Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pitcairn at Concord

After leaving eight patriots dead ( to include one prisoner shot "trying to escape") and nine wounded on Lexington Green, and after gaining control of his men, Lt Col Francis Smith gathered his officers around him and advised them that they were to continue their mission to seize the stores at Concord. Several officers were appalled at the prospect of continuing this mission now that all surprise had been lost, the entire countryside alarmed and aroused, and they advised Smith to abandon his mission. They may or may not have been aware of the fact that Smith had some time before dispatched a message to General Gage in Boston requesting reinforcements. Lt Col Smith listened to their views and then firmly and politely informed them that he had his orders and he was going to obey them. By now the sun was fully up and the entire countryside was awake as the British Regulars, drums and fifes playing, scarlet and white coats glistening in the April sun, put the events of Lexington Green behind them, formed into columns, and began the approximately six and a half mile march to Concord along the left fork that Lt Adair had abandoned to confront the militia gathering on Lexington Green. The column, artillery in the rear, stretched for a quarter of a mile.
Smith also abandoned his previous plan to send several companies ahead of the main body to seize the bridges in Concord.
This view of Concord in 1776 shows the town center looking west from the town cemetery. The meeting house is at the extreme left. Wright's Tavern is center foreground. The road heading into the distance leads to South Bridge.

As the British approached Concord sometime after seven a.m., they found that the terrain was not to their advantage. A network of ridges and hills allowed the rebels to keep their militia out of easy reach of the British and always in a position to observe and strike, if necessary. Minutemen were now streaming into the outskirts of Concord and they had the advantage of moving from ridge to ridge and hill to hill with impunity. Smith led his column into Concord where there were no militia but only women, children, and the elderly. One report, unsubstantiated, relates that an elderly man attacked Major Pitcairn with his fists before he was restrained.
This illustration is from Osprey's Campaign Series. British Forces are in red; colonists in blue. Lexington is at the southeast, off the map. Click to enlarge.

Smith then conferred with his officers to give them their orders. He dispatched company grade officers from his own regiment, the 10th Foot, with contingents of the light infantry to secure the bridges and to conduct the search at Colonel Barrett's farm where the rebels' military stores were thought to be secreted. The grenadiers were to remain in the center of town to search it for any contraband. Significantly, he ordered Major Pitcairn, Major Edward Mitchell of the 5th Foot who had led the twenty man contingent General Gage had sent out to intercept American messengers in order to maintain the secrecy of this expedition, and several unattached company grade officers to supervise the work of the Grenadiers. As John Galvin observed in "The Minutemen" and I heartily agree:
"In view of the fact that Smith knew he had 200 or 300 armed rebels prowling about his flanks, his use of the officers does not seem too sound, until one remembers that the last time he let Pitcairn and Mitchell out of his sight for a minute, he found himself in the middle of a wild exchange of musketry, searching for a drummer to sound "cease fire." He may well have had more faith, at this moment, in men who though of lesser rank were better known to him. And in view of what happened later, Smith's keeping his volatile majors under his thumb may have been the most sensible move he made that morning."

Lt Col Smith ordered his company officers to maintain tight control over their men to prevent the repetition of the bloodshed that had occurred at Lexington and to insure, as Gage had instructed him, that no private property was destroyed. No one was to fire unless attacked; only officers could initiate a search of a building. While the Colonel and some of his officers sat in chairs "borrowed" from some of Concord's finest houses, they soon came to realize that if there were substantial stores in the town, the rebels had not been taken by surprise and had time to remove them.
Major Pitcairn and several of his marines scored the biggest catch of the day when they barged into Ephraim Jones' tavern, put pistols to the innkeeper's head, and forced him to reveal the location of three 24 pounder cannon buried in the tavern's backyard. Maj Pitcairn supervised his men spiking the gun and then treated his men to breakfast. In accordance with General Gage's and Lt Col Smith's orders not to confiscate private property, Major Pitcairn paid the still quivering tavernkeeper a generous amount for the breakfast they had eaten. Legend has it, first recorded 60 years later, that Pitcairn stirred his brandy with a bloody finger and remarked "He hoped he should stir the Yankee blood so before night."

At this point, the deployed British contingents fell back or were forced back upon the town and by 11:30 AM virtually the entire force of Regulars was reunited. One contingent of four companies which had been sent to search the farm where the British believed the rebels had stored their military supplies was allowed to re-enter Concord even though the minutemen on the ridge near Concord center had a clear line of fire at them. While this force was still making it's way back to the center of town, Lt Col Smith took Maj Pitcairn and they both climbed to the top of Concord's burial ground. Smith saw the threat emerging to his forces. Yankee militia were taking position on the ridge just north of town. He would soon be flanked on the north and if the militia continued to move eastward, they would cut the road he would need to retreat to Boston. As he stood on the hill with Pitcairn, Smith saw that was exactly what the militia were doing, moving from one high place to another ever approaching the Lexington Road. At the same time militia were moving in from the south. Smith finally could see the final elements of his deployed forces making their way back to the center of town.
In this Earl and Doolittle engraving from December 1775, Lt Col Smith and Maj Pitcairn survey the situation from the cemetery in Concord.Both Earl and Doolittle were members of Capt Benedict Arnold's Governor's Second Company of Guards who reported to Cambridge in late April 1775. Both men surveyed the terrain at Lexington and Concord and later executed four plates depicting the two battles

   It was now past noon and there was no sign of the reinforcements Smith had sent for some seven hours earlier. The rebels completely ringed the town and clearly outnumbered the British forces. More rebel forces seemed to be streaming in all the time. One far Smith must have had was that the rebels would place artillery on the high ground they held. It was seventeen miles back to Charlestown and, if he did not leave now, he would not arrive there before dark. General Gage had given Smith command of a lightly supplied force that was to rely on surprise and speed. Smith had no supplies other than what his men carried and each had only been issued 36 rounds of ammunition. If the colonists attacked him and drove him into a defensive position, he could not hold for very long. Smith then faced the ignominious possibility of surrendering hi force to the rebels. he had to march and as soon as possible. If the rebels closed off the Lexington Road to the east, he would have to attack to clear it, exhausting his precious supply of ammunition.
   As soon as the last elements were safely in town, Smith ordered his officers to march. The column was lined up just as it had been earlier in the day when it marched into Concord, the grenadier and marine companies each in three files on the road and the light infantry in skirmish formation on the ridge to the left of the column. In addition, Smith placed some light infantry south of the road. Horse drawn carts, wagons and carriages were commandeered from the townspeople to serve as ambulances for the wounded. These were placed in the column in front of the rear guard. And so, Lt Col Smith gave the order to march.
   Little did he know how bloody the day would get.

                                                                      White Cockade                            


  1. The first paragraph mentions artillery at the rear of Smith's column. Didn't Gage send him out without artillery, perhaps after learning from Church that the Committee of Safety had decided that any army march with artillery would be opposed with force? Perhaps the rear of that first column had wagons with other things, such as a hammers to beat in the mouths of cannon in Concord.

  2. Gage's order to Smith states:
    "A small party on Horseback is ordered out to stop all advice of your March getting to Concord before you, and a small number of Artillery go out in Chaises to wait for you on the road with Sledge Hammers, Spikes, &c."
    I did state in the previous post that Smith had no artillery. What he did have, as you point out, was "artillery" men who would be used to "demilitarize" any artillery that might be found.
    To add further confusion, these chaises would have to have been drawn by horses and there are no real eyewitness accounts that I have come across that mention them. If, indeed, these chaises accompanied the column all the way to Concord, why is there no mention of them being used to transport the wounded from Concord back to Boston?