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In a Very Military Manner

Herman A. Karl

Introduction
The title of this essay echoes the report of Lt. William Sutherland, 38th Regiment of Foot,
to Sir Henry Clinton, relating the events of 18 and 19 April 1775the battles of Lexington and
Concord.1 Sutherland was accompanying a detachment of Marines on scouting duty when the
British column entered Concord. From his vantage point at the North Bridge, Sutherland
describes the colonial militia and minute companies on the morning of 19 April as marching
down on us by divisions from their left in a very military manner.2 The purpose of this essay
is to use the descriptor in a very military manner as a springboard to explore the level of
tactical discipline of the Massachusetts militia and minute companies (unless otherwise noted) on
the eve of the Revolutionary War and through the siege of Boston.
Apparently on one hand some people believe the phrase in a very military manner
confirms that the Massachusetts militia and minute companies were well disciplined in the
military maneuvers of the period and on the other hand others are surprised that they had any
discipline at all thinking they behaved as a rabble. The essay is an overview and not a definitive
or seminal report of the level of militia discipline; its intent is to ask questions, generate
discussion, and encourage sharing of databases and thoughtful reflection and critical review of
the interpretations herein and those presented in other works.
The citizen soldiers who confronted the British regulars on 19 April demonstrated
exceptional courage and bravery. 3 The British army was arguably the best professional military
in the world. Other then being fortified by stoutness of spirit to defend their rights as free
Englishmen, what other factors might have contributed to the resolve of those citizen soldiers to
stand against the Kings regulars? Were their training, equipment, military experience, and
battle behavior commensurate with their courage and conviction?
Empirical data are virtually always subject to more than one interpretation. The
worldview, depth and breadth of knowledge, and bias of the analyst will result in different
interpretations. Knowledge is not static, but is an evolving product of a dynamic learning system.
It is my hope this essay will provoke informed debate and questions that generate ongoing
research and dialogue on its topic.
Background and Context
To answer the questions posed in this essay, it is essential to define well disciplined.
By discipline, I am not referring to personal behavior, personal hygiene, camp sanitary
conditions, and fraternization between officers and enlisted men (all, of course, elements of a
well disciplined unit). I mean instead proficiency in the manual of arms and marching exercises
prescribed in British drill manuals.4 My arguments here assume that this is what Lieutenant

Sutherland and other commentators have in mind as the standard for a very military manner,
and at issue is the extent to which the colonial militia and minute companies mustered, practiced,
and mastered the exercises in these drill manuals.5
Without a consensus agreement on a definitiona standard to which to compare the
modifiers well and poorly have no meaning. There is scant documentation on the training
regimen of both minute and militia companies. As discussed below that which exists suggests in
general minute companies trained for only a short period of time after formation before 19 April
1775. Most, if not all, minute and militia companies circa 1774/1775 used either the 1760
Norfolk drill manual or 1764 Crown drill manual.6 Thus, I infer that those commenting on the
level of discipline are referring to how well the citizen soldiers mastered the exercises in these
manuals.
Comparing the amount of training to that of the British regular army as best the data
allow helps to assess the possible level of discipline attained by American militia. Were the
militiamen and minutemen well disciplined compared to the British regulars? Were they well
disciplined such that they could adequately perform the manual of arms and maneuver, but
perhaps not to the standard of a professional army? How well disciplined and how well equipped
the militia and minute companies were by 19 April 1775 are factors for assessing how well
prepared they were for war.
Are commentators who describe the militia and minute companies as being well- or
poorly-disciplined using the phrase as an indicator of their potential and effectiveness as a
fighting force? If so, then I suggest that the proper measure of the degree of discipline is how
effectively they executed the manual marching and maneuvering exercises in battle. But the
Massachusetts militia and minute companies after the initial shots at North Bridge and through
the battle of Bunker Hill did not fight using the maneuvers prescribed in the drill manuals, which
were the standard for linear formation fighting (FIG 1).7 The Massachusetts militiamen and
minutemen fought from behind cover using the tactics developed over more than a century
fighting the Indians and French on the frontier in the wilderness as did other New England
militia (FIG. 2). So, how is one to assess the level of discipline per the exercises in the drill
manuals of the period, which trained soldiers for linear formation battle?

Figure 1. Attack of the Prussian infantry at Hohenfriedeberg 1745 as an example of 18th century
line formation battle tactic. Public domain image on the Internet.

Figure 2. Example of colonial militia and minute companies harassing from behind cover the British
regulars on their retreat from Concord to Boston. Skirmishingpracticing the skulking way of war is
characteristic of the American militia. Public domain image on the Internet.

Forces Defending the American Colonies


Before independence from Great Britain the British regular army and the militia defended
the colonies. All able bodied free men generally between the ages of 16 and 60 comprised the
militia of the colonies.8 There was also an alarm list, consisting of men older than sixty and
invalids who were called out only for exceptional circumstances. Service in the militia was an
obligation as a citizenmilitiamen were not paidand almost all towns had one or more
companies.9 These companies were to muster for training on a regular schedule. Town militia
companies were called only for local service within the province. Later during the Revolutionary
War the militia would be organized into state militia units could be assigned as needed out of
state.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress in October 1774 recommended the formation of
minute companies composed of about twenty-five percent of the militia. These elite companies
were to be ready at a minutes notice to answer an alarm. They were volunteers and a subset of
each towns militia. The concept of a rapid response unit was not new it had originated as early
as 1645.10 Over the next hundred years it was refined culminating in the minutemen of 19 April
1775. An abundance of minute companies formed in late 1774 and early 1775 after the 1774
Provincial Congresss recommendation. Clearly, minute companies, being a selected subset of
the militia, represented a skewed sample of the militia demographic. As with the militia a town
could have one or more companies. Its commonly thought that minute companies dissolved
quickly after 19 April 1775. However, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress on 17 June 1775
recommended that all militia in the colony be ready to march at a minutes warning, the
Continental Congress on 18 July 1775 recommended that one-fourth of the militia in each colony
be chosen as minutemen, and the Massachusetts General Court in November 1776 passed an act
that one-fourth of militia should be held in readiness to march at a moments warning (see
Galvin, The minute men, for a full discussion).
Provincial armies were raised from the body of the militia for specific campaigns and
wars (see Anderson, A Peoples war, for a detailed explanation and discussion). Provincial
armies could be raised to fight independently of and also to complement the British regular army.
3

Soldiers enlisted for a specific length of time, specific campaign, and expected to serve under
specific officers. Unlike militia service they had a contract with the civil government and were
paid for provincial army service. The militia and minute companies at the siege of Boston were
organized into the New England Army. It dissolved when the Continental Congress formed the
Continental Army 14 June 1775. However, state militia companies continued to serve throughout
the Revolutionary War.
Training
The frequency of training varied [for militia companies]. In the early seventeenth
century it could be as frequent as once a week in Massachusetts but decreased as time went on,
to a few days throughout the year. 11 A 1693 Massachusetts law specified Regimental musters
but once in Three Years (except in Boston) and every Captain or Chief Officer of any
Company or Troop in any Regiment, shall be obliged, on Penalty of Five Pounds, to draw forth
his company or troop... Four Days annually, and no more, to exercise them in Motions, the use
of Arms, and Shooting at Marks...12 As stated above the Massachusetts Provincial Congress
recommended in October 1774 that towns form minute companies, and in a resolve of 10
December 1774 stated they be disciplined three times a week, and oftener, as opportunity
may offer.13 Many town meeting warrants, however, stipulated musters to be held less often
typically twice weekly. There is meager documentation that minute companies actually followed
these guidelines in practice. I am aware of only three documented cases that musters were
indeed held. Two Acton minutemen testified that their company trained twice a week, beginning
in November 1774.14 The soldiers in Capt. James Sawyers Haverhill minute company appear to
have trained on average about 31 hours in all.15 Israel Litchfield, a Scituate minuteman, in his
diary (which is an excellent source of information of how the Scituate minute companies
organized, prepared, trained, and were equipped) records training usually (week intervals were
sometimes skipped) two days per week from 8 November 1774 to 13 April 1775.16 Without more
extensive documentation we can only take it on faith that other companies actually did muster in
accordance with the resolves. It is generally assumed by re-enactors that musters followed the
1760 Norfolk or 1764 Crown drill manuals.17 Israel Litchfield in his diary states the Scituate
minute company started with the 1760 manual and quickly switched to the 1764 manual.18
Generalizing from the discussion above, militia and minute companies drilled on the
town or village common, learning to march and the manual of arms. There is documentation that
at least some of these companies practiced shooting at marks.19 There is no record that
Massachusetts militia and minute companies practiced battle tactics. Although regular periodic
regimental musters were specified in the 1693 law, there are only three occurrences of which I
am aware when several minute or militia companies assembled as a battalion or regiment on the
eve of the Revolutionary War.20 One on 13 March 1775 was simply an assembly of companies
for a regimental review and not for training purposes.21 Israel Litchfield mentions two multicompany musters. On 13 April 1775 three companies trained as a battalion.22 Ironically a
regimental review of 9 or 10 companies was held on 19 April 1775.23 Litchfield states, The
major exercised us a little while then the Battalion was dismissed. Training at these reviews
was minimal probably consisting of the manual of arms and some marching exercises. As
discussed in the section, British army training and discipline, a few hours exercising as a
battalion or regiment was not nearly sufficient practice for proficiently performing complicated
linear battle tactics.
The Massachusetts militia participating in the French and Indian War had a reputation for

poor discipline.24
Formal training among Bay Colony troops was always scanty, even though they
obviously needed a great deal of it. Orderly books and journals indicate the
provincials were frequently ignorant of rudimentary maneuvers and, indeed,
barely familiar with firearms. two days before the expeditionary force was
scheduled to embark, the Massachusetts noncommissioned officers were still
uncertain how to execute commands, and the Connecticut troops were trying to
learn how to deploy from a column to a line.
In 1759 Gen. Jeffry Amherst was so disturbed by the New England militias lack of basic
military knowledge that he ordered them trained with British regulars and that all regiments
of volunteers and militia be given a copy of Humphrey Blands Treatise of Military
Discipline.25
The Massachusetts Provincial army was raised from the militia for the French and Indian
War and militia companies were recruited for extended campaigns outside of their home states
after the start of the Revolutionary War. In both cases, the composition of the militia companies
was very different from that of minute companies in 1774 and early 1775.
Anderson, A peoples army: Massachusetts soldiers and society in the Seven Years War,
principally informs my discussion. As he points out, The [provincial force fielded by
Massachusetts] represented a kind of image of the colonys society at large. [The] Seven
Years War for the Bay Colony [was] a peoples war and virtually guaranteed it would be
foughtvoluntarilyby armies of the people.26 The militiamen comprising the provincial army
had a contractual relationship with the civilian government. They were paid and enlisted for
specific campaigns and usually for no longer than eight months. At the end of their enlistment
per the contract, they expected to go home. This contractual relationship was basically the same
after the first year of the Revolutionary War. Washingtons army was plagued throughout the
war by the coming and going of state militia units.
In contrast to the militia comprising the provincial army of the French and Indian War,
after the first year of the Revolutionary War a narrower cross-section of colonial society
populated the militia companies. After the initial patriotic fervorrage militaireof the first
year waned, more and more substitutes were hired by men of social standing and property to take
their place.27 Consequently, the militias progressively evolved from the republican ideal that
an army composed of men of property was the only sure defense of a free people to that of the
proletariat.28 Herein lies an important distinction with the composition of town minute
companies recruited from the militia as a whole on the eve of the Revolution. In 1774 and 1775,
men of property, social stature, and the honest yeomanry of the towns populated these elite
companiesthe militia of the ideal republican state. This segment of society had [also]
absented themselves from militia service during the ten year interval between the end of the
French and Indian War and the eve of the Revolution when Americans had allowed their militia
to lapse into a state of total disarray.29
Another major change occurred at this time as the militia reconstituted to that of the
republican ideal. Loyalists were effectively purged from the officer corps when the First
Continental Congress on 18 September 1774 endorsed a resolution from Suffolk County,
Massachusetts, calling for the colonies to reorganize their militias under leadership friendly to
the rights of the people.30 During the French and Indian War and back to the founding of the

Bay Colony, the militia, of course, were all proud subjects of the King. Beginning with the
discord generated by the various acts of Parliament after the end of the French and Indian War,
the colonists began to separate into patriot (Whig) and loyalist (Tory) camps. By 1774 as the
potential of armed confrontation with the Kings troops mounted both the Provincial Congress
and Continental Congress took steps to ensure that the reorganization of the militias included an
officer corps of patriots.
Did the resolves of the Provincial Congress to encourage a more disciplined militia
officered with patriots translate into well-trained citizen soldiers? Did the greater presence of
men of property and social standing in the minute and town militia companies of 1774/1775
yield a more disciplined training regime?31 Did the earnestness of militia and minute companies
to train in 1774/1775 diminish after the first year of the war? If so, then documentation about the
discipline of state militia units after the first year of the Revolution may not tell us much about
their state of discipline in early 1775.
One element that influences the level of discipline is leadership. Militia soldiers elected
their officers. Although it is possible that some officers were elected because of their prior
military education or training, at least some, and perhaps many, were elected because of their
social standing within their communities. Of the militia in the Revolution, Washington noted
that if the officers were more proficient, the militia would likely perform better.32
Because regular militia musters had slackened after the end of the French and Indian War,
the possibility of armed conflict with Crown troops in the early 1770s renewed interest in the
preparedness of the militia. The minute companies as recommended by the Provincial Congress
were to muster three times or more often per week (but in practice most mustered two or fewer
times per week), and towns voted to compensate them for their service. Although the frequency
of musters increased, the question remains as to the level of discipline attained by the soldiers.
The question will be explored in a subsequent section.
The drill manual practiced by most minute companies is not known with certainty. Cain,
in his essay on the rise of the minutemen in the Merrimack valley, suggests that the Norfolk
manual may have been used between 1768 and the early 1770s and the 1764 manual by late
1775.33 He notes that one company voted to adopt the 1764 manual in November 1774. As
stated below the 1764 manual was widely available in North America as early as 1766. Israel
Litchfield, in his diary, records that he and some other members of the Scituate militia company
began exercising with the 1760 Norfolk manual in November, 1774, but then soon switched to
the 1764 manual.34
Houlding, Fit for service, has a comprehensive chapter on the drill manuals of the 18th
century.35 He notes,
In North America, where so much of the army was to find itself during
these years, the earliest known imprint of the full drill is the Manual Exercise, as
ordered by His Majesty in 1764. Together with Plans and Explanations of the
Method Generally Practised at Reviews and Field-Days (New York 1766), which
was certainly the work of Gages command. A great number of 1764 manual and
platoons, and also the full 1764 Regulations, were printed thereafter in North
American colonies. There as many as twenty-six American imprints between
1766 and 1780.

