April Morning (1988)

 

 

Director:  Delbert Mann

Starring:  Tommy Lee Jones (Moses Cooper), Robert Urich (Joseph Simmons), Chad Lowe (Adam Cooper), Susan Blakely (Sarah Cooper), Rip Torn (Solomon Chandler), Meredith Salenger (Ruth Simmons).

Based on Howard Fast's 1961 novel, this is the story of a young boy coming of age during the time of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  The thesis here is that the battle was precipitated as much by the Americans led by Solomon Chandler as by the British. 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

 

April 18, 1775.  Lexington and Concord area of Massachusetts Colony.  British forces stop a farmer on the path driving his horse and wagon.  His name is Solomon Chandler.  The British check through the contents of the boxes in the back of the wagon and find musket balls and gun powder.   They also find muskets.  For this Solomon gets hit in the head with a musket butt.  The fellow in charge says to let Solomon go so he can tell his Whig friends that the days of stealing British supplies out of Boston into the countryside are over. 

Moses Cooper goes over to the bar to check on Solomon Chandler.  Solomon enters a tavern and the bartender immediately wants to know what happened to Chandler.  Solomon says that he ran into a British patrol and they found his delivery of firearms headed for Concord.  Moses says he wants to just live in peace, but Solomon asks what's peace without honor?  Cooper complains that Solomon is always preaching for revolution.  The two fellows start arguing.  A fellow named John says he will call a meeting of the committee.  Cooper doesn't want to call a committee meeting.

Young Adam Cooper sleeps on some hay in the barn.  His girlfriend, Ruth Simmons, tells him that he is dreaming again.  Adam says it's spring fever.  The two are interrupted by Moses coming into the barn.  Ruth leaves.  Dad tells Adam that he doesn't like his attitude toward work. 

Adam brings water from the well to his mother who is working in the kitchen.  Grandmother goes outside and Adam comes with her.  She asks Adam what's wrong?  He says that he can only talk to her.  His dad thinks everything he does is wrong or sinful.  "I am always wrong."  She says Adam shouldn't take what his father says so personally, because his father thinks he's the "only right-thinking man on earth". 

At dinner dad, against the advice of the women in the home, starts in on Adam, saying that he's disappointed in Adam.  Joseph Simmons knocks and comes into the dining room.  He says he's on his way to the committee meeting and thought he would walk over with Moses.  Joseph has been given the task of writing a statement on the rights of man.  Adam tells his father he wants to go with them to the meeting.  Dad insults Adam while giving him the news that he can't come with them. 

British forces cross the Charles River, land and get into formation.  They are spotted by several colonists. 

At the committee meeting, John complains about the British treatment of Solomon Chandler.  He says there is a real shortage of weapons the village men can get their hands on.  Joseph stands up and reminds everyone that the British have 5,000 troops stationed in Boston.  He adds that the British have the best army in the world and if there is a confrontation the British will fall down laughing at the colonists.  John says there are hundreds of committees in the colonies just like this one.  They are not alone.  Moses gets up and says none of the men at the meeting are soldiers and none of them have ever fired a shot at another man.  John says one day they may have to fight because they have no other choice.   

Adam and Ruth go out for a walk in the night air.  Adam tells Ruth that he loves her.  She quickly reminds Adam that her mother and she have strict morals.  Her mother trusts her so she and Adam can be out alone.  Adam gives her a kiss on the lips.  She says she guesses what she feels is love too.  They kiss again.  She then says she better go home now. 

Moses gets home from the meeting.  His wife speaks to him about how badly he treats his own son.  Moses says maybe he's been too hard on the boy. 

A horseman comes riding up saying that the Regulars are out and there are hundreds of them.  They are already on the road.  The colonists figure that the British are headed for the munitions stores in Concord.  Men gather together and John wants the church bell to sound the alarm.  The minister is worried because they have only 79 militia up against perhaps a thousand British soldiers.  John still insists on the need to ring the bell.  The ministers gives his approval.  Four boys run to sound the two church bells. 

Moses and John work together to sign in the men who are interested in fighting.   Adam gets in line to step up.  He gives his name to his father.  Moses hesitates but lets Adam sign the roster. 

Adam comes outside and sees Ruth there waiting for him.  He says that this is going to be the greatest day of his life. 

Sarah is not too happy with Moses for letting Adam sign the roster, but Moses says if he had stopped him, he would have no more relations with his son.  

Moses oversees his son loading his weapon, giving him several pointers.  Father and son say goodbye to mother and grandmother and leave to head for the green. 

Outside the house, dad tells Adam that he feels love for his son, but men just don't say that to each other.  They head out. 

Joseph says goodbye to his wife and daughter Ruth. 

