In our last post, Nathaniel and I introduced you to Minute Man National Historical Park located on Massachusetts Route 2A between Lexington and Concord and showed you around the Minute Man Visitors Center which is the best place to start your travels to the 970-acre national park which is dedicated to the preservation, commemoration, and interpretation of the battlefields and structures associated with the events of April 19, 1775 when British forces and local colonial militia clashed for the very first time as the "shot heard 'round the world" ignited a revolutionary spirit throughout the thirteen colonies.
|Map courtesy of the U.S. National Park Services|
Even though the former home of authors Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne is currently not available to visit, Minute Man Historical National Park is made up of two other areas that you can visit year-round: the North Bridge in Concord, and the subject of this post, the Battle Road Trail which connects historic sites from Meriam’s Corner in Concord to the eastern boundary of the park in Lexington.
The main theme of the 5-1/2 mile trail is the battle of April 19, 1775 as the original battle road was the route that British troops followed as they marched from Boston to the North Bridge in Concord and back in a failed attempt to calm colonial unrest in the town as well as confiscate suspected patriot munitions which included two brass cannons that were stolen from an armory at Boston Common. As parts of the Battle Road are now a busy roadway (Route 2A aka Massachusetts Avenue and then bearing right onto Lexington Road into Concord), the Battle Road Trail was created in order to connect the historic sites in a way that visitors to Minute Man National Historical Park could enjoy the preserved countryside either on foot, bicycle, or wheelchair. Along the trail, there are twenty-five interpretive signs that mark points of interest along the route as well as picnic areas and restrooms available.
One of highlights of the Battle Road Trail which is located close to the Minute Man Visitors Center with easy access off of Route 2A and a free parking area is the location where Paul Revere and his two fellow "Midnight Riders" William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, were stopped by British soldiers at a roadblock on their way to Concord.
Prescott was able to jump a wall on his horse and elude capture to become the only one to make it to Concord to sound the alarm while, in his own attempt to get away, Dawes fell off his horse in the escape and was detained by the soldiers who had followed him. Paul Revere's own famous midnight ride through the Massachusetts countryside alerting residents that the Redcoats were coming came to an end when his horse was confiscated and he remained as a captive of the soldiers who interrogated him several times about his actions. Upon being returned to Lexington late that night, he was released and soon rejoined John Hancock and John Adams but not before ensuring his name was permanently etched into the history books.
I rather had to wonder how it was that when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his famous 1861 poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, he stated that "... It was two by the village clock, When he came to the bridge in Concord town" referring to Revere who actually never made it through Lincoln; it was Prescott who raised the hue and cry in Concord and that part of the poem should have rightfully been about him. Nathaniel's feeling on the matter was that his former Bowdoin College classmate and lifelong friend simply did what a lot of great writers of his time did and took a bit of poetic license so that the words fit the metrical form Longfellow was aiming for with the poem ... after all, it's easier to rhyme "Revere" than it is "Prescott"!
Continuing along, at various points along the trail there are markers for some of the British soldiers who were killed during the day's events; for a comprehensive list of those who died, please visit Remembering the Fallen at The Complete Battle Road Journey which also contains photos of the grave markers not just along Battle Road Trail, but also in Boston for those soldiers who died of their battle wounds after returning to the city and were most likely buried in the Central Burying Ground at the corners of Tremont and Boylston Street.
One of the Battle Road Trail markers is located on the north side of the trail just past the tunnel under Hanscom Drive west of the Paul Revere capture site near Folly Pond. The following passage appears on page 27 of "Heroes of the Battle Road", a 45-page narrative of events in Lincoln on the 18th and 19th of April, 1775, that was written in 1930 by Frank Wilson Cheney Hersey and which also contains a good number of older photos of the area. Hersey's account of the fallen soldier is as such:
“Near Captain Smith’s house another grenadier was shot. His companions, seeing that his wound was mortal, left him by the roadside. This soldier was later carried into Captain Smith’s house, and his wounds were dressed. Here he lingered alive three or four days. During this time he felt that he caused the Smiths so much trouble, and he was suffering with such pain, that he begged them again and again to dispatch him. Finally, when dying, he told the maid that she would find a gold sovereign sewed in the lining of his coat. She could not find it, but he reiterated with his last words that it was there. After he was dead, Mrs. Smith herself found it. He is buried in a field on the southerly side of the road a little west of Folly Pond.”
According to Frank Warren Coburn on page 103 of his 1922 book "The Battle of April 19, 1775", the following statement was made to him by a nearby resident, Mr. George Nelson, who saw the remains and pointed out the locations of the old and new graves to the author in 1890:
"The remains were uncovered a few years ago when the road builders were widening and grading anew the highway. He was reinterred over the bordering wall in the field to the southwest of the highway, a short distance westerly from Folly Pond."
