Drums of Fear
The British troops march with drummers from Boston to Lexington, and the drums begin softly, first as a “rustle” then as “a boy running through the reeds of a dry swamp” (p. 92). Then the Americans hear the drums as though someone is running “along a picket fence with a stick” (p. 92). The slowly approaching beat and increasing sound make Adam Cooper and the men fearful. It becomes a weight in the belly and a “sickness” around the heart (p. 92). The tension builds as the men are “silent and tight, tight as strings drawn to the snapping point” (p. 92). The drums announce an organized army of redcoats or British soldiers, while the men waiting on Lexington Common are only farmers with makeshift gear and little training. The Americans are outnumbered with seventy against a thousand. The farmers are not even sure if the soldiers will come, and they are not prepared. They have been told not to cock their guns because they will try to talk to the officers and explain their position. The drums raise their fears, because they suddenly understand that reasoning will not work. This is an irrational force approaching them. This turns out to be the case as the British open fire without provocation and kill several of the men, including Adam’s father. The drummers beat their drums as the columns move on to the green with fixed bayonets and begin shooting.
Later, the drums are silenced as the British march towards Concord on the road. Now, the Yankee rebels hide behind the stone fences on the road and pick off the soldiers with sniper fire. The soldiers have to continue in their formation and keep marching ahead while the rebels shoot at them. The British drum and fife corps represents the British arrogance at this point, and they have no more heart for drumming after the massacre of their troops by guerilla tactics.
Battle as a Dream-like state
The British march on Lexington at dawn, while the mists are still on the ground and the light is dim. They appear suddenly “rank on rank of the redcoats, stretching back on the road and into the curtain of mist, and emerging from the mist constantly, so that they appeared to be an endless force and an endless number” (p. 92). The British actually do outnumber the Americans, but in the mist, the foe seems more powerful and endless. The scene is surreal, for only a moment before, there was darkness. Now everything comes to life on the fateful day of April 19, 1775. Adam Cooper says, “My impression was that the houses had appeared by magic” in the mist, with everything shuttered and “dead and silent” (p. 93). Even as the British march on to the green, Adam feels “they were unreal; only their guns were real, and their glittering bayonets too” (p. 94). Then “everything appeared to happen slowly” as the men wait and a soldier lifts a rifle and shoots Moses Cooper, the father of the narrator. With this shot, the silence is replaced by a roar, and “our whole world crashed at us, and broke into little pieces that fell around our ears” (p. 95).
The second battle Adam experiences has the same eerie quality of a dream. The farmers decide to intercept the soldiers on the road from behind the stone walls. A redcoat officer is shot, and his horse drags him to the stone wall and smashes his head there. This is a close-up of war and “the insane symphony war plays” (p. 131). Adam feels the same sense of unreality as the violence escalates: “I must state that the faster things happened, the slower they happened; the passage and rhythm of time changed, and when I remember back to what happened then, each event is a separate and frozen incident” (pp. 131-32). It seems like a huge gap of time between the death of the officer and “the retreating redcoats,” but it is really only seconds. Though he had seen the same army a few hours before “they had changed, and I had changed” (p. 132). Now, the British are angry and fearful, wounded, staggering. One moment “the road was filled with disciplined troops” and the next, they are “a suddenly disorganized column of soldiers” (p. 132).
The other incidents are as sudden and disconnected as a dream as the battle goes on through the day. Adam falls asleep from fatigue and is thought to be dead. He hears people speaking eulogies of him and wakes up to surprise them. A beautiful girl suddenly appears at a farmhouse to offer the men pie. The surreal quality is partly because the battle is happening on their home territory with neighbors, roads, and places that are familiar yet de-familiarized through violence and death.
Animal Images of War
Cousin Simmons is a relative who acts as Adam’s father after Moses Cooper dies. Simmons explains to Adam that they cannot stop the war now even though they are sick of it after one day. “Now we’re enemies until one side or another wins its purpose” (p. 146). The British retaliate for the rebellion by burning Lexington. The rebels become wild as they decide to make the British remember the Menotomy Road back to Boston. They gather in a place in the road where the bramble patch makes it “the best rabbit hunting in the whole neighborhood” (p. 150). The farmers hide in the tangle of trees by the road “as well hidden as a fox in her earth” (p. 151). The British marching by are “plagued by an enemy they couldn’t see,” losing almost a fourth of their number as the Americans continue to shoot at them from cover (p. 150). Many other Americans are running from place to place on the road following the army “like flies on a dying beast” (p. 151). Adam describes his own part in the battle as going back and forth across country “like a fox driven to distraction” (p. 152). He falls asleep as he burrows into the ground behind a fallen tree. This is when he hears the men talking about him, thinking he is dead. The British, we are reminded, do not know how to fight a battle carried out in such a manner. They are used to formal armies and well thought out battle strategies. The animal imagery describes their shock at encountering Indian-like tactics of fighting. The rebels themselves do not know what they are doing, but spontaneously gather and decide on the spur of the moment which direction to go. They are operating from animal instinct to protect their homes and loved ones. This unplanned war contrasts to the initial conversations of Moses Cooper with other colonials at the Committee meeting about reason and the rights of man. The action that follows their idealistic speeches is not rational, as Fast tries to portray the real nature of war and violence as something out of control.
Drums of Fear