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Battles of Lexington and Concord


The Battles of Lexington and Concord changed the world forever, marking the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. In the early hours of April 19, 1775, some 800 British regulars were on the march to seize weapons and gunpowder being stored in Concord, Massachusetts. Around 5:00 a.m., the King’s troops arrived in the small town of Lexington and found a militia company of 77 men led by Captain John Parker waiting for them. Parker’s words to his men have gone down in legend: “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” It remains unclear which side fired first, but after a shot rang out, nervous British soldiers fired a volley, killing seven and mortally wounding one of the retreating militiamen. It was here that “the first blood was spilt in the dispute with Great Britain,” as George Washington would write in his diary. Following the action in Lexington, the British column moved on towards Concord, arriving around 8:00 a.m. At Concord’s North Bridge, the colonists were fired upon, but responded with a volley of their own, killing three British soldiers and wounding nine others. This was the “shot heard ‘round the world,” later immortalized by Concord poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. By the end of the day, the Redcoats had suffered some 73 killed and 174 wounded. The fighting cost the Patriots around 49 killed and 39 wounded. John Adams witnessed the engagement at Concord, writing to William Barrell, “When I reflect and consider that the fight was between whose parents but a few generations ago were brothers, I shudder at the thought, and there’s no knowing where our calamities will end.”

Facing an impending rebellion, British General Thomas Gage decided that he needed to move swiftly in order to prevent violence. His plan was to send troops to seize weapons and powder being held in Concord, Massachusetts, twenty miles northwest of Boston. On April 18, 1775, Joseph Warren received information from a source inside the British high command that the King’s troops would march on Concord that night. Warren dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert residents of the impending 800 British regulars. The two couriers traveled by different routes to Lexington, a few miles east of Concord. The revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock had temporarily holed up in the small town. Revere and Dawes persuaded the two men to flee Lexington and then set out again. Once back on the road, they met a third rider, Samuel Prescott, who alone completed the journey to Concord. Revere was captured by a British patrol, but was released after his captors heard Minutemen alarm guns being fired on their approach to Lexington. Dawes was thrown from his horse and ended up heading back to Lexington on foot.

The midnight ride of Paul Revere. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At about 5:00 a.m. on April 19, the Redcoats arrived in Lexington and came upon 77 militiamen commanded by Captain John Parker on the town green. A British major yelled, “Throw down your arms! Ye villains, ye rebels.” After the vanguard of the British force rushed forward, Parker ordered his company to disperse. At some point a shot rang out and nervous British soldiers responded by firing a volley, killing seven militiamen and mortally wounding another. Captain Parker and his remaining men fled, but they would have revenge later that afternoon. Following the encounter, the King’s troops continued their advance towards Concord.

The Lexington Minuteman statue stands at the southeast corner of the town green, facing the route of the British advance on April 19, 1775.

Crown forces arrived in Concord around 8:00 a.m. Their objective was to seize arms, but the vast majority had already been relocated. The Redcoats burned what little they found and the fire got slightly out of control. Hundreds of militiamen had gathered on the high ground outside of Concord. When they saw smoke rising from the town, they feared that Concord was being put to the torch. Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer of Concord shouted to his fellow officers, “Will you let them burn the town down?” The colonists were not about to let that happen and decided to act. Colonel James Barrett ordered his companies to march upon the North Bridge, which British commanders Francis Smith and John Pitcairn had ordered several companies to secure earlier. Barrett instructed his men not to fire upon the British soldiers unless first fired upon. The Acton Company, led by thirty-year old Captain Isaac Davis was placed at the head of the column. Davis had previously organized a Minuteman Company after the British Parliament revoked the provincial charter of Massachusetts. His men had spent six months training in his backyard, making bayonets and cartridge boxes and practicing their aim. Now as Davis prepared to advance on the North Bridge, he was asked if his men were ready to confront the Redcoats. Davis answered, “I haven’t a man afraid to go.”

Davis’s Minutemen formed up and marched down the hill. The sight of the colonial numbers advancing in an orderly fashion was an intimidating sight to the British soldiers, who retreated to the opposite shore and prepared to defend themselves. When the Acton Company came within range, the British opened fire, killing Captain Davis and another Minuteman. Major Buttrick of Concord shouted, “For God’s sake, fire!” The colonists responded with a volley of their own, killing three British soldiers and wounding nine others. This was the “shot heard ‘round the world.” Following the exchange of fire, the remaining British troops retreated back to town.

A mural inside the North Bridge Visitor Center in Concord, Massachusetts, featuring Major Buttrick’s famous words.

After searching Concord for around four hours, Smith and Pitcairn soon ordered a return to Boston. By that time, some 2,000 Minutemen had descended to the area, and more were constantly arriving. As the British made their way back, they were attacked from all sides by swarms of angry colonists. When the King’s troops reached Lexington, Captain John Parker and his men exacted their revenge, firing on the Redcoats from behind cover. For the next 12 miles of their journey, the British received constant fire from Minutemen shooting from behind trees, rock walls, and buildings. Some British troops even abandoned weapons, clothing and equipment in order to retreat faster.

After hearing about the fighting in Lexington that morning, General Gage instructed Lord Percy to march from Boston with a relief column. The British reinforcements reached Smith and Pitcairn’s men on the eastern outskirts of Lexington. Fresh troops didn’t stop the colonists from pressing their attack. As news spread of what was happening, more Minutemen continued to flock towards the action. British forces were engaged in a running fight until they finally fell under the cover of naval guns in ships anchored in the waterways surrounding Boston.

Retreat from Concord. (Photo: National Archives Catalog)

The disastrous day had cost the British some 73 killed and 174 wounded. General Gage’s plan to prevent violence by seizing the weapons and gunpowder being stored in Concord had failed miserably. After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it was clear that the American Revolution had begun.

Patriot losses on April 19 were approximately 49 killed and 39 wounded. In standing up to defend and fight for their rights, the “embattled farmers” of Massachusetts changed the world forever. Revolution was in the air and many more battles would follow.

Concord’s Minuteman statue stands by the North Bridge, the sight of the “shot heard ’round the world.”

Sources

Civil War Trust: John Adams to William Barrell.

Civil War Trust: Lexington and Concord.

Civil War Trust: Lexington and Concord: The Shot Heard ‘Round the world.

Civil War Trust: Three Men from Acton.

History.com: Battles of Lexington and Concord.

History.com: Revere and Dawes Warn of British Attack.

Museum of the American Revolution: Witnesses of the “Shot Heard Round the World.

Tourlexington.us: Historic Sites.

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