The home that the injured soldier was taken to is the Captain William Smith House which was built in 1692 and recently restored by the National Park Service to its original appearance at the time of the battle; the house is one of a number of "witness houses" along the Battle Road Trail, so called as they are local homesteads that were present at the time of the battle and therefore "witnessed" the actual fighting. Captain Smith, the brother of Abigail Adams - wife of John Adams who would go on to become our second President - was the commanding officer of the Lincoln Minute Men and it was his wife Catherine who, though a patriot, cared for the British soldier whose grave is marked by the stone above.
Another witness house on Battle Road Trail is the Ephraim Hartwell Tavern where colonial travelers were offered bed and board; built between 1722-1723, the house was a private residence until 1967 when it was bought by the National Park Service. The house was originally a wedding gift to Ephraim and Elizabeth Hartwell by Ephraim's father Samuel who gave them both it and 30 acres of land in 1732. In 1756, when the Hartwells had 9 children living in the house, Ephraim applied for and received a license to open part of their home as an inn which he and his family continued to run until the 1780s. Three of the Hartwell's sons - Samuel, John, and Isaac - fought at the North Bridge and along the Battle Road while many of the accounts of the battle were passed down by their daughter Mary.
Over the years, the house was modernized and changed but in the 1980s, the Park Service restored it to its 1775 appearance while also keeping its 1783 and 1830 additions. Approximately 60-70% of the "original" structure remains within the restored house including the main structure, the foundation, and most of the walls as well as some of the flooring.
Daily between Memorial Day weekend and the end of October, visitors to Hartwell Tavern can join a costumed Ranger in colonial attire for a 20-minute program about America's first soldiers which includes a musket firing demonstration or even learn what it was like to train for battle in 1775 by participating in a militia drill using real battle drill formations complete with wooden muskets. A schedule of the programs can be found here and parking, free of charge, is available on the grounds of the tavern.
Just to the west of Hartwell Tavern is the area where some of the bloodiest fighting of the battle ensued as the British troops retreated from Meriam's Corner towards Boston. Known as the Bloody Angle, it was in this heavily wooded area with sharp turns in the Battle Road that the colonial militia ambushed the soldiers and in a heavy crossfire killed at least eight and wounded many more in what would be the deadliest encounter of the day. If you look closely over Nathaniel's right shoulder you can just about make out the marker dedicated to the eight British dead that are buried in the area. This part of the trail is easily accessed via the parking area at Hartwell Tavern.
If you stay on the Battle Road Trail en route to Concord, you'll pass through pastures and farming fields that have been in continuous use since the 1600s as the trail continues on to Meriam's Corner. The National Park Service has installed boardwalks on the trail through the marshes and fragile wetlands to protect the land; visitors who are exploring the area by bicycle are asked to please walk your bikes over the boardwalks so as to not cause injury to yourself or others.
Beginning in early April and going through until the third week of the month, The Battle Road Committee - a volunteer group of reenactors who research, plan, and put on events in the Lexington and Concord area that are related to April 19, 1775 - brings history to life with marches, ceremonies, battles, commemorations, and even pancake breakfasts! Their website - Battleroad.org - is a fantastic place to get all of the information you need if you'd like to take a trip to the area and watch some of the reenactments which are performed by 25 different groups in authentic uniforms and costumes. From Event Schedules to General Information to Tour Information, you can find everything you need to plan a great day or weekend in the Massachusetts countryside. It truly is about as close to 1775 as you can get without help from Doctor Who and his Tardis!
When Nathaniel and I made the 30-minute journey from the Hawthorne Hotel to Minute Man National Historical Park on the Saturday of Patriots Day Weekend last April, I wasn't quite sure what to expect - especially as neither of us are huge fans of crowds - but I have to say that it was absolutely fantastic and we were very, very impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the reenactment groups. So that you can get an idea of exactly what we're talking about, for our next post we'll show you some photos and possibly even some video of the Tower Park Battle that takes place in a natural amphitheater across from the National Heritage Center in Lexington. Seeing the battle reenacted first-hand was well worth rubbing elbows with lots of other spectators and history lovers!
In the meantime, if you'd like additional information on Patriots Day Events at Minute Man National Historical Park, here's a link to their 2013 Schedule of Events. It's not too late to make plans to catch some of the action this weekend nor is it too early to start thinking about going next year and making the Hawthorne Hotel the sight of your own encampment!
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