I had originally planned this post for April 19th but in light of the events of Friday I decided to wait until the one week anniversary of the bombings in honor of those killed and injured and their loved one.
Luckily colonial spies were aware of the British mission and the militia had moved the supplies and had time to prepare for the raid.
In his famous hymn “Concord Hymn” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about those telling first moments as “the shot heard round the world”.
The British plan was to neutralize the militiamen with small, rapid, secret strikes to remove their weapons and imprison their leaders. This explains some of the language written into the 2nd amendment, as without this armed militia and the right to bear arms the colonist stood no chance to defend and protect themselves from a tyrannical British government.
The creations of small militias in the colonies was first in response to attacks and fear of Native Americans, then mustered into action during the French and Indian Wars in the 1750s and 1760s. With the enactment of the Intolerable Acts and Governor Gages move to dissolve the provincial government the militia took up arms against the oppressive policies of King George.
April 14th, 1775 Gage received the final orders to disarm the militia and imprison rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock. On the 18th of April a group of 20 British soldiers were sent out to intercept messengers and their odd behavior (out after dark, asking about Adams and Hancocks’ whereabouts) raised colonists’ suspicions allowing the militia to be alerted and prepared with an early muster.
Lt. Col. Smith received orders to march to Concord on the afternoon of the 18th “but to use care not to plunder.”
There is a possibility that Gen. Gages own wife, Margaret Kemble Gage, was acting as a spy. She was born in New Jersey and held colonists sympathies so it is quite possible that she supplied information to the rebels.
Ringleaders of the rebellion had actually left Boston as early as April 8th and Paul Revere had ridden to Concord on the 8th to warn of the raid on the weapons.
Around 9pm the night of the 18th Joseph Warren warned of British troop movements and the imminent raid this triggered Revere, William Davis and Samuel Prescott to ride and spread the word of warning. Revere was caught at Lincoln but additional riders were sent out to continue the alert.
In Lexington at 4:15am a rider came at a gallop and told Captain John Parker, commander of the local militia, that the British troops were coming in force. Outnumbered and outmatched he was not prepared to sacrifice his men. This is fully a year before the Declaration of Independence was written and no war had been declared. Parkers hope was the British troops would simply march in, find nothing and return back to Boston, as had happened before. Parker the ordered his men to “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon; but if the mean to have war, let if begin here. “
When a troop of British Marines rushed the militiamen Parker told his men to disperse, when they did not disperse fast enough, there was a shot fired, the first shot between colonial militia and British troops. It is unclear who fired first.
Next several shots were volleyed back and forth and with a lack of discipline rampant among the British, that on many occasions over the war would lead to escalations of violence, they charged forward with bayonets fixed. Eight militia men were killed, 10 wounded. Luckily Col Smith arrived and ordered a drummer to beat for assembly as the Brits were obviously ready to fight and even enter private homes, with dubious intentions; at this point in the battle the militia would have been easily overrun and it’s quite possible that would have ended the day and the ensuing revolution would not have started. Once order was restored the troops were marched onto Concord to complete their mission.
In Concord the militia received reports of firing in Lexington and they took to a march out of town to meet the army. Outnumbered 700 to 250 the militia was forced to march back. They crossed over the North Bridge to a hill a mile north of town where they could observe British troop movements. They watched and waited for reinforcements.
Now the British began their search of the town. During the search the British did find 3 cannon buried in the yard of the tavern owned by Ephrain Jones and they were destroyed but they also destroyed a 100 barrels of flour and salted food stuffs, and caused a fire in the village meetinghouse. Upon seeing the fire the militia moved closer, back into town and took up a position of Punkatasset Hill, 300 yards from the North Bridge. There were 5 full companies of minutemen and 5 more of militia; orders were given to form a long 2 deep line down the highway to the bridge. British Captain ordered his men into firing positions along the river, but to hold fire. A shot rang out from the Brits followed by 2 more, in confusion, troops at the front thinking the order to fire had been given fired a volley killing 2 men instantly and wounding 4 more, a militia order to fire was given. Four out of the eight British officers were wounded and 3 troops killed and another 9 wounded. Now outnumbered and confused the troops retreated back. Reassembled the British concluded their basically fruitless search, had lunch (which they paid for) and left on their march back to Boston.
