Thomas Gage, British Governor of Massachusetts
Thirteen British colonies in North America have been boiling since the 1760s. Then the Seven Years’ War had just ended. The empire won it, but paid for it with a solid hole in the budget. To close it, the government in London imposed additional taxes on the colonists. Guided by the principle: “You have the royal army there, which yesterday protected you from the French, and continues to protect you from the Indians. Now is the time to pay for its maintenance. ”
The colonies were in no hurry to agree with these arguments – give us, they say, at least representation in parliament, and not just the legislature of self-government, then we’ll talk about taxes. In London, they replied that parliament is a bit fat for America. Well, the colonies in response boycotted the collection of duties in all ways – from massive smuggling of goods to riots in the streets.
The process, of course, was uneven. Some colonies were more radical, some, like, for example, Georgia, which had problems with the Indians, quieter. But after the adoption of the British called to rein in presumptuous radicals “Unbearable Laws” (among which was, for example, the act of closing the Boston port) in America already flared up.
The colonists actually went into a state of open rebellion, convening an illegal, from the point of view of London, Continental Congress, and spawning a number of smaller congresses – they replaced the local “official” legislatures. These “mini-congresses” immediately began to arm themselves, creating militias.
Money for weapons and ammunition came from emergency fees and donations from local merchants. The latter were not always voluntary – a rich man who refused to pay could well turn into an object of persecution. Having become persona non grata, he quickly lost all business contacts and eventually went broke. Therefore, it was cheaper to pay.
Governor Gage’s acquittal
One of the centers of the rebellion was the colony of Massachusetts and its capital, Boston. Thomas Gage, a man who fought in America with the French in the Seven Years’ War, was appointed governor of this difficult colony. It was believed that he knew the colonies better and was able to cope with the crisis.
These ideas soon shattered against reality. Gage, who knew the situation on the ground, was inactive precisely because he realized how bad everything was. The governor could not influence practically anything – he invariably met passive resistance at best. And at worst it turned into open disobedience. Dosed use of military force in such conditions meant only to aggravate the anger of the local population. And to re-conquer Massachusetts, Gage simply did not have the resources.
The Governor proposed to the King and Parliament to abolish the “Unbearable Laws” – this would weaken the radicals. And, at the same time, send more soldiers to America to take control of the colonies for real. But in London they believed that it was only a matter of sporadic riots of the Boston mob. It is enough to show firmness and the colonists will retreat.
Gage received angry letters from England. He should immediately show the result – well, or at least something that could be passed off as such. London demanded that the governor at least arrest members of the local Massachusetts Congress.
Gage knew that the chances of this were small – if he sent few soldiers, they would simply be stoned, and if there were many, then there would be a lot of noise and the congressmen would have time to escape. Therefore, he chose, as it seemed to him, the golden mean – a raid on the depots of weapons and ammunition for the militia, located in the cities of Worcester and Concord.
The raid started in the late evening of April 18, 1775. 700 British soldiers – grenadiers and light infantry – moved from Boston to their intended target. The British reckoned on the secrecy of movement and surprise – and it failed at the very beginning of the operation.
Of course, it was impossible to conceal the advance of such a mass of soldiers in a city where the entire population was closely watching the British. To be precise, the Americans knew about the intention of the British to go somewhere and do something the day before the nomination – the British sergeants did not always keep their mouths shut.
Militias leave their homes to travel to where the British are seen
The troops did not move very quickly – and from time to time they stopped to get and use provisions. The British themselves must have realized that their plans were revealed – as the column advanced, the locals lit fires. Such clarity and speed of appearance of the latter clearly said – this is a warning system.
In addition to the lights, horse couriers were put into action. They rushed to neighboring settlements and woke up the militias. One of these couriers – Paul Revere – has forever entered the American pantheon of national heroes. He managed, while hiding from British patrols, to wake up Samuel Adams and John Hancock, the leaders of the American Revolution, and prevent their arrest by the British.
Therefore, when the British began to approach the places where the weapons depots were supposed to be located, there were no longer any weapons or radical leaders there.
The first clash took place in Lexington. The British arrived there early in the morning. Local militias – less than a hundred people – opposed six companies under the command of Major John Pitcairn. The latter was a naval officer and had little understanding of infantry tactics. But the recently assembled militias, who had no time for joint training, absolutely “unplayed,” understood her even worse. In addition, they were five times lower in number.
And yet, the militias lined up and waited for the approaching British. Everyone understood how unequal both strength and training were. The war had not yet begun, and the British had not yet been tempted to shoot at their own colonists. So Pitcairn yelled at the militias to drop their guns and get out. They performed the second part, but completely ignored the first.
Pitcairn did not appreciate this interpretation and repeated the demand. And then someone – both sides attribute this to each other – fired a shot. Then the British fired two volleys. The militia responded absentmindedly and clumsily. As a result of the first skirmish, 8 militias were killed. The British escaped with one minor wound.
Skirmish at Lexington. In red uniforms, of course, the British
But that was just the beginning for them.
The Lexington militia fled, and the British continued on to Concorde. The vanguard entered the city without hindrance and began to look for weapons. Finding nothing, the British, in the process of searching, managed to turn over some lamp and start a fire.
Up to this point, about 400 militias have gathered around Concorde. They knew that the warehouses with weapons were taken out of the city, and saw no reason to rush into battle. But when the fire started, the colonists decided that the British were going to set fire to the Concorde.
The militiamen, trying to keep the line, went forward. They soon stumbled upon a hundred British light infantrymen who had not had time to fully deploy to fire. And the outcome of this skirmish remained with the colonists.
Smoothbore muskets could not reap an abundant harvest. Therefore, the losses of the parties turned out to be modest – the British killed 2, and the Americans killed 3 people. After which the British completely lost their formation and retreated in disorganized way under enemy fire. If regular European units were in place of the Americans, it would have ended in a bayonet and a complete defeat, but the colonists still did not know how. Therefore, trying to pursue, they finally broke their formation, allowing the enemy to retreat to the main forces.
The raid commander, Colonel Francis Smith, was in a difficult position. He did not achieve any intelligible results, but at the same time, it seems, finally turned the civil confrontation into a full-fledged war. And now he had to get back to Boston safe and sound.
This was not so easy to do – by this time in the area of Lexington and Concorde several thousand militias had managed to gather. And with every minute new ones arrived. Inexperienced and “unplayed” Americans could not attack the British correctly – all together and keeping the formation within the subdivisions. Instead, they individually and in small groups attacked the convoy from the flanks, firing at the enemy from behind stones, fences and trees.
The British, of course, organized counterattacks from time to time. Once this led to losses within these most disparate groups, and once the colonists simply retreated in order to return in 15 minutes. Be that as it may, it did not change the essence.
British retreat under fire
Continuously fired upon, the British somehow made it to Lexington. There they met – to their immeasurable happiness – reinforcements of a thousand bayonets. For a while, the British were left alone, and they were able to move towards Boston. But then they were pounced on from two sides – both fresh militia from the front, and the colonists from Concorde pursuing from behind.
There was a rather hot fight – it even came to hand-to-hand combat. But in the end, the British fought back and were able to continue moving. As a result, they broke away from the enemy.
The result was disappointing for the British. The goals were not achieved. Irrecoverable losses – 124 people (among the militias – 54). But, worst of all, an open military confrontation began. And the enemy – some militia from farmers and merchants – was not completely defeated. He also won on points.
The militias acquired the most precious thing for themselves – the understanding that they can beat the British. Courage. And, as a result, the confidence that they have stepped on the right path. The global result of the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord was the transition of the confrontation between London and the 13 colonies to a new level.
And in this sense, everything was just beginning.