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The Shot Heard Round The World

2nd half

Return to Chapter 14 part 1 

It is hut a short fourteen miles to Lexington; but there are a dozen or twenty farmhouses along the way, and at each of them the horseman must pause and deliver his message; so that it is just midnight as he comes in sight of the outskirts of the humble village. There is a dim light brining in the window of yonder hip-roofed cottage beside the green; Adams and Hancock must be anticipating news; Adams, indeed, has the name of being a man who sleeps little and thinks much. The. night rider’s summons is responded to at once; and then, at the open door, there is a brief conference, terse and to the point; the pale face of a woman looks from the window; a message has brought Dawes and Sam Prescott, ready mounted, to accompany Revere on his further journey Young Jonas Parker. the best wrestler in Lexington, has drawn a bucket of water at the well sweep and is holding it under the nose of Revere’s horse. "Well, my lad," says Paul, "are you ready to fight to-morrow?" "I won’t run—I promise you that," replies the youth, with a smile. He was dead five hours later, with a bullet through his vigorous young body, and a British bayonet wound in his breast, having kept his word.

Meanwhile the three horsemen are off, bearing now toward the left, for Lincoln but there, as luck would have it, they encountered half a dozen English officers, who arrested Dawes and Revere and took them back to Lexington. Prescott, however, was too quick for theta; in the flurry and darkness he had leaped his horse over the low stone wall, and was off across the meadows, which he had known from a boy, to Concord. It was then between one and two o’clock; and the latter hour had hardly struck when the ride was over, and the bells of the meetinghouse were pealing from the steeple. Two o’clock in the morning courage is the test of a man, as Napoleon said some years later; be that as it may, here are the Concord minutemen, Hosmer, But. trick, Parson Emerson, Brown, Blanchard, and the rest; they are running toward the green, musket in hand, bullet pouch on thigh, ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred and more ; and there comes Barrett, their captain with his sword ; the men range out in a double rank in the cool night air, and answer to their names; if the time has indeed come for action, they are ready to make good the bold words spoken at many a town meeting and private chat for weeks past. They have been comrades all their lives, and know each other; and yet now, perhaps, they gaze at one another curiously, conscious of an indelible change that has come over them, now that death may be marching a few miles to the eastward.

And in truth, while they were discussing what might happen, death was already at work at Lexington. Eight hundred grenadiers and light infantry, the best soldiers in America, had marched into the village shortly before dawn. For an hour or more, as they marched, they had heard the sound of bells and of muskets, now near, now far, telling that their movement had been discovered; and they hastened their steps; not as apprehending resistance from the Yankee cowards, but lest the stores they were after should be hidden before they could get at them. And now, here they were, advancing with the regular tramp of disciplined troops, muskets on their shoulders, bayonets fixed, and a slight dust rising front their serried foot. steps. They looked as if they might march through a stone wall. But could it really be true that these men meant to kill American farmers in sight of their own boines? Were English soldiers really enemies of their own flesh and blood? As they approached the common — an irregular triangle of ground, with a meeting house at the farther end—the alarm drum was beating, and muskets firing; and yonder are the minutemen sure enough, running together in the morning dusk, and marshaling themselves in scanty ranks under the orders of Captain Parker. Young men and old are there in their well-worn shirts and breeches, cut and stitched by the faithful hands of their wives and daughters, and each with his loaded flintlock in his hands. There are but fifty or sixty in all, against sixteen times as many of the flower of the British army. The vanguard of the latter has halted, and has received the order from Pitcairu to load; and you stay hear the ring of the rainrods in unison, and then the click of the locks. And yonder comes the rest of the host, at double quick the hoarse commands of their officers sounding out of the gloom. What can less than three-score minutemen do against them? At all events, they can die; and history will never forget them, standing there in front of the little church where they had so often prayed; and their country will always honor their names and love them. They stood there, silent and motionless, protesting with their lives against the march of tyranny. How few they were—and what countless millions they represented!

Out rides Pitcairu in front of the grenadiers. You can see the red of his tunic now in the gathering light, the sparkle of his accouterments, and the gleam of his sword as he swings it with a commanding gesture. "Disperse, ye villains !" he calls out in a harsh, peremptory voice: ‘Ye rebels—why don’t you lay down your arms and disperse?"

Would they obey? No: for they were neither villains nor rebels; they had come there as a sacrifice, and they would not go thence until the crime had been committed, and their country had definitely learned from them whether oppression would proceed to the last extremity or not. It was only a few harmless, heroic lives to lose; but so much must needs be done. It was not an easy thing to do; there was no one to teach them how to (10 it scenically and splendidly. They must simply stand there, in their own awkward way, shoulder to shoulder, motionless, gazing at the gallant major and the heavy masses of uniformed inch beyond waiting for what might come. The Lord of Hosts was on their side; but, as with our Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane, He seemed rentotest when most near. Their wives and children are there, look. ing on, straining their eyes through the obscurity, with what throbbing of agony in their hearts, with what prayers choking in their throats!

The major snatches a pistol from his holster, levels and discharges it; and "Fire!" he shouts at the saute moment, at the top of his lungs. He had omitted the "Ready—present!" and the soldiers did not all fire at once; first there were a few dropping shots; but then came the volley. The regulars shot to kill. Down came Jonas Parker to his knee, to be stabbed to death before he could reload; there fell old Munroc, the veteran of Louisburg; and Harrington, killed at his doorstep, and Muzzey, Hadley, and Brown. In all, before the stars had faded in the light of dawn, sixteen New Englanders lay dead or wounded on the village green. And the British troops had reformed, and huzzaed thrice, and marched on with drum and fife, before the sun of the 19th of April had looked upon their work. The Revolution had begun.

It was seven o’clock when, with the sun on their backs, the British invaders came along the base of the low hill, crowned with pine and birch, that lies like a sleeping serpent to the east on the way to Concord. They were a trifle jaded now from their all-night march, and their gaiters and uniforms were a little dusty; but the barrels of their guns shone as bright as ever, and their spirits were good, after their glorious exploit six miles back. Glorious, of course: yet a trifle dull, all the same; there would be more fun shooting these bumpkins, if only they could summon heart to put up a bit of a fight in return. "Maybe we’ll get a better chance at ‘em out here, colonel—eh?" the major of marines might have said, with his Scotch brogue, turning his horse to ride beside his superior officer for a mile or so. "I don’t think it, sir," that great soldier would reply, puffing out his cheeks, and wiping his brow with his embroidered handkerchief. "The sight of his Majesty’s uniform, Major Pitcairn, is alone enough to put to flight every scurvy rebel in Massachusetts. If you want to get within range of ‘em, sir, you must wear multi."

During the early morning hours the minutemen standing under the liberty pole in front of Concord meetinglionse had been gradually reinforced by parties hastening in from Lincoln, Acton, and other outlying hamlets, until they numbered about two hundred men. But as the British drew near, eight hundred strong, the Americans withdrew down a meadow road northward, until they reached a hospitable edifice with a broad roof, pierced by gables, standing at the upper end of an avenue, and with its back toward the sluggish Muskataquid, or Concord River. A few rods to the left of the site of this manse was a wooden bridge spanning the stream, known as time North Bridge. The manse was occupied by time Rev. William Emerson, the minister of the town, and from its western windows was an excellent view of the bridge. One of these windows was open, and the pastor himself, with his arms resting on the sill, was looking from his coign of vantage when the minutemen came. up, crossed the bridge, and stationed themselves on the rising ground just beyond. He remained there, a deeply interested spectator during the events which followed.

The British, finding Concord deserted, divided into three parts, one going to a bridge to the south of the town, one remaining in the town itself, and time third marching north, where it again divided, one party of a hundred guarding the approach to time North Bridge on the further side of which the Americans were embattled, the other proceeding along the road to the house of Captain Barrett in search of arms. A couple of hours passed by, and nothing scented likely to happen; but it was noticed that there was the smoke of a fire in Concord, a mile to the south and east. Smith and Pitcairn were there, with time main body of the troops, and they had been making bonfires of time liberty pole and sonic gun carriages: the courthouse was also in a blaze. Tint to the Concord men, waiting at the bridge, it looked as if time British were setting their homes afire. The women and children had been sent into the woods out of harm’s way, before the regiments arrived ; but some of them might have ventured back again. Vague rumors of the bloodshed at Lexington had been passed from mouth to mouth, losing nothing probably on the way. The men began to ask one another whether it was not incumbent on them to march to the rescue of their town?

By accessions from Carlisle, Bedford, Woburn, Westford, Littleton, and Chelmsford they bad now grown to a strength of four hundred; the force immediately opposing theft was less than half as numerous. They evidently did not expect an attack; they had not even removed the planks from the bridge. They despised the Yankees to take that easy precaution.

