Listen my children and you shall hear,
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive,
Who remembers that famous day and year.
The Road To War
Because of Great Britain winning the Seven Year’s War (also known as the French and Indian War in America), France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi river to Great Britain. However, that victory came with enormous war costs: over $21B in today’s dollars. At that time in history, the American colonists enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world. Who better to pay for a war that was partially for the colonists’ benefit? That thinking led several mis-steps by Parliament.
In 1763, to ease relations with American Indians, Britain imposed a no-settlement line west of the Appalachians. From the colonist’s viewpoint, this action took control of the western continent from the settlers and put it in the hands of far-off administrators.
In 1764, George Grenville, then Prime Minister of Britain, imposed the Sugar Act. This placed a high duty on refined sugar and prohibited foreign rum from entering the Colonies, with a monopoly given to the British West Indies planters. Boston citizens objected to the tax on grounds that they had no representation in Parliament to look out for their rights as British citizens.
Parliament then passed the Currency Act, which withdrew large amounts of paper currency from circulation.
Prime Minister Grenville next added a stamp duty on a wide variety of transactions. This hit the Colonies hard, as its express purpose was to raise revenue for Britain. Since paper currency was in short supply, this internal tax created an uproar throughout the colonies. Legal business ground to a halt and smuggling thrived. A colonial delegation meeting in 1765 at New York denounced the Stamp Tax as another violation of an Englishman’s rights to be taxed only through elected representatives. Grenville repealed the Stamp Tax, but only after Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which declared that Parliament had authority to bind legislate in the colonies “in all cases whatsoever”. The “Sons of Liberty”, early pre-Revolutionary forces, formed in opposition to the Stamp Tax. The Sons of Liberty called for boycotts on imported goods.
In 1767 Parliament imposed further taxes on everyday goods, including lead, glass, paper, and tea. Colonials again complained that they had been taxed by Parliament without their consent. Due to the unrest this caused, Britain moved two Army Regiments to Boston for police duty in 1768, and forcibly housed them in civilian quarters throughout the town. Colonials discussed whether Parliament had legal authority at all over the colonies. In 1770, before withdrawing the latest tax, five Bostonians were killed by the British in what is now called the Boston Massacre.
On December 16, 1773, American patriots destroyed a shipment of tea in Boston Harbor as a protest against British forced purchase of British goods – the ‘Boston Tea Party’. The British retaliated by closing the port of Boston and prohibiting Boston’s traditional town meetings. Along with other acts, these became known as the Intolerable Acts by the Americans. The Intolerable Acts had several main points:
- The Boston Port Bill closed the port of Boston until restitution was made for the destroyed tea.
- The Massachusetts Government Act put in military government under General Thomas Gage over the Province.
- The Administration of Justice Act protected British officials from capital offenses.
- The fourth act revived the Quartering Act which housed British troops in occupied colonial dwellings.
Additionally, the Quebec Act removed all territory and fur trade between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and awarded it to Quebec.
Responding to these Acts led Massachusetts to establish a government outside of Boston, and subsequently with twelve colonies (all but Georgia) forming the First Continental Congress to coordinate resistance against the British occupying forces.
Most Colonists owned firearms. Smoothbore muskets were prevalent – to hunt for food, to fend off Indian attacks, to support the British militia forces. America could produce ball, but gunpowder was precious, and imported from overseas. Small amounts of gunpowder were stored at home, for obvious reasons. Most gunpowder was kept in town powder houses, and colonials withdrew only as much as needed.
The British government in the Colonies had previously attempted to seize Colonial ball and powder; in effect, a British version of firearms confiscation. Without firearms, ball and powder the Colonials could not resist British authority. The Continental Congress understood that, and directed the existing ’Safety Committees’ to boycott imported British goods, along with giving instructions to form a system of callout for action. Paul Revere was a key member of that callout system.
In June of 1774, Parliament shut off Boston from all business. Without food shipments from other colonies, Boston would have starved.
In 1775 King George declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion against the Crown. On April 14, 1775 British General Thomas Gage (military governor of Massachusetts) received instructions from the British Secretary of State to disarm the ‘rebels’ and imprison the rebellion’s leaders.
The First Strike of the Match
Paul Revere rode on the night of April 18 to alert the countryside that British General Thomas Gage was sending troops to take colonial ball and powder from the citizens of Concord. When Revere rode, his call was not ‘the British are coming’, for the colonists were all British citizens. Instead, his warning was ‘The Regulars are out!’