The drill manuals explained the basic exercises. There are five elements: manual exercise
(learning how to handle his firearm), platoon exercise (learning volley firing), simple evolutions
(for example, facings done on the spot in rank and file), firings (controlled fire standing,
advancing, and retreating), and close order linear maneuvers (see Houlding pages 160-261 for a
detailed description). These basic exercises, however, did not prepare the recruit for combat; by
mastering them he was rated fit for service. As the title of the drill manual makes clear these
exercises were practiced for reviews and field days. The last two elements were especially
technically demanding and required a great deal of continuous practice over a long time interval.
Expert NCOs taught them. The exercises formed the foundation for the advanced training, which
is discussed in the section, British Army Training and Discipline.
Given the amount of time allocated to training, it is highly probable minute and militia
companies would have only practiced the first three elements and learned simple marching
maneuvers. This assumption is supported by a notation in Litchfields diary that he practiced
marching and whealing. How proficient the minutemen and militiamen were even in
elementary marching is questionable. The experience of Baron von Steuben at Valley Forge in
1778 is testament that the colonial militias in general were not well disciplined in the marching
exercisescertainly not to the standards of a professional army. Lockhart describes and
comments upon Von Steubens initial impression: 36
The Baron started, appropriately enough, at the beginning, treating the model
company as if it consisted of raw recruitsnot from condescension, but from
necessity, as the men had been trained in so many different ways. The only part
which retained a shadow of Uniformity, Steuben observed with some annoyance,
was that Established in the English Army. First things firsthow to march.
The most Essential part which is the March & Manuvring step, the Baron
reported, was as varied as the Colour of our Uniforms. That would have to
change, and fast. It mattered little if the men could handle their muskets in
unisonthat was what Steuben meant by the term Manual Exercise, the manual
of armsif they could not even keep step with one another.
The Barons experience suggests that many militia companies focused on the manual of arms
possibly at the expense of maneuvers. As Steuben points out, the manual of arms was least
essential of the prescribed exercises for preparing for combat. After taking command of the
forces at the siege of Boston, General Washington issued numerous orders that reflected his
concern for the poor discipline.37 He repeatedly urged his officers to focus training on the various
maneuvers and not so much on the manual of arms. As the war progressed General Washington
continued to make a point of discipline. Increasingly, he emphasized those exercises essential for
combat over those useful for parade.38 A few officers in the British army shared this opinion, but
the practice of the manual of arms remained a staple to the point of being a fetish of training in
the British army for most of the 18th century.39
General von Steuben did note that unlike European soldiers, American soldiers
sometimes wanted to know why they should perform a command before doing it.40 Of course,
this attitude could have consequences in battle. But Steuben, recognizing that it was part of the
American character and a potential strength (as long as it was not abused to flaunt discipline)
incorporated it into his training.41 With patience and great effort, the discipline taught by von
Steuben forged the regulars of the Continental army into a proficient fighting force.

An Easy Plan of Discipline for the Militia


Timothy Pickering, a Massachusetts militia officer, developed a drill manual in which he
examined the exercises in the 1764 and earlier manuals and eliminated those he considered
unnecessary.42 He simplified and shortened the exercises for the militia, because he was
convinced, that an exercise designed for the militia cannot be too short and easy.43 In his
endeavor he inferred nothing but what, when the military art was entirely new to [him],
would have been very acceptable, and have saved [him] much time and study.44 His manual
published in 1775 was probably too late to be adopted by militia and minute companies
mustering on the eve of the Revolution, although one would presume he trained his own
company by his methods. Nonetheless, his justification for writing the manual is relevant to our
discussion importantly for two reasons: First, he asked why were all the exercises necessary.
Second, militia had infrequent and short amounts of time available for training and the exercises
they practiced should not only be simple but also absolutely necessary.
Today re-enacting companies practice the 1764 manual (or another manual such as the
Norfolk) without question. The smartest in appearance take great pride in masterfully executing
the exercises especially the manual of arms. I wonder if militiamen and minutemen so
unquestionably practiced the exercises in 1774 and 1775? Consider that these men had no
hesitancy to question General von Steuben as to why they should perform certain exercises.
Given this elementasking why of the American soldiers character, especially the Yankee, it
seems likely to me they would question their elected officerstheir neighbors and relatives as
well.
As will be discussed in subsequent sections the militia had a limited amount of time to
train, and mastering the exercises in the 1764 manual takes a significant timethe recruits in the
British army needed from several weeks to several months to attain proficiency in the manual.
This time constraint was a reason Pickering revised the drill exercises.
I have aimed at striking out every thing in our military apparatus and
exercises which serves merely for show.Besides, a militia can rarely, if ever, be
engaged to attend so far as to learn all the essential parts of discipline. Tis
therefore preposterous, nay beyond measure and absurd and ridiculous, for them
to waste their time in learning and performing useless motions, and their money in
idle parade.45
It is apropos and illuminating to quote at length Pickerings view on the difference between mastering
the discipline of parade ground exercises and those necessary for combat; here he refers to the manual of
arms:
I have here exhibited, in a few words, all the uses for which a manual
exercise was invented, and all the valuable ends to which it can be applied.
Except the priming, loading and firing, which are necessary in an engagement, all
the rest of the exercise is good for nothing, unless to relieve the men, when
fatigued with duty. Yet, strange as it may seem, there are not wanting some who
chuse to incumber it with a parcel of useless motions, merely because to them
they appear graceful. But these men when they engage in military matters think of
nothing so little as applying their abilities for the defence of their country: their

ideas seldom extend beyond the lines of the parade: and if their dress be uniform,
their arms bright, and they can move gracefully, the end is answered; they excite
the gaze of the admiring crowd, by whose applause their zeal is limited and their
ambition bounded. But unless our exertions have a view to real service, tis to the
last degree absurd to expend so much time and money in military exercises;
which, without such a view, are fit only for the amusement of school-boys.46
This goes to my point that we do not know what a company actually practiced at muster. We assume it
was the exercises in the 1764 manual. Even though a company may have voted to use the manual and
some hired instructors, unless there is a record in an orderly book, for instance, we cannot know if they
practiced the exercises as prescribed or a modified version. Its one thing for a contemporary company
to use the 1764 manual without question, its another thing to assume the original companies did
likewise.47
In ending this section, I want to make clear that Pickering did not advocate abandoning close
order drill exercise. He argued the necessity of eliminating exercises he considered unnecessary and
simplifying the drill for the militia. He was encouraging his countrymen not to be dazzled by the
glamour of parade ground maneuvers to the detriment of those exertions [that] have a view to real
service.
Equipment
On the eve of the Revolutionary War the militia were generally armed with a mixture of
flintlock fowlers and muskets.48 Guns were part of colonial society and culture, and by hunting,
many militiamen probably acquired some proficiency in their use.49 However, not all those in
the militia had effective firearms. For example, returns of arms submitted to the Provincial
Congress on June 15, 1775, by five militia officers seeking commissions in the Provincial Army
documented about 79% of the soldiers had serviceable firearms (estimated 1,768 firearms for
2,230 soldiers) and of those only 22% had bayonets.50
Bayonets were stipulated in the list of equipment specified for militia and minute
companies in many town resolves. Several lines of evidence converge to indicate that in general
there was a ratio of one bayonet to two firearms at the beginning of the war.51 A lack of
bayonets after the militia had run out of ammunition contributed to the abandonment of the
breastworks at Bunker Hill.52 There is a controversy as to how many companies were equipped
with bayonets at North Bridge, although it is widely accepted that the Acton minute company
possessed many bayonets.53 Swords, axes, and tomahawks could be substituted for bayonets as a
stipulated edged weapon.54 Hatchets and axes are commonly available farm tools, and it is likely
many militia soldiers carried one. Indeed, a wounded British soldier was killed with a hatchet at
North Bridge.55
As stated in Karl, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War:
part 2, bayonets and cartridge boxes:56
Cartridge boxes also were in short supply as evidenced by the situation at Bunker
Hill. Every man was immediately supplied with two flints, and a gill of powder
with fifteen balls to form into cartridges, but nearly all of them were destitute of
cartridge boxes, employing powder horns only; and scarcely any two of their guns
agreeing in calibre, they were obliged to hammer their balls to a proper size for
the pieces.57

General Washington issued orders at Cambridge in 1776 to remedy the lack of cartridge boxes:
Such of the Regiments as are in want of Leather Shot-bags with Straps, to hold Ball and BuckShot, may have them by applying to the Adjutant-General; it is intended that every NonCommissioned Officer and Soldier be supplied58 and The General is surprised to find the
Militia applying for Cartouch Boxes and other Accoutrements, when he had not a doubt, but they
would have come compleatly equipt--As the case however is otherwise, he directs that they
should be served with Powder-horns and Shot pouches, in lieu of Cartouch Boxes....59
The paucity of cartridge boxes plagued at least some of the companies at North Bridge.
Amos Baker, the last surviving participant at North Bridge, recalled in his 1850 testimony that
the Lincoln contingent lacked cartridge boxes and had only powder horns.60 He implied that
without cartridges prepared in advance and carried in cartridge boxes, the Lincoln soldiers would
be at a disadvantage fighting the regulars in an environment more open than that at the bridge,
because the regulars could fire three times to their once.61
Clearly, although many town resolves stipulated that the militia and minute companies
should be equipped with complete accouterments, it cannot be assumed that these items were
procured.62 General Washingtons surprise and annoyance at the paucity of accouterments
among the New England army surrounding Boston is but one example of the lack of equipment
at the beginning of the war. Undoubtedly, and as documented, companies varied in regard to
how well they were equipped.
Whether the majority of militia were equipped with what might be called a complete set
of regulation military accouterments, such as cartridge boxes and bayonets, is not a reliable basis
for judging them as well- or ill-armed. By the standards of the day, many militiamen were
armed well, being equipped with fowlers and muskets, powder horns and shot pouches, the
implements to maintain their firearms, and edged weapons; everything they needed to fight a
skulking way of war.
Military Experience and Battle Behavior
Many of the Revolutionary War militiamen and minutemen were too young to have
fought in the French and Indian War.63The citizen soldiers that were veterans of the French and
Indian War knew that the linear formation tactics of the British army, to say the least, were
ineffective in wooded terrain. The tactics of skulking, which had evolved fighting the Indians
and French for more than a century (Maj. Robert Rogers codified the tactics in his 28 rules for
ranging compiled in 1757) were reinforced by how successfully the French and their Indian allies
employed those tactics against the British and Provincial forces. 64 The devastating defeat of
General Braddock is but one example.65 That citizen soldiers learned those lessons well and that
it was a reflexive and ingrained part of their fighting discipline is demonstrated by how the
militia (minute companies are included in the militia) fought the regulars at North Bridge and
during the retreat back to Boston, and at Bunker Hill.
The regulars at North Bridge were massed on and behind the bridge in column; they were
not deployed in line of battle. The militia advanced in a column of two files along the bridge
causeway. The regulars moved off the bridge and fired from the opposite bank, and the militia
returned the fire. After return of fire, the militia crossed the bridge and chased the regulars, but
quickly ended their pursuit. Karl notes:66

10

At North Bridge after the initial [exchange of fire] [m]ilitary order and regularity
of proceeding were soon after broken up.67 And later in the day as the militia
pursued the regulars on their withdrawal to Boston [t]he minutemen were
fighting with no discipline or organization whatsoever. One of the provincial
participants wrote, Each sought his own place and opportunity to attack and
annoy the enemy from behind trees, rocks, fences, and buildings as seemed most
convenient.68 They produced a continual and effective harassing fire from
ambush during the British withdrawal to Boston along what is now called Battle
Road.
Lt. John Barker, an officer with the British army retreating to Boston, noted the militia
attacks diminished as they approached the Charleston peninsula, for the rebels did
not chose to follow up the hill [i.e., Bunker Hill] as they must have fought us on the
open ground and that they did not like. 69
This fighting style reflects the tactics developed fighting Indians and the French in the
wilderness. As noted by Malone, about the evolution of fighting style in King Philips War, by
the end of summer [1676] soldiers from all the New England colonies [instead of volley firing in
massed formation] were shooting at individuals, using cover when fired upon, and moving
through the woods quietly and carefully.70 The militia comprising the New England army that
laid siege to Boston employed the tactic of fighting behind cover at Bunker Hill. The militia
excelled at this style of fighting. The effectiveness and suitability of the skulking way of
fighting in New England terrain influenced development of the British light infantry and rangers,
causing them to emulate the backwoods fighting techniques of the American militia and to carry
tomahawks, horns, and pouches.71
As a result of the British army experience in the French and Indian War, Lieutenant
Colonel Gage (later General Gage) organized a light infantry regiment. Like the irregular ranger
units a large number of these soldiers resisted regular discipline.72 This characteristic mirrors the
attitude of the American, in particular New England, militia. Col. Henry Bouquet, a British army
officer, remarked that the light troops wanted in America must be trained upon different
principles [i.e., the linear formation tactics and drill manual exercises were not appropriate for
war in North America].73
However, the British army in the decade between the end of the French and Indian War
and beginning of the Revolutionary War apparently forgot the lessons learned fighting the
French and Indians. During the Revolution the light infantry usually operated as elite
battalions within the main line of battle, relinquishing genuine skirmishing duties to the Hessian
Jgers.74
At no time did the militia attempt to engage the regulars in open linear formation combat
in New England. They were not trained in linear formation combat. As discussed above it is
unknown, but seems unlikely they ever practiced battle maneuvers as regiments and would not
have known how to perform the maneuvers as part of a regiment of hundreds of soldiers, or
would have been poorly skilled in maneuvering in such large formations. And, as explained, the
New England terrain was not suitable for deployment of troops into long and massive lines of
battle. This account of Private David Perry probably speaks for most of the militia with regard to
being disciplined (required) to stand in ranks:75

11

The whistling of the balls and the roar of the musquestry terrified me not a little.
At length our regiment formed among the trees, behind which the men kept
stepping from their ranks for shelter. Col. Preble, who, I well remember, was a
harsh man, swore he would knock the first man down who should step out of his
ranks, which greatly surprised me, to think that I should stand still to be shot at.
Having said the above it is clarifying to examine in some detail the battle tactics of the
militia and minute companies as they unfolded 19 April 1775. There are inconsistencies in the
contemporary accounts and histories of the Lexington and Concord battles. Douglas Sabin,
historian of the Minuteman National Historical Park, examined these sources and endeavored to
reconcile them. 76 The inconsistencies do not alter the basics of the discussion and interpretation
herein.
As stated in the second paragraph of the introduction, some people believe the militia was
well disciplined in the drill manual exercises and some believe that individuals fought without
organization as a rabblethe myth of the embattled farmer leaving his plough and running to
engage the regulars. Neither of these is true. In the discussion that follows I draw principally on
A Circle of Fire especially pages 246 through 255 in Fischer, Paul Reveres ride.
Fischer in this chapter aims to dispel the myth of the embattled farmer fighting as an
individual without organization. He does this by citing examples of groups of militia and
demonstrating that there was some organization to the skirmishing along what is now called
Battle Road. At Lexington green about 70 citizen soldiers assembled in two ranks to confront the
regulars. When the British ordered them to disburse, their captain John Parker commanded them
to do so. The situation was tense and volatile. As the men began to leave the green shots were
fired (who fired first is still disputed) and the British regulars, most of them not combat veterans,
lost any semblance of discipline. After the initial shots the redcoats kept up an undisciplined fire
and charged with bayonets the disbursing militiamen. It was only with great difficulty when
Lieutenant Colonel Smith arrived that they were brought back to order.
The next encounter between the Americans and regulars was at the North Bridge in
Concord. Several militia and minute companies gathered on the hill over looking the bridge. As
stated Lieutenant Sutherland described the regiment (according to Ripley the companies
advanced toward the bridge as a mixed regiment of minute and militia companies) as marching
in a very military manner. As previously noted the citizen soldiers were in column of two files.
The regulars had moved across the bridge and some, led by an officer, were on the bridge tearing
up planks. Major Buttrick commanded the combined minute and militia companies and shouted
to stop destroying the bridge. According to linear formation doctrine as the column advanced
along the bridge road he should have commanded them to deploy from column into two or three
ranks so that they could execute platoon fire.77 The militia (henceforth I use militia to include
both militia and minute companies except as noted) had previously primed and loaded their
weapons, but it had been decided that the militia would not fire unless fired upon. After the
British fired instead of giving the sequence of commands prescribed for platoon fire in the 1764
drill manual, Major Buttrick shouted, Fire fellow soldiers, for Gods sake fire! Perhaps the
situation unfolded so quickly and unexpectedly that Buttrick simply had no time but to urge the
citizen soldiers to return fire. Or perhaps the terrain wouldnt permit deployment into line. In any
case his order was not the measured command of an officer well disciplined in the drill manual
exercises or experienced in war. The men fired from column having to shoot (except for the first
two) around each other. However, in the absence of commands and lacking the discipline

