A Government Firearms Seizure – Gone Wrong

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A walk down memory lane for those interested in seizing firearms from honest American citizens.
Context: The American colonists had formed militias since the 17th century. In the early days it was to respond to Indian attacks. During the French and Indian War, the British mobilized them to fight against the French (See: The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War by Fred Anderson) As the political situation began to deteriorate in the 1770’s, the British Government in America dissolved the Provincial Government in the Massachusetts Government Act
On the morning of April 18, British Major Mitchell of the 5th Regiment of Foot ordered a mounted patrol of about 20 men into the surrounding country to intercept militia messengers who might be out on horseback. This triggered the “alarm and muster” system that the colonists used to bring armed minutemen from their homes to meet a threat.
On April 19, 1775, 700 British Army soldiers under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith set out to capture and/or destroy muskets and powder that the Massachusetts militia stored at Concord. If possible, he was to continue on to Worcester where the militia had an even larger magazine. Patriots learned of the British interest in the militia’s magazine and most of the powder, shot and muskets had been moved weeks before that unseasonably warm day in April. 

The British soldiers that Lieutenant Colonel Smith commanded in this expedition were cobbled together from 11 of Gage’s 13 infantry regiments. Major John Pitcairn commanded ten light infantry companies, and Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bernard commanded 11 grenadier companies and a battalion of Royal Marines.

 National Park Service map
While many of the redcoats/regular British infantry just followed orders, not all of the British officers were convinced that attempts to disarm their own citizens was a great idea. General Thomas Gage, commanding the 3,000 man British Army in Boston considered himself to be a friend of liberty and attempted to separate his duties as Governor of the colony and as General of an occupying force. Edmund Burke said within the walls of Parliament, “An Englishman is the unfittest person on Earth to argue another Englishman into slavery.”

We’ve all heard about the Colonial intelligence network and the historic signal from the Old North Church – “One if by land and two if by sea.”

The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington with a regular militia (as opposed to minutemen) under the command of Captain John Parker. 

Parker’s words are engraved in stone at the site of the battle: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

The militia were outnumbered and fell back, and the British soldiers proceeded on to Concord, where they searched for the supplies. 
Tory spies told the British where the Colonists had hidden cannon in Concord so the search for weapons was a directed one. When the British arrived at Ephraim Jones’s tavern, by the jail on the South Bridge road, they found the door barred shut, and Jones refused them entry. British officers ordered Jones at gunpoint to show where the cannon were buried. The grenadiers smashed trunnions on the cannon and burned the gun carriages. 
In a series of engagements that culminated with a fight at the North Bridge in Concord, 500 militia and minutemen who had come in from Acton and other parts of the countryside fought and defeated three companies of the King’s troops in a battle in open territory (a stand-up fight).  By this time, about 2,000 militia had come in from the countryside with their numbers swelling even higher.
As the day wore on, more armed Americans began to arrive and inflict heavy casualties on the British force, which had begun a retreat (in order) to Boston. Runners had been sent back for help and the British sent a 1,700 man relief force under Brigadier General Hugh Percy who met the retreating force under Colonel Smith. Both forces came under heavy fire from the militia and executed a tactical withdrawal to the British fortifications at Charlestown.

During this part of the march, the colonists fought where possible in large ordered formations (using short-range, smoothbore muskets) at least eight times. This is contrary to the widely-held myth of scattered individuals firing with longer-range riflesfrom behind walls and fences. Nobody at Lexington or Concord—indeed, anywhere along the Battle Road or later at Bunker Hill—had a rifle, according to the historical records.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

–Emerson “Concord Hymn

12 thoughts on “A Government Firearms Seizure – Gone Wrong

  1. Excellent… I love this stuff. They have a really good presentation along these lines at Colonial Williamsburg. Or they did when I was a kid, anyway.

    There *were* rifles involved in the American Revolution, but most often they were seen among scouts, advance parties, and the like. Volley fire as rapidly as possible while taking advantage of tactics and terrain was the key to success. Rifles took longer to load and there was the whole bayonet issue to contend with.

    As you point out, there was a great deal more of the "muskets in formation" style of warfare in the major battles.

  2. All of the major engagements in the Revolution were made by troops who fought in the same style as the British. You had Morgan's sharpshooters at Saratoga and the like, and while they were important, that was not how the war was fought.

    The lesson of the Revolution was that British citizens stood up to the British Army in their own style of fighting (and with help from the French after 1777) and won.

  3. The in the 1940's Japanese had serious concerns about their ability to sustain an invasion with the number of armed private citizens in the US. Of course, that number if vastly larger now.

  4. 300,000,000 guns is a harsh reality even for someone as dumb as an average liberal … maybe not.

  5. Excellent article LL. Even more of the military is opposed to suppressing civilian populations today. Our fealty is to the Constitution, not to the government.

  6. When we take the oath of office (as you and I have done, Sig94), we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. Nothing in the oath implies an obligation beyond following the law — not necessarily the cult of personality attached to a particular leader or faction.

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