Last updated: November 6, 2021
The Muster Field
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April 19, 1775
In the early morning hours of April 19, 1775 alarm riders spread news across the New England countryside that a British column numbering roughly 800 men were marching toward Concord with the intent to destroy stockpiles of colonial military supplies gathered there. Throughout the morning, thousands of militia soldiers gathered at predetermined meeting locations before marching onward to Concord. This act of “mustering” the companies ensured all men were present and prepared for confrontation with the British soldiers.
By 8:00 a.m. nearly 200 colonial militia gathered in Concord and advanced to an elevated ridge above the Meriam's Corner road junction just east of town. From that position the militia observed the British column marching along the Bay Road.
“Some were for making a stand," remembered Concord Reverend William Emmerson,"notwithstanding the superiority of their [The British] numbers, but others more prudent thought best to retreat till our strength should be equal to the Enemy's, by Recruits from neighboring towns that were continually coming to our assistance"
Dramatically outnumbered the militia determined to retire across the Concord River to another hilltop position of observation. Minute man Amos Barrett recalled,
“ [we marched] before them with our drums and fifes agoing and also the British. We had grand musick. We marched into town and then over the North Bridge a little more than half a mile and then on a hill not far from the bridge where we could see and hear what was agoing on.”
After crossing over the North Bridge, the militia retired northward to an elevated position known locally as Punkataset Hill. From this hillside the colonists observed the regulars disperse throughout Concord looking for the hidden stockpiles of military goods.
Shortly after the militia crossed the Concord River, a detachment of British soldiers also marched out of town and crossed the North Bridge. At the river the British left 96 soldiers to guard the important access point, while roughly 120 additional men continued two miles westward to the farm of militia Col. James Barrett. For the British soldiers stationed at the North Bridge the exposed position created discomfort. To cover the bridge and the road to Barrett’s farm, two companies of British Light Infantry advanced forward a short distance to higher ground above the bridge. The light company from the 4th Regiment of Foot advanced up onto the farm of militia Captain David Brown. From this position near Brown’s cow-pasture, the British soldiers guarded the westward Groton Road to Barrett’s farm and observed the militia force continually growing on Punkatasett hill farther to the northeast. At the same time another company of light infantry from the 10th Regiment of Foot advanced a short distance north to a hill where the Buttrick family homes stood.
At the North Bridge, Captain W.S. Laurie of the 43rd Regiment of Foot recalled his frustration when,
“…a Country man on horse back, rode past me, with whom I spoke, demanding where he was going, he told me, he was a Doctor going to See a patient…in a short time after, this same Doctor returned, and passing us, was Observed to go towards the Wood where those (militia) men in Arms were drawn up; In a very short time after I saw there whole body Moving towards me, as they came nearer the Light Compy of the 4th. Regt. Posted on a height immediately retreated to me at the Bridge, as did likewise the Lt. Compy of the 10th. Regt. who also had been at no great distance.”
The Muster Field
After gathering additional men near Punkatasset Hill, the colonial militia decided to advance toward the North Bridge for a better view into Concord. When the British light infantry screening this hilltop near and the Groton Road retreated, the militia filed across the high ground and into Captain Brown’s pasture. Lt. Jospeh Hosmer, acting as adjutant, formed the units as they arrived so that they faced the town with the minute men on the right and militia on the left. While the men waited in ranks facing the town, a group of their officers and leading citizens debated their next move. Apparently, they were still uncertain as to the events in Lexington earlier that morning. As the leaders continued their discussions, men from the neighboring town of Acton, including Captain Isaac Davis’s company of minute men arrived. Earlier in the morning, the thirty-year-old Davis and some of his men, made cartridges in his home. His four children were at that time ill, and his last words to his wife Hannah were “Take good care of the children.” After arriving and filing into line, Captain Davis joined the group of officers that were consulting a few rods away. In the meantime, the regulars in Concord had lit fires to destroy such combustible items stockpiled for military use. As seventy-one-year-old Martha Moulton later attested,
“…they had set fire to the great gun-carriages just by the [town] house, and while they were in flames your petitioner saw smoke arise out of the Town House… then your petitioner did put her life, as it were, in her hand, and ventured to beg of the (British) officers to send some of their men to put out the fire…”
It was about 9 o’clock when the militia forming in Captain Brown’s pasture first noticed smoke rising from the town. Concern quickly spread through the ranks, especially by those who had left their families to the mercy of the British soldiers in Concord. According to Concord tradition, Lt. Joseph Hosmer was so moved by the sight of smoke that he went to the gathering of officers and asked, “Will you let them burn the town down?” In the same moment, Captain William Smith of Lincoln volunteered his company to dislodge the British from the bridge, as did Captain Davis from Acton.
With only moments to spare, the militia officers made the decision to advance against the British soldiers guarding the Bridge. Following the impromptu officer’s conference, Captain Davis returned to face his company where Acton minute man Solomon Smith recalled, Captain Davis drew his sword and said to his company, “I haven’t a man that is afraid to go, and gave the word ‘march.'" The Acton company then took its position at the head of the column.
Stretched across this “Muster Field,” the companies of minute men and militia prepared themselves for combat. Orders were given to load their guns and many men paused to change the flints needed to ignite their gunpowder. A sharp, fresh flint ensured the musket would fire if necessary. This act demonstrated the resolve of the colonial soldiers. After replacing their flints, the men discarded the small squares on the ground at their feet, where they remained for at least 150 years until a local citizen in the 1930's discovered the artifacts laying in two perfectly straight lines where the men had formed.
After preparing for action, militia Colonel James Barret took one last moment to caution his men not to fire unless fired upon first. The order to march was given, and the Acton company, formed in double file, stepped off first, followed by the Concord minute companies, the Lincoln company, and finally the Bedford companies. At the head of the column was Concord Major John Buttrick, Action Captain Isaac Davis, and Westford’s Lt. Col. John Robinson. The soldiers then filed out of Captain Brown’s pasture, now known as the Muster Field. They marched onto the Groton Road, and forward toward bloodshed at the North Bridge.
In the two centuries that have passed since the battle at the North Bridge, locals, and historians have called Captain Brown’s cow-pasture many things. The term Muster Field likely comes from late-19th century and early 20th century telling of the events of April 19. Although covered with a dense layer of trees, much of the field remains intact in the present day. In 1885 local citizens George and Mary Keyes dedicated a stone monument set into the wall along Liberty Street to immortalize this hilltop.
Dietrich-Smith D. 2004. North Bridge Unit: Cultural Landscape Report, Minute Man National Historical Park, National Park Service. Cultural Landscape Report. National Park Service, Northeast Regional Office; Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation. Northeast Regional Office
Kehoe, Vincent J-R. 1974. "We were there!": April 19th 1775. [Chelmsford, Mass.]: [The author].
Sabin, Douglas April 19, 1775: A Historiographical Study, (Minute Man National Historical Park, Concord, 1987).