12

inculcated from months of daily training I suspect that those close to the bridge reflexively and
automatically stepped out of column to have an unobstructed lane of fire. Soldiers further back in
the long, winding column may have had clear shoots at the regulars across the river.
If the militia officers and soldiers had been well trained and thoroughly disciplined in the
drill manual exercises, one might assume even under fire the closet ranks to the bridge would
have formed into a line for volley fire. Or as described below continued their advance on the
British using a street-fighting maneuver. Undoubtedly, however, they had never practiced this
complicated maneuver and could not use it. Instead of following any of the doctrine prescribed in
the British drill manuals that presumably guided their training at musters, for whatever reason,
they fought as skirmishers, the style of fighting they exhibited throughout the day. As
documented in the sections Discipline of Selected Minute Companies at the Battle of Concord
and Conclusions their behavior was consistent with the few tens of hours most companies
actually trained before 19 April 1775 and the historic fighting style of the New England militia.
Captain Laurie, in command of the regulars, ordered them into a street fighting column, a
complicated maneuver that when executed well permits a sustained fire from an advancing,
standing, or in this case, retreating column in a confined space. It should be noted that Lieutenant
Sutherland attempted to deploy flankers for more effective fire, but he was not in command and
except for a few regulars he was ignored. It is debatable whether the street-fighting maneuver
was appropriate for the situation. Lieutenant Barker, another officer at the bridge, thought that
Captain Laurie should have immediately withdrawn over the bridge and formed the troops into
ranks.78 Under effective fire by the militia and trying to execute a complicated maneuver the
untried and ill-disciplined regulars became confused, panicked, and broke racing from the bridge.
The militia behaved in an equally disorderly and even desultory mannersome chased the
regulars, some retreated, and some even went home.79 In this situation, the amount of training of
the militia and even that of the regulars, which was certainly many times greater than that of the
militia, proved insufficient for the soldiers to maintain discipline. This behavior exhibited by
soldiers with only basic training and untried in combat is expected as discussed in the section,
British Army Training and Discipline.
It would be interesting to speculate had the British regulars been hardened, well
disciplined combat veterans how they would have behaved both at Lexington green and the
bridge. Would any shots have been fired at Lexington? Would the regulars have moved off the
bridge and formed into ranks making ready to fire, but withholding fire until the situation
clarified? Would the militia have been forced back at the bridge? Was the battle at North Bridge,
at least in part, the consequence of poorly disciplined and untried opponents commanded by
inexperienced officers? Given the hostility and bitterness between the militia and regulars, the
inexperience of the soldiers and officers, and the tenseness of the situation, the confrontations at
Lexington and Concord were accidents waiting to happen.80
Although the militia regrouped after the skirmish at North Bridge, there was no longer a
unified command. The lack of order and discipline may have saved Colonel Smiths command
from complete defeat.81 The citizen soldiers and their officers, however, can in no way be faulted
for not being disciplined to attack the British after the skirmish at North Bridge. At most a
minute company may have trained for about 130 hours prior to 19 April, and the majority of
companies probably trained for less than half that (see TABLE). And their training probably
consisted of only parade grade exercises. Moreover, the assembled town companies had never
trained as a regiment and for the majority of the citizen soldiers this was their first taste of battle.
Their bravery, regardless of their lack of training and discipline, checked the British and they

13

proved their mettle. It would have been a masterstroke if they had checkmated Colonel Smith
that morning.
Later in the morning began the running engagement with the regulars as they retreated to
Boston. Fischer states, Altogether, from Concord Bridge to Lexington Green, the New England
militia stood against the British force in large formations at least eight times.82 There is no
evidence, nor seemingly does Fischer suggest, that during any of these the soldiers were in ranks
making ready for platoon firing to loose a coordinated volley into the regulars according to linear
formation doctrine. Indeed, in an earlier paragraph he states, From Concord to Lexington Green,
the New England men fought from fixed ambush positions. The encounter at Meriams
Corner, considered the start of the running battle, where the regulars skirmished with minute
companies from Reading, Billerica, and Wilmington is typical of the skirmishing tactics
employed by the formations of militia. Its unclear if the minute companies or the regulars
initiated fire at Meriams Corner, but the minute companies fired from behind hedges and walls
at the regulars on the road.83
General Heath assumed command of the militia at Lexington. According to Fischers
interpretation, he organized the skirmishing as the citizen soldiers practiced the skulking way of
war as they harassed the regulars the rest of the day. There was no organized chain of command;
Heath and other officers imparted some organization to the dispersed body of skirmishers by
advising officers along he road. Clearly, however, Heath and his subordinates could not have
been everywhere at once. Given the loose command structure, it is unlikely that companies,
much less regiments, moved as cohesive units in organized tactical maneuvers from cover to
cover as they chased the regulars. Sabin notes, [a] mix of men from three towns were
killed in the vicinity of Hartwells barn. He asks, Does this indicate that company organization
had broken down among the Americans at this point and that the Provincial companies were
mixed together?84 It is possible that companies arriving later in the day at and after Menotomy
may have fought as cohesive units. French states, The Danvers company, the only one that tried
to fight as a body, were caught between the main column of the regulars and a strong flanking
party, and many were killed in an improvised enclosure.85 Sabin, however, believes that
components of the Danvers contingent arrived at different times.86 Its unlikely that even very
large groups, such as the thousand described by Lieutenant Sutherland as a battalia, were
regimented in town companies.87
Tourtellot believes, The minutemen and other militia were just not susceptible of
regimentation. Actually, the provincials did with Heath present exactly what they
unquestionably would have done without him.88 And that is fight the skulking way. Fischer
lends support to Tourtellots interpretation when he states, American officers minimized their
own losses by using mobility and cover, and by open-order skirmishing at long range. The men
who led the New England militia were experienced in this sort of war.89 Any of the veterans of
the French and Indian War, as explained earlier, would have been experienced in the skulking
way of fighting. The citizen soldiers were not dependent upon General Heath to organize them
tactically and instruct them in technique. As General von Steuben implied the American
militiaman could think for himself. It is a prized characteristic of the Yankee. Independent
initiative does not mean that anarchy prevailed among the citizen soldiers along Battle Road.
They arrived on the scene as companies marching from their respective towns. Once in the fight
each soldier took the initiative, but we can imagine they communicated among themselves giving
some structure to their actions.

14

The interpretations above, as any interpretation, are prejudiced by the perceptions and
biases of the analyst; all empirical data are subject to more than one interpretation. In this case
both interpretations, however, support the thesis of this essay that the militia did not fight using
linear formation tactics, and were not trained well for those tactics. On those few occasions they
presented themselves in clear view as a group formed in ranks or marching in step is not
surprisingthey practiced that during muster. No evidence has been presented that they fought
in those formations. The level of proficiency they attained in the drill exercises is an
interpretation. How American militias behaved in open linear formation combat later in the war
could provide an indication of how well the New England militias might have been disciplined in
the exercises of the British drill manuals.
The War quickly moved south after the first two years, and most battles outside of New
England were fought using linear formation tactics. How did the militia behave in these battles?
In a nutshell, militia was undependable, poorly trained, and generally ineffective on the field
of battle.90 In this respect, they had the same shortcoming as militia in the French and Indian
War, The almost complete absence of drill from the provincials daily routine meant that they
went into battle with none of the steadying habits that drilling inculcated.91
Consider the battle of Camden, South Carolina in 1780 as illustration of how poorly the
militia could perform, even years into the War.92 Gen. Horatio Gates arrayed militia and
Continental Line regiments in linear formation against the regulars of Lord Cornwallis on 16
August 1780. Gates made a tactical mistake by positioning the North Carolina and Virginia
militia opposite the elite troops of Lt. Col. James Webster. When Websters soldiers advanced,
the militia with the exception of one company abandoned the field in disorder, hardly firing a
shot. The Maryland and Delaware Continental Line units, about one-third the strength of the
militia, fought well, but they were soon surrounded and many were killed and captured. Gates
fled the field in disgrace and was replaced as commander of the southern army by Gen.
Nathaniel Greene. Behavior of the militia in other battles varied from the extreme of Camden,
but in general militia soldiers could not be depended upon to stand their ground against British
troops in the open field.
Officers who understood and accepted the behavior of the militia could compensate for it
by tactical deployment of their troops. For example, Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan understood the
weaknesses of the militia and did not ask of them more than they could give.93 In 1781 as part of
Cornwalliss southern campaign, Colonel Tarleton pursued Morgans troops with light infantry
and dragoonsTarletons Legionintending to trap him between the Broad and Pacolet rivers.
Morgan decided to fight at an area called the Cowpens south of the river, on January 17, 1781.
He brilliantly deployed his Continentals, militia, riflemen, and cavalry. Knowing that the militia
would dissolve in the face of a bayonet charge, he positioned skirmishers in the first line, militia
in the second line, and the steady Continentals in the third line. He asked the skirmishers and
militia to fire at least twice, concentrating on the officers, before withdrawing. The independent
riflemen were on the flanks, and the cavalry behind on the left flank of the Continentals. The
skirmishers and militia performed more or less as asked, but their withdrawal was with some
disorder causing confusion in the ranks behind. The British troops sensed victory and charged
right into the third line of Continentals. The volley of the Continentals, flanking fire of the
riflemen, and charge of the cavalry devastated the British, resulting in a complete victory for the
Americans. Morgan then (with several hundred prisoners) crossed the Broad River to safety.
Gen. Nathaniel Greene, learning from the success of Morgan, deployed his troops in a
similar fashion at Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781.94 In the wooded terrain of this battle,

15

the militia, stationed behind a fence, held steady and fired two effective volleys into the
advancing British. Although rocked, the British continued the advance with bayonets fixed. The
militia having done their job withdrew. The British next encountered the second line of militia
in hilly and wooded terrain who demonstrated they could fight when provided cover.95 The
British pushed the militia to retreat and as at Cowpens they encountered the Continentals and
two militia units as the last line of defense. Fighting was fierce, and the Continentals
supplemented by the militia contested the ground. Greene, however, eventually was forced to
retreat. The field was left to Cornwallis, but it was a costly victory, almost bleeding his troops
dry, including the deaths of several key officers that plagued him the rest of the war.
Spring has summarized succinctly the fighting style of the militia.96
Tactically, the militia proved far more effective when operating in broken
terrain, employing what the British contemptuously styled a skulking method of
fighting in actions where superior numbers, personal initiative, and enthusiasm
were more important factors than conventional military training and discipline.
Indeed, the militias most important military contribution to the rebel cause
was in the petite guerre. [97] These three examples [Freemans Farm, Kings
Mountain, and Guilford Courthouse] show quite clearly that, for most rebel troops,
fighting in thick woods neutralized the principal tactical weakness that separated
them from their British opponentstheir limited ability to maneuver and fight in
the ordered formations that provided such a powerful sense of psychological
security to disciplined regulars.
Although the British may have mocked the discipline of the militia and despised the tactic of
hiding behind cover thinking the soldiers cowardly, a few officers recognized that this style was
well adapted to the North American terrain.98 In a letter to General Harvey 20 April 1775
remarking upon the New England militia harassing the redcoats on their retreat to Boston
Brigadier Lord Percy stated,99
During the whole affair the Rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular
manner, but with perseverance & resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into
any regular body. Indeed, they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever
looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself much mistaken. They have
men amongst them who know very well what they are about, having been
employed as Rangers agst the Indians & Canadians, & this country being much
cov d w. wood, and hilly, is very advantageous for their method of fighting.
In other words, Lord Percy complimented the militia by crediting them with the intelligence to
fight in a manner that gave them the advantage. It was only when the state militias were forced to
fight in linear formation over open ground that they were ineffective. Percy in this description
also confirms that the citizen soldiers fought as skirmishers in the skulking way of war and not as
disciplined troops in linear formation.
Citizen Militia versus Standing Professional Army
The philosophical, political, ideological, and economic ramifications of a standing
army versus a citizen militia in a free society, debated in 17th and 18th century England,

16

carried over to the colonies and shaped military clauses in state and the federal
constitutions.100 Lawrence Cresss Citizens in arms provides a comprehensive discussion
of the debates and is highly recommended for those interested in the history of the militia
in America. The full arguments and reasoning that shape the debate are beyond the scope
of this essay. One element, however, of the argument for a standing army pertinent to this
essay is that the increasing complexities of warfare (and economies) required a highly
trained and disciplined soldierya level of professionalism and sophistication that could
not be attained by citizen soldiers whose primary occupations were civil and not military.
There seems a consensus among protagonists for and against a standing army that the
body of militia in general was not well disciplined. Those in favor of the militia as the
best defense for a republic, although recognizing that historically the militia was poorly
disciplined, discounted the importance of military discipline. Of course, we cannot
assume that every militia or minute company was poorly disciplined. The overwhelming
bulk of documentation, though, suggests that a well-disciplined company would be an
exception.
Cress writes,101
The war years left Americans deeply divided over the implications of the
militias proven ineffectiveness. A good example of that division is found in the
popular histories of the Revolution written during the 1780s by Mary Otis Warren
and David Ramsay. Both acknowledged the weakness of the militia, but for
ideologically opposite reasons drew different conclusions from the nations wartime
experience. [Warren] credited the mobilization of New Englands citizensoldiers after Lexington and Concord to a revival of public virtue. [But] she
conceded the martial spirit that had inspired Americans soldiers to heroic heights at
Lexington and Bunker Hill quickly evaporated, leaving the American army often
undermanned and always poorly disciplined. Ramsay reasoned that the militia
successes at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill had caused civilian leaders to
believe that the yeoman farmer could meet the countrys military needs. They had
failed, however, to distinguish momentary gallantry from the perseverance
necessary for continued success. The militia had not persevered, and the shortage of
adequately trained soldiers had brought the republic to the brink of destruction
more than once before independence was won.
The view of Joseph Plumb Martin a solider in the Continental Army from 1776 to 1783
mirrors Ramsays reasoningthe regular army unlike the militia endured for the long term:
It has been said by some that ought to have been better employed; that the
Revolutionary army was needless; that the Militia were competent for all that the
crisis required. That there was then, and now is in the Militia, as brave and good
men as were ever in any army since the creation, I am ready and willing to allow,
but there are many among them too, I hope the citizen soldiers will be as ready to
allow, who are not so good as regulars; and I affirm the Militia would not have
answered so well as standing troops, for the following reason among many others.
They would not have endured the sufferings the army did and when the

