lexington to Boston as a “moving circle of fire.”

Finally the British made it to a point outside Boston, Bunker Hill, (yeah, never heard of that one, huh?  lol) where they could safely stop and called in reinforcements and thus the first battle of what would become the American Revolution was over.  About 4000 Americans had made it to the area of engagement before the battle was ended, with more on the way, it seems the British got to safety just in time.  The figure of 4000 colonials at the scene of the battle does not, however, reveal the full extent of American mobilization, which by the night of April 20th had swollen to 20,000 men who were surrounding the British position on Bunker Hill.

Overall the British took 20% casualties in the form of 73 killed, 174 wounded and 26 missing.  If many of the British in general still viewed the Americans as a rabble that could not in the long run face up to the might of Great Britain, at the very least the British soldiers and officers involved in the first fight of the Revolution would not underestimate their American opponents again.


 

  


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