Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh, Earl Percy -- "We Are Indeed Fortunate"
 
It was in the early morning hours of April 19 that General Gage received a message from Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith that reinforcements were necessary.  Smith and Major John Pitcairn had heard distant meeting house bells tolled as their force of 700 soldiers advanced toward Lexington.  Clearly, militia companies were being summoned.  Smith’s request for assistance was the one wise decision he would make that day.
 
Gage had placed Earl Percy in command of a reinforcement army of 1,000 men.  Percy had not received Gage’s first order -- written at 3 a.m. -- to muster his men and depart.  Customarily, orders sent from Gage to Percy went first to the quarters of Percy’s Brigade Major, who thereupon sent them to Percy and his four field commanders.  Because the Brigade Major had not yet returned from a late night revel, Gage’s order had been left in the care of the Major’s servant.  The man had forgotten about it when the Major returned.  Realizing that Percy’s army had not assembled, Gage rewrote his order at 5 a.m., an hour after he had wanted Percy to march.  This message was delivered directly to Percy.  Two hours later, Percy waited impatiently on his horse in the middle of Scollay Square. 
 
He had ordered his brigade, the Royal Marine Battalion, two supply wagons, and two artillery pieces to muster at 6 a.m.  At 6:30, save for the Marine Battalion, all had been present and prepared to leave.  It was now 7 a.m., three hours past the time General Gage had originally wanted Percy to march.  Here is an excerpt from my novel “Crossing the River.”
 
             The young nobleman had controlled his temper. To an uninformed observer he was a sanguine commander awaiting the return of his adjutant, enjoying during the while the crisp morning air. When the captain appeared at 7:05, Percy was close to exploding.
     “Your Lordship. The Marine Battalion is now being assembled and equipped,” the adjutant stated.
     “Now?! Do you mean they have just now begun their preparation?!”
     “Yes sir. That is correct.” He licked his lips. “The marine duty officer insisted, rather vehemently, that he had received no order to assemble.”
     Stunned, Percy refused to speak. Finally, incredulously, “I received my order an hour ago! That cannot be!”
     The adjutant shook his head, made no attempt to answer.
     Percy's face contorted. “By God, we shall know why!”
     “Yes sir!”
     “Go to the Province House! Report this to the General! Now!”
     Hammering the front of his saddle, Percy released a torrent of obscenities. Bored soldiers turned to stare. He was making a spectacle of himself! Bugger that! Twice incompetence had undercut him, and he had not yet progressed one yard (Titus 230)!
 
 
Percy would learn from his adjutant that the Royal Marines’ orders had been placed unopened on the desk of their commander, John Pitcairn.  Not one subordinate had been informed of Pitcairn’s absence.  The marine detachment hurriedly assembled.  At 8:45 a.m., Percy’s army marched across Boston Neck.
 
To reach Cambridge and the road to Lexington and Concord, the column had to march across the Great Bridge, which spanned the Charles River.  Rebel provincials had removed the bridge’s planks.
 
 
     Percy raised his spyglass. There, stacked beside a shed close by the north end of the bridge -- in plain sight to provoke him -- were the missing planks. Moving his glass, Percy examined the bridge’s string-pieces. Several men, wrapping their arms and legs around the pieces, could cross the river. They would need an hour to replank the bridge.
     It was another impediment not of his making. The day seemed already half-spent. Not having received any intelligence of Colonel Smith’s situation, he was bedeviled by two contradictory thoughts. His assistance would not be required. Too much time had elapsed for him to prevent the Colonel’s destruction (Titus 280).
 
 
Earl Percy’s next difficulty was ascertaining which of several roads exiting Cambridge was the one he needed to take.  No subordinate offered a confident opinion.  There was nobody outdoors for him to question.  Suddenly, a young man left a nearby tavern.  Percy’s had the man brought to him.
 
