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Minute Man National Historical Park June 8, 2009

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts. The park’s main theme is the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which was the first military engagement of the American Revolutionary War.

Here are ten nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the park.

1. The Battle Road landscape has changed significantly from the date of the battle (4/19/1775). The surrounding wetlands were cultivated for hay farming at that time, so the Battle Road that the British marched along was actually surrounded by copious amounts of open space. Now the wetlands offer a more hospitable environment for various species of birds and frogs.

2. I had never realized this, but the “no taxation without representation” rallying cry of the American colonists stemmed from the massive debt that the British had incurred during the French and Indian War. Thus, in some sense, one war triggered the onset of another.

3. The heavy financial duties that the British imposed on the colonists were exacerbated by the decline of farming as a viable livelihood in the colonies. As time passed, subdivision of arable land and declining soil fertility made it quite difficult for colonists to inherit viable farmland, which forced them to seek gainful employment in major cities.

4. Having a well-connected intelligence network is invaluable when preparing for any military engagement; this lesson has been recently driven home by news of the alleged Israeli spy network in Lebanon. In 1775, spies learned that the British were planning on seizing the Minute Man arsenal at Concord, which set Paul Revere off on his famous “Ride.”

5. Perhaps I had forgotten this from my U.S. history classes, but Paul Revere was actually captured on his famous “Ride” from Boston. A roving British patrol had been set up to prevent word of their impending raid from reaching Concord, and they intercepted Revere, William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott. Luckily for the Minute Men, Dr. Prescott escaped and carried his timely news to Concord.

6. The British troops showed an amazing lack of discipline during the battle. They disobeyed direct orders from General Thomas Gage to the raid’s leader, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, by burning several buildings in Concord. Also, it has been firmly established that the British fired the first shot at the Old North Bridge; the Minute Men at the bridge had been instructed to hold their fire unless fired upon.

7. Revolutionary War weapons were notoriously inefficient. A well-trained musket-wielder could fire at most three shots per minute, and the flintlock muskets of that time were wildly inaccurate. This accounts for the relatively low number of British casualties along the Battle Road (when you consider the number of Minute Men that were sniping on them).

8. The colonists who lived along the Battle Road showed a great deal of concern for any wounded British soldiers who came across their paths, taking them into their homes and attempting to nurse them back to health. In these cases, they put aside their grievances against the British Crown and focused on helping their fellow man.

9. New Englanders showed (and continue to show) a great deal of ingenuity in terms of home construction. Many of the colonial-era homes that I saw during my trip had the same key features: slanted roofs (used to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of a heavy snowfall), low ceilings and well-designed fireplaces (both trapped heat inside the home). I suppose that harsh winters are the mother of necessity.

10. Intense close-quarter combat was not absent from this engagement. In one notable incident, Minute Man James Hayward of Acton encountered a Redcoat who told him, “you are a dead man.” Hayward replied, “and so are you” before both men shot each other to death.

The Visitor Center in Lincoln featured a neat presentation narrated by Amos Doolittle, which, in some ways, immersed the audience in the events of that fateful day in 1775. The Battle Road is 5 miles long and is excellent for jogging, biking and hiking.

In terms of drawbacks, I would say that having two visitor centers (the second was at the Old North Bridge) could cause some confusion in terms of how to “properly” traverse the trail. The chronological approach, if you wanted to retrace the steps of the British during the battle, would be to 1) go to the visitor center in Lincoln, see the exhibits there and watch the Doolittle-narrated presentation, 2) drive to the visitor center at the Old North Bridge and see the bridge itself, and 3) drive to Merriam’s Corner and walk along the trail to Fiske Hill. Since the trail doesn’t loop around, though, you have to walk a total of 10 miles…

Overall I enjoyed my time at the park and I learned a lot, which was the main purpose of my trip.

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