Minutemen were members of teams of select men from the American colonial militia during the American Revolutionary War. The Minutemen were one of the first people who fought in the American Revolution. They vowed to be ready for battle against the British within one minute of receiving notice. These teams consisted about a fourth of the entire militia, and generally were the younger and more mobile, serving as part of a network for early response to any threat. Minuteman and Sons of Liberty member Paul Revere spread the news that "the regulars are coming." Paul Revere was captured before completing his mission when the British marched towards the arsenal in Lexington and Concord to collect the patriots' weapons.
The term ' has also been applied to various later United States' military units to recall the success and patriotism of the originals.
In the British colony of Massachusetts Bay
, all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 30 were required to participate in their local militia. As early as 1645 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony
, some men were selected from the general ranks of town-based "training bands" to be ready for rapid deployment. Men so selected were designated as minutemen. They were usually drawn from settlers of each town, and so it was very common for them to be fighting alongside relatives and friends. They were trained to respond "at a minutes warning".
They recommended to the militia to form themselves into companies of minute-men, who should be equipped and prepared to march at the shortest notice. These minute-men were to consist of one quarter of the whole militia, to be enlisted under the direction of the field-officers, and divide into companies, consisting of at least fifty men each. The privates were to choose their captains and subalterns, and these officers were to form the companies into battalions, and chose the field-officers to command the same. Hence the minute-men became a body distinct from the rest of the militia, and, by being more devoted to military exercises, they acquired skill in the use of arms. More attention than formerly was likewise bestowed on the training and drilling of militia.
The need for efficient minuteman companies was illustrated by the Powder Alarm of 1774. Militia companies were called out to resist British troops, who were sent to capture ammunition stores. By the time the militia was ready, the British regulars had already captured the arms at Cambridge and Charlestown and returned to Boston.
The first offensive military attack by militias failed when Massachusetts sent Donald Endicott with four companies on an unsuccessful campaign against the Pequot
Indians. According to one man's account the expedition only killed one Indian and burned some wigwams
Weeks elapsed between the incidents that caused the march and the arrival of Endicott’s men in the area. Once they got there, they didn’t know which Indians to fight and why. This feeble response encouraged the Indians, and attacks on the settlers in the Connecticut valley increased.
In the following year Massachusetts again put a force on the field in collaboration with Plymouth and Connecticut. By the time Plymouth had gotten their force packed and ready to march the campaign had ended. Massachusetts Bay sent 150 militiamen, Plymouth sent 50 and Connecticut sent 90.
New England confederation
In May 1643, a joint council was formed. They published the articles of the New England confederation. The real power of the confederation was that all four of the colonies promised to contribute soldiers to an alert force that would fight anywhere in the colonies.
In September 7, 1643 the towns were given more tactical control. A new rule allowed any general to call up his militia at any time. On August 12, 1645, 30% of all militia were made into short-notice groups (minutemen). Command and control decentralized to the extent that individual company commanders could put their troops into a defensive battle if necessary. A portion of the militia was well trained and well equipped, and set aside as a ready force.
In May 1653, the Council of Massachusetts said that an eighth of the militia should be ready to march within one day to anywhere in the colony. Eighty militiamen marched on the Narragansett tribe in Massachusetts, though no fighting took place. Since the colonies were expanding, the Narragansetts got desperate and began raiding the colonists again. The militia chased the Indians, caught their chief, and got him to sign an agreement to end fighting.
In 1672, the Massachusetts Council formed a military committee to control the militia in each town. In 1675, the military committee raised an expedition to fight the raiding Wampanoag tribe. A muster call was sent out and four days later, after harsh skirmishes with the Wampanoags, three companies arrived to help the locals. The expedition took heavy losses: two towns were raided, and one 80-man company was killed entirely, including their commander. That winter, a thousand militiamen pushed out the Wampanoags.
In response to the success of the Wampanoags, in the Spring of 1676 an alarm system of riders and signals was formed in which each town was required to participate.
The British and French, each with Indian allies, engaged in various fights beginning in 1689 and dragging on for almost a hundred years. In 1690, Colonel William Phips led 600 men to push back the French. Two years later he became governor of Massachusetts. When the French and Indians raided Massachusetts in 1702, Governor Phips created a bounty which paid 10 shillings each for the scalps of Indians. In 1703, snowshoes were issued to militiamen and bounty hunters to make winter raids on the Indians more effective. The minuteman concept was advanced by the snow shoe men.