Revere stopped at specific houses, and as he continued, one or two riders would head in different directions. Such was the 18th-century equivalent of a phone tree. Historians have established that 14,000 armed Americans were marching toward Concord by dawn the next morning.
On six hours notice, 14,000 Americans were marching to defend liberty. No cell phones, no email, no Facebook, and no news media to alert them.
Would we, or could we do that today? How many people would turn out, if you found out tonight at midnight about a threat to our liberty? Regardless the threat, assume it is such a magnitude that there is no doubt in your mind you have to meet it at dawn the next day. How many of your fellow Americans could you get to show up with you?
Could you get 10,000 to show up?
Could you get 1,000?
Could you get 10 of your friends and neighbors?
What is the measure of liberty to a society? Does one measure liberty by the number of people willing to show up to defend it? If so, which society, that of American in 1775, or that of America in 2017, values liberty more? Americans of 1775 turned out 14,000; few of us might turn out 10.
After completing a full day of duty, 800 Light Infantry and Grenadiers under the command of British Lt. Col. Francis Smith roust out of bed and begin marching through the night toward Lexington. The British march in a split column, with the Light Infantrymen, who can march faster, moving out briskly ahead of the main force of Grenadiers. Before dawn a British patrol reports that there are 500 armed men at Lexington, just ahead of the marching column. With that information, British Major Pitcairn of the Royal Marines, commanding the Light Infantry, has his men stop and load their muskets. Pitcairn’s column proceeds on its way to Lexington. But his men are not alone. In the murky predawn light, a British officer records he can see men on all the surrounding hills. The hills seemed like an overturned ant hill, swarming with ants. Those swarming ants are colonial Militiamen moving toward Concord, although the British do not yet realize it.
Revere is Captured
Paul Revere, on his night-time ride, reaches Lexington shortly past midnight and sounds the alarm. He goes straight to the house where Sam Adams and John Hancock are staying to warn them they are a target for arrest by the marching British. After a brief rest, Revere continues on to carry the alarm to Concord, now accompanied by William Dawes who was a second alarm rider from Boston that night.
As the two ride down that dark road, they meet up with Dr. Samuel Prescott. Dr. Prescott is returning to Concord following some late night courting of his Lexington fiancée, Miss Lydia Mullikin. Discovering that Prescott is a “High Son of Liberty” like themselves, Revere and Dawes invite Prescott to join them in alarming the countryside. Prescott readily agrees.
About halfway to Concord, they run into a British patrol. Revere is captured; Dawes escapes back the way they came; Prescott escapes and make his way to Concord by back trails, there to raise the alarm.
The Lexington Muster
In Lexington, aroused by one of Revere’s night riders, Captain John Parker and his militia company are mobilizing on Lexington Green. Parker, 40 years old and a veteran of the French and Indian war, sends a rider down the road to Boston to see if the report of British columns on the march is true. When that rider does not return, he sends a second. That one also fails to return. We now know the British captured one after the rider ran into them in the dark; the other rider somehow got behind the British and could not get around them.
With no more information, and it being a cold night, Parker dismisses his men while ordering them to ‘stay within the sound of the muster drum’. Most of them head to Buckman’s tavern, a local establishment, for refreshments and to warm up. They must unload their muskets before entering. How does one unload a musket? By firing into the air.
Just before dawn Parker sends another rider down the road to Boston. That rider comes back minutes later with the news of a British column of hundreds of Redcoats and worse, they are only a mile down the road and coming fast!
Captain Parker orders the muster drum to beat and his men assemble on the Green. Seventy seven men, about half his unit strength, are in formation.
Just as the sun crests the horizon, hundreds of Redcoats appear. More than one colonial participant later commented on the sun reflecting off seeming acres of polished bayonets.
Colonials are scurrying in every direction. Parker stops two who are heading for their own mustering units, and asks if they will join his unit to boost his numbers. Both of them, faced with the enemy, agree. Robert Douglass and Sylvanus Wood thus add their names to the list of those standing on Lexington Green.
How many of us would decide the same way as Douglass and Wood? In front of an onrushing enemy? ‘Heck, Captain Parker, we have our own unit to get to, and we’ll get in trouble if we don’t report… .'”
A tough choice for anyone, yet both chose to stand and fight.
Men on Lexington Green and all over New England faced choices that day.
