Patriots’ Day 2016: The Battle of Menotomy, 19 April 1775

Patriots' Grave, Old Burying Ground, Arlington, Massachusetts. Burial place of nine of the eleven American colonials killed in the battle at the Jason Russell House during the first day of the American Revolution (April 19, 1775). This battle was the bloodiest skirmish of that first day. The graveyard is behind the Unitarian Church at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street. By Daderot at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18003465

Patriots’ Grave, Old Burying Ground, Arlington, Massachusetts. Burial place of nine of the eleven American colonials killed in the battle at the Jason Russell House during the first day of the American Revolution (April 19, 1775). This battle was the bloodiest skirmish of that first day. The graveyard is behind the Unitarian Church at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street. Photo by Daderot at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18003465

Of course everyone who has read anything about the American Revolution knows about the Battles of Lexington and Concord which took place on 19 April 1775.  But what fewer people are aware of is the fact that after the British troops had finished their bloody work in Lexington and Concord, they had to march all the way back to Boston – a distance of 10 miles.  In getting to Concord these redcoats had already made that hike once on that day; now they would have to do it all over again.  They were tired and hungry and highly stressed out as you can imagine: what had once been a peaceful colonial possession of Great Britain in which British troops were looked upon with respect and honor by the colonists was now transformed into a seething insurrectionary province in which a large percentage of the population saw the British Army as enemies and oppressors.

The British Army in 1775 was the equivalent of the US Army today: the world’s most powerful fighting force.  Equipped with the most modern weaponry and led by the best-trained officers in the world at that time, taking up arms against the British was no trifling matter.  The British generals were supremely confident that they would quickly put an end to the insolent uprising of the rabble-rousing rebels in Boston.  They intended to capture the leaders of the rebellion and hang them as the traitors to the Crown they were.

The British commanders carried out their mission on April 19th with the usual savage professionalism and ruthless efficiency the British Army was known for by its many victims worldwide.  Opposing them was an unprofessional colonial militia loosely organized, poorly armed and led and for the most part by men untrained in the “arts” of 18th century warfare.  This state of affairs had all the hallmarks of a disastrous and foolhardy enterprise on the side of the traitorous rebels.  How could they possibly expect to prevail over the mighty British Army?

As the redcoats who had skirmished with the rebels at Lexington and Concord rested, ate and were relieved by fresh troops from Boston who had been sent to reinforce them for their long march back through rebel territory, the traitorous militia (remember – in 1775 the term “patriot” was not the usual appellation affixed to those who dared to rebel against the lawful authority of the King and his colonial representatives) prepared to obstruct and harass the British troops as they headed back to Boston along the same road (at that time the only direct route to take) which they had come up on earlier.  Minutemen from all over Massachusetts took up positions in houses and behind the low fieldstone walls that ran along property lines between the farms along the route.

The British undertook to carry out their mission with the customary caution and professionalism of any trained military force at the time.  The main body of their force would march in formation along the road; skirmishers would be sent out into the fields along both sides of the road to protect the British lines, keeping any attackers far enough away from the main body of troops so that any shots they would fire would fall short.  Those flanking parties would also kill or capture any rebels they found in possession of arms along the way.

The Minutemen – led by unprofessional soldiers – were not even aware of the fact that these forces protecting the flanks of the British main force could be expected to be present; so they set up their defense close to the road, leaving their own rear wide open to attack by the flanking parties.

Try to imagine what it must have been like to be a British soldier on that day.  We have actually walked the route taken by the British from Lexington Green along what is called in Massachusetts the “Battle Road”.  It’s a long winding road over low rolling hills and dales with – even to this day – the characteristic stone walls of New England running along it and out across what remains of the farmers’ fields of the 1700s.  Now, much of that terrain is wooded; back in the 1700s it was mostly bereft of trees.  Wearing their trademark bright red coats, the British regulars would have been easy targets as they marched along and over the low rolling dirt road to Boston.

From the time the British troops formed up and began their march until they finally reached Charlestown, the Minutemen intended to obtain their revenge for the blood and lives of the colonials that had been taken in the unprovoked attack by the British in Lexington and Concord.  Hiding behind the stone walls, snipers picked off the redcoats with ease, while the British flanking parties drove the snipers out of hiding and back along the road towards Boston, where they took up new positions and prepared to harass the British again.

As the British entered the town of Menotomy they were faced suddenly with the problem of how to run the gauntlet of houses positioned right on the street on both sides of the road all the way through this town.  Minutemen had taken up positions in the upper floors of these houses and as the British approached they opened fire on the redcoats with deadly accuracy, killing and wounding many.  It turned out that Menotomy – now called Arlington – would be the scene of the most brutal and bloody fighting of the 19th of April.  Enraged by what they perceived to be “cowardly” attacks from cover by the rebels (it was considered to be an improper form of warfare; in the 1700s, massed armies were supposed to meet on an open field of battle and shoot and stab it out bayonet to bayonet) the British stormed into the homes of the rebel colonists, bayonetting and shooting everyone they could find in the buildings – especially those in possession of weapons.  No mercy was shown; men, women and children were viciously bayonetted and shot at point-blank range; many were killed and grievously wounded.

