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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Battle Road March – Sudbury, MA

This was something I wrote for the Saintonge news letter in 2009.  I reprint it here (with minor alterations) as it has been in my mind as I prepare for Battle Road this weekend and the March next Thursday.

In 2009, I undertook the Sudbury march for the first time. In the aftermath of the day—which was a pleasant if demanding walk followed by an afternoon hoisting beers with friends—I began to reflect on the experience. Below is an imagining that is the result of that reflection that I hope will entertain and interest the reader.

You are awakened in the early morning by an urgent knock at your door. As you move to answer you realize you hear the bell at the meeting house ringing down by the town green. You answer the door and hear the news from one of your neighbors: the Regulars are out from Boston and the militia units have been summoned to oppose them.

You tell your neighbor you’ll meet him on the green and move hurriedly to dress and prepare. You select your  best breeches, stocking, waist coat and hat, the ones you wear to meeting on Sunday; the ones you’ll be buried in if the worst happens. Like your ancestors who left England to hack a life out of the New England wilderness, you (probably) believe your life and death is predestined. If God means for you to fall this day you want to meet your end in as worthy a fashion as you can.

Your musket, shot and powder are all ready to go—and have been for weeks since you were selected to be part of the minute company. After dressing, you prepare a few more essentials: food, water, musket tools, a blanket and possibly a piece of oilskin as protection against the rain. These go into your ‘snap sack’ or
similar bag. You grab your musket shot and powder, as well as your bayonet if you have one. You may also carry a belt ax or a sword. Odds are, you don’t even think of(but are certainly carrying) the knife you’ve carried in your pocket or on your belt since your youth. If you’re married, your wife and/or children may see you off, or may still be in bed, or perhaps it is your mother and siblings you leave at home or an empty house. If you live alone, you’ve already made arrangements for a neighbor to take care of your animals and any other needs.

You’re as concerned as anyone would be at the thought of facing the best army in the world. One thing that
doesn’t enter your mind is not going—that decision was made weeks or months ago, even if you’re not a staunch “Wig”—you have cast your lot with your neighbors. The other option would have been to leave for occupied Boston and the protection of the same Redcoats who currently marching to menace you. Were you to choose to back out now, exile would be your likely fate—your neighbors would scorn you; if you were a bachelor, any prospects for marriage would be gone; or if married, your wife and children would share your scorn. As you reach the green, many men from the town are there and more are coming. These are men you have known all your life and you wonder how many of you will be back alive when this is over. The Captain of your company speaks briefly, calling on all to carry out their duty and act in accordance to orders. The minister speaks briefly as well, quoting passages from the Book of Kings or some other warlike passage. The captain calls you into column and you begin your march.

If you’re leaving from Sudbury center, it’s approximately 10 miles to Concord. Many men will walk even further than that to reach the town. If your town has a young lad or lads who can play the fife and/or drum, you have music to accompany your march. Should this not be the case you may sing hymns (perhaps A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) or popular marches, such as Yankee Doodle, or maybe you march in
silence. At the ‘end’ of this march, there waits an army—one of the best in the world. An army your
father may have marched beside in the French and Indian war composed of men who are Englishmen like yourself.

At some point, you learn of the tragic events at Lexington and after crossing Concord Bridge (as you would if coming from Sudbury) you might see the bodies of the Regulars killed there. At some point, your company will find the column of Regulars and will do your best to kill some of them.

Many people have described the fighting of that day; I will not try and add to their description. Having never been in combat I will not presume to speak of the emotions men feel in those moments when life and death coexist in violent collision. One man was asked years later why he stood up that day and fought. He replied:
“We had always governed ourselves and always meant to, they (the Regulars) meant us not to.” I will not
contradict him, but I think some simpler motive might have played a role. If all your friends and neighbors
went to face danger, wouldn’t you be ashamed if you did not go as well?