As a militiaman, your firearm is a smooth-bore musket. Perhaps you have trained a few hours on how to rapidly load and fire (four shots a minute was the standard). With Revolutionary War firearms you need to be closer than 65 yards to hit your target. And now you know there are Redcoats on the march just a few hundred yards away.
Redcoat soldiers carried 16-inch long steel bayonets as their primary killing weapon. In a matter of seconds they could cover those 65 yards and, if you don’t run for your life, you will be run through by a bayonet. Your choice? You can stand and fight for freedom, or you can run.
If you want to further understand that choice, consider other factors.
First, there was no modern medical care. The best musket wound was a shot to the body or head, where you would bleed out and die. A wound to a limb probably meant painful amputation and either a long suffering death or a lifetime of pain and disability.
Second, there was no insurance. Your family’s fortunes rested on your shoulders. If killed, you leave your family in poverty. If wounded, your income becomes less than a fully-productive worker. If your house is burned by fire, or looted, you are back to nothing.
Third, that morning you are still a loyal subject of the Crown. Once you level your musket at the King’s troops, you have committed treason, and face the hangman’s noose. And once a traitor, always a traitor; the hoofbeats you hear may be a party coming to arrest and hang you.
Once you make the choice to stand, you cannot back out and you cannot change your mind. You are in it until the end: your capture, your hanging, or your victory. The phrase “Liberty or Death” was no cliché.
We modern Americans know that the choice our forefathers made ultimately resulted in victory. We know it took ‘only’ 8 long bloody years. Revolutionary Americans had no certainty of victory. Some thought they would win, but maybe after twenty years. Some thought it would take generations.
They made their choice for posterity; they made it with our freedoms and our liberties in mind. Are we willing to make that same choice posterity and our future generations?
Dawn on Lexington Green
As the sun peeks over the horizon, Captain Parker’s militia stands tall on the Lexington Village Green. Parker is at the head of his men. He has orders not to fire first. His men later remembered he told them, ‘Do not fire first, but if they mean to have a war, let them have it here’.
Parker also told them, ‘The first man to run I will shoot down like a dog’. That statement reflects the immense gravity and stress of the immediate situation. Parker’s men were his friends, neighbors, and relatives. In that cold half-light of dawn on Lexington Green, with a Redcoat army rapidly approaching, things suddenly become life-and-death serious.
The Regulars spot Parker’s militia and the lead British companies of Light Infantry then march toward Lexington Green to face the threat. Redocats quickly form up into battle array. British officers ride forward, screaming ‘Disperse ye damned rebels! Lay down your arms and disperse!’ Parker quietly orders his men to disperse. Without laying down their arms, most turn to leave.
A shot rings out, and the British companies open fire – so their officers testify later – without orders. When the smoke clears, Lexington Green is empty except for colonial dead and wounded, a few fleeing militia, and British soldiers who break break ranks and bayonet those Americans they can run down.
There are eight pairs of fathers and sons on the Green that morning. Death breaks apart five. Parker’s cousin, Jonas Parker, in his 60s, threw his hat, extra flints, and lead balls at his feet, and vowed not to retreat. Jonas kept his word; after firing one shot and being wounded himself, and on his knees trying to reload, Jonas Parker is run through by British bayonets.
Jonathan Harrington, though dispersing as ordered, is shot and staggers to his house across the street. Crawling to his doorstep he dies in his wife’s arms.
British Redcoats begin to break into houses. British Col. Smith arrives and by the beat of the muster drum orders them back into formation. For the first time Smith tells his officers that their mission is not a Lexington but to proceed five miles further to Concord, where they are to seize arms and military supplies. His officers beg him to return to Boston. Smith refuses, saying he has his orders.
Smith wants to calm the situation and make sure his muskets are unloaded. Remember how one unloads a musket? Smith allows his troops a “victory volley” and three “Huzzahs!” before they march down the road to Concord. With the army’s celebratory cries ringing in their ears, stunned Lexington villagers come out to gather their dead and care for the wounded.
This concludes the ‘First Strike of the Match’.
The match was lit and flared up, but then went out. It would be conceivable no more shots would be fired that day. We will see in the Second Strike how things turned out.
The Second Strike of the Match
Our First Strike of the Match ended with the Regulars firing a “victory volley”, followed by three shouts of “Huzzah!” to the people of Lexington after shooting their neighbors and kinsmen in the back on Lexington Green.
The time is 6:45 AM. The sun is low, but bright. Dr. Prescott sounded the alarm in Concord, and from there more riders spread the alarm. Prescott continued to Acton, where he called on the local Minutemen commander, Captain Isaac Davis.