17

hardships of fatigue, starvation begun to seize upon them they would have
instantly quitted the service in disgust.
That the Militia did good and great service in that war, as well as in the
last, on particular occasions, I well know, for I have fought by their side, but still I
insist that they would not have answered the end so well as regular soldiers.
Upon every exigency they would have been to be collected, and what would the
enemy have been doing in the mean time!The regulars were there, and there
obliged to be.102
Martins observation that the militia would not have stayed the course is well
documented time and again. After serving well at Bunker Hill, the militias performance
steadily deteriorated. Hope for creating an army of citizen-soldiers drawn from a newly
reorganized state militia all but collapsed after militiamen left Montgomerys army stranded at
the gates of Quebec when their enlistments expired.103 This behavior was repeated throughout
the Revolution.104
Both the militia and regular soldiers of the Continental Army were necessary to win the
war. Although the Continental Army never defeated the British in open field linear formation
fighting, as Martin proudly claims those few regular soldiers could be depended upon to be there
time and again. The regulars of the Continental army steadily improved in linear formation
fighting owing to training and combat experience. The militia supplemented this core of
stalwarts when tactically deployed to mitigate their weakness of not standing steady to a charge;
when positioned behind some type of cover, however, they were effective fighters.
British Army Training and Discipline
As stated earlier its instructive to examine the training and discipline of the British army
as a comparison to that of the American militia because they both used the same drill manuals.
J.A. Holding documents comprehensively the training of the British Army 1715-1795 upon
which this section is based.105 The basic training of the private soldier, as it was considered in
the British Army throughout the period under consideration [1715-1795] was laid on in two
phases, the first of whichdesigned solely for recruitswas merely introductory, while the
secondaimed at more practiced soldierswas endless; and the term must be understood as
embracing both.106 The constant attendance and habit of exercise is almost everything in the
soldiers life.107
A new recruit was first taught to adopt a military bearing in his appearance and persona
before learning the exercises in the drill manual. Next he was introduced to the simplest in step
evolutionsabout face, right face, left faceand then taught to march. Next he learned the
manual of arms. The manual of arms included elementary bayonet drill.108 Before beginning the
platoon exercise he was taught basic marksmanship.109 The platoon exercise began with a single
file and gradually increased in numbers. He learned to perform the basic exercises in three ranks.
The basic training exercises were taught to only a few recruits at a time and on an individual
basis if necessary. NCOs were patient and gradually and progressively took the recruit through
basic training, which lasted several weeks to several months depending on the learning ability of
the recruit. Roger Lamb confirms the critical importance of the sergeants for teaching the
exercises. His view of the patience of the sergeants may mirror that of todays recruits and those
down through time. However, without disparaging the soldiers character I must own that

18

some of the old drill-serjeants were unnecessarily, if not wantonly severe.110 After completing
basic training the soldier continued to practice the exercises throughout his career.
[T]he detailed firings and maneuvers at various levels of realisms and sophistication
comprised the advanced training carried out in the regiments in peace-time.111 Only limited
advanced training could be conducted during peace when units of regiments were dispersed.
Advanced training required concentrations of men to practice the intricacies and complexities of
large field maneuvers and firing that involved hundreds and thousands of infantrymen, artillerists,
and cavalry troopers. It was uncommon for the concentrations of troops to assemble during time
of peace. These concentrations were only attained during war when dispersed battalions and
companies of regiments were united. At camps during war given sufficient time advanced
training could be excellent. The advanced training was not a simple review of regiments. It was
during advanced training that troops and officers learned how to maneuver in brigades,
coordinate infantry, artillery, and cavalry, and participate in mock battles. At advanced training,
The detailed firings and maneuvers drawn from the regulations and from
customary practice were now practiced endlessly and vigorously by the regiments
both individually and in brigade. We cannot too strongly stress how utterly
commonplace this activity was in the field and it was characteristic of the army
abroad in wartime as was endless repetition of the mechanical basics of the army
in peacetime.112
Peacetime training could not prepare soldiers for combat. Even with such intensive
training Houlden states, most corps were no better than fit for service [meaning they were
proficient in the basic exercises]; only a few corpsthe Guards in London and the regiments in
the big Dublin garrisonwere well trained.113
When crisis, war, or rebellion came, it was in this condition that the army
found itselfin need of intensive advanced training, to be carried on by the corps
in concentration and undisturbed. But the weaknesses and omissions of years
could not be made good in so many weeks, especially not at the eleventh houra
simple fact illustrated time and again during the earlier campaigns of each of the
wars or our period. In these campaignsthose of the years 1740-3, 1755-7, 17935the performance of the corps in action was generally clumsy; while the results
of these campaigns were almost invariably dismal. The only exception to this
pattern was the string of successes gained in the campaigns of 1775-7; and this
was exceptional only because the corps were facing not regular soldiers, but a
militarily incompetent adversary innocent of training, buoyed merely by
enthusiasm.114
The duration and intensity of individual tutoring for fresh recruits in the British army suggests
two points of significance for the Massachusetts militias. First, those who knew the 1764 manual most
thoroughly the drill sergeants of the British army understood that it took significantly more time
for a novice to arrive at mastery than the few hours of group drill we can document for the
Massachusetts militia units prior to 19 April. Second, unless the militia companies utterly deceived
themselves about their capacity to gain mastery in twice-a-week drills, they would presumably have
focused their attention on those aspects of the 1764 manual minimally necessary for being an army of

19

observation, such as the basic marching in company formation that Lieutenant Sutherland observed at
the North Bridge.115
Memoir of Roger Lamb116
The memoir of Roger Lamb, a British enlisted soldier serving in America during the
Revolution, is one of the few first-hand accounts of an enlisted soldier extant. Reading it in
combination with Joseph Plumb Martins narrative provides an unfiltered perspective of
experiences of soldiers in both contending armies. Lambs narrative illuminates the training of
soldiers being prepared for duty in North America and the application of that training in combat.
As has been noted earlier, the experiences of the French and Indian War influenced General
Gage to develop a new discipline for fighting in North America. Lambs regiment was trained in this
light infantry discipline at Dublin early in 1775.
I was instructed in the new exercise which shortly before had been introduced by
General Sir William Howe. It consisted of a set of manoeuvres for light infantry, and was
ordered by his Majesty to be practised in the different regiments. The manoeuvres
were chiefly intended for woody and intricate districts, with which North America
abounds, where an army cannot act in line.117
But Lamb notes, In fighting in the woods the battalion manoeuvring and excellency of exercise
were found of little value.118 The new discipline for fighting in North American terrain was
essentially a modification of the linear formation tactics and, as stated earlier, the troops were
used as elite battalions and not skulkers. The number of ranks was reduced from three to two
and the spacing between soldiers increased to eighteen inches, which allowed faster maneuvering
and positioning of units over ground peppered with obstacles.119 These modifications were still
insufficient to fight effectively the Americans on woody and hilly ground of their choosing.
During the battle of Saratoga in 1777 General Burgoyne offered battle, hoping to draw out the
Americans on the plain, where veteran and well appointed forces must always prevail over
soldiers, such as the Colonial regiments were composed of. To such men wood-fighting and
skirmishing among intersected and intricate grounds, is peculiarly favourable, as there
experienced Generals and old soldiers are left at a loss.120
So long as American forces fought the skulking way of war they were effective and
rarely defeated by regular troops. It is only when the militia and Continental Line engaged the
British army in open field linear formation combat did they suffer defeat, particularly in the first
few years of the war. Near the end of the war the Continental Line evolved into a strong
opponent and top regiments proved equal to the British regulars in linear formation combat. The
militia never attained competence or steadiness in linear formation tactics. But they were
unsurpassed in the skulking way of war.
Discipline of Selected Minute Companies at the Battle of Concord
The underlying question asked in this essay is how well disciplined were the militia and
minute companies assembled at North Bridge? The foregoing is background to interpret the
discipline of these companies in context and perspective of the New England militia fighting
tactics of the second half of the 18th century. Can the order of the companies advancing on the
bridge tell us anything about the relative discipline of those companies?
Rev. Ezra Ripley describes the order in which minute companies were assembled when

20

they advanced on the Crown troops at North Bridge.121 The first five companies were:
Acton commanded by Capt. Isaac Davis, formed November 1774
Concord commanded by Capt. David Brown, formed January 30, 1775
Concord commanded by Capt. Charles Miles, formed January 17, 1775
Lincoln commanded by Capt. William Smith, formed March 9, 1775
Bedford commanded by Capt. Jonathan Wilson, formed March 20, 1775
Other companies unnamed in order followed. Partisans of Concord and Acton have argued over
the reason Acton was in front.122 Acton is believed to have been well equipped with bayonets
and cartridge boxesperhaps one of the few companies so equipped and that has been cited as
a reason they were put in front.123 A different interpretation is that precedence went to the Acton
company because it had been formed prior to the other companies. The Concord companies then
followed because of their date of formation.124 Besides seniority, another factor in deciding the
order could have been the quality of leadership. The Acton and Lincoln minute companies
provide a dramatic contrast in leadership, as discussed below. The contrast between the Action
and Lincoln companies will also serve to highlight differences in the level of discipline of those
at North Bridge. Of the five companies listed above, Acton was the first to form and Lincoln
(with Bedford) was the last. The difference in leadership and time available for training makes an
interesting point of discussion.
Acton minute company
The Acton minute company is generally considered to have formed in November 1774
immediately after the Provincial Congress recommendation in late October 1774 to organize
minute companies. As described for Lincoln below, the history of the Acton minute company is
complicated; however, the complications are beyond the scope of this essay and the topic of
ongoing research.125 Acton mustered twice a week three hours per muster. During 5 months
before 19 April they trained then about 132 hours. Assuming a six-day week and eight hours per
day, 132 hours is fewer than 3 weeks of basic training.126
Interestingly, Davis instructed his men in target shooting at these musters.127 Perhaps
Davis was focused on preparing his men for combat and not parade? Whether they practiced the
exercises in the 1764 or another drill manual is not known, but it is probable they spent some
time learning to march and the manual of arms.
Testaments to Davis's leadership and exemplary character include: He was esteemed a
man of courage and prudence, and had the love and veneration of all his company.128 Capt.
Davis was a man of great firmness and energy of character,an excellent officer, and had the
respect and esteem of all who knew him. 129 Davis good character and leadership qualities were
known throughout the region.
Given the combination of length of time of training, likelihood they were equipped with
bayonets and cartridge boxes, skilled marksmen, and Daviss leadership, I would suggest that
Acton was quite probably the best disciplined, prepared, and equipped of the companies at North
Bridge. Nothing of which I am aware documents that any other company had this combination
of discipline, equipment, and leadership.
Lincoln minute company
There is some ambiguity as to when the Lincoln minute company formed.130 A warrant
item for Lincolns town meeting on January 9, 1775, asked if the town will pay minut men in
case any ar appointed. The company had apparently already been formed by March 9, 1775,

21

when town meeting accepted sum purposals made by the minut company. 131 Possibly the
company was formed sometime in February, 1775, but even so, it would not have been more
senior than the Acton and Concord companies. In any case, it was not until a town meeting on
March 20, 1775, that funding for Lincolns minute company was finally approved, along with
instructions for training and equipment. How long the company trained before, and how well
equipped it was on April 19 is controversial. I argue that it probably trained for less than a
month and that most of the members lacked bayonets and cartridge boxes as recalled by Amos
Baker, a Lincoln militiaman and the last surviving participate of the Concord battle, in his
deposition of 1850.132 The minutemen were to attend muster two days a week and four hours per
day. Even if they had begun mustering in the first week of March, they would have trained no
more than 40 hours before the week of April 19; if they began mustering only after instructions
for drilling were set on Monday, March 20th, they would have trained no more than 24 hours.
There is no documentation that Captain Smith, commander of the company, possessed
the virtues of Captain Davis. Smith was 29-years-old on April 19, and had been a resident of
Lincoln only since the prior April 1774. He hadnt shown any civic leadership before the war
and did not after. He was, however, well educated, one of the largest landowners in town, and
prominent socially and politically, being the brother-in-law of John Adams. It is likely that his
education and social connections were a factor in his selection as captain.133 At the North Bridge,
Smith volunteered his minutemen to lead the advance, but prudently those deciding the
placement of the companies chose Davis.
Although each town should be evaluated individually as to the preparedness of its militia
and minute companies, a common pattern has emerged that applies in general. Musters were
typically held twice a week for four hours each day, or eight hours of training per week. It is
assumed that the 1764 manual was used by most of the companies, although it may be worth
noting that this would not have been the drill manual previously known to any veterans of the
French and Indian War in the ranks. And one might imagine that those veterans, even as the
companies practiced the drill manual exercises, told the inexperienced recruits that the
exercises were for parade and that they should and would fight as their fathers and grandfathers
fought the skulking way of war.
We do not know the extent of the exercises the companies practiced or how proficient
they became in the exercises. Because Lieutenant Sutherland described the assembled
companies as marching down on us in a very military manner, evidently they knew how to
march in step. Ensign Jeremy Lister, 10th Regiment of Foot, also present on 19 April makes a
similar observation that the militia marched with as much order as the best disciplined
troops.134 Recall that General von Steuben found that the militia at Valley Forge in 1778 did
not know how to march in a military manner. Obviously the companies were well armed with
flintlock muskets and fowlers. However, it is not known how well equipped each of the
companies was with accouterments such as bayonets and cartridge boxes. As stated above,
Acton is believed to have been well equipped with those accouterments and Lincoln apparently
was lacking them. We know that the Americans did not engage the British using maneuvers
described in the 1764 or other drill manuals; they did not fight in linear formation either at the
North Bridge or later in the day as they continued their attacks on the retreating British column.
In sum, it is my view that all that can be assumed from Lieutenant Sutherlands comment,
in a very military manner, (and Listers observation) is that the companies may have formed
up and marched in step and in column formation as they approached the bridge. After the initial
shots, company unit formations appear to have dissolved. Pursuit was broken off for a short time

22

after the clash at the bridge, and when fighting resumed along what is now called Battle Road,
the Americans harassed the redcoats from behind cover.
With regard to the discipline of the militia and minute companies in general, the bottom
line is even though a few companies may have come together for a few hours of training as a
battalion the militia and minute companies were not prepared to fight as regiments. There was a
regimental command structure, but it was effectively in name only. Its clear there was no
organized chain of command as citizen soldiers harassed the British along their retreat to Boston.
At this time, the militia greatly out numbered the regulars and could have formed lines of battle
cutting off the retreat. This was especially true of the companies arriving from towns to the
north and east later in the day, when they could have formed up to block the British retreat
toward Boston. Instead, even though the militia eventually outnumbered the British at least two
to one, the citizen soldiers fought as their fathers and grandfathers fought, from behind cover and
shooting individually at will (not by organized volleys) at individuals.
Conclusions
We come back to the phrase in a very military manner and what it may say about the
level of discipline and training of the militia at North Bridge and in general at the beginning of
the Revolutionary War. The discipline in battle of the Revolutionary War militia after Bunker
Hill is consistent with the poor discipline of the French and Indian War militia. The debates
during and after the war as to the need for a well-trained regular army further attest to the low
level of discipline of the militia.135
It is possible, of course, that those Massachusetts militia and minute companies mustering
on the eve of the Revolution were an exception to the norm of discipline during the French and
Indian War and after the first year of the Revolutionary War. There is scant documentation of
what was actually practiced at musters (not what was stipulated in resolves or assumed by
contemporary re-enactors). The militias were advised or instructed to use the British 1764
manual to guide their training in the manual of arms and certain marching maneuvers, and they
may well have done so, although how well they might have mastered these exercises prior to 19
April is very much in question.
Today many re-enactor companies muster about a half dozen times a year and practice
the 1764 manual of arms and simple marching maneuvers such as wheeling, counter marching,
etc. I daresay that any one of these units would be described as marching in a very military
manner during parades and re-enactments. All re-enactor companies emphasize mastery of the
manual arms as a hallmark of a well-disciplined companythe exercise that General von
Steuben and General Washington (and a few other officers) considered least essential of the drill
manual exercises. While this wasnot only a staple but a fetish in the British army a few
officersdeclaimed against the unrealistic repetition and waste of time involved to have the
men act over that silly thing called the Manual Exercise.136 Of course, re-enactors are not
training for war they are practicing for parades and its appropriate they master these paradeground drills, which they demonstrate during performances and re-enactments. But I wonder
could that which re-enactors hold as important for show influence contemporary interpretations
of what 18th century militia companies held as important for training for war? Taken in context,
Lieutenant Sutherlands phrase likely tells us that the assembled companies could march in step,
yet it tells us very little about the degree of discipline and military preparedness of the militia
confronting the regulars at North Bridge.