The Minutemen always kept in touch with the political situation in Boston and their own towns. From 1629 to 1683, the towns had controlled themselves but in 1689, the King appointed governors. By 1772, James Otis and Samuel Adams used the Town Meetings to start a Committee of Correspondence. This instigated in 1774 a boycott of British goods. The Minutemen were aware of this as well.
With a rising number of Minutemen they faced another problem: they didn’t have enough gun powder to support an army for long enough to win freedom. They needed powder badly. The people of an island controlled by the Dutch, Saint Eustatius, decided they had had enough with the British being the major power and having its hand grasping over the entire world. They were quite pleased with the idea of a large rebellion rising up against the British in the New World. As a token of support, they traded gunpowder to the Colonials for other goods needed in Europe. Not only did the Minutemen have political awareness of events in New England, but also of the feelings of other countries such as the Dutch and France. The Colonials knew that other powers in the world were against the British for the amount of power they wielded.
American Revolutionary War period
In 1774, General Thomas Gage
, the new Governor of Massachusetts
, tried to enforce the Intolerable Acts
, which were designed to remove power from the towns. Samuel Adams
pressed for County Conventions to strengthen the revolutionary resistance. Gage tried to seat his own court in Worcester
, but the townspeople blocked the court from sitting. Two thousand militiamen marched to intimidate the judges and get them to leave. This was the first time the militia was used by the people to block the king from doing something they didn’t like. Gage responded by marching to collect gunpowder from the provincials. For 50 miles around Boston, militiamen were marching in response. By noon the next day, almost 4000 people were on the common in Cambridge. The provincials got the judges to resign and leave. Gage backed off from trying to seat a court in Worcester.
Worcester came up with a new militia plan in their County Convention. The Convention required that all militia officers resign. Officers were then elected by their regiments. In turn, the officers then appointed 1/3 of their militia regiment as Minutemen. Other counties followed Worcester’s lead, electing new militia officers and appointing Minutemen.
Gage marched out hundreds of regulars nearly every week, mainly because he wanted to show the provincials he was the more powerful among them. The Minutemen would respond by mustering to their town centers, standing there with guns and calling them “lobsterbacks.” When it came to practicing formations with their weapons, the British mainly only practiced on formations and marching. Their men really never got a chance to shoot because they were crowded into Boston with no room to shoot without ruining buildings or hitting civilians. The British had worked it into their minds that no civilian force could stand against them, so they thought there would be no reason for them to practice shooting. The New Englanders were facing a large imperial army, and they had the room and the insight to practice not only marching in formations but shooting from long distances and shooting for accuracy. In gathering and standing around their town centers, a sort of bonding between the Minutemen began. Regular practice in musters increased their militia’s effectiveness, and the Minutemen got additional practice from responding to the British marches into their territory.
Battles at Lexington and Concord
Having learned from spies about arms stockpiled in Concord, Gage decided on April 19, 1775 to send a 700-man force on a march to Concord to seize arms, gunpowder, cannons, and provisions from the provincials. The march was a spoiling attack. Gage underestimated the Minutemen. On the night of April 18/April 19 1775
, minuteman Paul Revere
spread the news that "the regulars are coming", but was captured before completing his mission when the British marched towards the arsenal in Lexington and Concord to collect the patriots' weapons. The right to bear firearms was thus an issue in America from the very beginning.
Preparations of longboats alerted the Minutemen to an impending attack, and alarm riders went out right away to warn all the towns close and far. The towns sent more and more groups of Minutemen. Gage decided not to tell his own men about the attack, so no stray words would affect the provincials knowing about the march.
The British marched from Boston to Lexington, getting wet and not resting. They marched in attack formation half the way there, causing them to feel worried and annoyed. Meanwhile the British generals received information that more and more militia were gathering in Lexington, with estimates up to 1000 men.
Captain John Parker, of the Lexington Minutemen, thought the British were going to just march past Lexington. He decided to keep all his men on the green. The British, thinking a large militia would be there, marched out onto Lexington green in full battle formation. Parker did not want full conflict, and decided to back his men out of the way. The British marched forward on Parker’s men, and never got an order to stop. A shot was heard, and the British regulars having been highly trained shot accurately and in full formation, charging on the scared Minutemen and shooting them as they ran. When the smoke had cleared, the British suffered only one man wounded; however, the Minutemen had suffered 8 dead and 9 wounded; 6 of these men died.
The British march to Concord kept on going. They marched all the way to Concord without any disturbance, but they saw more Minutemen arriving in the woods, and there were some snipers taking a few easy shots.