Isaac Davis was a 30-year-old gunsmith and farmer with a wife named Hannah and several children. On this morning, all of their children are sick, two with the symptoms of the deadly “canker rash“, a horrible disease that often took entire families in colonial New England. Isaac and Hannah are distraught, but when Isaac receives the alarm from Dr. Prescott, he makes his choice. Isaac solemnly gathers his musket and gear and moves toward the door on his way to join his company of Minutemen at Concord.
At the door, Isaac pauses for a moment. Hannah can see that Isaac means to say something of great import. All he can muster is “take good care of the children”, and off he goes to meet his destiny.
In Concord, the prudent Town Fathers wish to verify the alarm and so they send Reuben Brown to Lexington. Reuben witnesses the beginning of the fight at Lexington Green although he does not remain to see how it ends. Reuben returns to Concord in great haste and reports on the fighting. The men of Concord ask whether the British soldiers were firing ball, or just powder as a warning. Reuben cannot be certain, but he thinks it probable they were firing ball.
A great fear is now gripping the people of New England. It began at midnight with Paul Revere’s alarm. Today we see the War for Independence today as a great victory, but the Colonists could not foresee that. They looked toward independence as a dark and ominous path, filled with much uncertainty and foreboding. They knew once they started Britain would not simply let them walk away.
By now men from New England militias are streaming from all parts of the countryside to Concord, their forms silhouetted against the rising sun on the tops of the hills above the roads into town. The British soldiers note this, one writing later that rebels moved along with a curious half walk, half run. And although the Redcoat 5-mile march to Concord finishes without further skirmishes, nervousness now prevails among the green Redcoat troops.
Colonial Militia leaders in Concord take stock of the situation and debate what to do:
The brash young Minutemen want to intercept the Redcoats outside town – right now!
The older, more experienced men of the Militia prefer to stand their ground in Concord.
The town elders of the Alarm List want to wait for more men to arrive before committing to any plan.
In typical New England fashion, after some debate, they follow all three courses.
We can picture the scene. British banners flying, fifes and drums playing, and the Regulars marching forward in perfect cadence with an impressive display of military might. The younger contingent of Minutemen march out to meet the Regulars.
The mere sight of the British army must have been stunning, like a great, long, red serpent winding off into the distance, polished steel bayonets gleaming in the morning light. While the young Minutemen wisely decide to return to town, they do so in high order. There is a parade, with the Minutemen just in front of the Regulars, marching back to town matching the beat of British drums. Such a surreal scene, at odds with the brutal events that day.
The Militia and Minutemen march through Concord and across the North Bridge until they gather in formation just past their muster field on Punkatasset Hill. More and more Militia join until their number grows to over 500.
British Col. Smith finds Concord devoid of Militia. Smith divides his troops: Grenadiers search the town for contraband, and one company guards the South Bridge. Seven more companies move to the North Bridge where three stay to guard the bridge and the other four cross the bridge and head to the Buttrick and Barrett Farms in search of weapons.
Fires in Concord
The British troops break into Concord houses in their search for war materiel, but with little luck. They find a few hundred musket balls, which they toss into a pond (only to be recovered by the Colonists the very next day) along with some flour, a couple of gun carriage wheels, and some trenchers (wooden plates). As an insult to the town the Redcoats cut down the town’s “Liberty Pole” and pile it with the contraband in the town common to burn it all. This small fire spread to the town meeting hall and in an odd irony, the Regulars help the townspeople to put out the fire.
British Major Pitcairn has reason to suspect that the owner of the town’s inn and its jailer, Ephraim Jones, has hidden three cannon somewhere in the area, and Pitcairn intends to find them. Ephraim refuses to open the inn after Pitcairn pounds on his door, so the Redcoats break in. Pitcairn confronts Jones and demands the whereabouts of the cannons. When Ephraim refuses to speak, Pitcairn knocks him to the floor and claps a pistol to his head, demanding the whereabouts of the guns. Jones relents and leads Pitcairn to the three 24-pounders buried in his yard. Upon excavating the cannon, soldiers knock off the trunnions which renders them useless.
Col. Smith has, other than the cannon, come up dry for all his soldier’s efforts. Even out at the Barrett Farm his soldiers find nothing. This is because the day and night prior, local farmers had plowed the fields and placed muskets into the furrows, covering them over. The unsuspecting British soldiers marched right past the freshly plowed fields never knowing what was planted!