The men gather on the green.  It's 10 minutes to 4 o'clock.  They talk about what they will do when the British arrive?   And what will they do if the British just go pass them?  Then they will pass them. 

A young man blows a tune on his flute.  The minister leads the men in a religious song.  The women and children at home can hear the singing. 

The British drums can be heard.  By himself Solomon takes up a position behind a stone wall.  The British come into the village.  The commander gives the signal to halt.  The village men are getting nervous waiting for what will happen.  The soldiers are given the command to form up in front.  John tells his men to hold steady and do not fire.  It takes a while for the British to get into position.  They put their bayonets on their muskets. 

The commander comes over now to the colonists and tells them to lay down their arms and disperse at once in the King's name.  Someone says they are gathered here peacefully.  The order is given:  "Advance and disarm them."  John tells the men to retire  -- get off the green.  Moses is not going to retire.  Someone, probably Solomon, fires a shot and the fighting begins.  Moses is wounded and goes down.  The British are now running toward the men on the green.  Adam sees what's happened to his father and retreats with the others.

Quite a few of the colonists are hit in the back with bayonets or wounded and then bayoneted.  An old man tries to make it into the woods, but is shot in the back.   Adam is scared and he runs and hides in a barn.  He cries there.  The British are now told to cease fire and get back in their ranks.  The British form up again.  The officers discuss what happened and one of the officers says they were fired upon by the colonists.  The enemy shot first.  The commander says they will move on toward Concord. 

Some soldiers are ordered to stay behind and search the homes.  The British start marching away.  The women come out to look for their husbands, sons and brothers.  Sarah cries over her dead husband.  Ruth goes in search of Adam.  She finds him and he tells her that his father is dead.  Adam says he just ran and left his own father behind on the battlefield.  Ruth says he's not a coward and kisses him.  Then she advises him to run into the woods because the British are looking for them.  A young soldier comes into the barn.  He asks Ruth what she is doing there and she says she was just hiding.  Then she becomes bold and starts scolding the soldier for invading their peaceful village.  She backs the soldier right out of the barn and she closes the door behind her.  

Now Adam makes a run for it.  A soldier fires at him, but misses.  Two more soldiers shoot at him.  He jumps behind a stone wall and Solomon grabs him.  Adam keeps shouting for him to let loose of him.  Solomon does so, but only after Adam has calmed down a bit.  Solomon asks who is the boy and Adam says he is Adam Cooper and Solomon realizes that it must be the son of his friend Adam Cooper.  Adam says Moses Cooper was his father, but now he's dead. 

Solomon checks the time.  It's 12 minutes after 9 o'clock in the morning.    Solomon tells him it's going to be a long day for:  "What's started ain't easily finished. . . . We got a little more to do today and we'll do it the best we know how." 

Solomon and Adam see the British marching on the road to Concord.  Solomon says:  "Have a good long look at them.  It's a healthy thing to regard what you fear.  Study them and realize their stupidity and ignorance.  They do what they're told to do.  That's all they know.  Believe me, lad, it will be easier for them to go to Concord, than it'll be for them to come back."

They see some fellows coming from Bedford.  In fact, men from all over are heading to Concord.  They gather together and have something to eat.  Adam sees his group from Lexington and goes over to them.  The men are glad to see Adam, for they thought he was dead for sure.  Especially relieved is Joseph Simmons.  Adam is bothered by his feeling of cowardice and he asks Joseph why did they run like cowards?   Joseph says they had no real intention of fighting the British army.  They were just trying to make a statement that they would fight if necessary.   He adds that if they had not run, a lot of them wouldn't be here now to do what they are going to do.  They are going to stack up the British like cordwood.

A messenger rides up yelling for Solomon.  Solomon yells back and the young man tells him that the British arrived at Concord, but they found no munitions as everything had been already taken out.  Solomon tells him to ride back and when the British get halfway between Concord and Lexington, come riding back to let the men know.   The messenger rides his horse away. 

Solomon gathers the men together and tells them:  "Well, the Redcoats danced and now they'll have to pay the piper."  The men are to hide behind the stone walls and the the trees of the forest and wait for the British to come by.  "We'll sting 'em all the way to Boston."  The men are told to disperse and watch out for British patrols. 

Joseph, Adam and some others see a British patrol walking by.  They get into a good position. When they get very close the lead soldiers are mowed down.  Adam couldn't fire his weapon.  Joseph tells him:  "It's alright.  I understand."  Adam stays behind.  He hears someone walking up behind him.  He turns and sees a British soldier coming through the woods.  They see each other and the young British soldier that Ruth balled out just freezes where he stands.  He sees that Adam is neither saying or doing anything so he lifts his riffle up to shoot, but Adam shoots him in the left thigh and he goes down. 

