Lexington And Concord: The Battle Heard Round The World, by George C. Daughan
It is noteworthy and laudable that the author expresses and generally fulfills a desire to be even-handed in his treatment of the battles of Lexington and Concord. This book provides an extremely detailed look at the road to war and examines the choices that were made which prevented peace from being sought. The author mixes a discussion of diplomatic and imperial political history on the one hand with a look at individual atrocities that took place on the battlefield that fateful April 19, 1775 day in rural Massachusetts that began a revolution that was based on a fatal combination of American resistance to authority and British arrogance in their own strength and in the absence of power that the Americans could bring in self-defense. Using a sound reading of a wide variety of primary sources, including recollections long after the fact, the author still finds it impossible to say who exactly fired first on Lexington Green, only that it must be lamented that heavily outnumbered minutemen were there in the first place rather than having been prevented from their suicidal stand. Overall this book provides an excellent discussion on Lexington and Concord, and one that works well in coordination with other related volumes.
This book is not quite 300 pages long and is divided into 39 generally short chapters. The author begins with the Boston Tea Party and the way that it marked the decisive break between the colonists and Britain concerning questions of authority and taxation (1). The author then looks at the relationship of Gage and George III (2), Franklin’s embarrassing day being subjected to a harsh and public dressing down over the publishing of Hutchinson’s letters (3), and the response of Britain to close the port of Boston (4) and make war on Massachusetts (5), which was gaining support from other colonies (6). The author talks about the deepening defiance (7) and growing sense of crisis (8) that followed, along with with the response of the Massachusetts counties (9) and the refusal of the king to back down (10). After this there is a discussion of the Powder alarm (11), the first Congressional Congress (12), and the Suffolk Resolves (13) that marked American efforts to prevent the coming hostilities. Although congress completed its work (14) the author reflects upon the matter of slavery (15) and the perverse response of the British to the Powder alarm (16). The march to war continued on the side of the imperial government (17) despite the effort by Chatham (18) to stop it as well as the secret efforts of Lords North and Dartmouth for peace (19). After this the decision for war (20) and the vote for war (21) made conflict inevitable. The author turns his attention to the country people (22) and their supporters (23) who sought to unite in the face of growing tensions (24) while waiting for the British troops in Boston to do something (25). It is only at this point, after more than half of the chapters, that the author spends the rest of the time discussing Gage’s orders, how he sought to put them into practice, and the response of the colonials and how they brought war, and the book ends with the siege of Boston and the news of the British defeat and disaster reaching the English press.
One of the most telling aspects of this particular book is the way that it describes the paralysis of authority on both sides as they blundered into conflict. Patriot forces were intent on not firing the first shot but once the first shots were fired they were quick to fire back with deadly force and surprising skill while causing massive casualties to the imperial army on its way back into Boston. Likewise there was no automatic person to lead the Patriot forces. Each person in charge of a band of Minutemen were engaged in a more or less loose and informal cooperation with others while using irregular tactics and preferring to live to see another day while the British themselves used flank attacks and engaged in plenty of looting and butchery of their own in what quickly became a savage and brutal contest. The author notes that King George III insisted on more aggressive moves and that the British leadership itself was largely ignorant and contemptuous of American capabilities, which was ultimately a fatal flaw in their own efforts to crush a colonial revolt that quickly got out of their control and that should never have begun in the first place.