Smoke Rising from Town
Up on Punkatasset hill, the Militia consult yet again and move their muster field to a hill about 300 yards from the North Bridge. Once there, they see the smoke rising from the town and think the British have set it afire. A young Militia officer named Joseph Hosmer asks ‘Will we stand here while they burn our homes?’ No lieutenant in a traditional army would ever speak to his commanding officer in such a manner, but the Militia was a far more democratic organization.
Militia Col. Barrett finally marches his troops to the bridge and places the Town of Acton Minutemen in front because they are the best equipped, having both cartridge boxes and bayonets provided by their leader, Isaac Davis. When asked if his unit will lead the march, Capt. Davis replies, “I have not a man who is afraid to go“. What an amazing statement: a bunch of farmers facing the finest army in the world, and none afraid to march forward.
At North Bridge the British soldiers watch as the militia, now outnumbering them four to one, move down the hill toward them with military precision. Some of the Regulars pull up planking on the bridge, which angers the thrifty Colonists. How dare they destroy private property!
The Regulars cross over the bridge to the town side where they are ordered into a formation used for street fighting. Attempting this rarely practiced drill caused great confusion among the Regulars. The British street fighting formation was narrow and deep, intended for clearing mobs on streets. The front three ranks would fire and then peel off to the rear to reload while the next three ranks fire. This would continue, allowing a constant fire in a narrow area. Not well suited for open warfare, this arrangement left British flanks exposed.
Militia Maj. Buttrick told his men the same thing Captain Parker said earlier in Lexington: do not fire unless fired upon, but stand your ground. As the Militia marched down the hill in line of battle and got closer, a couple of Redcoats fired without orders. Next, the British fired a ragged volley with the same lack of discipline they had shown at Lexington. British green troops fired high as soldiers unaccustomed to battle often do. Most of the balls whistled over the heads of the Militia, but some found their mark. Captain Davis goes down as a ball pierced his heart; his men on either side are covered with Davis’ blood. Captain Davis becomes the first American officer to die in battle. Another of Acton’s Minute Men, Private Abner Hosmer, falls, shot in the head; four others were wounded.
American discipline is better than that of the British, and they hold formation until stopping about 50 yards in front of the bridge, well within the range of British muskets.
As his men fall, Major Buttrick shouts, “Fire men! For Gods sake, fire as fast as you can!” With the first volley, half the British officers go down. Through the musket smoke the Militia can see a shudder of ball pass through the ranks of the British troops. Their line breaks in confusion and the Redcoats retreat without orders toward Concord. The British leave their wounded behind as they flee from these American farmers and shop keepers, many of whom have never seen battle before this day.
This engagement leaves the Americans wondering what to do next. Major Buttrick divides his unit, placing half on the Concord side of the bridge, behind a stone wall, while the rest remain on the north side. Finding his men retreating pell-mell shocks British Col. Smith. On seeing the large number of militia in strong positions, Smith withdraws back to Concord.
Hearing the sounds of the fight the Redcoat raiding party starts to return to Concord from the Barrett Farm. What they see is terrifying: between them and the rest of their men is a large band of Militia controlling the only way home, the North Bridge. The raiding party marches rapidly across the bridge, passing unharmed by the Militia who are still operating under the long-standing requirement to not fire unless fired upon.
Many of the Redcoats take notice of their dead and wounded comrades lying on the field. They spread angry rumors; soon a story spreads about four men butchered, with eyes gouged out, noses and ears cut off. This changed the tone of the fight and caused many atrocities this day and scandal as far away as England.
Militia continue to stream into the area around Concord by the thousands, with many looking down at the British troops from the hills above town.
In Concord, Col. Smith rests his troops and forms up for the 13-mile march back to Boston. Wounded officers go first in ‘borrowed’ carriages, with walking wounded behind them, and then the rest of his army. Badly wounded enlisted men are expendable and simply left behind.
The entire raid and skirmish in Concord lasted about 4 hours. Around noon the British began their return to Boston under the watchful eye of Militia who are now spoiling for justice. At first, the Militia simply shadowed the retreat, watching, waiting for an opportunity. British flankers kept the militia beyond musket range.
Again, the match of revolution is struck. Again, there is a bright flash, a little smoke, and nothing as the match goes out. Had nothing else occurred this day, there would have been inquiries, hearings, hangings and promotions, and the revolution might have died.
But a mile outside Concord, at an obscure little place called Meriam’s Corner, Continental Militia are pouring in, and the match is once again being readied to strike.