In Concord the light infantry and grenadiers split up to secure the bridges and search the town, though they were hungry and tired from marching for a day. The British could see the Minutemen gathering into a large group on a hill above Concord, and they proceeded with their duties of burning powder and weapons that they found. The Minutemen mistook the smoke rising from town and thought they were burning down the town, so they decided to move on the British regulars on North Bridge. The surprised British retreated to reform and reorganise. The Minutemen advanced. The British fired, however they fired too high: there were only three casualties among the Minutemen. The Minutemen were not only firing accurately, but they had three times as many men firing on the British. Two officers and many of their men died. Surprised by this, the British immediately broke ranks and ran as fast as they could. The Minutemen chased after them and retook the bridge, as the British began their long march back to Boston.
Equipment, training, and tactics
Most Colonial militia units were provided neither arms nor uniforms and had to equip themselves. Many simply wore their own farmers' or workmans' clothes, while others had buckskin hunting outfits. Some added Indian-style touches to intimidate the enemy, even including war-paint. Most used hunting rifles
, which did not have bayonets
but were accurate at long range.
The Continental Army regulars
received European-style military training later in the American Revolutionary War
, but the militias did not get much of this. Rather than fight formal battles in the traditional dense lines and columns, they were better when used as irregulars, primarily as skirmishers
Their experience suited irregular warfare. Most were familiar with frontier hunting. The Indian Wars
, and especially the recent French and Indian War
, had taught both the men and officers the value of irregular warfare, while many British
troops fresh from Europe were less familiar with this. The wilderness terrain that lay just beyond many colonial towns, very familiar to the local minuteman, favored this style of combat.
The rifled musket
used by most minutemen was also well suited to this role. The rifling
(grooves inside the barrel) gave it a much greater range than the smoothbore
musket, although it took much longer to load. Because of the lower rate of fire, rifles were not used by regular infantry but were preferred for hunting. When performing as skirmishers, the minutemen could fire and fall back behind cover or other troops before the British could get into range. The increased range and accuracy of the rifle, along with a lifetime of hunting to develop marksmanship
, earned minutemen sharpshooters
a deadly reputation.
The historian M. L. Brown identifies a contrary view, that while a few of these men mastered the difficult handling of a rifle, few became expert. Brown quotes the Continental Army soldier Benjamin Thompson, who expressed the 'common sentiment' at the time which was that minutemen were notorious poor marksmen with rifles:
"Instead of being the best marksmen in the world and picking off every Regular that was to be seen...the continual firing which they kept up by the week and the month has had no other effect than to waste their ammunition and convince the King's troops that they are really not really so formidable."
Ammunition and supplies were in short supply and were constantly being seized by British patrols. As a precaution, these items were often hidden or left behind by minutemen in fields or wooded areas. Other popular concealment methods were to hide items underneath floorboards in houses and barns.
In commemoration of the centenary of the first successful armed resistance to British forces, Daniel Chester French
, in his first major commission, produced one of his best-known statues (along with the Lincoln Memorial
), the Concord Minuteman
. Inscribed on the pediment
is the opening stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson
's 1837 Concord Hymn
with the immortal words, "Shot heard 'round the world
." The statue's likeness is not based on Isaac Davis
, the Captain of the Acton
Militia and first to be killed in
during the Battle of Lexington and Concord
on April 19
, but rather on the typical minute man of the day, according to the sculptor, Daniel Chester French.
A euphoria over the Minutemen's early victory in the Revolutionary War has bred some historically inaccurate myths. Paul Revere's Ride
, a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
, is criticized by historians as being historically inaccurate. The success at Lexington has been seen to overshadow the long history of failures of the colonial militia. Even Samuel Adams
, who was at Lexington on the day of the famous clash, later said: "Would any man in his sense, who wishes war may be carried on with vigor, prefer the temporary and expensive drafts of militia to a permanent and well-appointed army?" General Charles Lee
, who had desired to lead militia forces, complained: "As to the minutemen, no account ought to be made of them." George Washington
is also well known for a long series of scathing opinion of the failures of the militia forces.
- Dupuy, R.. Ernest; , Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt. The Harper encyclopedia of military history : from 3500 BC to the present. New York, NY : HarperCollins ISBN 0-06-270056-1
- Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and Their World. ©1976. Hill and Wang. LOC: 75-46595
- Tuchman, Barbara W. (1990). The First Salute. Random House. ISBN 0517050684