Wright's Tavern - $4.95
April 19, 1775 dawned clear and cold. On the road from Boston to Lexington a British force, numbering between 700 and 800, marched on its way to Concord to "seize and destroy all the Artillery and Ammunition, Provision, Tents, and all other military stores you can find." They had been marching most of the night unobserved, they hoped.
Lexington Mass, New England - Wrights Tavern
No sooner had they left Boston, however, than two couriers, Paul Revere, a silversmith by trade, and William Dawes, a young cordwainer and experienced express rider, mounted and rode hard for Lexington and Concord by different roads to sound the alarm that the British Regulars were coming to capture the supplies.
"The shot heard 'round the world" and Wrights Tavern
April 19, 1775 dawned clear and cold. On the road from Boston
to Lexington a British force, numbering between 700 and 800, marched
on its way to Concord to "seize and destroy all the Artillery
and Ammunition, Provision, Tents, and all other military stores
you can find." They had been marching most of the night unobserved,
No sooner had they left Boston, however, than two couriers, Paul Revere, a silversmith by trade, and William Dawes, a young cordwainer and experienced express rider, mounted and rode hard for Lexington and Concord by different roads to sound the alarm that the British Regulars were coming to capture the supplies. Revere reached Lexington first and stopped to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two radical leaders hiding out from the British, that if they stayed there they probably would be captured as the soldiers marched through. Shortly afterward Revere was captured by a British patrol, but Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had been courting a girl in Lextington, continued on.
As the scarlet tip of the sun burst over the horizon, flushing the cloudless sky, the advance guard of six companies of light infantry commanded by Major John Pitcairn approached the small village green in Lexington. On the green stood sixty or seventy armed minutemen, farmers mostly and dressed as such, in two uneven ranks, commanded by Captain John Parker. "let the troops pass by," Parker ordered, "and don't molest them without they begin first."
Pitcairn, a seasoned Marine veteran and patient, tactful Scotsman, was relieved to see only a handful of armed men, but he could not ignore them. If he continued his march on the Concord road he would expose his right flank to the armed civilians, and he was too good a soldier to take that risk. He ordered his six light companies into line of battle and advanced across the green. Parker, sensing the hopelessness of the situation and conscious of his responsibility as company commander, ordered his men to disperse. Some of them began to drift away.
Then "the shot heard 'round the world" was fired,
from where and by
whom will probably never be known. Pitcairn, who had ordered his
troops not to fire unless fired upon, lost control of his men
temporarily. The Redcoats fired at the dispersing rebels and rushed
after them with the bayonet, despite Pitcairn's order to cease
fire. When the rising east wind cleared away the acrid smoke,
it revealed the green deserted except for the Redcoats and the
rebel casualties. Eight Massachusetts men had been killed and
two wounded; one British soldier and Pitcairn's horse had received
minor flesh wounds.
Who fired the first shot? All the minutemen denied that it came from their ranks, but it must be remembered that it was to the Americans' advantage to make it appear that the British had started it. Pitcairn, an honest and efficient officer, reported that he did not give the order to fire and did not believe his men fired first. It is possible, of course, that one of his junior officers or men might have fired without Pitcairn's knowledge. It is also high possible that the first shot came from someone not on the green at all, but hiding behind a wall or tree, or from the group of spectators in front of the tavern on the green, or even, as some maintained, from an upper window of White Tavern itself. Whoever he was, he was certainly a poor marksman, which would seem to rule out the men on the green who had the advantage of point-blank range at the massed British troops.
Of more significance is the question of why Captain Parker and his men were on the green in the first place. At midnight they had agreed "not to be discovered nor meddle," but just a few hours later they stood boldly exposed on the open green. Parker, an experienced soldier, realized they were too few to halt the British advance, but if he had by any chance decided to make a stand he surely would not have exposed his men in the open like that. He would have placed them behind trees, fences, or houses, Indian style. Why, then, this peculiar maneuver?
The finger of suspicion points to wily Sam Adams, the tireless agitator and the dynamo who kept the revolutionary movement gong when the interest of others flagged. He believed that to "Put your enemy in the wrong and keep him so, is a wise maxim in politics, as well as in war." Organizer of the Boston Tea Party and propagandist for the so-called Boston Massacre, Adams was adept at practicing what he preached. "It must come to a quarrel with Great Britain sooner or later," he wrote, "and if so, what can be a better time than the present?"
At this time the American cause was not going well and the
rebel leaders believed that some dramatic incident was needed
to fan the flames, provided, of course, that the British could
be made to appear in the wrong. It would certainly seem logical,
then, and in character for Sam Adams to suggest to the Reverend
Jonas Clark, the undisputed political leader in Lexington, and
one whom Captain Parker would undoubtedly obey, that if the minutemen
were to appear armed on the green it might provoke the British
into making a mistake. In any event, Adams was not surprised at
what did occur. Fleeing in a carriage with Hancock when they heard
the Redcoat volley, Adams exclaimed, "Oh! What a glorious
morning is this," and few believe he was talking about the
The British immediately regrouped and continued to Concord. By now the alarm had gone far and wide. Bells, guns, and drums ailed out the minutemen and the militia. Express riders passed the word from town to town: "To arms! To arms! The war has begun!" Men seized muskets and powder horns and streamed towards Concord. Most of the military stores had already been removed or hidden, but what was left was now hastily taken to the woods, concealed in barrels and attics, or buried in ploughed fields. When the British entered Concord the Americans retreated to Punkatasset Hill, just west of the North Bridge over the Concord River, and the Redcoats proceeded to search the town, leaving only a small force at the bridge. The number of rebels on the hill steadily increased - minutemen, militia, and unorganized volunteers, old men and young boys. Soon they were over 400 strong and becoming surly and impatient. Were they going to stand there and let the Redcoats burn the town? No. The order was given to march on the bridge. It was all over in a few minutes, as the Redcoats retreated. The British had three killed and nine wounded; the Americans, two killed and three wounded.
Unable to locate any significant amount of military stores, the British force regrouped and a little later started the dangerous march back to Boston. For the first mile or so the long column was not molested. The all hell broke loose, and for the remainder of the march the Redcoats were subjected to a galling demoralizing fire from both flanks and front and rear. Only about 400 rebels had been in the fight at the bridge, but as the day wore on the number increased to several thousand. They would shoot at the enemy column from behind fences, trees, barns, walls, from inside houses, then reload, hurry ahead, and shoot again. This was a strange, new type of warfare to the British, who were neither experienced nor trained for it. To them it seemed dishonorable, hiding and shooting at men in the open who could not even see their enemies. As one Redcoat wrote his family; "They did not fight us like a regular army, only like savages."
But the column staggered on, the dead lay where they fell,
the wounded tried desperately to keep up, and by late afternoon
they were hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and almost out of ammunition.
No longer an orderly marching column, they were now just a mass
of men crowding the road. Soldiers located homes, shot the occupants,
and ransacked taverns for food and drink. A British officer admitted
"that we began to run rather then retreat in order . . .
the confusion increased rather than lessened."
With any organization and leadership at all, the Americans probably could have destroyed or captured the entire British force. But this was not an American army, it was merely an armed mob, angry and vengeful, with each individual more or less on his own. There was no order, direction, or control; no objective except for each man to get a shot at the hated Redcoats. So the column was allowed to reach Boston that night, having suffered about 273 casualties; the revels about 95. And as the disordered American militia milled about Cambridge that night, one of the wrote his wife, "Tis uncertain when we shall return. . . . Let us be patient and remember that it is in the hand of God."
Thanks to Dick Doll for this beautiful diarama!