Boston to Lexington
April 18, 1775
JAMES HOLLOWAY fell asleep early. During the last two days he’d put in long hours. The General had sent him hither and yon to find leaders of different regiments to put together a force of about 700 men to go to Lexington and Concord to seize the weapons that had so long evaded him.
James had no idea when it would happen, but it would be soon, he knew that. He also knew he would march to Lexington and Concord with his regiment.
Dealing with the General had been exhausting, so it had been a relief when the General ordered him to go to his barracks and get as much sleep as he could.
He had been told by the General at least five times to not say a word to anyone, including his fellow soldiers. James certainly wouldn’t confide in Mollie Clark, with whom he had taken two walks. They had pretended to meet by accident and only went a short distance together to not upset her father.
Nor would he tell Sally Brewster. She didn’t seem to care one way or another who was ruling Boston. People need fire buckets no matter what government was in control, she claimed. She was totally involved in her painting and not just on the buckets. Last week she had brought out her drawings with the caveat, “They aren’t very good.”
“They’re very good, including the drawing of me in uniform,” he had told her only to watch her blush as she did whenever he complimented her. If he were to look for a wife, she would make an excellent one, but it was a big if. Not just because he had so little money to support a wife, the world around him was becoming more unsettled with talk of insurrection.
He knew the General was determined to round up cannons, powder, cartridges, ammunitions, tents, shovels, food, whatever might be needed in battle premagainst the troops.
He also knew the General was under pressure from London to solve the uprisings. He didn’t need the General to tell him London did not understand the reality of Massachusetts.
James wasn’t sure if the General understood either. Both from what he read and in his talks with Mrs. Gage, James understood the point of view of the patriots as well as the army.
His parents had had an attitude based on tales handed down from the time of Oliver Cromwell that the ordinary man lived at the whim of whoever was in power, be it the mayor, landlord or king. That people had the right to establish their own rules for their own lives seemed unrealistic, but at the same time very appealing.
James always had had the ability to fall asleep anywhere. Not recently.
Different thoughts ran through his mind, but they disappeared almost as quickly as they came. On April 18, 1774, his thoughts were of how the General had said to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn, who were among the leaders of the planned march and search mission, to not steal from the locals. When James turned on his left side, he thought of the General saying, “I don’t want to hurt anyone or destroy any property.”
How that would be possible with some 700 well-trained, armed men against the stubborn rebels, he wasn’t sure.
James often had premonitions about things that came true. He had chalked up his worry that something would happen to his wife when she was pregnant as just stupid. It had come true. More than once, he had thought a thunder or hailstorm would come. The times were not so numerous that James considered he had any special gift. “I’m just observant,” he told himself.
Having a bad feeling about the mission was natural considering all the tensions. If only the rebels didn’t fight about paying taxes. If only the rebels would give up their damned weapons, things would quiet down.
The men had many names: rebels, patriots, colonists, loyalists … but loyal to whom? Not everyone was angry at the King.
“Wake up, wake up.”
James swatted at his ear. He opened his eyes and tried to keep them open. Corporal Tilley came into focus. He was holding a candle. “Get dressed. Full uniform. Cartridge pouch, cartridges, everything. Be quiet as ghosts.”
James knew it was wrong to ask why. An order was an order. When he sat up, he saw three of his fellow privates struggling into their uniforms. Corporal Tilley was moving around the room whispering into the ear of each private.
There were whispers of “What is this for?”
Hearing the whispers, Tilley rushed over and took the speaker by the shoulders and whispered the order, “Shut up.”
James was sure this was what the General had been planning.
Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts
April 18-19, 1775
HAVING 700 MEN, more or less, in boots march through Boston streets without making any noise was impossible. They went in formation, four to a row by regiment.
James knew from the planning meetings there would be twenty-one companies of Grenadiers and Light Infantry, the elite soldiers of the army. Even without their bear-fur hats, Grenadiers were taller than many. The hats made them more frightening.