But though the Briticism at this point were few, they were regulars; they stood for the English army in America : amid for more than that—they stood for all England, for Parliament, for the King, for loyalty; for that enormous moral force, so much more potent even titan the physical, which tends to prevail because it always has prevailed. These farmers did not fear to risk their lives; their fathers, and some of themselves, had fought Indians and Frenchmen, amid thought little of it. But to fight men whose limbs were made in England—in the old home which the colonists still regarded as theirs, and had not ceased to love and honor, for all this quarrel about duties and laws of trade— that was another matter- : it was almost like turning their- weapons against themselves. And yet, if there were any value in human liberty, if the words which they had listened to from the lips of Adams and Warren and Hancock meant anything—mow was the time to testify to their belief in them. They were men : this was their land : yonder were burning their dwellings: they had a right to defend them and their families. What said Captain Barrett——and Isaac Davis of Acton, and Buttrick? And here was Colonel Robinson of Westford too, a volunteer to-day: but what was his Opinion?

The officers drew together, conferred a moment, and then Barrett, who was in command, and the only man on horseback, gave the word : "Advance across the bridge : don't fire unless they fire at you." Time companies marched past him, led by Buttrick, Davis, and Robinson, with their swords drawn. The men were in double file.

Seeing them actually advancing on the bridge, the British condescended to bestir themselves, and some of them began to raise the planks. Upon this, the Americans, who meant to cross, broke into a trot. Mr. Emerson, leaning out of his window, with the light of battle in his eyes, saw three or four puffs of smoke come from the British, and two Americans fell. Immediately after’ there was a volley from the regulars, and now Isaac Davis was down, and moved no more; and Abner Hosmer fell dead near him. The Americans were advancing, but they had not fired. "Father in Heaven !" ejaculated time good parson, between his set teeth, "aren’t they going to shoot?"

Even as he spoke, ire saw Buttrick leap upward, and heard his shout: "Fire, fellow soldiers!—for God’s sake, fire!"

The men repeated time word to one another: up came their guns to their shoulders, and tire sharp detonations followed. They reached the ears of the minister, and he gave a sigh of relief. They echoed across the river, and rolled away toward the village, and into the distance. Nor did they stop there—those echoes: the Atlantic is wide, but they crossed it; they made Lord North, Thurlow, and Wedderburn start in their chairs, and mutter a curse: they penetrated to the King in his cabinet, and he flushed and bit his lip. More than a hundred years have passed; and yet the vibrations of that shot across Concord Bridge have not died away. Whenever tyranny and oppression raise their evil hands, that sound comes reverberating out of the past, and they hesitate and turn pale. Whenever a monarch meditates injustice against his subjects, the noise of the muskets of tire Concord yeomen, fired that men might be free, falls upon his ear, and lie pauses and counts the cost. Yes, and there have been those among ourselves, citizens of the land for which those yeomen fought and died, who also might take warning from those onrinous echoes: for time battle waged by selfishness and corruption against human rights has not ceased to be waged on these shores, though the British left them a century ago. It seems, at times, as if victory inclined toward the evil rather than the good. But let us not be misled. The blood of the farmers who drove England out of America flows in our veins still; we are patient and tolerant to a fault, but not forever. The onlooker, gazimmg from afar, fears that we will never shoot; but presently he shall be reassured; and, once our advance is begun, there will he no relenting till the last invader be driven into the sea.

There is a deeper lesson yet to be learned from Concord fight. It is that the noblest deeds may be done by the humblest instruments; and that as Christ chose His apostles from among the fishermen of Galilee, so was the immortal honor of beginning the battle for the liberation of mankind intrusted to a handful of lowly husbandmen and artisans, who knew little more than that right was right, and wrong, wrong. There were no philosophers or statesmen among them; they comprehended nothing of diplomacy; they only felt that a duty had been laid upon them, and, inspired by that conviction, they went forward and did it. The judgment of the world has ratified their act, and has admitted that perhaps more subtle reasoners than they, balancing one consideration against another, taking counsel of far-reaching prudence, flinching from responsibility, night have put off action until the golden moment had forever- passed. But what the hands of these men found to do, they did with their might; and therefore established the truth that the spirit of God finds its fitting home in the bosoms of the poor and simple; and that the destinies of mankind are safe in their protection.