23

The New England militia since the mid-17th century employed tactics of the skulking
way of warthat is, firing at specific targets at will from behind cover. So we cannot evaluate
their level of discipline as practiced using the 1764 manual by their behavior in battle. Indeed,
given the tradition, experience, and success of the militia in previous wars, one might wonder
why they would train using exercises designed for linear formation tactics? Was it de rigueur for
town militia to model themselves on His Majestys troops? When it came time to fight, as has
been documented, they did not imitate the British, but fought as they had always fought and were
very effective.
That the militia chose this way to fight the British is supported by Fischers discussion of
General Heath:137
By day he studied the Regulars at drill on the [Boston] Common. By
night he toiled over his books [on military training and tactics] and made
serious study of war as he thought it might develop in America. In particular,
William Heath became deeply interested in the tactics of the skirmishthe use of
highly mobile light infantry in open order, trained to make full use of the terrain
against a stronger force that stood against them in close formation. He believed
that skirmishing as a method of war best adapted to the conditions in New
England.
As pointed out earlier, Heath helped to impose some order on the skirmishing along
Battle Road. Evidently, he had both an understanding of the American way of skulking and
European close order linear battle and light infantry tactics; his studies likely would have
included the skirmishing techniques of the German jaegers. Heath would have appreciated the
advantage of each and their appropriate application.
There is no way to know, of course, the mastery of the military exercises attained by each
company. I suggest, given the limited amount of time most minute and militia companies trained
before 19 April 1775 they were at best adequate at the parade exercises prescribed in the 1764
manual of arms. On the basis of available data, it appears Acton accumulated the most training
time, with 132 hours. If one thinks this substantial, consider that Roger Lamb, as a British army
recruit, trained for twenty-one days, four hours per day (84 hours) before he was issued a musket
and set of accouterments and introduced to the manual of arms.138 Captain Sawyers Haverhill
minute companythe only company to record the number of hours each man actually trained
averaged 31 hours per man for March and April, and this seems the typical amount of time many
companies trained before 19 April.
The data of which I am aware (see TABLE) that documents the actual training time of
minute companies demonstrates that the typical company trained for about a week total before
the 19 April 1775 alarm. Almost always commentators frame the amount of training in months
without noting how few hours the companies actually trained during those months; the number
of hours provides a new perspective on the level of discipline possibly obtained.
Table. Muster and training data for selected minute companies
Minute
Company

Date
Formed

Date
Musters to
Begin

Date
Musters to
End

Training
Authorized

Training
Documented

Total Hours
Before April
19

24

Acton

Nov. 1774 Nov. 1774

Unknown

Lincoln

9 March
1775

Bedford

20 March
1775
March
1775 (?)

Haverhill
(Sawyer)
Haverhill
Artillery
(Brickett)
Scituate

5 Sept.
1774

27 March
1775
(9 March
177451
Unknown
March
1775 (?)
5 Sept.
1774
Monday
Unknown

132*

1 May
1775

2 days/week, Yes
3 hours/day
2 days/week, No
4 hours/day

1 May
1775
Unknown

4
hours/week
1 day/week

No

Unknown

Yes

By vote of
company

2
days/month,
2 hours/day
Unknown2

No

Avg. 31 for
March/April
1775*
32

24
(40)

11 Jan.
Unknown
Yes
100*
1775
The amounts of hours, although based on the best available data, are estimates
with a high degree of uncertainty.
Bedford data provided by James Ringwood, Bedford Minutemen
Haverhill data from Alex Cain, Heads of families and men of substance and
probity: the rise of the minute men in the Merrimack Valley region of Essex
County (unpublished manuscript: 2015).
Date Formed: The date that the company officially formed or was authorized as
established by a town resolve or other documentation.
Date Musters to Begin: The date that musters were scheduled to begin as
established by documentation. This date is that authorized by a town resolve,
vote of the company, etc. It is not evidence that musters were actually started on
that date.
Date Musters to End: The date that musters were scheduled to end as established
by documentation. This date is that authorized by a town resolve, vote of the
company, etc. It is not evidence that musters were actually ended on that date.
Training Authorized: This is the frequency and duration of training at musters
authorized in a town resolve, by company vote, etc. It is not evidence that
training was actually held at this frequency and duration.
Training Documented: This is evidence that training was actually held according
to the frequency and duration stipulated in the town resolve, by vote of the
company, etc. or at some other frequency and duration.
Total Hours Before April 19: This is the total number of hours the company
trained either in theory (taking on faith that it trained according to the stipulation
in a town resolve, by vote of the company, etc.) or in actual practice as
documented in the Training Documented column.
* Indicates some form of evidence documented the training.
1
Its ambiguous when the company actually formed. A company apparently was
in existence March 9, 1774. The town resolved at meeting March 20, 1774 to
authorize the company and specify musters. There is no record of when musters

25

actually began. I argue in A question of bayonets at North Bridge 19 April 1775


that musters began March 27.
2
Israel Litchfield in his diary records the days he engaged in training. Other than
his diary there is no official record known to me. Donald Hafner counted twentyfive entries where Litchfield notes participating in exercise or training in the
twenty-two weeks between November 8, 1774, and April 19, 1775, first as a
militia soldier and then as a minute man when Scituate formed its minute
companies in January, 1775. In some entries, it is clear that fewer than a halfdozen men participated, which obviously limited the complexity of the drilling.
Hafner concludes that there were only 10 instances when Litchfield participated
in company-size training with the Scituate militia or minute men. I calculated
the number of hours trained assuming that Litchfield and his fellow soldiers
trained four hours on each of the occasions he records, even though in some
entries it seems unlikely they drilled for that long for instance when Litchfield
drilled with a handful of men at the end of a day of work. In sum, the estimate of
100 hours total training is probably the maximum value, and a more likely value
is half of that.
Whether this amount of training is sufficient to produce a well disciplined company is
dependent upon the point of view of the interpreter. One should keep in mind however British
regular army soldiers that trained continually for years during peacetime were not adequately
prepared for war. And that General Washington during the French and Indian War as a Colonel
in the Virginia militia and during the Revolutionary War prescribed that the troops be exercised
at least once a day.139 The Massachusetts militia and minute companies never fought using the
maneuvers and tactics that they presumably practiced during mustersthey fought as their
forbearers fought in the skulking way of war. These circumstances should be considered and a
commentator explicit in his or her meaning when describing the colonial militia as well (poorly)
disciplined and well (poorly) prepared for war. Given this and as stated earlier, without a
standard of comparison, using modifiers such as well and poorly have no meaning. Thus,
care should be exercised when asserting the degree of discipline and preparedness of the militia
and minute companies on the eve of the Revolution.
Lets recap the level of discipline of the militia with regard to the 1764 drill manual
exercises the British military standard of the day. It is not known which exercises were practiced
at muster. By descriptions of the militia in the field we can assume they practiced the manual of
arms and elementary marching maneuvers (such as wheeling noted by Litchfield). The amount of
time they trained before 19 April 1775 ranges from about three weeks to less than a week. We do
not know if they practiced the platoon and firing exercises. No observations suggest that the
militia employed these exercises at any time on 19 April. There was no advanced training in the
sense of the British army advanced training. Only three occasions have been documented when
companies assembled as a regiment. These were regimental reviews where at most the troops
performed some of the regulation exercises for a few hours. In sum, at best the militia may have
attained a level of parade ground proficiency and military bearing that would justify them being
described as marching in a very military manner.
Parade ground discipline is subordinate and, indeed, irrelevant for judging the fighting
quality and preparedness of the citizen soldiers. However, it does facilitate instruction in basic
military maneuvers, and manual exercises such as priming, loading, and firing, and, thus, is not

26

without value even for troops that fight as skirmishers. General von Steuben recognized the real
strength of the militia. The genius of this nation, Steuben wrote to an old comrade in Prussia
after the war, is not to be compared with that of the Prussians, Austrians, or French. You say
to your soldier, Do this, and he does it, but I am obliged to say, This is the reason why you
ought to do that, and then he does it.140
The militia showed initiative and resourcefulness in fighting the skulking way of war
which was their normal technique of battle. These characteristics should be celebrated as the
true genius (i.e., nature) of the militia, and evidence of its discipline in battle. And the training,
at least of the rural militiamen, came from hunting and target practice shooting at individual
targetsexactly the skill they needed to be effective in the skulking way of war. When one asks,
Was the militia prepared for war? I would suggest no if the standard is mastery of the British
drill manuals. However, if the standard is that of skirmishers I would suggest yes. The
discipline of the British drill manual was irrelevant for preparing a militiaman for the style of
war he fought.141 This is born out by the fact that the militia, when left to their own device, never
engaged in linear formation combatthey would always fight from cover.
The biggest surprise as a result of conducting this research is the level of discipline and
fighting tactics of the Massachusetts militia and state militias in general are well known being
documented by ample literature. Yet, many people, including re-enactors, do not take into full
account how short a time the militia trained and how they actually fought. 142 The militiamen and
minutemen were not parade ground soldiers, but practical fighting men. They were well
disciplined in the techniques of the skulking way of war that evolved in and were adapted to the
New England terrain.
Gen. Charles Lee, a British Crown officer who immigrated to America and was
appointed the third ranking general of the Continental Army, recollected that British regulars
became effective in the French and Indian War only after they had forgotten everything they had
learned on the parade ground at home.143 Why would militiamen want to master exercises they
knew through over a century of experience were not effective for North American wars?
Pickering advised,
Away then with the trappings (as well as tricks) of the parade: Americans need
them not: their eyes are not to be dazzled, nor their hearts awed into servility, by
the splendor and equipage of dress: their minds are too much enlightened to be
duped by a glittering outside.144
Reenacting groups that impersonate minute and militia companies might heed Lee and Pickering
and complement the show of the parade ground drill exercises with an explanation and perhaps
demonstration of the true discipline (i.e., fighting style) of the militia.
By acknowledging the geniusin other words true natureof the citizen soldiers we pay
them honor as did Lord Percy when he said, they knew too well that what was proper,
because this country, being much covered with wood, and hilly, is very advantageous for their
method of fighting.
As a final point, it strikes me that in many cases where commentators and scholars refer
to the discipline of the militia substituting determination would be more suitable and accurate.
For example, Fischer states, Still the Americans came on steadily with a discipline that
astonished their enemies.145 The citizen soldiers, as I interpret their behavior in this case and
others, were not well disciplined, but they were determined to defend their homes and freedom

27

and, thus, resolute in their advance on the regulars at North Bridge and during their harassment
of the regulars along Battle Road. That resolve kept a few stalwarts in the fight for the duration
of the Revolutionary War. Lord Percy, as quoted earlier, supports this final point,
During the whole affair the Rebels attacked us in a very scattered,
irregular manner, but with perseverance & resolution. You may depend upon
it, that as the Rebels have now had time to prepare, they are determined to go thro
with it [the rebellion]. For my part, I never believed, I confess, that they wd
[sic] have attacked the King s [sic] troops, or have had the perseverance I found
in them yesterday [19 April].146 (emphasis added)
The question asked in the introduction if other factors in addition to the courage of the
citizen soldier contributed to his resolve to stand against the Crown troops has been answered.147
It seems to me that the discipline of the minute and militia companies was not nearly equal to
their determination. And it was that determination and their initiative that made them such
effective fighters.
Those that continue to claim the militia were well trained and disciplined in the military
style of the day ought to note the only instance I have found where the militia was described as
being well disciplined with respect to the exercises in the drill manuals is when they advanced on
the North Bridge, which was simply regularity in marching. In every other observation and
commentary the irregular manner of their behavior was prominent.
Arguments about the level of discipline with respect to the exercises in the 1764 and
other drill manuals may be inconclusive, until and unless we accumulate more evidence. And, as
I pointed out earlier, the effective training was in developing those skills to prepare for the
skulking way of war at which the militia excelled and not mastery of parade ground exercises.
The question that motivated this essay and the level of discipline attained by citizen soldiers in
the drill manual exercises now seems trivial in the context of the evolution of this essay.
However, it demonstrates the power of inquiryone simple question leads to more questions
than answers a cycle which leads to a better understanding.148
In conclusion, perhaps by mustering to practice parade ground exercises those citizen
soldiers unintentionally built what is called today small unit cohesion.149 In the simplest terms
they were bonding with each otherstrengthening the bonds that existed in a small town and
in battle they fought for each other; they were a band of brothers. If so, what they practiced
might be less important than the fact that they practiced with each other.
Acknowledgements
Donald Hafner, professor of political science, Boston College, thoughtfully reviewed the
manuscript and made several suggestions and text additions for its improvement. Robert Gross,
James L. and Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History University of Connecticut,
also thoroughly and critically reviewed the manuscript posing several questions and suggestions
that improved it. I thank Alex Cain for kindly providing his manuscript Heads of families and
men of substance and probity: the rise of the minute men in the Merrimack Valley region of
Essex County. I also thank Jamie Powers of the Acton Minutemen for sharing aspects of his
ongoing research.
About the author

28

Herman A. Karl holds a Ph.D. in geological sciences. After thirty-three years with the U.S.
Geological Survey he retired June 2010. The last seven years of his USGS career he was on the
faculty of the MIT Environmental Policy and Planning Group and co-director of the MIT-USGS
Science Impact Collaborative. Karl has authored more than two hundred professional
publications. As a member of the Lincoln Minute Men, a Revolutionary War re-enactor group in
Lincoln, Massachusetts, he studies the history and material culture of the New England militia
with a focus on firearms, accouterments and tactics.
Notes
1