Perhaps the best example of the savagery of the British attack is shown by what happened to heroic rebel patriot Captain Samuel Whittemore.  This aged Menotomy patriarch had been born in England and was a veteran of the British Army who had fought in the French and Indian War on the side of the British as a youth.  But now at age 69 he had “turned traitor” and was armed to defend his fellow citizens from the lawful authority of his native country!  He was no flag-waving worshipper of the status quo such as we see all over the USA today: cowardly nationalists who wrap themselves in the colors of the USA and who attack anyone who dares to oppose the brutal and despotic US government of today which has murdered millions of innocent workers worldwide in its anticommunist wars over the past 1oo years and which has legalized torture and the assassination of US citizens on the President’s orders!  How many of these flag-waving US patriots of today would have been in the ranks of the traitorous rebels of 1775?  Not many!  It is easy to support the American Revolution today; but back then, it took tremendous courage to oppose the lawful governmental authority of Great Britain in words – not to mention opposing it arms in hand!  American Revolutionary leaders claimed after the war was successfully concluded that they never had the stalwart and unwavering support of more than around 30% of the population of the colonies at any time during the revolution.  Of course, the other 70% were either outright supporters of the Crown or were just waiting to see who would come out the winner before they would decide which flag to wrap themselves in.  They probably kept two flags at the ready at all times – one to fly when the British were in the neighborhood and a rebel flag for when the Minutemen were around.  Today’s flag-waving “patriots” in the USA who proclaim the US to be “my country right or wrong” and who tell modern-day US revolutionaries that “if you don’t like the US government, get out of the country!” are the modern equivalent of the hated pro-British Tories of the Revolutionary era.  These knee-jerk flag-waving patriotic worshippers of the US flag and its vicious worker-hating and veteran-abusing government don’t have a rebellious bone in their bodies!

Captain Sam Whittemore was not a knee-jerk patriot; he was a heroic man who dared to put his life on the line against the tyranny of what had once been, in his mind and the minds of his fellow rebels,  “their” government!  Cowards like today’s flag-waving worshippers of the disgusting, racist and murderous US capitalist status quo who lived in British colonial America lie in their graves – unknown to history. This granite monument in Menotomy, Massachusetts to American Revolutionary war hero Captain Sam Whittemore tells of a man who dared to challenge – not worship – despotic government:

Monument to one of the heroic "Old Men of Menotomy" Samuel Whittemore in Menotomy (now Arlington) Massachusetts. By Bhenricksen at English Wikipedia - Own work by the original uploader, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29116756

Monument to one of the heroic “Old Men of Menotomy” Samuel Whittemore in Menotomy (now Arlington) Massachusetts.   Photo by Bhenricksen at English Wikipedia – Own work by the original uploader, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29116756

Sam selected a position that gave him an excellent view of the road from Lexington, and sat down to wait. His fellow minuteman from Menotomy pleaded for him to find a safer position, but he choose to ignore them.

“His fellow minuteman started firing at the oncoming British Grenadiers of the 47th Regiment of Foot, falling back to reload, then firing again. Sam waited. Finally, when the column was directly in front of him, he stood and fired his musket. A grenadier fell dead. He drew his two pistols, firing both at almost point blank range. Another grenadier fell dead, a third fell mortally wounded. The British soldiers were on top of him, he had not the time to reload his musket or pistols, so drawing his sword, he . started flailing away at the bayonet wielding soldiers. A soldier leveled his Brown Bess musket, at point blank range and fired. The .69 calibre ball struck Sam in the cheek, tearing away part of his face and throwing him to the ground. Sam valiantly tried to rise, fending off bayonet thrusts with his sword, but he was overpowered. Struck in the head with a musket butt, he went down again, then was bayoneted thirteen times and left for dead.

Using a door as a makeshift stretcher, Sam was carried to Cooper Tavern, which was being used as a emergency hospital. Doctor Nathaniel Tufts of Medford attended to Sam. He cut off his bloody clothes, and exposed the gaping bayonet wounds. Sam’s face was horribly injured. Doctor Tufts knew the injuries were fatal, stating it wouldn’t do any good to even dress the wounds. Sam’s family and friends insisted and Dr. Tufts did the best he could. He tried to make the old man as comfortable as possible. After his wounds were attended to Sam was carried to his home, to die surrounded by his family. To everyone’s utter amazement Captain Sam Whittemore lived! He recovered and remained active for the next eighteen years. He was terribly scarred, but always was proud of what he had done for his adopted country. He is quoted as having stated that he would take the same chances again.”  [Source: ““Never Too Old: The Story of Captain Samuel Whittemore” by Donald N. Moran]

By the time the British had fought their way through Menotomy, they had the bodies of an additional 40 dead and eighty wounded redcoats to add to their burden from Lexington and Concord to carry back to their ships in Boston Harbor.

When the workers socialist revolution in the United States finally gets underway to overthrow OUR despotic and ruthless government, it will be led not by today’s cowardly flag-waving worshippers of the powerful and wealthy; it will be led by man and women like Captain Samuel Whittemore who have the courage to fight to the death if necessary against tyranny – especially when it comes from “our own” government!

— IWPCHI

 

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