The highly trained Light Infantry had a reputation for courage and speed.
He caught a glimpse of Danny carrying his drum. The batons were stuck between his chest and the leather belt from which the drum was suspended. No drumming. They were under an order of silence.
Winter had left. Spring had not taken its place. The air was cold with a light wind.
James was sure that everyone marching was curious about where they were going. He wasn’t going to tell them.
The Cambridge salt marsh stank of sea, not the clean smell of waves breaking on a beach but of decaying leaves and fish. The water was knee-high. The troops waded across, soaking their feet and legs.
On the other side of the marsh, they waited and waited for boats to bring provisions. James had no idea what those provisions were. He had no memory of the General discussing this aspect of the exercise. Perhaps, he thought, it was while he was running errands.
Some of the officers were on horseback but he couldn’t make out who was who. Clouds hid what moonlight there was.
James wasn’t sure of the time, but he guessed it was about two in the morning.
The troops had been marching for a good two hours. James was tired. His work as an orderly reduced his physical training. He held his Brown Bess in the correct position, but his fingers were stiff. His gun was loaded. His pouch was stuffed with more powder and cartridges.
Over the tramping, he heard owls calling.
The troops marched down roads with stone walls on each side. Woods or farms were behind those walls and behind those were farmhouses, although only when the moon escaped the clouds could he see them. No candles burned in the windows in the middle of the night.
In the distance, James heard bells. A signal? Someone could have spotted them. This was the same route he’d taken in March on the General’s mission.
Mostly, he wanted to be back in his bed surrounded by the snores of his fellow soldiers.
His boots and stockings were still wet from wading through the salt marsh. The stocking on his left foot had bunched, causing discomfort every time he put his foot down. He imagined breaking formation, fixing it, then rushing to reclaim his space. Soldiers didn’t do that, but he knew that although he wore the uniform and although he would keep his word, he was not meant to be a soldier.
As he marched, he knew without any doubts that the minute his contract was up, he would definitely find another life.
If he regretted anything it was that his wife and daughter had died and that he had not had control over the family bakery. At the same time, had his life unfolded that way, there were many experiences he would have missed.
James was aware he could always see more than one side on any issue, leaving him confused. Knowing how farmers felt about their land at home, he understood how the rebels felt here, but he also had trouble imagining not having a king. Oliver Cromwell had pretty much proven that was a bad idea. The stories of Cromwell’s fanaticism had been handed down through the generations in his family about the same way the bakery had.
Danny’s drum was still quiet. James could hear the hooves of the officers’ horses. He imagined he saw a man duck down behind a stone wall, but in the limited light, couldn’t be sure. He credited it to his imagination.
At least he hoped it was his imagination. Between Dr. Church and his own spying, he knew the farmers were gaining strength, not just in stolen weapons, but they were training, using the same manual as the British.
The sun began its climb bringing light to the troops.
Danny began drumming to direct their movements.
Even if the troops had been told the goal in detail, James knew from listening to his last conversation between the General and Lt. Colonel Smith they were to secure the North and South bridges and then find the missing cannons.
My God, James thought as his regiment arrived at the North Bridge. The militia was waiting for them. Unlike the British, they had no uniforms. Their clothes were the ones they wore to work the fields and milk the cows. Their ages were from teenagers to grandfathers. Are they as nervous as I am, he wondered? Or are they more so, being less well-trained? How well-trained are they? Had they sent for reinforcements from other villages?
He chided himself for having sympathy for his opponents.
Although they were not supposed to fire, he heard a gunshot. He didn’t know if it came from the British or from the rebels.
Despite all the practice of orderly formations with the front row firing and then marching to the back to reload, the soldiers spread out and seemed to be firing at will.
The smell of gunfire was overwhelming.
Danny? He didn’t have a gun. He had promised to take care of him. Where was he? Then he heard the drum. In the confusion, he wasn’t sure of the message.
Then his stomach was torn apart.