In reporting on the deployment of C Company, First Battalion of the 181st Infantry Regiment to Iraq this month, the Boston Globe stated:
The historic unit, which Paul Revere led against British forces on Lexington Green and in Concord in 1775,...Similar remarks were aired by WBZ on TV and WBUR on radio.
But Paul Revere (shown here around 1800) didn’t lead any troops on Lexington Green. He was busy moving a trunk of papers that John Hancock had left behind. Revere never reached Concord at all that night. And he held no military rank or command in April 1775.
Furthermore, Revere’s military experience came in the artillery, not the (light) infantry. First he was a lieutenant under Col. Richard Gridley in 1756, not seeing much action. In 1779 he became commander of the Massachusetts militia artillery regiment (succeeding Col. Thomas Crafts), and led that force during a calamitous attempt to take the British-held fort on the Penobscot River.
Revere’s role in the Battle of Lexington and Concord should be extremely easy to check. It’s not one of the forgotten details of the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the misinformation about Revere seems to have come from the Massachusetts National Guard itself. A December 2006 press release downloadable here stated:
The 181st Infantry (Light) is one of the five oldest units in the U.S. military, tracing its lineage back to 1632. It was formed in 1636 as part of the Massachusetts Militia. The unit fought during the King Phillips War, repulsing various raids by Native Americans. In 1775, Paul Revere led the regiment against British forces on Lexington Green and in Concord.We can see a public-relations stretch for historical significance in how this paragraph contradicts itself. If the 181st Infantry (Light)’s first predecessor “was formed in 1636,” then it could not go “back to 1632.” Or, if we decide that a 1632 precursor to the legislated Massachusetts militia counts, then why not trace the lineage back even earlier to England? The answer is, of course, that the “lineage” of military units is a bureaucratic fiction that selects historical facts to construct an inspiring heritage. An extra four years is a little more inspiring, but roots in another country are not. The name of Paul Revere resonates more now than that of the actual commander at Lexington, Capt. John Parker.
There’s no practical harm in such historical inaccuracy, of course. But when soldiers and other people are being put in danger, the government and the news media should get the facts right.