Revere wasn’t the only man to ride that night. He was from Boston and the Boston newspaper got word out about the great ride and they gave Revere all the credit. The military liked the press Revere received because Boston had a lot of potential recruits so a story like his would make for easier recruiting.
Back then, famous people could become a bit of a problem because they were often given positions in the military they weren’t qualified for, but the thinking was it would be easier to get soldiers to follow someone well known. Their families would buy their ranks mostly because it typically improved the odds that their loved one would survive. Officers were often in the back of the battalion when the fighting took place, so they were generally safer.
Revere was made a Lieutenant Colonel and was given command of an artillery division (cannons for use on ships and on land). If the ship didn't need certain cannons for a fight then Revere could move them on shore and shoot from various locations. It was an important job with a lot of logistics involved.
The British established a fort that helped them maintain control of Maine which was part of the Massachusetts territory at the time. Americans had lost this land to the Brits and decided to take it back so the Massachusetts Militia was going to lead the charge and this meant Revere was going to get his first military action.
The plan was to go in with 19 warships knowing the Brits only had 10 and they were going in with 1,000 soldiers while the British had 700. They knew how many ships the British had and the number of troops because spies had given them a count. The plan of attack was to drop off the soldiers before they reached the harbor where the British ships were anchored and then the soldiers would proceed on foot to the fort which was located on top of a hill. Revere and his squad would use a large barge to take several cannons off the ship and position them where they could fire on the British troops and the fort. The American ships would then come around the river bend and attack the British ships.
A lot of errors took place none more so than by the Commodore of the Navy who didn’t position the ships well for the attack. Revere was also a contributor to why they lost the battle. When he was told he needed to move the cannons in various positions he didn’t worry about following orders and did what he thought best. When they asked him for 12 pound cannonballs he’d sometimes use four pound because he thought they were good enough to do the job and easier to move around.
He was a terrible leader. While his men slept on the ground in the cold, he’d have someone row him back to the ship to sleep in nice quarters. When they had to be up by sunrise to start firing the cannons he’d show up after he had a good breakfast. As you can imagine his men didn’t like him.
He also didn’t know what he was doing. His men were firing all over the place barely hitting anything and Revere wasn’t in the bunkers helping them revise their aim. At one point he was told to take his men and leave the cannons to join in on the fight but he refused.
Since the battle was dragging on for several weeks the British had an opportunity to send a couple of large warships that were off the northeast coast to join the battle. When the Navy Commander heard the British warships were coming they left where they were and took off further up the channel. Revere was told to stay where he was and position the guns on the banks overlooking the water so they could shoot at the British ships coming in from the ocean.
Revere refused to do it and instead boarded a barge which is what the soldiers used to move themselves and the canons from the ship to shore and back. Later in the day, Revere and his men were being chased by the Brits up the river and came upon their fleet again.
One of the commanders told him to use his barge to help move men off of some of the ships. His plan was to burn their ships so the British wouldn’t be able to use them. Once again Revere refused to help and took off further up the river with what looked like a large load of supplies.
There were other problems as well that led to our defeat which I won’t get into but the bottom line is Revere didn’t follow orders. They also didn’t like the fact that Revere was always recommending to retreat during their daily officers’ meetings; he just wasn’t cut out for the military.
When he got back to Boston he was court martialed in private and received a minor reprimand. You might be wondering why the court martial was kept low key and wasn’t harsh and the answer is the same one that has been around for thousands of years. The media and the military made Paul Revere a hero for his famous ride because they were looking for heroes so if he failed they failed and they weren’t going to let that happen.
He did become a very successful businessman in Boston after the war. His fame died dramatically over the years until Henry Longfellow wrote his famous poem in 1861: “Listen my children for you shall hear the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” His legend was sparked again.
Our history books are filled with a lot of great stories that aren’t historically accurate for a variety of reasons; as someone once said: “History is written by the victors.” The real story about Paul Revere wouldn’t sound as inspiring as the one we read in school.