We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

How to fail at seizing a weapons cache, 1775 edition, Part I: The Battle of Lexington

On the night of 18 April 1775, the British occupying Boston set out to seize a weapon’s cache at Concord, Massachusetts. On my visit to Boston over the weekend, I was reminded of some of the ingredients of this disaster.

General Thomas Gage had been appointed military governor of Massachusetts in 1774, but his 3000 troops affected little outside of their garrison in Boston. As such, when he was ordered to seize the rebellious colonists weapons and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, his troops had to set out from Boston to do so.

In order to retain the element of surprise, no one was told in advance of the expedition. It has been speculated that General Gage’s wife, who reportedly sympathized with the colonists, let word slip that the operation was going to take place. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the mustering of 700 soldiers at 9pm and preparations for marching would certainly have alerted the citizenry. So, the element of surprise was lost immediately and Paul Revere and William Dawes departed by separate routes to warn Adams and Hancock.

The British had sent out mounted patrols in advance to intercept just such couriers. Unfortunately, since such a patrol was so unusual, it served to alarm the locals and prompt rebel leaders to start rallying the militia anyway.

When choosing the composition of the force to march rapidly to seize the weapons and the leaders, Gage chose to draw each regiment’s light infantry company for speed and their grenadier company to serve as the shock troops. On the surface, this sounds like it might be a good strategy. The light infantry companies were made of soldiers used to moving fast, often serving as skirmishers and tended to be among the better trained and motivated troops in a regiment. The grenadier companies were also an elite company within a regiment, being composed of the larger soldiers, who by designation would have carried grenades and been chosen for their physical prowess. Each of the companies deployed with a lieutenant normally assigned to that company, however, the captains assigned were not necessarily familiar with the troops. Similarly, Marine Major John Pitcairn, who would lead the vanguard of the expedition, had never commanded the light infantry companies as a unit. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bernard would have had the same circumstances with the grenadiers he commanded. Thus, the company-grade leadership was not familiar with the men, nor did they know their officers.

Gage also chose his most senior regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, to lead the expedition. Smith was regarded as cautious and methodical – a cool and courageous leader, but one with little imagination. Smith had not, of course, ever commanded the light infantry and grenadier companies as a separate unit, nor had the particular collection of company officers serving under him. It is entirely possible that in a garrison that included 13 regiments, he might not have even known all of his officers on the march. Perhaps not the best choice for a rapid expedition into a restive countryside.

I’ve been able to read the orders and reports of the British officers, which is critical to understanding what happened. The first thing that strikes me is the woeful inaccuracy in reporting the number of troops opposing the British forces, starting with a grand underestimation of their possible numbers and continuing with exaggeration of the number first encountered. For example, Major Pitcairn received reports from the vanguard of the light infantry companies advancing on Lexington that 500 militiamen were drawn up on the Green to oppose them. When Pitcairn arrived at the front of the column, he remembers some 200 militiamen filing off the Green when fighting erupted. There were approximately 80 men in the Lexington militia.

To return to the mustering of the troops in Boston, we head to Boston Common, where the troops headed when ordered at 9pm. By 10pm, the troops were assembled, but LTC Smith was late in arriving. While long-service professionals are well aware that any army is a “hurry-up-and-wait” operation, this could not have sat well with the men, who had likely been in formation early in the day, conducted their normal duties all day long and expected a normal night of garrison duties with a comfortable night’s sleep when surprised with these orders.

Unlike the extensive plans for loading and unloading that we know of for the amphibious operations in World War II, there was apparently no such plan for this operation. Similarly, they failed to obtain appropriate boats for the transport of the troops and they traveled on barges which were so tightly loaded that the men had to stand for the crossing. Not only that, but when arriving on the opposite shore, they had to debark in waist-deep water. Massachusetts in mid-April does not feature warm evenings or delightfully sunny days. So, troops who’d but awake since first light were cold, wet annoyed and still awake on the banks of the River Charles nearly 20 hours later at 2am.

An hour into the march, Smith dispatched Pitcairn with six of the light infantry companies to move more rapidly than the main column. An hour later, he sent back for reinforcements, realizing that his slow progress had cost him the element of surprise.

As they approached Lexington, Pitcairn was traveling at the rear of his advance party when he received the exaggerated report of 500 militiamen. He moved rapidly to the front to take charge of the situation.

When the British arrived on Lexington Green, Marine Lieutenant Jesse Adair was posted at the front of the column, likely due to Pitcairn’s familiarity with the Marine officer and trust in his judgement. Captain John Parker had his militia in formation off to the right side of the Green, so that they were not blocking the march of the regulars, but could make a show of force. Adair, seeing the militia drawn up off to his right, worried about the flanking position if the column were to continue forward on its march to Concord. The 80 militia men were in perfect position to rake the British column if they attempted simply to march past them to Concord. As such, Adair lead his troops forward, attempting to scare off the militia, his men reportedly shouted “Huzzah” to terrify the armed farmers, merchants and tradesmen.

Pitcairn arrived at the confusing situation, taking half of the companies off to the left along the road to Concord. Amongst great confusion and much shouting, a British officer demanded that the colonials disarm and disperse. The lack of familiarity and trust between officers and men played a role in the continuing confusion. These light infantry had just marched about fifteen miles from Boston, cold, wet and tired on the trail, annoyed at their officers and frustrated that the rabble in front of them did not simply disperse. On each side, officers had implored their men not to fire, but a gun fired and in the ensuing confusion, the angered light infantrymen opened fire on the slowly dispersing but not disarmed militia.

The horror that is battle took place in front of many civilians, including women and children who had gathered to watch the militia mustering. After all, the stand off, even if not involving violence, was sure to provide more excitement than anyone in Lexington had seen in most of their lives. A simple stalemate in which both sides had simply gone their own ways would assuredly have led to tales told in tavern and around town for decades. These civilians likely helped swell Pitcairn’s professional estimate of the number of militia, who may well have already begun to disperse by the time his attention was focused.

The resulting carnage was far worse than a tense stalemate and certainly has been told of for a few centuries now.

The officers struggled to get the men under control, calling for them to cease fire, but the damage had been done. A bayonet charge by the troops led to the death of Captain Parker’s cousin Jonas and six others were killed. Prince Estabrook, an African-American slave serving in the militia, was among those wounded, as was Johnathan Harrington, whose wound was fatal, raising the death toll to eight.

Colonel Smith rode forward to the sound of the guns, ordered a drummer to beat “Assembly” and restored order when the rest of the column arrived.

In Part II, we will meet a few officers, then examine the Battle at Concord in Part III, and continue by examining the commanding General, Thomas Gage in Part IV.

Chesty XIV complete Basic Training
10 April 2013, 18:41
Filed under: Marines, Military Working Dogs | Tags:

You know I’m a sucker for a dog, plus have a special affinity for Marines. Should it be any surprise that the latest Marine mascot, Chesty XIV gets another post here? I hope not.

  • Chesty XIV comes from Stephens City, Virginia. Josette Keeler of the Northern Virginia Daily wrote a marvelous article about him that has details about him, including that his ‘brindle mark’ on his right shoulder looks, as I thought, like he’s wearing camouflage already.
  • There’s a great gallery of photos of Chesty at PawNation.
  • PFC Chesty was awarded his Eagle, Globe and Anchor on Monday, having completed his recruit training and basic indoctrination. The Washington Times reports that ‘In the upcoming months, he’ll complete obedience training to underscore his military prowess and serve in a mascot-apprentice roll, trotting alongside his “predecessor and mentor” until the elder Chesty retires in late August.’

I will have to make sure to get down to the Marine barracks this summer to see if I can get a photo of Chesty.


Mattis speaks to Iwo veterans
19 February 2013, 18:57
Filed under: Marines, Veterans | Tags: ,

At Saturday’s luncheon, General James Mattis spoke to the veterans of Iwo Jima, their families, and a number of active duty Marines and their families. I was lucky enough to attend the event and have since joined the Iwo Jima Alumni Association as an associate member.

The General, needless to say, gave an excellent speech. He talked about the pride that Marines have in the example set by the Mattis and Navarreveterans of Iwo. In particular, he mentioned that when he was outside Fallujah before the assault companies stormed the town, he listened to a nervous young Marine who told his Corporal he was worried and the Corporal responded, “We took Iwo Jima. Fallujah won’t be nothin’.”

Marines take pride in their Corps. The General related that John Glenn once said that his wingman, Ted Williams, was asked about the best team he’d ever been on and Williams responded “the Marines”.

Marines maintain a sense of humor, even when the going gets tough. General Mattis didn’t shy away from a little self-deprecating humor. He related a story about Ramadi, saying he asked a Corporal one of the most inane questions ever asked in a firefight. The Corporal was exchanging fire with the enemy and the General asked, “What’s going on, Corporal?” The young man turned over his shoulder and lowered his rifle. “Sir, we’re takin’ the fun outta fundamentalism.”

When I got to the front of the line for photos with the General, I was completely disarmed when he called me by name. As a Navy Chief once told a just-graduated Navy ensign at the Academy, “Refer to your sailors by name, they’ll love it and they’ll forget it’s written on their chests.” Nonetheless, it was quite an honor for me.

The banquet on Saturday evening was also wonderful, with Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos as the guest of honor. The additional treat of having Radio King Orchestra play after dinner. Melissa and I love swing dancing and RKO had played at our wedding, so it was a reunion of sorts for us as well.

Veterans of Iwo Jima reunited
16 February 2013, 11:53
Filed under: Marines, Veterans, WWII | Tags:


I’ve had the privilege of joining the veterans of Iwo Jima at the reunion at the Sheraton Pentagon City where we hold our Dragoon and Colmar events. It’s been a wonderful event and I expect to attend more than just the seminar next year.

New Marine Corps Mascot arrives
15 February 2013, 17:27
Filed under: Marines, Military Working Dogs | Tags: , ,

Chesty at 8th and I

Photo by Sgt. Dengrier M. Baez, USMC

The new Marine Corps mascot, Chesty, has arrived at the Barracks at 8th and I to begin his obedience and recruit training.

Young Marine Passes
23 May 2012, 19:03
Filed under: Marines | Tags: , ,

As Cody Green lay dying, Sergeant Mark Dolfini stood guard outside his room. In crisp dress blues, wearing his NCO sword, Dolfini gave silent testimony to the courage that Green had demonstrated his entire life. Green’s example inspired the Marines he so admired.

Cody Green never stood on the yellow footprints of Parris Island, never qualified at the rifle range, nor wore a set of dress blues, but the 12-year-old who’d wanted to be a Marine all his life was made an honorary Marine for his bravery in his fight with leukemia. “They decided Cody, with the strength and honor and courage he showed through the whole thing, he should be a Marine,” Cody’s father David Snowberger told WLFI.

His obituary is posted on legacy.com:

Cody E. Green, 12, of rural Flora, died Saturday, April 28, 2012, at 12:45 p.m. at Riley Hospital for Children, Indianapolis. He was diagnosed with A.L.L., a form of leukemia, in late 2001. He was treated and was in remission until a relapse in 2007, treated again and was in remission until relapsing again October 15, 2011. He had been a patient at Riley since March 2, 2012. He never asked “Why Me,” and fought the illness with grace and humility, never complaining about his treatment or care, saying “Thank you,” to the many health care professionals that cared for him. For this, he was rewarded with Honorary Marine from the United States Marine Corps.

Semper Fi, Devil Dog. We’ll see you on the other side.

Thanks to the folks at Unconventional Military Art for sharing this via Facebook and to Barbara Mikulski at snopes.com for the confirmation.

GI Film Festival entrant needs your help

Firewatch is a short film by Marine Danilo Prieto, who deployed to Afghanistan with Sierra Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines. Sergeant Prieto wants to come to Washington, DC to see the film screened at GI Film Festival 2012 (Firewatch will be shown with 7 other short films Sunday morning, 20 May 2012, starting at 10am in the Naval Heritage Center, at the Navy Memorial). Unfortunately, he lives in California, so, in order to make it to the Festival, he has posted a Kickstarter project to raise funds for the trip. If you donate, he’ll send you the link or a DVD of the film as thanks for your support. If you’ve ever stood a fire watch when you’d rather have been spending time drinking with your buddies, send Prieto the $20 or $30 you’d have spent on drinking in a bar, then get your buddies together (have them buy the drinks) and sit down at your place with the DVD when it arrives. Honor your fallen brothers, like Prieto’s friends CPL Binh Le and CPL Matthew Wyatt. You won’t regret it.

If you live in the DC Metro area, I expect we’ll see you at the Festival, right? It’s 14-20 May 2012 and ticket prices are quite affordable.

Midshipmen in Gettysburg
25 April 2012, 23:08
Filed under: Gettysburg, Marines, Navy, Understanding Battles | Tags:

Spot on. Great to see midshipmen actually on battlefields….

Optimism is a force multiplier

In reading the Washington Post this morning, I came across a story of a group of Naval Academy midshipmen who spent their spring break following in the footsteps of “Stonewall” Jackson. Dr. Joe Thomas, a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, teaches leadership at the Academy and led the group on the hike last month. Near dusk on Day 3 of the hike, having covered 55 miles already, Thomas reminded the midshipmen of one of the great truths of leadership, “Optimism is a force multiplier.”

In the Shenandoah Valley, just northwest of Swift Run Gap where they’d hiked that day, lay the battlefields of Cross Keys and Port Republic. In both battles, aggressive optimists defeated larger forces. Looking at General Jackson’s career, you can see many instances in which his aggressiveness, optimism and force of personality determined the outcome of the battle. Jackson was no giddy cheerleader brandishing slogans, but a supremely eccentric and socially awkward man who had an incredible talent and great confidence. Despite having been branded “Tom Fool” as a professor at VMI, at First Manassas, he earned his nickname for standing like a stone wall and allowing others to rally on the Virginians.

L’optimisme est un multiplicateur de force

En lisant Washington Post ce matin, j’ai trouvé une histoire d’un groupe de officiers aspirants d’Académie Navale qui ont dépensé leur coupure de ressort suivant dans les marchepieds de « Stonewall » Jackson. Dr. Joe Thomas, un lieutenant-colonel Marin retiré, enseigne les qualifications de leader à l’académie et a mené le groupe sur la hausse le mois dernier. Près du crépuscule le Jour 3 de la hausse, ayant déjà couvert 55 milles, Thomas a rappelé les midshipmans une des grandes vérités de la conduite, « Optimisme est un multiplicateur de force. »

Dans la vallée de Shenandoah, juste le nord-ouest de la Course Rapide Passage où elles avaient augmenté ce jour, étendent les champs de bataille des Clefs en Travers et de la Port République. Dans les deux batailles, les opportunistes agressifs ont défait des forces plus grand. Regardant la carrière du Général Jackson, vous pouvez voir beaucoup d’exemples dans lesquels son agressivité, optimisme et force de personnalité ont déterminé les résultats de la bataille. Jackson n’était aucun slogan brandissant de majorette étourdie, mais suprêmement un excentrique et un homme socialement maladroit qui ont eu un talent incroyable et une grande confiance. En dépit de l’marquage à chaud « imbécile de Tom » comme un professeur à École militaire de la Virginie, chez le premier Manassas, il a valu son surnom pour se tenir comme un mur en pierre et permettre à d’autres de se rassembler sur les Virginians.

Man’s best friend
2 March 2012, 17:11
Filed under: Marines, Military Working Dogs | Tags:

Every morning, when our cute Cavalier, Henry, and I walk around our neighborhood, he inspects every piece of ground, ensuring that nothing has changed without his notice. Fortunately, a patch of over-turned earth or another tell-tale sign of recent digging won’t indicate the presence of an IED. There are no insurgents watching us ‘patrol’ (which is good, since I’m usually reading the sports section and would be an easy mark). However, when Marine Lance Corporal Brandon Mann and his military working dog, Ty, venture out near Sre Kala and Paygel in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the threat is real and imminent. I’d like to think Henry would have my back as Ty has LCPL Mann’s, but I’m glad that he doesn’t need to. Many thanks to the both of them and our other men, women and animals in the service for keeping us safe. Semper Fi, Devil Dogs! See their photo on BlackFive.

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