The Road to Concord

The Road to Concord

How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War

J. L. Bell

Westholme Publishing, Yardley, Pennsylvania, 2016, 234 pages

Book Review published on: April 28, 2017

Historian, author, and Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and American Antiquarian Society J. L. Bell offers an intriguing account of the struggle between the British and New England colonists over the possession of artillery in general and four brass cannon in particular. Bell suggests that it was this struggle and British Gen. Thomas Gage’s quest to regain possession of these four cannon that was the catalyst of the war.

Between the fall of 1774 and spring of 1775, there was an arms race between the patriots of the Massachusetts Colony and the British army. Both sides were pursuing possession of all artillery in the region. Unlike muskets, artillery had no use other than for war; it was a weapon of war, and there was a sensing that war was on the horizon. Bell documents that just in September, all publicly owned cannons in Boston and Charlestown had been taken by one side or the other, and in some cases, taken back.

Gage was not only attempting to secure material of war, but he was also determined to locate the cannon and discount the embarrassment of losing the cannon in the first place. Through various sources, he believed the cannon to be located in Concord. Bell posits it was on this seventeen-mile journey to Concord to regain control of the artillery that a skirmish between approximately 250 British soldiers and 70 colonists fueled the start of the American Revolution.

The strength of Bell’s work is his depth of research, evidenced by over forty-three pages of endnotes. He is meticulous in his documentation of sources from the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. At times, however, this became a minor distraction as the reader plows through those details. On the other hand, readers looking for that level of detail will not be disappointed.

While the book’s narrative is centered on artillery in the Massachusetts Colony between 1774 and 1775, it also provides the reader with insights into the lives of prerevolutionary colonists. The structure of local councils and legislatures was informative and revealed a degree of colonial political organization that some may not know.

Historians, students of the American Revolution, and artillerists (past, present, and future) will find The Road to Concord interesting and an excellent read. Bell uncovers a piece of little-known history and provides the reader a window into the makings of the American War for Independence.

Book Review written by: David P. Haught, Fort Belvoir, Virginia