Two English soldiers were killed or mortally wounded by tire fire of the Americans and several others were hit. A panic seized upon the rest, and before the farmers had crossed the bridge, they were retreating in disorder upon the main body in Concord. Barrett’s men were surprised by this sudden collapse of the enemy, and did not pursue them at that time, nor intercept the small force further up tire road, all of whom might easily have been killed or captured. Perhaps they even felt sorry for what they had done; at all events, they betrayed no bloodthirstiness as yet. But when Smith and Pitcairn, after much agitation and irresolution, ordered a retreat of the whole force down the Boston road, firing as they went upon all who showed themselves, and robbing and destroying dwellings along the route: when the winners of Concord Bridge, and their fellow minutemen, who now began to be numbered by thousands rather than by hundreds, saw and comprehended this, the true spirit of war was kindled within them, and they began that running fight of twenty miles which ended in the hurling of the British into the defenses of Boston, broken, exhausted, utterly demoralized and beaten, with a loss of two hundred and seventy-three men and officers, Smith himself receiving a severe wound. Ten miles more would have witnessed their complete annihilation. No troops ever ran with better diligence than did these English regulars before tire despised Yankee minute men; they lost the day, and honor likewise. It was in vain that they threw out flanking parties in an effort to clear the woods of the American sharpshooters; the latter knew the war of time forest better than they, and the flanking parties withered away, arid staggered helpless from exhaustion. It was in vain that Lord Percy, with twelve hundred men, met time flying horde at Lexington, where their officers were trying to reform them under threats of death; his cannon could delay, but not reverse the fortunes of the day. Lord Percy soon became as frightened as the rest, and realized that speed of foot was his sole hope of safety. Grasping for breath, reeling from fatigue, with terror and despair in their hearts, foul with dust and dripping with blood, a third part of the British army in New England were hunted back to their fortifications as the sun of the 19th of April, whose first beams had fallen upon the dead at Lexington, went down in the west. Less than fifty Americans had been killed, less than forty were wounded. Some of these, however, were helpless persons, who were wantonly murdered in their houses by English soldiers, their brains dashed out, and their bodies hacked and stabbed. Women in childbirth were not exempt front the brutal fury of the flower of the British army; amid an idiot boy was deliberately shot as he sat on a fence, vacantly staring at tire passers rout. All, or most of the towns in the neighborhood of Boston contributed their able-bodied men to the American force during the day; but there was never more than a few hundred together at one time, fresh relays taking the place of those whose ammunition hind been used up. Some of these squads performed prodigies of endurance; one of them arrived at the scene of action after a march of fifty-five miles. No man under seventy or over sixteen would stay at home; amid Josiah Havnes of Sudbury was marching and fighting from earliest dawn till past noon, when he was killed by a greriadier’s musket ball. He was born five years before time Eighteenth Century began.

At West Cambridge the Americans were met by Joseph Warren amid General Heath, who organized the heretofore irregular pursuit, and made it more disastrous to the enemy than ever. Warren, in the front of danger, was grazed by a bullet ; but his time had not yet come. Fortunately for the British, Charlestown Neck was near, and once across that they were for the present safe. in fourteen hours they had learned more about America than they could ever forget. The Americans, for their part, had not failed to gather profit and confidence from the experiences of tire day. Tire paralysis of respect and loyalty to England was at an end. The antagonists had met and measured their- strength, and the undisciplined countrymen had proved the stronger. At any given point of the retreat, the English had always been the more numerous; but they showed neither heart nor ability for the contest. Tire British Coffee House in King Street that night presented a scene in marked contrast with that of the night before.

The rumors of the battle, and messages of information and appeal from the leaders, were disseminated without delay, and in a space of tune wonderfully short had penetrated to the remotest of the colonies. Even where they met with time same reception; all were eager to join in the work so hopefully begun. Within a day or two, the force beleaguering Boston numbered several thousand; but as many of these came and went between the camp and their homes, no precise estimniate can be made. They were without artillery for bombardment, without a commissariat, and almost without organization; and no leader had yet appeared capable of bringing order out of the confusion. But not a few men afterward to be distinguished were present there: the veteran John Stark, Benedict Arnold from Connecticut, Israel Putman, who rode a hundred miles on horse to join the provincial army; and Joseph Warren, were on time ground, and others were to come. Boston was effectually surrounded; Gage and his officers were afraid to order a sortie; and after a few days allowed the nonloyalist inhabitants to leave the city. on their promise not to take part in the siege The chief deficiency of the Americans, or that at least which most obviously pressed upon them, was the want of money: Massachusetts had hitherto avoided paper; but it was no longer possible to stand on scruples, and a bill to issue a hundred thousand pounds was passed, and a quarter as much in bills of small denominations, to pay the soldiers. The other colonies adopted similar measures. In New York, eighty thousand pounds’ worth of stores and supplies for Gage was seized by the people, and no ships were allowed to leave the harbor for the succor of the enemy. In Virginia, Patrick Henry and the young Madison, just out of Princeton, were prominent in opposing Governor Dunmore’s efforts to establish "order." In Pennsylvania, men were raised arid drilled, and patriotic resolves adopted; and Franklin arrived from England in time to be elected deputy to the second American Congress. The men of South Carolina announced themirselves ready to give "the half, or the whole" of their estates for the security of their liberties, and voted to raise three regiments. Georgia, with only three thousand militia, and under threat of an Indian war on her frontier, fearlessly gave in her adhesion to the general movement. In North Carolina the news from Lexington stampeded the Governor, and left the people free to work their will. But the next notable achievement, after the Concord fight and the running battle, was the capture of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen.

