On April 19, 1775, 700 British Army soldiers under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith set out to capture and/or destroy muskets and powder that the Massachusetts militia stored at Concord. If possible, he was to continue on to Worcester where the militia had an even larger magazine. Patriots learned of the British interest in the militia’s magazine and most of the powder, shot and muskets had been moved weeks before that unseasonably warm day in April.
While many of the redcoats/regular British infantry just followed orders, not all of the British officers were convinced that attempts to disarm their own citizens was a great idea. General Thomas Gage, commanding the 3,000 man British Army in Boston considered himself to be a friend of liberty and attempted to separate his duties as Governor of the colony and as General of an occupying force. Edmund Burke said within the walls of Parliament, “An Englishman is the unfittest person on Earth to argue another Englishman into slavery.”
We’ve all heard about the Colonial intelligence network and the historic signal from the Old North Church – “One if by land and two if by sea.”
The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington with a regular militia (as opposed to minutemen) under the command of Captain John Parker.
Parker’s words are engraved in stone at the site of the battle: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
The militia were outnumbered and fell back, and the British soldiers proceeded on to Concord, where they searched for the supplies.
Tory spies told the British where the Colonists had hidden cannon in Concord so the search for weapons was a directed one. When the British arrived at Ephraim Jones’s tavern, by the jail on the South Bridge road, they found the door barred shut, and Jones refused them entry. British officers ordered Jones at gunpoint to show where the cannon were buried. The grenadiers smashed trunnions on the cannon and burned the gun carriages.
In a series of engagements that culminated with a fight at the North Bridge in Concord, 500 militia and minutemen who had come in from Acton and other parts of the countryside fought and defeated three companies of the King’s troops in a battle in open territory (a stand-up fight). By this time, about 2,000 militia had come in from the countryside with their numbers swelling even higher.
As the day wore on, more armed Americans began to arrive and inflict heavy casualties on the British force, which had begun a retreat (in order) to Boston. Runners had been sent back for help and the British sent a 1,700 man relief force under Brigadier General Hugh Percy who met the retreating force under Colonel Smith. Both forces came under heavy fire from the militia and executed a tactical withdrawal to the British fortifications at Charlestown.
During this part of the march, the colonists fought where possible in large ordered formations (using short-range, smoothbore muskets) at least eight times. This is contrary to the widely-held myth of scattered individuals firing with longer-range riflesfrom behind walls and fences. Nobody at Lexington or Concord—indeed, anywhere along the Battle Road or later at Bunker Hill—had a rifle, according to the historical records.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.