As mentioned earlier, Hannah Davis kept a diary. It stands, to this day, as a record of sacrifices made for our Liberty. Hannah wrote of the Acton Minute Men tramping into her kitchen – ‘filling that small feminine space with the strong masculine presence of their muskets, bayonets, tomahawks, and powder horns’.
She wrote that Isaac said only “Take good care of the children” before disappearing into the darkness. What an odd thing for him to say. He knew Hannah would take care of the children; she was their mother and a woman of fine character. A superstitious man, did Isaac know he would meet his death that day?
Through Hannah’s diary, Isaac is in fact speaking to every one of us; are we taking good care of the children? Are we doing everything we can to ensure their continued Liberty? Isaac Davis gave his life for our Liberty. All we have to do is remain alert, informed, and involved in the political process handed down to us by his generation. Are we succeeding?
Hannah wrote “I knew in my heart, that I would not see him again in this world”. Mistaken on that point, she saw him hours later laid out in death beside Private Hosmer and another Minuteman on her parlor table.
Though Hannah seemed to know that she would not see her husband again, she let him go. To lose a husband in New England in 1775, with a house full of sick children, would have been a terrible hardship. Hannah Davis placed a high price on Liberty. On April 19th, 1775, she paid that price in full.
Congress twice suggested recompense for Hannah’s loss and twice voted to deny it. To do so would violate the Constitution and fail to respect Isaac Davis’ choice. To take from one by force of law and give to another, no matter how deserving, is one form of slavery and our forefathers would have none of it.
As you read this tale, remember that you are just like those brave men and women of 1775 – shopkeepers, farmers, businessmen, families. They chose to fight the King’s tyranny then, so we could have our freedom now. America is our birthright, and our responsibility.
This concludes the Second Strike of the Match.
In the Third Strike we will see how terrible Revolutionary War can be.
The Third Strike of the Match
The British Leave Concord
Shortly after noon on April 19, 1775, British Regulars start to retrace their steps out of Concord and back to Boston while the Colonial Militia watch from hilltops and behind stone walls along the way.
The Regulars are spoiling for revenge for their fellow soldiers allegedly “butchered” at the North Bridge. The Colonials want revenge for the uncalled for slaughter on Lexington Green. Many Militia members have walked all night to be here and are just being told of the actions at Lexington Green and Concord. The stage is set for a fight.
British Lt. Colonel Smith and his men see hundreds of the militia lining the hilltops above the road back to Boston. The Redcoats have been awake for more than 30 hours. Having already marched 18 miles from Boston and fought an engagement, they now face an 18-mile gauntlet of Colonials. The British are low on supplies: food and water, but especially ammunition, having started with only 36 cartridges each. Lt. Col. Smith deploys flankers to keep the Colonials out of musket range. His column passes one hilltop and a few farm fields and things go well for the first mile. Then they arrive at Merriam’s Corner.
About a mile east of Concord, the road bends slightly then crosses a stream by a narrow bridge. To cross that bridge British flankers must come down from the hills and walk along the stream, thus allowing the Colonials to get within musket range. At this point Militia outnumber Redcoats by over one thousand armed men, and more are still coming
As the Regulars approach Meriam’s Corner, all is silent. No martial music, no fifes and drums playing; nothing is heard but the sound boots make by weary infantry on the march.
In the silence a shot rings out, possibly a militiaman firing at extreme range. The British rear guard quickly fires a volley, which turns out to be their deadly error. The militia open fire in earnest, and their musket balls rain down on the Redcoats.
Here is the Third Strike of the Match. Colonial militia are not only defending themselves, but are defending freedom. Each band of militia no longer wait to be fired upon first. For the first time the various militia companies become an American fighting unit. The revolutionary fire begins and this time it blazes forth, lighting a war for independence that will last eight years and cost thousands of lives.
By one o’clock the running fight back to Boston has begun. From here on the British must battle their way through one American ambush after another, often in deadly crossfire. In the smoke and confusion, Lt. Col. Smith has no way of knowing that his force is greatly outnumbered. As the British march, they continue to encounter fresh American militia with full cartridge boxes, while they find no rest, no shelter, no water, and each round expended is precious. At ‘Brook’s Hill’ and ‘The Bloody Angle’ the Regulars take more casualties, but they must march on, as making it back to Boston is their only chance for survival.