Lieutenant Sutherland wrote two reportsone to Sir Henry Clinton on 26 April 1775 and one
to General Gage on 27 April 1775. These reports are transcribed in: Kehoe, Vincent J-R., We
were there! April 19th 1775 (self-published, Chelmsford, Massachusetts, 1974), 139-150.
2
Ibid, 143
3
For a succinct account of the strengths and weaknesses of the militia see: J.L. Harrison,
Effective use of colonial militia:
http://userpages.umbc.edu/~jamie/html/effective_use_of_colonial_mili.html; viewed January 1,
2015.
4
Another element of military discipline is the state of the camp. The encampment surrounding
Boston further supports the contention that the majority of militia companies were not well
disciplined. The encampment bore no resemblance to an orderly military camp. It was a
shantytown and cesspool. The disorder, lack of sanitation, and poor discipline of the troops
appalled Washington when he took command of the Continental Army.
5
The phrase in a very military manner or military manner does not have a dictionary
definition. It is understood to mean being disciplined, orderly, alert, crisp, projecting an image
of authority, executing marching maneuvers and the manual of arms well, as a group executing
commands in unison, etc. The General Orders of the U.S. armed forces instruct sentries To walk
my post in a military manner (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Orders_for_Sentries), but
do not define military mannerit is understood as above. One specific example is found in the
5 August 1882 issue, page 17 of the Army and Navy Journal: A detachment of about thirty
members of the regiment were marched into camp in a very military manner.
6
A plan of discipline compiled for the use of the militia of the county of Norfolk (printed for J.
Shuckburgh, at the Sun, next Richards coffee-house, Flint-Street, MDCCLX) Kessinger
Publishings Legacy Reprint edition
The Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty In the Year1764. Together with Plans and
Explanations of the Method generally Practiced at Reviews and Field-Days. (The Second
Edition. ECCO Print Edition)
7
James B. Whisker, The American colonial militia: introduction to the American colonial militia,
Volume I (The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, Queenston, Lempeter: 1997)
For a succinct description of the evolution of tactical battle formations into the long linear
formation see pages 83-89, especially page 87.
8
Certain occupations were exempt. Blacks and Indians were not eligible. However, Prince
Estabrook, a black slave from Lexington did serve in the militia 19 April 1775 and was wounded.
Alice Hinkle, Prince Estabrook, slave and soldier (Pleasant Mountain Press: 2001)

29

Other blacks as well served during the Revolutionary War. The prohibitions varied among the
states and as the war progressed some prohibitions on blacks serving in militias and the
Continental army were relaxed.
For a comprehensive review of the tradition and history of the English and colonial militia see:
James B. Whisker, The American colonial militia: introduction to the American colonial militia,
Volume I (The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, Queenston, Lempeter: 1997)
James B. Whisker, The American colonial militia: the New England militia 1606-1785, Volume
II (The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, Queenston, Lempeter: 1997)
Robert K. Wright, Jr., Colonial military experience (The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of
Connecticut) http://colonialwarsct.org/colonial_military_experience.htm; viewed December 26,
2014.
9
Minute companies formed in 1774 and 1775 were paid. These were volunteers from the body
of the militia.
The militia were employed to defend their towns and for short punitive expeditions such as
against raiding Indians. For longer campaigns, such as King Philips War (1675-1678), King
Williams War (1688-1697), and the French and Indian War (1754-1763), a provincial army was
formed from the militia. Provincial army soldiers contracted for a defined term of service,
usually under specific officers, at a set rate of pay.
10
John R. Galvin, The minute men, the first fight: myths and realities of the American Revolution
(Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, D.C.: 1989), 4, 10
An efficient communication system to spread the alarm quickly throughout the countryside
developed concomitantly with the minutemen concept.
11
R. Chartrand, Colonial American Troops 16101774 (1) (Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing:
2002), 23.
James B. Whisker, The American colonial militia: the New England militia 1606-1785, Volume
II (The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, Queenston, Lempeter: 1997). For a comprehensive
history of the Massachusetts militia see The Massachusetts militia, 27-92.
12
Email communication, November 19, 2014, James Hollister, Education Coordinator / Historic
Weapons Supervisor Minute Man National Historical Park.
https://archive.org/stream/actsresolvespass9214mass#page/128/mode/2up/search/shooting
13
Massachusetts Provincial Congress, The journals of each Provincial congress of
Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing
the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April,
1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the
early history of the American revolution (Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, printers to the state,
1838, viewed online) Resolve of the First Provincial Congress 29 October 1774, 49.
Massachusetts Provincial Congress, The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts
in 1774 and 1775, 10 December 2014, 71.
14
J. Adams, Letter to Lemuel Shattuck, Esq. of Boston from Josiah Adams, Esq. of Framingham
in vindication of the claims of Capt. Isaac Davis, of Acton, to his just share in the honors of the
Concord fight. Also, depositions of witnesses, stating the facts on which the claims are founded,
and other interesting papers (Boston: Damrell & Moore, printers, 16 Devonvonshire Street,
1850).

30

I was a member of Capt. Isaac Davis Company, which was formed in November 1774. We
usually met twice a week for drill (14). We turned out for drill and exercise, twice a week,
from the November preceding (15).
15
Alex Cain, Heads of families and men of substance and probity: the rise of the minute men in
the Merrimack Valley region of Essex County (unpublished manuscript: 2015).
I used the table reported in Cain, A Role of the Miuit Men in Capt James Sawyers Company &
the Number of days each man Trained according to the Voat of the Town of Haverhill in March
and Apirel 1775, to calculate the average training time spent per soldier (excluding five soldiers
not attending muster). I assumed they trained one day per week for 8 hours the average length
of training was 31 hours. What level of discipline can be attained in 31 hours? Thats a
judgment each individual can make. I dont think that so few hours are sufficient to qualify as
well-disciplined, even if the training includes and is directed by veterans of service in the
French and Indian War. But others may disagree.
16
W.J. Litchfield (comp.), The Litchfield family in America; the diary of Israel Litchfield, a
Scituate minuteman, begins on page 313. It is an excellent source of information on the
formation, training, preparation, and equipment of a minute company.
17
A plan of discipline compiled for the use of the militia of the county of Norfolk (printed for J.
Shuckburgh, at the Sun, next Richards coffee-house, Flint-Street, MDCCLX) Kessinger
Publishings Legacy Reprint edition
The Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty In the Year1764. Together with Plans and
Explanations of the Method generally Practiced at Reviews and Field-Days. (The Second
Edition. ECCO Print Edition)
Email communication, November 19, 2014, James Hollister, Education Coordinator / Historic
Weapons Supervisor Minute Man National Historical Park.
It was the Provincial Congress that recommended the 1764 Manual Exercise in October 1774
as best suited for appearance and defense. The key word here is recommended. How many
followed the recommendation? I dont really know. However, Joel [Bohy] referred me to the
diary of Israel Litchfield from Scituate, Massachusetts, who mentioned learning the new exercise,
the 1764, late in 1774. So we have at least one confirmation of a company following the advise
of the Provincial Congress.
18
Diary of Israel Litchfield
19
Ibid
Sabbath 19th in the afternoon I went to training We met at Lieut Pickle Cushings we fired
three volleys Capt Stockbridge Shot at a mark aboute 12 or 14 rods and hit it Exactly within and
Inch.
For anyone familiar with smoothbore flintlocks that is an excellent shot at 66 or 77 yards. It is
not clear from Litchfields entry whether Stockbridge was the only one who fired at a mark, or
simply the only one who hit so close to the mark.
20
Alex Cain, Heads of families and men of substance and probity: the rise of the minute men in
the Merrimack Valley region of Essex County notes two minute companies trained together in
Andover 13 April 1775.
21
Norman Castle, The minute men: 1775-1975 (Yankee Colour Corporation, Southborough,
Massachusetts: 1977); on page 27 it is stated, The companies [at the North Bridge] were lined
up as they had been in the regimental muster held on March 13, 1775.

31

The historians of the Council of Minute Men chaired by Lt. Norman Castle, produced this
volume. There is no citation for this statement.
James Hollister, Education Coordinator / Historic Weapons Supervisor
Minuteman National Historical Park, clarifies the entry in an email communication to me
February 18, 2015:
A muster did occur in Concord on 13 March 1775 but it's hard to say who exactly was there.
According to Lemuel Shattuck's "History of the Town of Concord" it was just the Concord
companies present. Rev. Emerson delivered a sermon on the occasion and then repeated the same
for Acton the following week. If true that would indicate the muster was only for Concord. I
have a copy of Rev. Emerson's diary at home and will check it this week to verify.
Also, given the state of organization at the time, with the process of forming minute companies
and separating them from their parent units into distinct regiments still very much in flux, I think
it is highly unlikely that either Col. James Barrett or Col. Abijia Pierce (who's commission was
not yet official) would have been able to organize a regimental muster at that point in time. Even
in less chaotic times, regimental musters were only held once every two or three years - most
trainings being held on a company or town level 4 times per year.
According to Shattuck, Lt. Hosmer of Concord was serving as adjutant that morning and,
attempting to instill order among the companies, squads and individuals rapidly arriving just
prior to the advance on North Bridge, formed the minute companies on the right and militia on
the left. However, Solomon Smith's 1835 deposition (he was in Captain Davis' Company from
Acton) states that Capt. Davis, upon arriving at Concord, "took the left of the Concord minutemen as he had done a few weeks before at a muster; and he went from this position when he took
the front, as above stated..." So, this is probably the source Mr. Castle is citing about a previous
muster.
It seems clear this was a regimental review and not a training session.
For a narrative of the day see:
Robert A. Gross, The minutemen and their world (Hill and Wang, New York: 1976, 2001
edition), 70-72
22
Diary of Israel Litchfield, 332
23
Ibid, 333
24
Fred Anderson, A peoples army: Massachusetts soldiers & society in the Seven Years War
(University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London: 1984) 75-78.
25
James B. Whisker, The rise and decline of the American militia system (Associated University
Presses, London: 1999), 111.
A treatise of military discipline; in which is laid down and explained the duty of the officer and
soldier, thro the several branches of the service. By Humphrey Bland, esq; adjutant-general,
and colonel of one of his Majestys regiments of dragoons. The fifth edition. Dublin: printed by
M. Rhames. For P. Crampton, over-against the Horse-Guard, in Dame-street, bookseller. M
DCC XLIII. ECCO Print Editions reprint
26
Fred Anderson, A peoples army: Massachusetts soldiers & society in the Seven Years War
(University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London: 1984), 62.
27
Charles Royster, A revolutionary people at war: the Continental army and American character,
1775-1783 (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill: 1979), chapter 1.
28
Lawrence D. Cress, Citizens in arms: the army and militia in American society to the War of
1812 (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill: 1982), 43.

32

29

Ibid, 41
Ibid, 48
31
Ibid, 45
John Lathrop concluded with Hancock that only a militia, composed of men of fortune, of
education, and virtue, could guarantee the constitutional balance essential for the preservation of
colonial liberties.
32
I dare say the men would fight very well if properly officered, although they are an
exceedingly dirty and nasty people.
The full text of the letter can be viewed at:
http://founders.archives.gov/?q=%20Author%3A%22Washington%2C%20George%22&s=1111
311113&r=9005
33
Alex Cain, Heads of families and men of substance and probity: the rise of the minute men in
the Merrimack Valley region of Essex County (unpublished manuscript: 2015).
34
James B. Whisker, The American colonial militia: introduction to the American colonial
militia, 79
Whisker states the manual, Military Guide for Young Officers, hand written by Thomas Simes, a
young British officer, in 1772 was popular in the colonies as was Blands 1759 manual. William
Windham, co-author, of the 1760 Norfolk manual adapted it in 1771 for the Massachusetts
militiaA Plan of Exercise for the Militia of the Province of Massachusetts.
35
J.A. Houlding, Fit for service, Chapter III, The drillbooks: regulations by authority and private
publications; text quoted pages 214-215
36
Paul Lockhart, The drillmaster of Valley Forge: the Baron de Steuben and the making of the
American army (HarperCollins Publishers, New York: 2008), 99.
37
Capt. Ernest W. Peterkin, The exercise of arms in the Continental infantry (Museum
Restoration Service, Alexandria Bay, New York: 1989), 4,5.
38
Ibid, 4
39
J.A. Holding, Fit for service: the training of the British Army 1715-1795 (Oxford University
Press, Oxford: 1981), 275.
40
Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: soldier and president (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New
York: 1990), 55.
This characteristicwanting to know why of American soldiers seems to have passed down
through the generations. Eisenhower in 1940 preparing troops for possible war "...was convinced
that 'Americans either will not or cannot fight at maximum efficiency unless they understand the
why and wherefore of their orders'.... He was patient, clear, and logical in his explanations to his
officers and men about why things had to be done..."
41
Paul Lockhart, The drillmaster of Valley Forge: the Baron de Steuben and the making of the
American army (HarperCollins Publishers, New York: 2008), 104, 105.
42
Timothy Pickering, An easy plan of discipline for a militia. By Timothy Pickering, Jun. [Three
lines from treatise on the militia, by C.S.] (Printed by Samuel and Ebenezer Hall, Salem, New
England: 1775; ECCO Print Editions)
43
Ibid, 5
Pickering had experience training and commanding militia. He was in command of the militia
that confronted the British regulars sent to confiscate military stores at Salem, 27 February 1775.
The confrontation ended peacefully as he managed the situation in a way that enabled the
patriots to hide the military stores and the British to save face. He also commanded a company
30

33

that marched from Salem on April 19; he arrived too late to engage the British during their
retreat to Boston. The reason he was late is controversial.
44
Ibid, 28
45
Ibid, 11
46
Ibid, 10
47
To do so interjects a bias into the interpretations of the level of disciplinethe meaning of in
a very military manner of the militia and minute companies. Bias is present in all
interpretations of empirical data and it is a privilege of the analyst. It is a problem when it is not
recognized or acknowledged as an influence. However, re-enactors when performing as living
historians are constrained by conventions and protocol of acting out interpretations of history.
We cannot know the mind of anyone much less someone in the past. Unless there is strong
documentation of an individuals or groups behavior, re-enactors can only generalize their
impressions and adhere to an agreed upon standard. In the case being discussed, contemporary
militia groups have agreed to use the 1764 manual.
48
B. Ahearn, Muskets of the Revolution and the French & Indian Wars (Lincoln, RI: Andrew
Mowbray Publishers: 2005) 248 p.
J. Bohy and D. Troiani, 2010, We meant to be free always: the guns of April 19, 1775,
American Rifleman, July 2010, v. 158, n. 7, p. 48 ff.
H.A. Karl, What firearms were commonly available to Lincoln Minute Men circa 1774-1775?
(unpublished manuscript available by emailing hkarl@comcast.net).
G.C. Neumaan, Battle Weapons of the American Revolution (Texarkana, Texas: Scurlock
Publishing Company: 1998) 393 p.
49
Pickering, An easy plan of discipline, 5
In explaining the reasons why he feels justified to modify existing drill manuals by shortening
and eliminating some exercises, with respect to the manual of arms Pickering states: They say
likewise that they endeavoured to find out what actions were esteemed necessary for
soldiers to perform with the firelock and bayonet; that to settle this point required some degree of
military knowledge; but being once determined, the method of doing them ceases to be a part of
knowledge peculiarly military: and that any man accustomed himself to the use of fire-arms,
though only in sporting, may, by a little consideration and attention to the first principles and
foundation of exercise, become capable of judging, which is the shortest and readiest manner of
performing all the requisite actions.
Alexander Rose, American rifle: a biography (Delta Trade Paperbacks, New York: 2008),
chapter 2.
Although the marksmanship of American troops in general was superior to the Crown regulars,
as Anderson notes some militia soldiers were unfamiliar with firearms. Such would be expected
considering the soldiers were drawn from urban areas as well as rural.
Alexander Rose, Marksmanship in 1775: Myth or Reality? (American Rifleman, 5, no. 7, July
2010): 44 ff.
Herman Karl, Live fire discipline of a minuteman company (Military Collector and Historian,
in review).
50
Massachusetts Provincial Congress, The journals of each Provincial congress of
Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing
the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April,
1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the

