Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain Summary and Analysis of Chapter 12


Johnny realizes that Pumpkin’s clean uniform will arouse suspicion, so he dirties it up and smears some blood on his face to look like he has been in battle at Lexington. He is able to pass himself off as a British private with great success. However, he notices that low-ranking foot soldiers in the British army are treated “like cordwood” (253). He tries to catch a ride across the river to Charlestown. While he waits, he sees two wounded officers come in on a medical boat. They are Colonel Smith and Lieutenant Stranger. Johnny has to resist an urge to help the lieutenant walk to the hospital.

Johnny convinces some sailors to row him across the river by claiming he a message for Earl Percy. In Charlestown, Johnny hears the latest news from the tavern-keeper. It turns out that the British succeeded in raiding Concord and moved on to the village of North Bridge, where they were massacred by thousands of Minute Men. Although British reinforcements eventually arrived and allowed the remainder of Smith’s regiment to escape back to Charlestown, the English suffered a major loss.

Johnny inquires after Dr. Warren and finds out that he has gone to Lexington to help the wounded. Johnny starts off for Lexington on foot. The countryside is in chaos and he sees burial parties everywhere from the battles at Concord and North Bridge. In Lexington, he asks a young woman for news and a drink of water, and she tells him that Rab survived the first skirmish. Johnny eventually finds Dr. Warren on Lexington green. After Johnny gives him the information he learned from talking to British officers in Charlestown, Dr. Warren tells him that Rab was badly wounded in the first volley of bullets here in Lexington. However, he took it bravely and is now resting at Buckman’s Tavern. Dr. Warren warns Johnny that Rab will probably die and that Johnny should try to take this like a man.

When Johnny finds Rab at the tavern, the older boy is badly weakened by his wounds. Rab thanks Johnny for getting him the fine musket, although he never got a chance to use it before he was shot. Rab smiles and the young men have a warm moment of friendship. Rab asks Johnny to check up on his female relatives. When Johnny arrives at Silsbee Cove, no one is there––not even Grandsire, who had planned to sit out the battle at home. When Johnny returns to the tavern to report this news, Rab is dead. Dr. Warren says that Rab sent him on the errand just to get Johnny out of the tavern while he was dying. Johnny is heartbroken but takes the news stoically. After he has absorbed it, he picks up the musket Rab loved so much.

As Johnny holds the musket, Dr. Warren gets a good look at his hand for the first time. He explains that he can operate on the hand to give Johnny back the use of his thumb. However, Johnny will have to be brave enough to allow Dr. Warren to cut away the scar tissue. Johnny agrees and Dr. Warren says he has time to do the operation now, if only Johnny will take a walk and get some fresh air while he gets his instruments ready. As Johnny walks around the Lexington countryside, he sees the women cleaning up the mess left behind by the battle, and some haggard but determined Minute Men marching toward Charlestown. He feels proud of his country and its people.


By this point in the story, Johnny has come full circle. He no longer shies away from physical pain or work, as he did in the early chapters set at the Laphams’ house. He is also able to think rationally about his behavior rather than surrendering to his first impulses; he is stoic about Rab’s death and agrees to the operation because he knows that doing these things will be better in the long run, even if they are difficult now.

Forbes leaves several of the story’s subplots unresolved. For example, although Johnny and Cilla share their first kiss and she is no longer being courted by anyone (Mr. Tweedie has married Mrs. Lapham and Rab is dead), we do not find out if their relationship has any future. Similarly, Isannah’s future is unresolved. Isannah never answers when Lavinia asks her whom she loves more, and although she goes with Cilla to (presumably) pack her bags for London, Forbes does not say whether Isannah was with Lavinia when she departed the country. By leaving the ending up to interpretation, Forbes allows readers to think critically and come to their own conclusions about Isannah’s fate and whether things will work out between Johnny and Cilla. However, it also narrows the final chapter’s focus to the ways in which Johnny has grown as a person since his time as a silversmith’s apprentice.

In her detailed descriptions of Charlestown and Lexington, Forbes focuses on the human cost of war for both sides. When the bodies of soldiers are described, Forbes usually does not specify whether they are British or American. Although the battles were caused by political disagreements, their carnage goes beyond politics. Although it is implied that Johnny will lose his physical scars after the operation, he has been psychologically scarred in a way that no doctor can mend.