Monday, April 19, 2010

Runnin' Rebels

They were a bunch of angry white guys, fed up with their over-bearing and out-of-touch government and stirred up by rabble-rousing businessmen. What they did this morning, 235 years ago, shocked the world and plunged their country into a civil war, and, by some reckoning, plunged the major powers of Europe into a "world war" -- at least a multi-national war fought on many fronts globally.

In response to several "intolerable" Acts of Parliament passed in early 1774, aimed at more closely regulating commerce and other colonial activities, the first Continental Congress met in an attempt to form a more collective colonial front in opposition to perceived unfair treatment by their mother country. That first Continental Congress, with delegates from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, first proclaimed, in "The Declaration and Resolutions" their opposition to the "intolerable" Acts and their claim to the same rights and privileges afforded their countrymen in England. Next, the Continental Congress sent an explanation of their actions to the people of the Colonies and an entreaty to the Canadian colonies to join them. An address explaining the Colonial position was sent to "The People of Great Britain," followed at last by a "Petition of Congress to the King."

New England--Massachusetts, in particular--had been the hotbed of colonial sentiment against the British government for several years prior to the Spring of 1775, and as tensions mounted, the colonial rebels in New England formed militias and accumulated stores of weapons, gunpowder, and lead. Alarmed by the increasingly militant stances of the the rebel ringleaders and the accumulation of military stores, General Thomas Gage, British governor of Massachusetts received instructions from Great Britain to seize the aforementioned stores in an attempt to tamp down the growing insurrection.

It was just the ignition of the revolutionary powder keg for which the rebel politicians had been looking.

A seven hundred-man force of Redcoats left Boston on the evening of April 18th and headed for Lexington and Concord, the two villages nearest Boston at which the rebel militias had been stockpiling arms and ammunition. Expecting such a move, rebels in Boston planned to send riders to warn the militias when the British marched out of Boston. Enter Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott. The first two were able to warn the militia in Lexington before captured by the British and the last was able to spread the alarm as far as Concord.

At around 0500 (5:00 A.M. for the Colonel's civilian readers) the British force arrived at the village of Lexington where a group of militiamen numbering approximately 77 had hastily assembled to impede the British mission. To say that the rebels were hopelessly out-numbered and militarily over-matched would be an understatement ranking right up there with any of the current Vice President's patronizing, off-color reminders to his boss. The British commander ordered the rebels to disperse.

They rebel militia did what every red-blooded American militia has faithfully done in every battle and skirmish since 1775.

They ran.

The Colonel could be gracious and give the yankee rebels the benefit of the doubt, given that they were up against the cream of the greatest military force on the planet at the time and were outnumbered roughly 10 to 1. Okay. The Colonel will be gracious.

They dispersed.

End of story and probably end of the nascent American colonial revolution, but for one angry white guy who evidently resented being told to disperse. Maybe he hadn't been at the militia meeting when the subject of dispersal was addressed. Some contemporary, eye-witness accounts claim that "the shot heard 'round the world" was actually the British commander discharging his pistol into the air as if it were a starter's pistol for the militia race to safety in which most of the participants had already "jumped the gun." The Colonel would rather believe that the first shot came from a tardy minuteman who, upon seeing the meeting already breaking up, fired his musket skyward in frustration. At any rate, the two sides exchanged volleys.

Well, the British fired a volley. The rebels, not so much. When the smoke cleared, eight colonists lay dead on Lexington Green; ten other colonists were wounded. One British soldier was wounded.

The British proceeded to Concord and succeeded in destroying the rebel munitions stored there before confronted by a growing force of minutemen. The British, their mission accomplished, retraced their route of march back to Boston.

But, the fight was on.

Harried all the way back to their base, and sniped at from behind rock walls and stands of trees, the British suffered 300 killed, wounded, or missing in action by the time they got back to the friendly confines of the Boston city limits. The militia in Lexington avenged their fallen comrades, exacting several casualties as the British marched back through their town.

The Colonel would have you understand that there are several very important lessons-learned from the event 235 years ago, today.

First, for those who today advocate forming militia--stop it. All you will accomplish is getting a lot of good folks killed.

Second, militias always run. You can't cobble together a bunch of Rambo wannabes, plink and drink on the weekends, and have an effective battlefield force.

Third, if you are a government official contemplating armed confrontation with an otherwise law-abiding, but armed, militia group--stop it. In addition to killing a bunch of folks, you will likely ignite an armed insurrection or incite some mouth-breathing, village idiot to commit domestic terrorism.

But, don't take the Colonel's word for it. Ask the British.
Better yet, ask Janet Reno.
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