The Lexington militia did not retire from the fight after the First Strike on Lexington Green, but have regrouped and marched toward Concord. Early afternoon finds them kneeling grimly behind granite boulders, some in the same stiffening bloody bandages they have worn since daylight, they wait patiently for the British, to revenge their comrades shot in the back or bayonetted while attempting to disperse. When the Regulars led by Lt. Col. Smith are directly in front of his men, Capt. Parker gives the order to fire!
Parker’s men rise and loose two volleys before the stunned British can effectively react. The road is littered with dead and dying Redcoats. Col. Smith is shot through the thigh in the first volley and Major Pitcairn is unhorsed but unharmed. Though Major Pitcairn charges forward with infantry to disperse Parker’s company, the militia have their revenge! Today on the road between Lexington and Concord there is a small monument to ‘Parker’s Revenge’, a reminder of the price paid for our Liberty.
Pitcairn’s luck will run out two months later at a place called Bunker’s Hill. Pitcairn is shot in the head by a Militiaman as he enters the American fortifications, just minutes before the battle is over.
As they retreat the Regulars run lower on ammunition and water. Some of the fiercest fighting occurs around wells, streams and puddles of water where the militia know the Redcoats will stop. The road is filled with dead and wounded men and horses, along with the accoutrements of war: knapsacks, cartridge boxes, muskets, hats, jackets, bayonets, and items looted from the homes of Concord as exhausted Redcoats try to lighten their load.
Redcoats in Disarray
The Regulars in the van flee from the Colonials, leaving their wounded and outrunning their flankers. Unable to maintain order, even at the point of their swords, British officers ride to the head of the column, seize muskets, turn and level them at their soldiers, screaming ‘You will form up now or we will shoot you ourselves’. Their Redcoats have not yet made the five miles back to Lexington, and now defeat seems probable. It looks like the end of the British Brigade. Ironically, their surrender will likely be on the Green in Lexington where the British attacked, without orders, less than ten hours earlier.
As the Regulars stumble into Lexington, wild cheers are heard from the men in front. They see a relief column led by Brigadier the Right Honorable Hugh Earl Percy arranged in line of battle with two cannon trained on the advancing Rebels. General Gage planned all along to send reinforcements for Lt. Col. Smith, but due in part to his obsession with secrecy, Percy’s companies marched hours late and ultimately cost the lives of many British Regulars.
Brigadier Percy cannot believe his eyes. A formerly proud British army staggers bleeding and beaten through his ranks, exhausted and spent. Percy had placed one cannon on each side of the road on hills overlooking the approach to town. A cannon ball crashed through Lexington’s meetinghouse, sending huge splinters in every direction. The militia have never faced cannon fire and are halted immediately.
Percy, though, is in a precarious position. Like many other British officers he thought little of Colonial military abilities. His cannon have only the ammunition stored in the boxes on the gun carriages. Percy’s artillery will have to keep up enough fire to keep the Rebels at bay, yet ration it for the long haul back to Boston. His infantry carry the same 36 rounds of musket ammunition that Col. Smith’s troops started with and so Percy’s men may soon be short of ammunition too.
Percy finally understands that he is not facing simple country people in small numbers fighting from behind trees, but rather a large and well-regulated militia acting in concert. He orders three houses in Lexington be burned to prevent their being used for sniping by sharp shooters of the militia.
Despite developing a grudging respect for Militiamen themselves, Percy is yet unaware of an officer arriving on the field to command the American Militia. While this man has never seen combat, he has devised a brand new tactic for fighting the Regulars after reading many military books.
The Moving Ring of Fire
Militia Brig. General William Heath is a self-described ‘corpulent, balding gentleman farmer’ with a passion for military operations. He saw the coming conflict as inevitable and studied tactics on his own at Henry Knox’s bookstore in Boston, even engaging British officers in conversations on infantry procedures. Heath has developed a maneuver to fight in just this situation.
He calls it the ‘Moving Ring of Fire’. Heath’s battle plan calls for streaming fresh men and supplies ahead of a moving enemy column to keep it under constant fire from all sides. The Ring of Fire would be a difficult tactic to implement even with a trained regular army, keeping units coordinated and constantly in motion with ammunition, food, water, and supplies arriving at the right places and at the right time. General Heath proved it very successful this day.
The Retreat to Boston
Percy’s cannon held off the militia long enough to give Lt. Col. Smith’s British troops a much needed rest at Lexington before they resume the 13 mile march to Boston. It is now 3:15 PM, and the first of the remaining 1,600 Redcoat soldiers begin their retreat, with their two very dangerous cannon bringing up the formation’s rear. Flankers are placed to keep the Rebels out of musket range. Still, the Ring of Fire takes its toll and all along the road Regulars continue to fall.