The other Lexington residents come running to see what's going on.  Adam tells Joseph that he wants to go home, right now.  Joseph tells him so do they all, but they can't go now.  They have to stand up to the British.  They just leave the wound soldier behind to fend for himself. 

The Lexington men and others start taking positions along the stone walls in the area.  They can hear the sounds of some fighting.    The messenger comes racing down the road yelling to the men that the British are coming, get ready.  A redcoat officer then comes racing down the road after the messenger.  Someone fires and misses him.  He turns his horse around to see who it was and Solomon shoots him off his horse.  The horse keeps running dragging the officer  behind him.  The horse jumps the stone wall and the officer smacks right into it.     

Now they see the soldiers returning from Concord.  The soldiers aren't really marching.  They are walking fast but often turning to look for possible snipers.  Solomon gives the order to fire and the men fire at the Redcoats.  The British fire back, but it's the Redcoats that are in the open.  Some Redcoats jump over the stone wall and chase the colonists.  Joseph tells Adam that they are now going to move down the wall and take up new positions.  Adam says this must be the war he heard so much talk about.  "We're all British."  Joseph says:  "Aye, we were, until today."  Now Joseph starts running with Adam right behind them. 

Some of the British soldiers having jumped over the stone walls catch up with some of the colonists and bayonet them from behind.  Joseph and Adam keep taking up new positions and keep shooting British soldiers.  After one assault, the two fellows have to go different ways making it harder for the British to shoot one or both of them. 

Adam makes his way back to a house where the wounded are being taken.  Adam sees Solomon who brags that he just shot a British officer from some 300 paces away.  New reinforcements arrives and Solomon tells them to run that way and start shooting the British soldiers.  And they are to keep leap-frogging down until the British are wrecked.  News comes in that British reinforcements are coming to join with the battered troops.  There may be as many as 1,500.  The messenger asks what if the British decide to take a different road?  Solomon says:  "Friend, there ain't a road in Massachusetts today that don't lead to British graves."

Adam fires a shot at the British Major and misses.  But the bullet came so close as to scare the horse who the throws the Major out of his saddle.  The Major is mad and sends me to go out and get that little cur (Adam).  Adam hurriedly reloads, but doesn't realize that several British soldiers are headed his way.  From atop a cliff Joseph and the reverend see the British sneaking up on Adam.  They run to help Adam.  Joseph shouts out for Adam to be on his guard.  Adam now sees two British soldiers taking aim at him.  He drops down and both bullets miss him.  Adam's shot hits one of the soldiers and he goes down.  Now it's a race to see who can reload the fastest.  The British soldier still standing had a head start and he finishes first.  Meanwhile, a soldier is coming up from the other side of Adam.  Solomon fires and hits the British soldier behind Adam.  He then grabs his knife and charges the other soldier.   The soldier shoots Solomon down, but then Adam kills the soldier. 

The men from Lexington gather around their Captain of the militia.  Solomon says slowly:  "I've been bucking against the tide all me life, laddie, thinking I was alone.  But today I'm in the company of brothers --  Americans."  Solomon dies.  Now Adam asks Mr. Simmons for permission just to go home.  They both start out for home.   Ruth sees them coming and runs up to them.  She hugs her father and then she hugs Adam. 

Adam tells her:  "It isn't the same anymore.  We aren't the same." 

Now she asks if Adam still loves her.  Well, of course he does. 

Adam comes home.  His mother hugs him and cries.  He asks her please don't cry.  Adam now hugs his grandmother and goes upstairs to see his father's body. 

Adam says nothing to him.  He walks back down stairs.  He takes his gear and coat off and starts washing up for dinner.  Mom gives him his father's watch.  She also sits him down at the head of the table.  He says the Lord's Prayer as his form of saying grace.  Then, like his father, he speaks directly to God about what he's been thinking  --  the war.

 

Good film.  As an American, of course, I have heard the tales of the Battles of Lexington and Concord many times.  The film, however, really fills out the story with a lot of details.  I enjoyed watching the film even though I knew what the outcome would be.  Rip Torn did a very good acting job as Solomon Chandler, the chief of the Lexington Militia. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background:

 

1768  --  the British army occupied Boston. The army was later supported by the naval/marine services to enforce the Intolerable Acts.

Governor General Thomas Gage planned to remove military supplies from the reach of the rebellious Americans.  He had some success with this policy. 

April 8  --  the leaders of the rebellion learned that they might be arrested by the British, so most of them left Boston.  Samuel Adams and John Hancock fled to the home of one of Hancock's relatives in Lexington.   (It has been speculated that the American-born wife of Governor General Gage, Margaret Gage, may have been the source of the intelligence.)