In the fields outside Concord now a 1,000 militia men from around the area were assembled. As the British tried to cross the small bridge about a mile outside Concord at Meriams Corner, they had to go 3 abreast, and as the last troops came off the bridge, militia from Reading fired to which the troops fired and the colonists fired back killing 2, wounding 6. Smith then ordered a company of his troops to charge up Brooks Hill, where nearly half the militia men were assembled, they did not disperse as desired and instead caused significant damage to the troops. Smith withdrew his men from the hill and proceeded to cross another bridge into Lincoln.
At a rise and curve in the road 200 militia had positioned themselves behind rocks and trees in an ambush. The men were then joined on the other side by more militia catching the Brits in a deadly crossfire. The area is now known as “Bloody Angle”. Here 30 soliders were killed and they were only able to escape as they could trot along the road and the militia had to travel through woods and swamp in pursuit, but the Concord militia was closely rapidly from behind. Smith sent out troops to flank the militia and they were trapped at the area of the Hartwell and Masons farms but British casualties were mounting and exhaustion was setting in, ammunitions were running low.
Back in Lexington Captain Parker waited on a hill, having reassembled his men many bandaged from the earlier encounter. They waited in ambush for Smith’s troops and did not fire until Smith himself was in view. Smith was wounded in the leg and the ambush is known as “Parkers Revenge” At the bluff on Fiske Hill British Major Pitcairn sent troops to clear out snipers but his horse was felled and now with both principal officers injured or unhorsed, their men tired and thirsty, chaos ensued, some surrendered, most broke formation and ran. Officers threatened their own troops with sword to reform and fight. The British withdrawal had turned into a rout.
At approximately 2pm a 1000 troops under Earl Percy who had marched from Boston as reinforcements finally arrived. His troops sang “Yankee Doodle” as a taunt to the colonists. Funny enough only 2 months later at the battle of Bunker Hill that song would be taken on as an anthem by the militia. Percy heard the distant battle and set up his cannon and his troops in a defensive formation. Smiths’ troops, now only a fleeing mob, collapsed in exhaustion and blood upon reaching Percys’ lines. Percy ordered the cannon fired at the pursing militia but this did little to halt them and only after a short rest Percy had to restart the march back to Boston without really engaging the militia as in his haste to reach Smith he had neglected to take proper provisions, such as food and ammo. The militia continued their pursuit.
Percy later wrote “The rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but with perseverance and resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into any regular body. Indeed, they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken.”
Fighting increased when more militia joined the ranks at Menotomy; where individuals began fighting from the personal properties bringing this into a house to house fight. Here Percy lost control and the troops began committing acts of atrocity, killing innocents, ransacking, burning, and even stealing the communion silver from a church. The fighting around Menotomy and Cambridge was bloodier than anywhere else that day; colonist lost 25, with 9 wounded and the Brits had 40 killed and 80 wounded.
As British troops crossed the Menotomy River (known today as Alewife Brook) into Cambridge fighting grew more intense and Percy directed his troops down a narrow track (present day Beech Street, near Porter Square) onto the road to Charlestown. The militias now near 4,000 in number were unprepared for this movement; they broke fire and moved to Prospect Hill, only to be dispersed by cannon fire.
A group of militia could have blocked the retreat but their commander hesitated and Percy passed. In the morning Boston was surrounded by a huge militia army, over 15,000 from throughout New England. This is the end of the battle, the militias dispersed, only to come back together again in 2 months’ time at Bunker Hill. This is an important moment in American History one that should be celebrated by all American’s; this battle showed the colonist that together they could defeat the British and claim their freedom.
Last week 2 individuals tried to take these freedoms from us, as others have in the past, but as Percy once wrote the Americans fought with ‘perseverance and resolution’ and this spirit is still alive today as demonstrated by those in Boston who determined to find those responsible for unspeakable acts of violence. Those who can act in such manners against us should understand that they can never take away our freedoms and will only set our resolve as Americans to remain free and to protect what is to all man his inalienable right to freedom. Now is a time to remember those who came before us in this fight, those whose lives were lost and affected by these acts of violence and be proud to be an American.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson in history Y’all
Lizz, prospective member DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution)