We retired for 15 miles under an incessant fire, which
like a moving circle surrounded and followed us
wherever we went.
--Lord Percy, April 20, 1775
GENERAL GAGE had begun to worry about the Concord expedition even before it left Boston. On the night of its departure, he took the precaution of alerting Lord Percy's 1st Brigade. These were some of his best troops--three crack regiments of British infantry, and a battalion of Royal Marines. He ordered them to be under arms at four o'clock the next morning, and ready to march if needed. 1
What followed was a chapter of accidents, typical of the hierarchical and highly secretive system of communications in the British command. As always, General Gage acted with obsessive secrecy. His orders to Percy's brigade were prepared in a single copy and sent in a sealed letter, personally addressed to the one man who needed to know--the brigade major, Captain Thomas Moncrieffe. 2
That unlucky officer was not in his quarters when the order arrived. The letter was left with a servant, who put it on a table and forgot to tell his master. Captain Moncrieffe returned early in the morning, perhaps less alert than usual, and tumbled into bed without discovering the message. At four o'clock, the hour when the troops had been ordered to assemble, he was blissfully asleep and the brigade was still in barracks. 3
A little past five o'clock, General Gage was rudely awakened