34

early history of the American revolution (Dutton and Wentworth, printers to the state: Boston:
1838, viewed online), 338, 339.
51
Herman Karl, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War: part 2,
bayonets and cartridge boxes (Military Collector and Historian, in review).
52
S. Swett, History of Bunker Hill battle, with a plan (Third edition, Munroe and Francis,
Boston: 1827), 30.
53
Herman Karl, A question of bayonets at North Bridge 19 April 1775 (Military Collector and
Historian, Winter 2014).
54
Herman Karl, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War: part 2,
bayonets and cartridge boxes (Military Collector and Historian, in review).
55
J. Adams, Letter to Lemuel Shattuck, Esq. of Boston from Josiah Adams, Esq. of Framingham
in vindication of the claims of Capt. Isaac Davis, of Acton, to his just share in the honors of the
Concord fight. Also, depositions of witnesses, stating the facts on which the claims are founded,
and other interesting papers (Boston: Damrell & Moore, printers, 16 Devonvonshire Street,
1850), 9.
56
Herman Karl, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War: part 2,
bayonets and cartridge boxes (Military Collector and Historian, in review).
57
S. Swett, History of Bunker Hill battle, with a plan (Third edition, Munroe and Francis, Boston: 1827),
25.
58
General Orders, Head Quarters, Cambridge, February 15, 1776; http://memory.loc.gov/cgibin/query/P?mgw:1:./temp/~ammem_sYIW::
59
General Orders, Head Quarters, Cambridge, February 16, 1776; http://memory.loc.gov/cgibin/query/P?mgw:7:./temp/~ammem_XZmN::
60
F.W. Hersey, Heroes of the battle road: an narrative of events in Lincoln on the 18th and 19th
of April 1775, wherein are set forth the capture of Paul Revere, escape of Samuel Prescott,
heroism of Mary Hartwell and other stirring incidents (Perry Walton, Boston: 1930, reprinted
for the Lincoln Historical Society 2010), 35.
61
Ibid.
Herman Karl, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War: part 1,
powder horns and shot pouches (Military Collector and Historian, in review).
62
A.R. Cain, The Provincial: collection of essays on the clothing and equipment of
Massachusetts militia (http://www.scribd.com/doc/54575567/The-Provincial: viewed March
2013)
63
The major battles of the French and Indian War in North America occurred between 1756 and
1760. George Washington, as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia militia, started hostilities in
1754 when he attacked a French force in what is now southwestern Pennsylvania. Great Britain
and France officially declared war in 1756. The War formally ended with the Treaty of Paris in
1763. Of the 59 Lincoln minute men on 19 April 1775, only 12 would have reached the age of 16
and would therefore be eligible to serve between 1754-1760. The number who did in fact serve
is unclear. The age composition of the Lincoln minute men is likely to have been typical of
Massachusetts towns. Because militia service was expected of all males until age 60, the number
of French and Indian War veterans in militia ranks may have been somewhat higher. Derived
from Table 9.1 in: J.C. MacLean, A Rich Harvest: The History, Buildings, and People of Lincoln,
Massachusetts (Lincoln, MA: Lincoln Historical Society, 1987), 256-257.

35

64

The journals of Robert Rogers of the Rangers, the exploits of Rogers & the rangers from 17551761 in the French & Indian War in his own words (Leonaur Ltd.: 2005)
Matt Wulff, Robert Rogers rules for the ranging service: an analysis (Heritage Books, Inc.:
2009)
Maj. Robert Rogers developed 28 rules for ranging that one may consider the discipline for the
skulking way of war. These rules are incorporated in the U.S. Army Ranger training today.
Rogers and his rangers were famous and the militia certainly would have known of him.
NB: I am not suggesting that the militia and minute companies applied Rogers rules developed
for ranger companies on scouts in the wilderness on the frontier. They applied the techniques of
skulking that were appropriate for the terrain of New England.
65
Thomas E. Crocker, Braddocks march: how the man sent to seize a continent changed
American history, (Westholme Publishing Company, Yardley, Pennsylvania: 2009)
The American troops, especially the Virginians, took cover behind trees and attempted to get the
British regulars to move to the high ground. Washington rode into the midst of the battle and
asked Braddock to allow the men to take cover behind trees. Braddock abruptly rebuked him
(Kindle edition, location 3249). Even as Washington recognized the wisdom of fighting from
cover, he was impressed in general by the discipline (although it broke down during the battle,
and, indeed, their sense of security by staying in tight ranks caused more casualties) of the
British regulars and bought a copy of Blands Treatise of military discipline used to train the
regulars.
It is well known that Washington disparaged the militia during the Revolutionary War. He
worked to mold the Continental army in the image of the linear formation battle discipline of the
European armies. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this essay (see Crocker, Kindle
location 4028 ff. for how serving with Braddock may have influenced Washington). It should be
noted, however, that at the same time he advocated linear formation tactics he also established
rifle companies composed of backwoodsmen.
66
Herman Karl, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War: part 2,
bayonets and cartridge boxes (Military Collector and Historian, in review).
F. W. Hersey, Heroes of the Battle Road, 34, 35, 36.
67
Rev. Ezra Ripley, History of the fight at Concord on the 19th of April, 1775, with a particular
account of the military operations and interesting events of that ever memorable day; showing
that then and there the first regular and forcible resistance was made to the British soldiery, and
the first British blood was shed by armed Americans, and the Revolutionary War thus
commenced (Allen & Atwill, Concord: 1827), 28.
68
A.B. Tourtellot, Lexington and Concord: the beginning of the War of the American Revolution
(W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1963), 179.
69
Matthew H. Spring, With zeal and with bayonets only: the British army on campaign in North
America, 1775-1783 (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2008), 133-134.
70
P.M. Malone, The skulking way of war: technology and tactics among the New England
Indians (Madison Books, Lanham, Maryland: 2000), 91
71
Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats: the British soldier and war in the Americas, 1755-763
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 2002), Chapters 6 and 7, 230.
M.H. Spring, With zeal and bayonets only (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2008),
Chapter 10.

36

D.W. Bailey, Small arms of the British forces in America 1664-1815 (Andrew Mowbray, Inc.,
Publishers, Woonsocket, R.I.: 2009), 120, Chap. 6, 260-263.
72
Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats: the British soldier and war in the Americas, 1755-763
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 2002), 229.
73
Ibid, 198
74
Ibid, 233
75
Fred Anderson, A peoples army: Massachusetts soldiers & society in the Seven Years War
(University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London: 1984) 76-77.
76
Douglas P. Sabin, April 19, 1775: An historiographical study (Sinclair Street Publishing, LLC:
2011, first published 1987)
David Fischer, Paul Reveres ride, states (369), It is an indispensable work for serious students
of the battles and deserves to be published by the National Park Service.
77
When firing in a platoon of three ranks soldiers in the first rank kneel, soldiers in the second
rank stand and fire over the soldiers in the front rank, soldiers in the third rank stand, lean against
the soldiers in the front rank and fire between them and over the soldiers in the front rank.
Minuteman re-enacting companies perform the platoon exercise, but there is no evidence that
minute and militia companies used it during the battles discussed herein. For examples of
platoon firing see:
Major-General B.P. Hughes, Firepower: weapons effectiveness on the battlefield 1630-1850
(Sarpedon, New York: 1974, 1997), 114; also examples of European linear formations.
Also, see any of the British army drill manuals listed herein for a description of executing the
platoon maneuver.
78
Douglas P. Sabin, April 19, 1775
Sabin analyses the efficacy of the orders at length.
79
Fischer, Paul Reveres ride (Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford: 1994), see pages
209-215 for a narrative of the events at the bridge
Frank Warren Coburn, The battle of April 19, 1775 in Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington,
Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown (Published by the author, Lexington, Massachusetts:
1912; The Apple Manor Press reproduction edition), 85-86
Coburn suggests that the behavior of the militia was owing to a lack of military experience.
80
Gross, The minutemen and their world, 114
Gross supports that the actions at Lexington and Concord were accidental, what neither side
expected was the explosive combination of events that formed the so-called Battle of Lexington
and Concord.
81
Sabin, April, 19 1775; see the discussion pages 96-99,103-105
82
Fischer, Paul Reveres ride, 249
83
John R. Galvin, The minute men,165,166.
84
Sabin, April 19, 1775, 136
85
Allen French, The siege of Boston (The MacMillan Company, New York: 1911) 208, 209
(Kindle location 1397, 1398)
86
Sabin, April 19, 1775, 175
87
Vincent J-R Kehoe, We were there! April 19th 1775: the British soldiers, Lt. Sutherlands letter
to Sir Henry Clinton,143.
Lieutenant Sutherland observed: Upon a height to my right hand a vast number of armed men
drawn out in Battalia order, I dare say near 1000 who on our coming nearer dispersed into the

37

woods, & came as close to the road on our flanking partys as they possibly could, upon our
ascending the height to the road gave us a very heavy fire.
The 18th century definition of battalia is the main body of an army, distinguished from its
wings. We are of the opinion, that it further implies an army of considerable detachment of
troops drawn up in order of battle, or in any other proper form to attack the enemy. Charles
James, A new and enlarged military dictionary. (London: 1802).
Even though Lieutenant Sutherland characterized the group of soldiers as a battalia its clear the
militia were not formed up to attack. Evidently, the militia soldiers were simply observing the
regulars and dispersed to the woods to fire from cover consistent with their way of fighting.
88
Arthur B. Tourtellot, Lexington and Concord: the beginning of the war of the American
Revolution (W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1959), 192.
89
Fischer, Paul Reveres ride, 250
90
Christopher Geist, Of rocks, trees, and militia (Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Winter
2008) http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Winter08/tactics.cfm; viewed January 10, 2015.
91
Fred Anderson, A peoples army: Massachusetts soldiers & society in the Seven Years War
(University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London: 1984), 77.
92
Theodore P. Savis and J. David Dameron, A guide to the battles of the American Revolution
(Savas Beatie, New York and California: 2006), 249-252.
93
Lawrence E. Babits, A devil of a whipping: the battle of Cowpens (The University of North
Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London: 1998.
John Buchanan, The road to Guilford Courthouse: the American Revolution in the Carolinas
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York: 1997), 315-330.
A reason Morgan chose battle at Cowpens with his back against the Broad River, which offered
no retreat, is that he knew the militia would not be able to flee the field and had to fight (328).
94
John Buchanan, The road to Guilford Courthouse: the American Revolution in the Carolinas
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York: 1997), 372-383.
95
The battle of Kings Mountain where a force of riflemen defeated Maj. Fergusons command
demonstrates the style of fighting at which the militia, certainly the backwoodsmen, excelled.
The rifle companies were assigned attack positions surrounding the British and loyalists at the
top of the hill. Their advance was loosely coordinated as they moved from tree to tree and rock
to rock through the thick underbrush. Ferguson ordered a bayonet charge and the riflemen
retreated part way down the hill. However, they countered subsequent bayonet charges fighting
as they fought Indians with small groups supporting each other. The continued to advance and
eventually gained the summit killing Ferguson and showing little mercy to his troops.
96
Matthew H. Spring, With zeal and with bayonets only: the British army on campaign in North
America, 1775-1783 (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2008), 15, 259.
97
Roger Stevenson (main author), George Washington and Hugh Henry Ferguson (other
authors), Military instructions for officers detached in the field: containing, a scheme for forming
a corps of a partisan. Illustrated with plans of the manuvres necessary in carrying on the petite
guerre (Printed and sold by R. Aitken, printer and bookseller, opposite the London Coffee-House,
Front-street, Philadelphia: M.DCC.LXXV [1775]), ULAN Press reproduction.
General Washington acknowledged the tactics of the petite guerre as adapted to fighting in North
America.
98
George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin, Rebels & redcoats: the American Revolution through
the eyes of those who fought and lived it (Da Capo Press, 1957: New York), 341-342.

38

Even the American ally, the French, disparaged the militia:


Hardly had the [French] troops disembarked before the militia horse and foot arrived. I have
never seen a more laughable spectacle. All the tailors and apothecaries in the country must have
been called out. They were mounted on bad nags and looked like a flock of ducks in crossbelts.
99
Letter from Lord Percy to General Harvey 20 April 1775
http://archive.org/stream/hughearlpercybos00nortrich/hughearlpercybos00nortrich_djvu.txt
viewed March 16, 2015
100
Lawrence D. Cress, Citizens in arms: the army and militia in American society to the War of
1812 (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill: 1982).
101
Lawrence D. Cress, Citizens in arms, 77,78
102
Joseph Plumb Martin, A narrative of a Revolutionary Solder: some of the adventures, dangers,
and sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin (Signet Classic, New York: 2001; memoir of Joseph
Plumb Martin originally published anonymously in 1830), 249. The wars Martin to which
Martin refers are the Revolutionary War (that) and the War of 1812 (the last).
103
Lawrence D. Cress, Citizens in arms, 58.
104
Gen. Charles Lee wrote a pamphlet, Strictures on a pamphlet, entitled a friendly address to
all reasonable Americans, in which he argued that the American militia could defeat the British
regulars. Lee wrote the pamphlet in response to the essay by the Tory Thomas Bradbury
Chandler that contended the colonists could not defeat the British army. Lees confidence in the
militia alone to defeat a disciplined professional army proved to be wide of the mark. For a
discussion of the pamphlet, see:
Jerrilyn Greene Marston, King and congress: the transfer of political legitimacy 1774-1776
(Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey: 1987), 139-140.
105
J.A. Holding, Fit for service: the training of the British Army 1715-1795 (Oxford University
Press, Oxford: 1981)
106
Ibid, 257
107
R. Lamb, Memoir of his own life, serjeant in the Royal Welch Fuzileers and author of A
Journal of Occurrences during the late American war. (Printed by J. Jones, 40, South Great
Georges Street, Dublin: 1811), 94
108
J.A. Holding, Fit for service: the training of the British Army 1715-1795 (Oxford University
Press, Oxford: 1981), 261; this drill consisted of only the command push your bayonets. It was
not an elaborate description in the use of the bayonet; detailed instructions were only introduced
into the British army in 1805.
109
For an analysis of 18th century marksmanship see Herman Karl, Live fire discipline of a
minuteman company (Military Collector and Historian, in review)
110
R. Lamb, Memoir of his own life, serjeant in the Royal Welch Fuzileers and author of A
Journal of Occurrences during the late American war. (Printed by J. Jones, 40, South Great
Georges Street, Dublin: 1811), 62
111
J.A. Holding, Fit for service: the training of the British Army 1715-1795 (Oxford University
Press, Oxford: 1981), 282.
112
Ibid, 347
113
Ibid, 394
114
Ibid, 394-395
115
Gross, The minutemen and their world, 116

