Monday, May 22, 2017

"With a Company-Wide Space Between the Two" - Two Lexington Companies?

An analysis of the various accounts and reports of the Battle of Lexington suggest that the battlefield must have been a visual mess as the British column approached. The combination of darkness, spectators gathered in small clusters and militiamen coming and going from the common must have contributed to Major Pitcairn and Lieutenant Sutherland’s false impression that a large number of armed provincials were drawn up on the common.

However, despite the confusion, there is an account that suggest Captain Parker's Company was sufficiently disciplined and drawn up in military order. Specifically, Ensign Henry De Berniere of the 10th Foot provided an account of the Lexington men being drawn up in two divisions "with a company-wide space between the two."

Of course, based upon De Berniere's account, this begs the question: is it possible that there were two companies of Lexington militia on the common on April 19th? Most likely the answer is "no".

"Lexington Green" by Don Troiani

Almost a month after the battle Daniel Harrington recounted that when the militia mustered earlier in the morning, “the train band or Militia, and the alarm men (consisting of the aged and others exempted from turning out, excepting upon alarm) repaired in general to the common, close in with the meeting-house, the usual place of parade; and there were present when the roll was called over about one hundred and thirty of both.”

Unfortunately, Harrington is silent as to whether the alarm list and training band mustered together or as separate entities. When the militia assembled for a second time just before the Battle of Lexington, Harrington makes no reference to a second company. Instead, those who mustered are merely referred to as “the remains of the company.” 

Likewise, not a single deposition signed by spectators and Lexington militiamen makes reference to more than one company mustering on the field.

Of course, Loyalist and Boston resident George Leonard, who accompanied Percy’s relief column as a scout and was not a witness to the Battle of Lexington, indirectly suggested in his deposition that another company, perhaps unattached to Parker's Company, was nearby.

“That being on horseback . . .he several times went forward of the Brigade; in one of which excursions he met with a Countryman who was wounded supported by two others who were armed . . .the Deponent then asked what provoked [the regulars] to do it . . . he said that Some of our people upon the Regulars . . . he said further that it was not the Company he belonged to that fired but some of our Country people that were on the other Side of the Road.”

However, Leonard’s deposition is in direct contradiction with a statement given by James Marr, of the 4th Regiment of Foot, to the Reverend William Gordon. According to Marr, “when they and the others were advanced, Major Pitcairn said to the Lexington Company, (which, by the by, was the only one there), stop, you rebels! And he supposed that the design was to take away their arms.”

So what did the ensign actually see? Henry De Berniere probably observed a well drilled militia company that had been organized into platoons or divisions by its commanding officer.

There is no doubt Parker and his men were actively drilling in the months leading up to the battle. Period accounts document at least six occasions, as recent as the night before the battle, that the Lexington Company was drilling and performing maneuvers.

Interestingly, one period drill available to Captain Parker instructs officers of companies with more than forty men to divide the company into divisions, “in which case the captain leads the first, and the ensign the third, the lieutenant bringing up the rear. In general, the rule is, that the chief or commanding officer leads the whole, the second in command brings up the rear and the others lead the intermediate divisions.”

It is likely that Captain Parker followed this instruction and organized his company into “divisions” on the Lexington Common. This decision is corroborated by Lieutenant Colonel Smith's report on the engagement. "I understand, from the report of Major Pitcairn, who was with them, and from many officers, that they found on a green close to the road a body of the country people drawn up in military order, with arms and accoutrement, and, as appeared after, loaded."

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