HotFreeBooks.com
The History of the United States from 1492 to 1910, Volume 1
by Julian Hawthorne
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
Home - Random Browse

Two English soldiers were killed or mortally wounded by the 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 the 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 minute-men, 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 the 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 the forest better than they, and the flanking parties withered away, and staggered helpless from exhaustion. It was in vain that Lord Percy, with twelve hundred men, met the 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. Gasping 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 from the brutal fury of the flower of the British army; and an idiot boy was deliberately shot as he sat on a fence, vacantly staring at the passing 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 had 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; and Josiah Haynes of Sudbury was marching and fighting from earliest dawn till past noon, when he was killed by a grenadier's musket-ball. He was born five years before the Eighteenth Century began.

At West Cambridge the Americans were met by Joseph Warren and 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 the day. The 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. The 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 time wonderfully short had penetrated to the remotest of the colonies. Everywhere they met with the 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 estimate 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 Putnam, who rode a hundred miles on one horse to join the provincial army; and Joseph Warren, were on the 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 non-loyalist 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 and 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 themselves 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 attained 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 companions 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 the 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. You that will undertake voluntarily, poise your firelocks!" The response was unanimous. The wicket of the stronghold was found open; the 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. The Vermonter was never at a loss either for a word or a blow.—"In 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 the 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; but 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 in Philadelphia. It was a very conservative body, anxious 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. But affairs had now got beyond the control of congresses; the people themselves were 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, and 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 nevertheless 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.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
Home - Random Browse