The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

On the night of 18/19 April 1775, the British sent out patrols to stop the American early warning system of outriders rousing the countryside of an impending attack (usually French and Indian) that had been in use since at least Queen Anne’s War, 70 years before. But both Paul Revere and William Dawes avoided the patrols and reached Lexington just after midnight. They warned Sam Adams and John Hancock and every house they passed. They then departed for Concord and on the way Paul Revere was captured, but by then Adams and Hancock were safe, and Concord was warned by Dawes and another rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Soon more than forty riders spread out all over New England warning that, “The regulars are coming”.

In Lexington, CPT John Parker mustered his minuteman company (fully ¼ were his relatives) and sent out men to watch the road from Lechmere Point. After taking roll, they retired to Buckman’s Tavern to await word from the scouts. Five hours later at dawn, Maj. John Pitcairn with the advanced guard of Lieut. Col. Smith’s column entered the town. Parker formed his men in plain sight on Lexington Green but did not block the regulars’ passage to Concord. As Pitcairn turned off the road instead of continuing on, Parker said, “Hold your fire, but if they mean to have a war, let it start here.”

An officer rode up to Parker’s 70 man company and told them to disperse, as 180 regulars behind him fixed bayonets and continued to advance. Parker felt that their stand had shown the regulars that the Americans were serious, and wishing no unnecessary bloodshed, told his men to disperse. But during the tense standoff, a shot rang out from an unknown source. The British fired a volley followed by a bayonet charge which routed Parker’s men. Eight Americans were killed, ten wounded, and one British soldier was slightly wounded. Pitcairn’s men rejoined Smith’s column and continued on to Concord.

As the British moved towards Concord, they heard shots fired warning of their approach and observed the American minutemen watching them from outside of musket range. At 8 am, Smith’s column arrived at Concord. 400 Americans were formed up on the hill across the Concord River northwest of town but were not actually in the town. So the British searched it and found cannon and gun carriages, which they disabled and burned on the green. They also learned of vast stores of powder at Barrett’s Farm, the route to which was blocked by the Americans.

Smith decided to move on to the farm fully expecting to rout the rebels just as his men did at Lexington. But as they approached the Old North Bridge, the British noticed the Rebels also approached. The Americans saw the smoke and thought that the British were setting fire to Concord and were determined to stop it. Fire was exchanged and the British, faced by superior numbers of Americans, couldn’t force their way across the bridge.

Smith then realized the grave situation his exhausted men were in (they had been up all night and had already marched nearly 20 miles) and ordered a retreat back to Boston. But by then thousands of minutemen were streaming in from all over Massachusetts. They lined the road back to Boston (now known as “Battle Road”) shooting at the British from behind trees and stone walls as they passed. Only the aggressive nature of the troops he commanded saved Smith’s column from complete annihilation. The British light infantry and grenadiers that made up the raiding force were the best soldiers in General Gage’s army. Despite exhaustion, they continually sent out flanking patrols and conducted pulse charges to engage the Rebels and break up any concentrations along the route. Still, hundreds were killed and wounded.

At 3 pm Smith’s column reached Lexington where it met a much needed relief column from Boston. However, the British didn’t tarry long and after a brief respite outside of Munro’s Tavern to consolidate, reorganize and wait for stragglers, they continued on. More than four thousand American minutemen were in the area, and more on the way. The column arrived back in Boston at dusk, protected by the guns of the Royal Navy. The British marched 41 miles on 19 April and fought a running battle most of the time. It is estimated that some marched over 50 miles along the way trying to engage the Rebels.

Within days, 15,000 American militiamen surrounded and laid siege to the British inside Boston, some from as far away as Connecticut and New Hampshire. America had just picked a fight with the most powerful nation on the planet. The American Revolution had begun.

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