Friday, October 26, 2007

New names added to Lexington Memorial

Lexington Frieze-Memorial
@ Buckman Tavern
One Bedford St.
Lexington, Mass.

On Saturday October 13, 2007 a ceremony was held to mark the addition of three new names to the Lexington Frieze-Memorial located next to Buckman Tavern, which is adjacent to Lexington Green. The ceremony was hosted by the Lexington Training Band and featured a wreath laying ceremony and the firing of musket volleys. The names added to the already existing list are: Thaddeus Bowman, Sgt. Francis Brown and Nathaniel Bowman. Sgt. Brown was wounded in the afternoon of April 19, 1775 and Nathaniel Bowman was killed that same day. This memorial is dedicated to those men who gathered on Lexington Green in the early hours of April 19,1775 and defied, albeit briefly, the British Crown's forces. Eight members of the militia lost their lives either on the Green or its immediate environs that morning and eleven were wounded.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Jason Russell House

The Jason Russell House
7 Jason St.
Arlington, Mass.

This 18th century home is best known for the fighting that took place here on the afternoon of April 19, 1775. After engagements that morning on Lexington Green and at the North Bridge in Concord the remnants of a 700-man expeditionary force of British soldiers and Marines, along with a relief force of an additional 1,000 troops, were attempting to make their way back to Boston.

Thousands of militia from the surrounding communities, many in organized companies, but some coming singly or in small groups, were laying in ambush all along their route. A mixed group of militia, including men from as far away as Woburn and Danvers, decided to make their stand at the Russell homestead.

As they proceeded along Concord Road (what is now Mass. Ave.) the British Regulars sent out flankers to clear the houses that lined the road of any opposition. This brutal house to house fighting resulted in the deaths of many in Menotomy (present-day Arlington) and Cambridge.

Here at the Russell homestead British Light Infantry engaged the militia in some of the bitterest fighting of the day. Jason Russell was bayoneted several times and died just outside his home. Ten other men of the militia, including seven men from Danvers, also perished as well as two British soldiers.

Members of the Russell family lived here until 1896. It is now owned and operated by the Arlington Historical Society.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

British Surrender at Saratoga

Surrender at Saratoga
by John Trumball

Next Wednesday (October 17) marks the 230th anniversary of the surrender of British forces under General Burgoyne near Saratoga, New York. This defeat is considered a major turning point in the war and led to the French openly siding with the American colonists in their rebellion against the Crown.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Statue of John Harvard

John Harvard Statue
Harvard Yard
Cambridge, Mass.

In any guided tour of historic Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts one of the obligatory stops is the statue of John Harvard. This life-size bronze statue portrays a seated man dressed in a Puritan style of the early 17th century. Inscribed on the large pedestal supporting the statue is "John Harvard - Founder - 1638." The inscription is barely legible - perhaps purposely not repaired.

The tour guide will most assuredly point out - usually with glee - that this statue is commonly referred to as the "statue of the three lies". The first lie is John Harvard wasn't the founder of Harvard College. The college was already in existence when he died in Charlestown, Mass. in 1638, leaving the college his library and a sum of money. The second lie is the incorrect founding date - Harvard College was founded by the Massachusetts Great and General Court in 1636. The final lie is not so obvious. As no likeness of John Harvard existed the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, simply used a Harvard student as his model. The statue bears no resemblance to the real John Harvard.

One other thing of note about John Harvard's statue. It is considered good luck to touch his left foot, so over the years that foot has assumed a shine that the rest of the statue lacks. You can draw your own conclusions about what this might say about Harvard - but it does lead me to one definite conclusion. When researching history you can't always believe what you read, even in Harvard Yard.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A short history of Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga
Ticonderoga, N.Y.