The towns people of Concord were told to distribute the stores among the citizens of Concord and other towns nearby.

1775 (April 14)  --  the British Secretary of State, the Earl of Dartmouth,  gave instructions to Gage to disarm the rebellious population and to arrest and imprison the rebellion's leaders.

1775 (April 18)  --  Gage sent out a mounted patrol to ask about the whereabouts of Samuel Adams and John Hancock.  This alarmed the Americans and they became more alert and prepared for trouble.  The Lexington Militia mustered early that evening.

Gage ordered Lt Col Francis Smith to proceed from Boston to Concord to destroy military supplies.  Gage did not issue written orders for the arrest of rebel leaders.

Between 9:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M.,  Joseph Warren told William Dawes and Paul Revere that the British would be embarking from boats in Boston to head for Cambridge and the road to Lexington and Concord. Warren thought that the ultimate goal was the capture of Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Revere and Dawes were sent out to alert the Patriots.

After they arrived in Lexington, Revere, Dawes, Hancock, and Adams discussed what to do next.  They decided to send Revere and Dawes out to warn Concord.  They were met by rider, Samuel Prescott, who was the only rider of the three who managed to warn Concord.

Samuel Adams and John Hancock were eventually moved to safety.

1775 (April 19)  --  900 British regulars, led by Colonel Francis Smith, disembarked from their boats at midnight into waist-deep water.

about 2 A.M.  --  they started out for Concord.

about 3 A.M.  --  Colonel Smith sent Major Pitcairn ahead with six companies of light infantry on a quick step march to Concord.

about 4 A.M.  --  Col. Smith send word back to Boston asking for reinforcements.

sunrise  --  Pitcairn entered Lexington.  About 75 Lexington militiamen under Captain John Parker had emerged from Buckman Tavern and were waiting on the village green. (About 100 spectators were also there.)

Marine lieutenant Jesse Adair on his own initiative led two companies of troops onto the green itself. Pitcairn arrived shouting "Disperse you rebels; damn you, throw down your arms and disperse!" Both Parker and Pitcairn ordered their men to hold their fire, but some unknown person fired a shot.  Both sides agreed that none of the soldiers on the green fired the shot.

In the battle that followed the Americans lost 8 dead, whereas the British had only one wounded. The American dead were John Brown, Samuel Hadley, Caleb Harrington, Jonathon Harrington, Robert Munroe, Isaac Muzzy, Jonas Parker, and Ashahel Porter. Fatally wounded, Jonathon Harrington managed to crawl back to his home where he died upon his doorstep.

Colonel Smith came up and restored order. The British then moved on to Concord.

In Concord Colonel Barrett surrendered the town of Concord.  He then led his  men across Old North Bridge to a hill a mile north of town where they could still keep an eye on the British.

Smith splits his troops up to cover various key spots in Concord.

Col Barrett moved down from the hilltop to a flat hilltop, which was their militia muster field.  The British yielded to Barrett's men.

There were now 500 Americans facing Captain Laurie's 115.  When the men saw smoke rising from the town, Barrett ordered his men to head down toward Old North Bridge.  The British retreated back across Old North Bridge. Then the British put their troops into formation.  The battle began.  In the first American volley four of the eight British officers on the field were wounded.  The British troops started abandoning the field.

The Americans were surprised at their success as they saw the British running from them.  The Americans then took up good defensive positions by the bridge. Lt. Col. Smith saw the men retreating, reconnoitered the situation and desired to bring all his men back to town by 11:30. The British army left Concord at noon.

Heading back the British started taking heavy casualties from the Americans in the area.  At "The Bloody Curve" the British lost 30 killed and wounded to four for the Americans.

By this time, Captain John Parker had reassembled the Lexington Militia.  They set up an ambush and wounded Colonel Smith.  In clearing out a hill, Pitcairn fell from his horse injuring his arm. Most of the British now broke and ran.

about 2:30 P.M.  --  1000 British soldiers under Brigadier Lord Hugh Percy arrived to rescue the embattled troops.

about 3:30 P.M.  --  the trip back for the British began again.

Brigadier General William Heath took command of the Massachusetts forces at Lexington and used them to surround Percy with a moving ring of skirmishers.

In Menotomy (Arlington) more casualties were taken than in any other town. The Americans lost 25 killed and 9 wounded, and the British 40 killed and 80 wounded. Each was about half of the day's fatalities.

The British troops crossed into Cambridge.  They could not cross the recently dismantled bridge, so they changed direction and started onto the road to Charlestown.  The militia (numbering about 4000) were confused by the move and their circle of fire was broken.

The British entered Charlestown and set up defensive positions on high ground that were so good that Heath wisely decided to withdraw the militia to Cambridge.

 

 

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