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."
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.