Situated on a peninsula overlooking Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga was built by the French during the French and Indian War (also called the Seven Year's War) to prevent the advancement of British forces from the south into French Canada. Fort Carillon, as it was originally named, can only hold about 400 soldiers within its walls, a not very sizable garrison. But in spite of its small size the Fort was supplied with a respectable amount of artillery pieces by both the French and the British - which was to prove very important to a later generation in another war.

The first attempt in July of 1758 to subdue Fort Carillon by the British ended in failure. A 16,000-man force, made-up of British Regulars and Colonial Militia and led by Major-General Ambercromby, greatly outnumbered the defending French forces. But what was lacking was an artillery train. Ambercromby had decided that speed was of the essence in his overland approach to the Fort and had left his cannon behind.

What he found upon arrival was that the French had been very busy fortifying the lower part of the peninsula with a system of trenches, earthworks and fallen timber. This was sufficient, along with a vigorous defense, to keep Fort Carillon in the hands of the French. The British forces sustained very heavy casualties, with most notably the Highland Regiment (the Black Watch) bearing the brunt of the attacks and the losses. Ironically in the following year, under a different General, Fort Carillon was captured after a brief four day siege. The damaged Fort was rebuilt and given its present Indian name - Fort Ticonderoga, the place between two waters.

Early on May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, along with co-commander Benedict Arnold, arrived at Fort Ticonderoga to attempt its capture yet again. The importance of the Fort now was not just its strategic location, but what was alluded to previously - its cannon and munitions. The American rebels were reacting to the events of Lexington and Concord in the previous month and were hoping to strike a further blow at King George the III.

Awakening the commander of the small, sleeping garrison Ethan Allen demanded the fort's surrender, "In the Name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress".* Allen accepted his sword and stepped into his place in history and legend. It was left to Colonel Henry Knox, of the Continental Army, to remove and transport Ticonderoga's artillery to Cambridge, Massachusetts to end the siege of Boston. But that is, as the saying goes, another story.

* This is likely more legend than fact.

Friday, August 31, 2007

On this day in History...

The Powder House
Powder House Square
Somerville, Mass.

On September 1, 1774 a hand-picked force of Regulars, led by Lt-Colonel George Maddison of the King's Own 4th Regiment, left Boston on a special mission for British Commander General Gage. Loaded into Navy longboats they were first rowed up the Mystic River and then marched inland. Their objective was the Powder House (magazine) in what was then part of Charlestown.

Having been given the keys by the Middlesex Sheriff, the soldiers removed 250 half-barrels of gunpowder and then made their way back to Boston. A small detachment went into Cambridge and carried off two brass cannon. General Gage's preemptive strike at the arms and munitions of the Militia companies of the Bay Colony had succeeded.

But this action was viewed with great alarm by the populace and resulted in the calling out of the militia and mass demonstrations. British troops continued to mount similar operations into the countryside, culminating in the events of April 19 , 1775, which instigated the hostilities that led to America's War for Independence.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The British Redcoat

Barrel's Regiment
(King's Own)

Beginning in the mid-17th century and ending only in the late 19th century the wearing of the "Redcoat" was synonymous with the British Army. What the British Army lacked in size it made up for in its fighting prowess and built a enviable reputation on the battlefields of Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. Over the course of the years, Britain defeated and superseded the empires of the Dutch, Spanish and the French, creating an empire upon which the "sun never set". An Empire that like its predecessor the Roman Empire, shaped the world in its image and set the course of history.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

British Army departs Boston

March 17, 2006, St. Patricks Day, (or Evacuation Day as it is officially known on the State calender) was the two hundred and thirtieth anniversary of the British Army's (and Navy) departure from Boston - never to return as an occupying force. Under the guns emplaced on Dorchester Heights the British forces, along with several hundred Loyalists, sailed out of Boston Harbor and headed for Nova Scotia. A stubborn King with a plurality of the Parliament had failed in their attempts to bring the citizens of Boston and the surrounding communities to heel. They had only succeeded in precipitating a bloody war that would drag on for eight years and end in their defeat.