Lexington and Concord, Battles of
LEXINGTON AND CONCORD, BATTLES OF
LEXINGTON AND CONCORD, BATTLES OF. On the evening of 18 April 1775 the British military governor of Massachusetts sent out from Boston a detachment of about 700 regular troops to destroy military stores collected by the colonists at Concord. Detecting the plan, the Whigs in Boston sent out Paul Revere and William Dawes with warnings. At sunrise on 19 April, the detachment found a part of the minuteman company already assembled on the Lexington green. At the command of British Major John Pitcairn, the regulars fired and cleared the ground. Eight Americans were killed and 10 were wounded. The regulars marched for Concord after a short delay.
At Concord the outnumbered Americans retired over the North Bridge and waited for reinforcements. The British occupied the town, held the North Bridge with about 100 regulars, and searched for stores to burn. The smoke alarmed the Americans, and, reinforced to the number of about 450, they marched down to the bridge, led by Major John Buttrick. The regulars hastily reformed on the far side to receive them and began to take up the bridge planks. Buttrick shouted to them to desist. The front ranks of the regulars fired, killing 2 Americans and wounding more. Buttrick gave the famous order, "Fire, fellow soldiers, for God's sake, fire!" The American counterattack killed 2 and forced the British from the field. The Americans did not pursue, however, and the British marched for Boston about noon.
At Meriam's Corner their rear guard was fired upon by rebels from Reading, and from there to Lexington the British were under constant fire from snipers. By the time they reached Lexington, the regulars were almost out of ammunition and completely demoralized. They were
saved only by the arrival of Sir Hugh Percy with a column from Boston and two fieldpieces. When they marched on again, the militia dogged them all the way to Charles-town, where, before sundown, the regulars reached safety under the guns of the fleet.
The casualties of the day bear no relation to its importance. Forty-nine Americans and 73 British were killed; the total of those killed and wounded of both sides was 366. But the fighting proved to the Americans that by their own method they could defeat the British. In that belief, they stopped the land approaches to Boston before night, thus beginning the siege of Boston.
Martin, James K., and Mark E. Lender. A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763–1789. Arlington Heights, Ill.: Davidson, 1982.
Lexington and Concord, Battles of
As dawn broke on the 19th, the British advance guard, roughly 250 men under Maj. John Pitcairn, approached Lexington, where the militia company, perhaps 70 men under Capt. John Parker, was assembling on the green. Pitcairn, seeing armed men on his right flank, deployed part of his command. Suddenly, nearby, a gun fired—perhaps accidentally. The British soldiers, thinking they were under attack, fired on Parker's company. By the time Pitcairn restrained them, eight colonists lay dead or dying on Lexington green.
When the raiders reached Concord, they found that the colonists had removed the stores, and that groups of armed men were converging on their line of march. In a firefight at the North Bridge over the Concord River, the militiamen demonstrated that they were capable of resisting by force of arms the passage of British regulars through the countryside.
Although it lacked central direction, resistance to the raiders mounted as they marched back to Boston. Pecked at by several thousand colonists, mostly firing from behind the stone walls that lined the route, the column was saved from destruction only by a force sent by Gage to ensure its safe return. The British retreat to Boston was the high‐water mark for American militiamen during the war. Operating in small groups on home ground against an outnumbered enemy, they used their skills to best advantage. The colonists would have to create more permanent forms of military organization, however, to bring their rebellion to a successful conclusion.
[See also Citizen‐Soldier; Revolutionary War: Causes; Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Harold E. Selesky