Summary of Chapter 6: The Midday
The men enjoy a brief feeling of holiday at the muster at Ashley’s Pasture, as they are fed and rest, while they wait for others to arrive. Adam sees many friends from Lexington and realizes that fewer men died from his hometown than he had feared. Adam begins to appreciate that though the events of this day were unexpected, the Committee work of his father and others had set up an organized network in the countryside. There are six assembly points between Metonomy Road and Watertown Road, allowing the colonials more flexibility of movement than the British, who have to march on the road.
More militiamen arrive. They tell that the British reached Concord but failed to find the munitions because they had been moved out of town before they came. There was a conflict at the Old North Bridge with heavy casualties for the British.
The militiamen gather along the stone walls on the road back to Boston and plan an ambush against the retreating British. They hear gunfire in the distance, and a rider informs them that the British are just down the road.
The British troops arrive, looking much different than a few hours before. They are anxious and wounded from other ambushes: “They marched with bayonets fixed, and as fixed on their faces was anger, fear, and torment” (p. 132). The colonials hide behind the walls and shoot at the troops as they march by, then run to another spot and shoot some more. The British realize they have to keep moving down the road to get away from the area, so they cannot really stop to defend themselves. Adam is among those firing at the British from extreme close range, but despite his father's death he does not enjoy the experience.
Near the ambush site, Adam and Joseph Simmons come across other militiamen stealing things from the body of a dead British soldier, who is a boy Adam's own age. Simmons chases them away, while Adam vomits in distress at the sight. Simmons claims they couldn’t be Committeemen. Simmons takes Adam with him to keep an eye on him.
The British are again approaching, so the militiamen set up another ambush, staying in groups of two and three rather than in clusters. This time Adam wants to shoot to keep his mind off what he has just seen, and does, though he merely hits someone with bird shot. The militiamen again retreat farther down the road, to the Atkins barn where four riflemen are shooting at the British. One of them is Solomon Chandler, who brags to Adam that he shot a British officer off his horse from three hundred yards. Adam realizes that, while he too is willing to kill in warfare, unlike Chandler, he does not like it. He remembers the British wagon carrying the wounded and dead, and feels sympathy for the suffering of those soldiers. The Atkins family members give water and food to the militia. Pretty Esther Atkins gives Adam a piece of berry pie.
The militiamen talk about their plans at the Atkins place. The sniping has worked so far, but the soldiers have passed them. Alan Beckett, a leader of the Sudbury men, comes up with a plan to trap the British in their retreat and hold the road between Lexington and Menotomy with a hundred men as other Committeemen join them. The men agree and they set out to cut off the British troops.
Along the way they encounter, and defeat, a British cavalry patrol, taking a wounded teenage soldier prisoner in the process. The British boy expects to be executed and cries. Seeing a young boy on the other side crying for his life, Dr. Cody of Watertown treats him, saving his life, and the militiamen carry him to the Dunn House where he can recover. Solomon Chandler takes the boy’s horse and rides it with great pride.
Commentary on Chapter 6: The Midday
This section highlights the success of the guerilla tactics of the colonial forces against the British. Though lightly armed and few, the militiamen know the territory and scurry through it shooting from behind walls and trees as the British are forced to move slowly along the road. Fast continues to contrast those men who enjoy the killing, like Solomon Chandler, proud of his marksmanship with a rifle, and those like Cousin Simmons and Adam, who are decent men and do not want to get hardened to war. Simmons now takes over the father function for Adam, watching out for him, and giving him courage.
Simmons guides Adam through his vacillating feelings and experiences of war, from disgust to excitement. Seeing a British officer killed in front of him and his brains dashed out, Adam experiences the true horror of war. He sobs and wets his pants as he fires on the British. When he sees Isaac Pitt dying from a musket ball in his belly, he feels it is “a mortal shame” (p. 134) and yet knows the relief of remaining alive himself. He moves back and forth between exaltation at defeating the British and pity for all the death on both sides. Fast keeps the reader’s opinion with Simmons and Adam rather than with someone like Chandler. Simmons becomes the mouthpiece for moderation and decency, yet determination. Simmons chases away the corpse robbers, yet when Adam is ready to go home, to “live and let live” (p. 141), Simmons explains the political situation to Adam. They cannot stop now. They are defending their homes, and they would be hung as criminals. They must see their action through, no matter how distasteful, to protect their loved ones and the land.
Adam notes the strangeness of war, how it is not “unrelieved horror” (p. 141) when the Atkins women feed everyone pie and give them water. He sees acts of kindness, such as Doctor Cody saving the British soldier, and men carrying wounded neighbors on their backs. Fast paints a very sympathetic picture of the patriots as ordinary decent folks defending their own territory and rights.