The design was formed in Connecticut, less than ten days after Lexington. Ethan Allen was a Connecticut boy, but had early emigrated with his brothers to the New Hampshire Grants, as Vermont was then called. These grants, given by the Governor of New Hampshire, were called in question by New York, and officers from that colony tried to oust the settlers; in their resistance Allen was the leader, and attired local celebrity. Parsons of Connecticut conferred with Benedict Arnold on the scheme of capturing the old fortress; and communication was had with Allen, who, being familiar with the Lake George region, and at the same time of Connecticut stock, was esteemed the best man to associate with the enterprise. Parsons and a few others raised money on their personal security, and set out for the north, gathering conrnpanions as they went. Ethan Allen met them at Bennington with his company of Green Mountain Boys, and was chosen leader of the adventure, Arnold, who had a commission from Massachusetts, being ignored. On tire 9th of May the party, numbering about eighty men, exclusive of the rear guard, which was left behind by the exigencies of the occasion, landed on the shore near the fortress. Ticonderoga was a strong place, even for a force provided with cannon; but Allen had nothing but muskets, and everything depended upon a surprise. It was just sunrise on the 10th when Allen addressed his men with: "We must this morning either quit our pretensions to valor or possess ourselves of this fortress; and inasmuch as it is a desperate attempt, I do not urge it contrary to your will. Your that will undertake voluntarily, poise your firelocks!" The response was unanimous. The wicket of the stronghold was found open; time sentry snapped his gun at Allen, missed him, and was overpowered with a rush, together with the other guards. On the parade within a hollow square was formed, facing the four barracks; a wounded sentry volunteered to conduct Allen to the commander, Delaplace. "Come forth instantly or I will sacrifice the whole garrison," thundered Allen at the door; and poor Delaplace, half awake, started up with his breeches in his hand and wanted to know what was the matter-. "Deliver to me this fort instantly !" "By what authority?" inquired the stupefied commander. Tire Vermonter was never at a loss either for a word or a blow. "1n the name of the great ,Jehovah and the Continental Congress !" and presenting the point of his sword, he cut short further parley and received the surrender. Fifty prisoners, with guns and stores, went with the fortress, for which tine British had sacrificed forty million dollars and several campaigns, and not a drop of American blood was spilled. Ethan Allen is a picturesque character, and the capture of Ticonderoga is one of the picturesque episodes of the Revolutionary War, and a valuable exploit from the military point of view; hut it lacks inevitably the moral weight and dignity of the Concord fight. Indeed, the significance of the entire struggle between Britain and her colonies was summed up and typified in that initial act of unsupported courage. What followed was but a corollary and expansion of it.

On the same day that Allen overcame Delaplace the second Congress met un Philadelphia. It was a very conservative body, amrxious that the war might proceed no further, and hopeful that England might recognize the justice of America’s wish to be free while retaining the name of subjects of the King. Burt affairs had now got beyond the control of congresses; the people themselves were-e in command, and the Legislature could do little more than ascertain and register their will. The present Congress, indeed, had no legislative powers nor legal status of any kind; it was but the sober mind of the several colonies thinking over the situation anti offering advice here, warning there. It could not dispose of means to execute its ideas, while yet it would be open to as much criticism as if it possessed active powers. Naturally, therefore, its tendency was to be timid and circumspect. It is memorable, never tireless, for at least two resolutions of high importance; it voted an army of twenty thousand men, and it named George Washington as Commander in Chief. And when he declined to countenance the proffered petition to King George, the ultimate prospect of reconciliation with England vanished.