39

Gross supports that the militia intended to act as an army of observation. On Lexington green as
Captain Parkers militiamen waited for the British regulars they talked over the situation,
Parker later said, and concluded not to be discovered, nor meddle, or make with said regular
troops unless they should insult or molest us. They would form the recommended Army
of Observation.
116
Roger Lamb published two accounts of his service in the British army.
R. Lamb, Memoir of his own life, serjeant in the Royal Welch Fuzileers and author of A
Journal of Occurrences during the late American war. (Printed by J. Jones, 40, South Great
Georges Street, Dublin: 1811)
R. Lamb, An original and authentic journal of occurrences during the late American war from
its commencement to the year 1783 (Dublin: printed by Wilkinson & Courtney, 6, Wood-Street,
1809) Kessinger Publishing reprint.
117
R. Lamb, Memoir of his own life, serjeant in the Royal Welch Fuzileers and author of A
Journal of Occurrences during the late American war. (Printed by J. Jones, 40, South Great
Georges Street, Dublin: 1811), 89
118
Ibid, 175
119
Don N. Hagist, A British soldiers story: Roger Lambs narrative of the American Revolution
(Ballindalloch Press, Baraboo, Wisconsin: 2004), v.
120
R. Lamb, Memoir, 200
121
Rev. Ezra Ripley, History of the fight at Concord on the 19th of April, 1775, with a particular
account of the military operations and interesting events of that ever memorable day; showing
that then and there the first regular and forcible resistance was made to the British soldiery, and
the first British blood was shed by armed Americans, and the Revolutionary War thus
commenced (Concord, MA: Allen & Atwill, 1827), 25.
122
J. Adams, Letter to Lemuel Shattuck, Esq. of Boston from Josiah Adams, Esq. of
Framingham in vindication of the claims of Capt. Isaac Davis, of Acton, to his just share in the
honors of the Concord fight. Also, depositions of witnesses, stating the facts on which the claims
are founded, and other interesting papers (Boston: Damrell & Moore, printers, 16
Devonvonshire Street, 1850).
123
F.W. Hersey, Heroes of the battle road: an narrative of events in Lincoln on the 18th and
19th of April 1775, wherein are set forth the capture of Paul Revere, escape of Samuel Prescott,
heroism of Mary Hartwell and other stirring incidents (Perry Walton, Boston: 1930, reprinted
for the Lincoln Historical Society 2010), 35.
The testimony of Amos Baker, the last survivor of the battle, is the only evidence that Acton
possessed bayonets.
When we were going to march down to the Bridge, it was mentioned between Major Buttrick
and Captain Isaac Davis, that the minute-men had better be put in front, because they were the
only men that had bayonets, and it was not certain whether the British would fire, or whether
they would charge bayonets without firing. I do not remember which of them said it, but both
agreed to it; and Captain Daviss company of minute-men was then brought up on the right.
As discussed in Karl, A question of bayonets, p. 365, Bakers testimony is ambiguous as he states,
the minute-men had better be put in front. Its unclear if he was referring to all the minute
companies or only Acton. Over the years, however, it has become dogma that Acton was the
only company with bayonets.

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124

Joel Bohy, Who was there on April 19th, 1775?updating the documentation on Concords
two minute companies (undated and unknown if published).
Bohy suggests that Browns Company although formed after Miless Company was placed
before Miles owning to Miles being understrength.
Joel Bohy, personal communication, February 3, 2014 at Minuteman National Historical Park
headquarters.
125
Email from Jamie Powers Feb. 12, 2015
Like Lincoln the formation of the Acton minute company and its muster history is complex. The
history of these two companies underscore the danger in taking town resolves at face value and,
thus, assuming the warrants and stipulations as written were put into practice. The
communication below is initial research by Jamie Powers of an investigation in progress.
My notes may not be complete. I found an email where I planned to visit the town archives at
the Acton Memorial Library (AML), but never followed up on that. Most of my data came from
Acton Town meeting minutes, and I had even had correspondences with Charles Husbands, the
author of the book on the Acton Minutemen.
Susan Paju of the AML's Reference department wrote the below to me:
I agree that the Acton Town Meeting records do not mention the Minutemen until January 18,
1775. However, the Robbins papers, which are at the Acton Historical Society, include
enlistment sheets dated September 29, 1774, in which Joseph Robbins, was chose Captain. One
of the sheets includes the statement "we will hold ourselves in redyness at a minutes warning in
case of an alarm or invasion..." which would seem to indicate that this was indeed a Minute
company. Isaac Davis is on this list, and according to the authors of the Historical Society paper,
this is the Minute company that Isaac Davis later commanded. If a document exists that records
precisely when Isaac Davis took command of the company, I am afraid I do not know where it is
to be found. Others have already done much research on the establishment of the Minute
companies, and the events of late 1774...
Charles Husbands did not have his notes from when he wrote the book, as he is now at his
retirement house in Florida. He did reply from memory:
I believe in November 1774 the Acton chose at Town Meeting to form a Minute Company but
did not immediate set aside funds to pay them. I believe in December 1774 or January 1775 they
voted to pay the Minuteman Unit to cover their extended training time (This information should
be available in Town Meeting Records of that period). It is interesting that the vote to pay the
Acton Minuteman Company was not open ended and the funding was only authorized thru May
1775...
The town meeting minutes appear to state that at the Nov 23rd meeting, they decide to vote to
(maybe pay), the minutemen on the Dec 5th meeting. Then the Dec 5th meeting they dismiss the
article from the November 23rd meeting. Then Dec 29th, they consider, and determine to pay
the minutemen for service. On Jan 18th they pass the vote to pay the minutemen. The January
18th Acton Town Meeting minutes state the following:
Acton January ye 18th 1775 the Town Being met [illegible] to adjournment Proceeded as follows
first it was Propounded whether the Town will Raise a Sum of money to Pay the Minnute men in
this Town voted in the affirmative also voted to Pay thirty minnute men if So many Shall Inlist
Eight Pence per Day twice in a week they to Spend in Exersising three Hours in Each Day untill

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the first Day of may Next also voted that any man that Does not attend his Duty on Said Days for
Exersise within Half an Hour of the time Perfixed Shall not be Intitled to any Pay for that Day
and the meeting was Dismised
This is all I have at the minute.
126
An inexact analogy is the level of preparedness and training of the American army on the eve
of WWII. The country was totally unprepared for war, and soldiers, many of them in National
Guard units, were sent to fight combat-hardened troops having received only six weeks of basic
training. The same situation prevailed prior to WWI. The initial battles of both wars attest to the
inadequacy of several weeks of training for preparing soldiers for war. In that time soldiers
become accomplished at parade ground maneuversmarching in a very military manner, but
are not prepared to fight.
127
Norman Castle, The minute men: 1775-1975 (Yankee Colour Corporation, Southborough,
Massachusetts: 1977), 28.
The historians of the Council of Minute Men chaired by Lt. Norman Castle, produced this
volume. This statement is not attributed and so cannot be confirmed.
128
J. Adams, Letter to Lemuel Shattuck, Esq. of Boston from Josiah Adams, Esq. of Framingham
in vindication of the claims of Capt. Isaac Davis, of Acton, to his just share in the honors of the
Concord fight. Also, depositions of witnesses, stating the facts on which the claims are founded,
and other interesting papers (Boston: Damrell & Moore, printers, 16 Devonvonshire Street,
1850), 14
129
Ibid, 17
130
Herman Karl, A question of bayonets at North Bridge 19 April 1775 (Military Collector
and Historian: winter 2014).
131
See J. C. MacLean, A Rich Harvest: The History, Buildings, and People of Lincoln,
Massachusetts (Lincoln, MA: Lincoln Historical Society, 1987), 253-254.
132
Herman Karl, A question of bayonets at North Bridge 19 April 1775
133
J. C. MacLean, A Rich Harvest, 255, 258260
MacLean describes at length the character and circumstances of Captain Smith. Among William
Smiths junior officers were Lt. Samuel Farrar, Jr., age 39, and Sergeant David Fisk, age 43, ages
at which they conceivably might have seen service during the French and Indian War. The prior
military experience of Lincolns militia and minute soldiers has not been adequately documented.
134
Email from Donald Hafner 16 March 2015
I also noticed that Ensign Jeremy Listers account of the maneuvers of the militias prior to the
clash at the North Bridge also (like Sutherlands) makes a judgment about the prowess of the
militias based almost entirely on their ability to do a marching maneuver: Capt. Parsons left one
Compy the 43rd at Concord Bridge two Compys viz 4th and 10th upon two hills to command the
road he had to go, then proceeded with the other two Compys viz 23rd and 52nd to execute the
purpose of his detachment. [i.e., to proceed to Barretts farm] We had not been long in this
situation when we saw a large body of men drawn up with the greatest regularity and approached
us seemingly with an intent to attack Lister is referring here to the movement of the militias
from about a quarter-mile away to the hill overlooking the North Bridge, while the British
companies were still on the west side of the river and had the North Bridge behind them.
Lister then notes, when the officer in command at the bridge had sent word back to Concord
asking for reinforcements: the answer brought back was Lt. Col. Smith thought 3 Compys

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must be equal to the defense of the Bridge but would see this message had no sooner arrived than
the Rebels begun their march from the hill we before had retired from with as much order as the
best disciplined troops Listers prose is mangled here, but the phrase we before had retired
from refers to the hill, and with as much order as the best disciplined troops refers to the
militias. [Narrative of Ensign Jeremy Lister of His Majestys 10th Regiment of Foot, 1782
(Harvard University Press, 1931)]
135
Those arguing for a militia did not dispute that citizen soldiers were poorly disciplined
compared to a regular army. See Cress, Citizens in arms, for a thorough discussion of the
arguments.
136
J.A. Holding, Fit for service: the training of the British Army 1715-1795 (Oxford University
Press, Oxford: 1981), 275.
137
Fischer, Paul Reveres ride, 247
138
Roger Lamb, Memoir
139
Peterkin, Exercise of arms in the Continental infantry, 2-5
140
Paul Lockhart, The drillmaster of Valley Forge: the Baron de Steuben and the making of the
American army (HarperCollins Publishers, New York: 2008), 104.
141
Today many warriors and first responders note that the discipline inculcated by training
kicked in to help them accomplish their mission, and, indeed, to survive and to save others. Its
noteworthy that there is no record that any citizen soldier cited discipline and training as a factor
that contributed to his fighting effectiveness. Roger Lamb noted that training he received in
preparation for duty in North America was insufficient and ineffective in the field. Present-day
commentators have elevated the importance of training in the discipline of the British drill
manual exercises beyond that seemingly attached to them by the citizen soldiers.
142
http://www.lexingtonminutemen.com/training-band-drill.html
For example, the Lexington Minute Men, Lexington, Massachusetts, is among the most
progressive of the re-enacting companies and its website is filled with good information. The
website states the exercises in the period drill manuals were to prepare soldiers for volley firing
in line. That is correct and the Lexington company practices these exercises. This could mislead,
however, in that the militia did not fight using linear tactics. It may be the Lexington company
considers that because Captain Parkers company stood in a line on Lexington common, it was
practicing linear formation tactics. That is hardly an example of 18th century linear tactics,
however. Moreover, when Parker took his revenge later in the day he positioned his company in
a thinly wooded terrain and ambushed the retreating British column from cover; he did not
employ the discipline assumed practiced by his company in training.
143
John Shy, A people numerous and armed: reflections on the military struggle for America
(The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor:1990 revised edition 2000), 139.
144
Timothy Pickering, An easy plan of discipline for a militia. By Timothy Pickering, Jun.
[Three lines from treatise on the militia, by C.S.] (Printed by Samuel and Ebenezer Hall, Salem,
New England: 1775; ECCO Print Editions), 11
NB: I am not suggesting that re-enacting companies omit the parade exercises when performing
for the public. I am suggesting that they should explain to the public that these exercises were not
important for the way the militia fought. They should celebrate the intelligence and fighting style
of the militia and impart that genius to the public.
145
Fischer, Paul Reveres ride, 213
146
Letter from Lord Percy to General Harvey 20 April 1775

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http://archive.org/stream/hughearlpercybos00nortrich/hughearlpercybos00nortrich_djvu.txt
viewed March 16, 2015
147
An interview of Capt. Levi Preston, a minuteman of Danvers, Massachusetts who fought on
19 April 1775, by the historian Mellon Chamberlin is often cited as a reason why the citizen
soldiers took up arms against the British. Mellon asked the 91 year old Preston in 1843, Captain
Preston, why did you go to the Concord Fight, the 19th of April, 1775? Preston answered,
Young man, what we meant in going for those red-coats was this: we always governed
ourselves, and we always meant to. They did nt [sic] mean we should.
Mellon Chamberlain, John Adams, the statesman of the American Revolution with other essays
and addresses historical and literary (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press,
Cambridge, Boston and New York: 1899), 248,249
Another version of this quote exists in which Captain Preston answers We had always been
free. For a discussion of the interview see:
David Hackett Fischer, Liberty and freedom: a visual history of Americas founding ideas
(Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2005), Introduction: A conversation with Captain Preston, 115.
Fischer asks, what did he mean by always free? Was his thinking the same as ours? Has
the meaning of that idea changed through time? He uses these questions to launch into a
provocative exploration of the historical meaning of freedom and liberty.
Amos Baker, a Lincoln militiaman and the last survivor of the Concord Battle, ended his
affidavit, I verily believe that I felt better that day, take it all the day through, than if I had staid
at home.
Frank Wilson Cheney Hershey, Heroes of the Battle Road, a narrative of events in Lincoln on
the 18th and 19th of April, 1775, wherein are set forth the capture of Paul Revere, escape of
Samuel Prescott, heroism of Mary Hartwell and other stirring incidents (imprinted at Boston by
Perry Walton in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1930: privately reprinted for The Lincoln
Historical Society, Noble Hill Press, Inc. 1983 and Weston Printing, Inc., Weston, Massachusetts
2010), 37
Another story of the determination and resolve of these citizen soldiers is that of James Hayward,
an Acton minuteman. Hayward was mortally wounded on 19 April 1775. The ball went through
his powder horn that is in the collection of the Acton Memorial Library. As he was dying he said
to his father, tell mother not to mourn too much for me, as I am not sorry I turned out.
http://www.actonmemoriallibrary.org/civilwar/exhibit/audio/pdfs/1-3_Hayward_deathbed.pdf;
viewed March 2015
For variations of the exact language as quoted above see:
Edward Everett, Address, delivered at Lexington, on the 19th (20th) April, 1835 (Published by
William W. Wheildon, Charleston: 1835), 60-62
Worcester Society of Antiquity (Mass.), Proceedings of the Worcester Society of Antiquity for
the year 1897 (F.S. Blanchard & Co., Printers, Worcester, Published by the Society: 1898), 91
148
As a physical scientist by education and profession, this statement is fundamental to any
investigation and, indeed, a tenet of science. Two colleagues and I convened a workshop,
Asking the right question, at each U.S. Geological Survey regional headquarters. It is also
fundamental to the study of history as noted by David Hackett Fischer, In the study of history,
every answer becomes another question. See: Liberty and Freedom, p. 2.
149
http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/repository/dcl_SmallUnitCohesion.pdf

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