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Day 52 (10.23.07) - Concord, MA - Battles & Writers

We visited the North Bridge, where the 'Shot Heard Round the World' happened, then the Concord Museum and Louisa May Allcott's home.


Summary: North Bridge (first 'real' battle in Revolutionary War), Concord Museum, Louisa May Allcot house, Minute Man Visitors Center on Battle Road (between Concord & Lexington).

Logistics: Mileage is irrelevant since we're just touring the Boston area for the time being.
Weather: Mostly Overcast, Windy, warmish (mid 60's F). Rain is forecasted but hasn't started yet.
Camped: Normandy Farm RV Park, Foxboro, MA

Detail: We decided to stay in the Concord area today since we were already there and there were a lot of things we thought might be interesting. First we went to the North Bridge Visitors Center. The wind was blowing today and leaves were falling all around us - quite spectacular. As mom was walking, she started shuffling her feet deliberatly in the leaves, just for fun, and then just couldn't help playing with them.

Inside the Visitors Center were two manikin's in the period dress of the era when the Revolutionary War began (and two womankins who couldn't resist a manikin in uniform):


(I'm borrowing heavily from the National Park signage for the following) The significance of the North Bridge is that this is where the second battle took place, and the first organized and deliberate battle (Lexington being more of an accidental skirmish). The British troops arrived in Concord and disbursed to search for weapons. They also sent some troops to guard the two bridges in town, including three companies of about 96 men to the North Bridge. As word of the British advance and the casualties at Lexington spread, colonist militia started coming to the area. About 400 gathered on a hill outside of town near the North Bridge. Their leaders were hesitant to engage the British troops until they saw smoke above the town. They thought the British were burning Concord, which wasn't quite the case. They also saw the British soldiers start removing planks from the bridge.

The militia started marching in a column of two's to face the British companies on the other side of the Bridge. The British opened fire on the colonists. This time their leader, Major John Buttrick commanded, "Fire, fellow soldiers, for God's sake, Fire!" For the first time, the Colonists were ordered to fire on the soldiers of their King, and for the first time, they killed British soldiers. Ralph Waldo Emerson immortalized this moment in a 1937 poem as "the shot heard round the world".

Fortunately, there was no shooting going on when Mom & I visited the bridge. It was fall rather than April, when the actual battle took place - but a lovely and quiet place for us today. (One million visitors a year visit the Lexington - Concord battlefields, I suspect most come during the summer however). In this shot of the North Bridge, the British would be on the near side (left), the militia on the far side (right). The original bridge was not as curved as this replacement.


A National Park Ranger is always stationed at the bridge during park hours to answer questions, point things out to visitors and offer explanations as needed. This one was also kind enough to pose with us. The British would have been on the far side in this shot.


A gravestone also pays tribute to the two British soldiers who fell during the battle.


Amazingly, on the Concord side of the bridge (where the British were) there was a house only a couple of hundred yards away. This was the house built by Ralph Waldo Emerson's grandfather. The Emerson family was home at the time of the battle, Mr. Emerson's wife, Phebe, watched it from the upstairs back bedroom window! Their correspondence indicates that they were aware at the time how significant the event was (I suspect that many colonists and British had been both fearing and expecting a confrontation for some time and knew exactly what it meant when the shooting finally commenced).

The house is called 'The Old Manse' and is open for tours. Mom and I took the tour and learned that it is not just signficant as an old house (built in 1770) or because of it's proximity to the battle at the North Bridge, but also because it was the home (later) of Ralph Waldo Emerson, then also Nathanial Hawthorne - both significant writers in the mid-1800's. After her husband, the senior Rev. Emerson, died - Phebe married a Mr. Ripley. Other then renting it to the Hawthornes for three years, the house remained in the family and was used by them until they donated it and it's contents to the "Trustees of Reservations". So like the Fairbank's house in Dedham, this house has remained in tact. One of the more interesting features are small writings scratched into some of the glass window panes by Nathanial Hawthorne and his wife to each other.


After finally leaving the North Bridge/Old Manse area, Mom and I drove back through Concord. The tourist brochure recommended visiting the Concord Museum and it was directly on our route, so we stopped and went through this.

Outside the museum is a full replica of Henry David Thoreau's house that he built on Waldon Pond. He built it simple and small on purpose as his intention was to connect with nature. While it is quite small, it seemed pleasant enough and he had frequent guests during his stay there.