 
            “Your name, sir.”
     “Isaac Smith.” The provincial looked past Percy’s horse.
     “You are a resident of Cambridge, are you not?”
     “I am a tutor at the College.” The man rubbed together the heels of his hands.
     “Mr. Smith. I need your assistance. Which is the road to Concord?”
     The young tutor stared, looked away, slid his hands down the sides of his trousers.
     “I believe you know. As one gentleman to another, I request this simple direction.”
     “I … cannot tell you that information.” Smith’s face crumpled. He looked miserably at Percy’s stirrups.
     This man is not rancorous, Percy thought. Neither is he deceitful. He is patriotic. Most importantly, he is afraid. He is, I conceive, malleable.
     “You need not be apprehensive. Whatever you choose to tell me, I shall release you.” Percy smiled gratuitously.
     The young man made eye contact.
     “I call upon your honor, sir. Which is the way to Concord?”
     About to speak, the tutor hesitated, grimaced. Five seconds later he pointed.
     “You are certain that is the road?” Percy sat very straight and still.
     Isaac Smith again met Percy's scrutiny. “I am a man of honor, Colonel,” he rasped. “I do not lie.”
     Right palm raised, Percy answered. “Men of honor are a scarce commodity. We are indeed fortunate” (Titus 281).
 
 
Hearing distant, concerted musket fire, notified that Smith’s army was retreating under great duress, Percy deployed his forces in a large rectangle on high ground just east of Lexington.  Into the rectangle staggered the survivors of Colonel Smith’s 700 men force.  Percy provided them an hour’s rest.  Meanwhile, his artillery pieces bombarded concentrations of militia units assembled in Lexington.  Taking command of Smith’s men, Percy determined the marching order of the vastly enlarged column.  Smith’s men would lead, the provincials having inflicted most of their punishment on the middle and rear of the original column.  Flanker squads would deploy off each side of the road to kill as many militiamen as they could.  Where heavy concentrations of the enemy waited, he would utilize his artillery pieces.
 
At Menotomy (Arlington today) there was fierce combat.  Initially, his men marched through a narrow gauntlet: a row of houses to his left and a 75 to 100 foot cliff to his right.  Beyond the gauntlet lay flatter land and the town proper.  Here, segments of militia companies, without protective cover, challenged Percy’s swarming flankers.  Something heavy thumped Percy’s stomach. 
 
     Looking at the front of his coat, he saw several threads protruding through an empty buttonhole.
     Percy issued his instructions. Afterward, he marveled.
     Had God just spared him? Had he been sent a divine message? Was his survival an essential part of a grand design? Christ’s blood, how could he, or any man, know?!
     All that he had experienced argued that man determined his own fate, that God was ever the impartial observer.
     Engaging in pointless conundrums, especially now, was wasted contemplation. If he were to make anything of this event, it would be: his coat button had, as his opinion of these rebels, been shot to pieces.
     How he had underestimated these provincials. They had fought -- they continued to fight -- with savage determination. The past fifteen minutes a half dozen or so had advanced to within twenty yards of his person. Contrary to every senior officer’s expectation, these commoners, directed -- he had to believe -- by veterans of the late war, had withstood His Majesty’s finest!
     But the King’s Foot, his soldiers, warranted greater acclaim. Outnumbered, at times encircled, they had fought valiantly! Their inexorable ferocity, their unparalleled resiliency portended their survival.
     How much longer, how much farther could they persist? At what point does the body negate what the spirit charges? Having witnessed the utter debilitation of Colonel Smith’s forces at Lexington, he feared quite soon. His field pieces, shattering stone walls, tree limbs, sides of houses, sheds, and barns, had scattered lethal concentrations of militia. Following each cannonade Percy had restarted the column’s retreat. Once more, he believed, his six-pounders would extricate him. Leaving the village of Menotomy, recuperating while they marched, his soldiers would journey to Cambridge, where, he presumed, the rebels waited at the Great Bridge, where by feigning a return to the Bridge he might save his command (Titus 368-369).
 
Work Cited:
 
Titus, Harold.  Crossing the River.  BookLocker.com, Inc., 2011.  Print.