Posted by: Democratic Thinker | April 25, 2011

Concord 1775-Be Upon the Defensive

The American Revolution

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in an addendum to an address commerating an anniverary of the town of Concord, relates the observations of his grandfather, William Emerson—minister at Concord—, during the morning of April 19, 1775.

But then, let me drop this one Word.—Let every single Step taken in this most intricate Affair, be upon the Defensive. God forbid that we should give our Enemies the Opportunity of saying justly that we have brought a civil War upon ourselves, by the smallest offensive Action.—William Emerson, Sermon at a Review of Arms in Concord, March 13, 1775.

Historical Discourse at Concord

Delivered on the Second Centennial Anniversary of the Incorporation of the Town.
September 12, 1835.

The agitating events of those days were duly remembered in the church. On the second day after the affray, divine service was attended, in this house, by 700 soldiers. William Emerson, the pastor, had a hereditary claim to the affection of the people, being descended in the fourth generation from Edward Bulkeley, son of Peter. But he had merits of his own. The cause of the colonies was so much in his heart, that he did not cease to make it the subject of his preaching and his prayers, and is said to have deeply inspired many of his people with his own enthusiasm. He, at least, saw clearly the pregnant consequences of the 19th April. I have found within a few days, among some family papers, his almanac of 1775, in a blank leaf of which he has written a narrative of the fight; and, at the close of the month, he writes, “This month remarkable for the greatest events of the present age.” To promote the same cause, he asked, and obtained of the town, leave to accept the commission of chaplain to the Northern army, at Ticonderoga, and died, after a few months, of the distemper that prevailed in the camp.—R. W. E.

1775, 19 April.—

THIS morning, between 1 and 2 o’clock, we were alarmed by the ringing of the bell, and upon examination found that the troops, to the number of 800, had stole their march from Boston, in boats and barges, from the bottom of the Common over to a point in Cambridge, near to Inman’s Farm, and were at Lexington Meeting-house, half an hour before sunrise, where they had fired upon a body of our men, and (as we afterward heard,) had killed several. This intelligence was brought us at first by Dr. Samuel Prescott, who narrowly escaped the guard that were sent before on horses, purposely to prevent all posts and messengers from giving us timely information. He, by the help of a very fleet horse, crossing several walls and fences, arrived at Concord at the time above mentioned; when several posts were immediately despatched, that returning confirmed the account of the regulars’ arrival at Lexington, and that they were on their way to Concord.

Upon this a number of our minute men belonging to this town, and Acton, and Lyncoln, with several others that were in readiness, marched out to meet them; while the alarm company were preparing to receive them in the town. Capt. Minot, who commanded them, thought it proper to take possession of the hill above the meeting-house, as the most advantageous situation. No sooner had our men gained it, than we were met by the companies that were sent out to meet the troops, who informed us, that they were just upon us, and that we must retreat, as their number was more than treble ours. We then retreated from the hill near the Liberty Pole, and took a new post back of the town upon an eminence, where we formed into two battalions, and waited the arrival of the enemy.

Scarcely had we formed, before we saw the British troops at the distance of a quarter of a mile, glittering in arms, advancing towards us with the greatest celerity. Some were for making a stand, notwithstanding the superiority of their number; but others more prudent thought best to retreat till our strength should be equal to the enemy’s by recruits from neighbouring towns that were continually coming in to our assistance.

Accordingly we retreated over the bridge, when the troops came into the town, set fire to several carriages for the artillery, destroyed 60 bbls. flour, rifled several houses, took possession of the town-house, destroyed 500 lb. of balls, set a guard of 100 men at the North Bridge, and sent up a party to the house of Col. Barrett, where they were in expectation of finding a quantity of warlike stores. But these were happily secured just before their arrival, by transportation into the woods and other by-places.

In the meantime, the guard set by the enemy to secure the pass at the North Bridge were alarmed by the approach of our people, who had retreated, as mentioned before, and were now advancing with special orders not to fire upon the troops unless fired upon. These orders were so punctually observed that we received the fire of the enemy in three several and separate discharges of their pieces before it was returned by our commanding officer; the firing then soon became general for several minutes, in which skirmish two were killed on each side, and several of the enemy wounded. It may here be observed, by the way, that we were the more cautious to prevent beginning a rupture with the King’s troops, as we were then uncertain what had happened at Lexington and knew [not]* that they had began the quarrel there by first firing upon our people, and killing eight men upon the spot.

*The context and the testimony of some of the surviving veterans incline me to think that this word was accidentally omitted.—R. W. E.

The three companies of troops soon quitted their post at the bridge, and retreated in the greatest disorder and confusion to the main body, who were soon upon the march to meet them. For half an hour, the enemy, by their marches and counter-marches, discovered great fickleness and inconstancy of mind, sometimes advancing, sometimes returning to their former posts; till, at length they quitted the town, and retreated by the way they came. In the meantime, a party of our men (150) took the back way through the Great Fields into the east quarter, and had placed themselves to advantage, lying in ambush behind walls, fences and buildings, ready to fire upon the enemy on their retreat.