The shots less heard
A later battle on the day the Revolution began has attracted little public notice - until now
It used to bother Alex Cain and other reenactors how little attention was paid to the “second battle of Lexington’’ when Patriots Day came around each year.
In the first battle of April 19, 1775 - replayed at dawn each year before thousands of spectators - British regulars killed eight colonists at Lexington Green before marching on to Concord for the famed standoff at the North Bridge.
But Lexington’s militia wasn’t finished. Rallied by their leader, Captain John Parker, they ambushed the retreating redcoats at around 1:30 that afternoon from a rocky promontory near the Lincoln line.
That battle - which left three more Lexington men and possibly two British soldiers dead - was never given the same poetic treatment as, say, Paul Revere’s ride.
“It was an event that was significantly neglected,’’ said Cain.
This year, however, the historic melee will emerge from the shadows as Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord plays host to a full reenactment of “Parker’s Revenge’’ on Saturday at 2 p.m. near the visitors center. (For a complete listing of Patriots Day events at the park, go to www.nps.gov/mima.)
The story of Captain Parker motivating his militia to take a stand against the British is “an inspiration to military classes today,’’ said Cain, part of a group of reenactors who belong to the Lexington Minute Men. Classes from the US Army regularly visit the site of the battle as part of their training, he said.
The Parker’s Revenge reenactment started two years ago as a small ceremony and wreath-laying as part of the local Patriots Day weekend observances, according to Lou Sideris, spokesman for the National Park Service, but this year, it will be longer and more thorough.
“We were really excited that there would be two events on the same ground where the events took place that day,’’ said Cain. “We won’t just be doing a ceremony, but conveying the action.’’
Previously, he said, the ceremony honoring Parker lasted about five minutes, but this year it will be a full-on battle reenactment of 30 minutes or more.
“The park loved it, and we loved doing it,’’ said Cain, who usually portrays Samuel Hastings, a field commander on April 19, 1775.
Sideris said the National Park Service cleared the area around the interpretive plaque describing the battle to better portray the event, and allow for better viewing of the ambush.
“It will be a lot closer to the public this year,’’ said Cain.
Emotions ran high in Lexington after the initial skirmish on the town green 237 years ago. A description by the National Park Service quotes Lexington veteran Nathan Monroe: “About the middle of the forenoon, Captain Parker, having collected part of his company, marched them towards Concord, I being with them. We met the regulars in the bounds of Lincoln, about noon, retreating towards Boston. We fired on them, and continued so to do until they met their reinforcements in Lexington.’’
Jedediah Monroe, who had been wounded on the green that morning, was killed in the fighting, along with John Raymond and Nathaniel Wyman. Another Lexington man, Francis Brown, was badly wounded that afternoon, according to the park service.
It had been difficult to pinpoint the exact site of the battle, but the generally accepted location was corroborated by a sword and flattened musket ball uncovered in 1895 by a local farmer, according to the park service.
In addition, General John Galvin, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe from 1987 to 1992, analyzed documents, walked the terrain, and drew on his own military experience to identify the spot for his book, “The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American Revolution.’’
Since 1998, the site has been marked with an exhibition panel. It’s about a mile’s walk east along the Battle Road Trail from the Hartwell Tavern area, where the “Bloody Angle Battle Demonstration’’ is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday.
Parker’s Revenge was near the beginning of a long, bloody retreat by the British soldiers back to Boston.
“The Parker’s Revenge scenario, if we can pull it off, should capture the increasing desperation of the column of soldiers, outnumbered and under attack by increasingly numerous companies of militia,’’ said Paul O’Shaughnessy, a Lexington native who portrays a British regular as a reenactor in the 10th Regiment of Foot.
“Portraying a British soldier, one begins to sympathize with what must have been a rising panic, running out of water and ammunition, no good cover, growing exhaustion, and the expected relief column nowhere to be seen,’’ he said in an e-mail. “In one day, these soldiers covered nearly 38 miles, fighting for their lives through half of it. They were no pushovers, nor were they the dumb robots often portrayed in film. Had they been, then the militia’s task that day would have been easy.’’
Cain joined the Lexington group just out of high school. He said his costume is pure 18th century, from his shoes to his hat. “Everything is hand-stitched, based on historical documents,’’ he said. “Farmers wore full clothing into battle, contrary to some of the paintings showing men in shirts.’’
He’ll be hoisting his rifle again for Parker’s Revenge.
“I have a love of history and the American Revolution,’’ he said. “I love the guys, and the people who come from all walks of life to see us. The public gets as much information as possible.’’
Betsy Levinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.