Inside the museum, no pictures are allowed. One of the items on display is one of the Lanterns hung from the church in Boston to alert Paul Revere which direction the British Regulars would take ("One if by land, two if by sea"). The museum also has four rooms set up to reflect different periods in the 1700's and 1800's, which was nice. It had a lot of interesting information about the exhibits and a few hands on activities for kids, but they could probably use some more interactive learning experiences. A really nice interpreter was wandering around trying to help museum goers such as us enjoy the visit and understand the exhibits. This helped a bit as he was able to point out some interesting facts that I would have missed on my own. The also have a good web site, which explains the 'period rooms' a lot better than I did:


Next on the route was the Louisa May Alcott house (it's rather amazing how close these things are to each other - it is really a compact area for the amount of historically signficant sites). She is the author of "Little Women", among other things. While the book is largely autobiographical, she and her sisters were actually older when the family moved into the house. However, most of the stores are based on their experiences here. Her father was actually fairly progressive, but wasn't able to make enough money to support the family. When Louisa's wrote "Little Women", she was able to take care of her family, pay off their debts, and really improve their circumstances. She and her family were also ardant abolitionists, so when the civil war broke out, Louisa volunteered to be a nurse for the Union Army. She became ill and was given Mercury as a medication, which caused her health problems for the rest of her life. (You may have seen this already, I took it yesterday when we drove past the house - but as we actually took the tour today am linking back to it again - sorry for the repetition.)


As you can probably guess, all of the above took up most of the day. I probably should have quit right then and found a place to park for the night, but no - I decided to stop one more place we had driven past the day before. In addition to the visitors center at the North Bridge, the National Park Service has a visitors center along Battle Road, so I decided to check it out. Mom was really tired by this point, so decided to wait in the RV, which is fine (we try to maintain an agreement that either of us can do so at will). Anyway, a lot of the information repeated what we'd learned at other sites, but it was presented in a nice, clear timeline. They have also developed a very nice multimedia presentation called 'The Road to Revolution' which I watched. Again, pretty much the same information - maybe if I see it enough I'll actually remember it?

A couple of things I may have failed to point out previously (or just learned at this center).

After the battle at the North Bridge, the British troups withdrew and rejoined the main force in Concord. They hadn't found many weapons because the warnings had given the colonists enough time to hide many of the weapons the British were trying to confiscate or destroy. They did destroy what they could find, then formed up and started their march back towards Boston.

In the meantime, colonial militia continued to pour into the area from surrounding communities as the alarm and word of the conflict spread. By the time the British column made it back to Lexington, the Colonial Militia significantly outnumbered the British. As the British marched back to Boston, the Colonists continued to attack them, with an almost constant stream of skirmishes and battles, inficting heavy casualties.

So the battles of Lexington and Concord consisted of three phases, (1) A disorganized skirmish first in Lexington where eight Colonists were killed and the British victorious, (2) A more regular battle at the North Bridge in Concord where the Colonists for the first time intentionally fired on and killed British soldiers, and (3) an long, strung out battle during the British march back to Boston.

The second thing I learned at the Minute Man Battlefield Visitors Center was what happened after Lexington and Concord. By the time the British made it to Boston, almost 20,000 militia had gathered from the surrounding areas. A few went home to their families, but probably around 16,000 remained and laid seige to Boston. At first, they were disorganized and unfocused, but once George Washington was put in charge - they began to become a regular army. Everyone in Boston suffered terribly during this seige, both Colonial residents and British Soldiers. At one point, a resident wrote of having served rat meat to his houseguest! The battle of Bunker Hill was fought during this period as the British tried to attack the Colonists laying seige to their position (I don't know much about this yet, maybe tomorrow?). Anyway, after Washington had cannon brought down that had been captured at Fort Ticondaroga in upper New York, the British knew they could not hold their position and evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776 - almost a full year after the battles at Lexington and Concord. Boston schools still celebrate March 17 as "Evacuation Day" - the day the British left Boston.

Well, I was going to try to get back to writing a travel journal today instead of a textbook - looks like I didn't quite make it. We did eventually leave the Concord area however and found an RV Park. This is quite a ways south of Boston, but our intention is to visit downtown Boston tomorrow (maybe in the rain) and also Thursday - then head down to Cape Cod. This should be interesting - finding our way around Boston in an RV.

Posted by jl98584 19:07 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Enjoy Boston to the full! A few years ago, Bob and I were there for his annual professional meetings, mid-November. We walked a good deal of the Freedom Trail--very interesting, though Phylis might have difficulty with it. She'd probably enjoy the central park, with its sculpture of "Make Way for Ducklings." And the historic churches (Paul Revere, etc.) are worth seeing. I'd hate to drive an RV through the Big Dig, though--it was bad enough riding in a taxi!

by msj

We did enjoy Boston today and actually drove through the Big Dig and survived! We will go back tomorrow and use the Trolley, see how that works.

by jl98584

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