By 4:30 PM the Brits reach Menotomy, and the fighting becomes less open and more house-to-house. Here the battle reaches a murderous pitch, with the Regulars seething to get at the rebels who will not stand and fight and to revenge their fallen comrades allegedly butchered at the North Bridge. The militia want revenge for the very real killings at Lexington and Concord and the burning and looting of those towns.
When the Regulars receive fire from a house, they rush it, killing all those within, even non-combatants. The fighting in Menotomy is terrible, as shown by the numbers: 40 Redcoats dead, and over 80 wounded. With 25 Colonists dead and only nine wounded one sees a suspicious ratio that affirms the savagery of the Regulars. Still, the worst is yet to come.
Gen. Heath’s Ring of Fire provides fresh men with full cartridge boxes who keep a constant fire on the Regulars. The Redcoats have no chance of re-supply for their dwindling ammunition supplies. Percy’s intended retreat route takes him through the town of Cambridge, over a bridge across the Charles River, their last obstacle before Boston. Just past the Charles River bridge stands a large contingent of fresh militia spoiling for a fight.
It is now 5:30 PM. Advance units of the Regulars find that militia have pulled up the planks of the bridge, and neatly stacked them on the near side. The Redcoats simply replace the planks. After militia discover this, they pull up the planks again and throw them into the river beyond any chance of speedy retrieval. Percy and his Redcoats are now caught between the anvil of the bridge with its fresh militia, and the hammer of Heath’s moving Ring of Fire.
Desperate, Percy instantly makes a bold decision and turns north onto an obscure path called Kent Lane, just outside Cambridge, heading for Charlestown instead of Boston. The Ring of Fire has to be adjusted for Percy’s unforeseen turn. In the confusion, the Redcoat column breaks through militia lines and marches towards Charlestown Neck, a narrow strip of land connecting that almost-island to the mainland.
The Americans have one last chance. North of the Redcoat column is a militia unit under the command of Timothy Pickering. If Pickering moved against the British as ordered, he would stop the Redcoat escape and their entire retreating column would be captured. Unfortunately, Pickering does not act, ignoring the protests of his own men. The British make their way to Charlestown and find security under the 70-gun warship HMS Somerset. General Gage’s battered troops collapse in exhaustion on a knoll known as Bunker’s Hill. One by one the many British casualties are loaded into longboats and ferried across the Charles River to Boston by men of the HMS Somerset. The entire British action has taken a continuous 21 hours.
Percy notes the time as just past 7:00 PM. The sun is setting on Charlestown, as it begins to set on the British empire. One of the world’s best fighting units has been defeated by determined New England farmers and shopkeepers. It is this determination that will see America through the coming war.
The next morning, General Heath, General Gage, Lt. Colonel Smith and the British army awake to find themselves surrounded and trapped by a vast American Militia army that has marched to Boston from all parts of New England.Lord Percy, who once boasted that he could subdue the entire North American continent with two companies of Grenadiers, later wrote: “Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself very much mistaken. They have men among them who know very well what they are about”.
This concludes our three-part story of the true events of April 19th, 1775 – the day of “The shot heard ’round the world”. The eight-year American Revolutionary War that followed is too horrible for us to imagine; for most of the duration freedom’s outcome was in serious doubt.
As long as we remember what the founding generation sacrificed, and as long as we maintain the freedoms our forefathers secured in our stead, then their struggle was not in vain. Should we fail to do as they instructed and maintain our freedom by taking part in the political process handed down to us, then we will surely loose the freedom we will not deserve.
Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.
American patriots of all ages died on April, 19 1775 for our freedom. The youngest: 14; the oldest: 79. From these small New England towns, 49 were killed, 41 wounded, and 5 missing in action, for a total of 95 friends and neighbors in defense of their liberty.
Today’s Americans should be able to answer three important questions.
Who fired the first shots at Lexington?
British Regulars opened up without orders. Otherwise, Colonia militia superior marksmanship would have taken a much greater toll on the Redcoat infantry.
When did the Revolution begin?
“The revolution began in the hearts and minds of the people long before the first shots were fired.” John Adams
When did the actual War for Independence begin?
It began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776.
What made the British Army, finest in the world, run from a bunch of farmers at shopkeepers the North Bridge?
Superior marksmanship by the colonists.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled, —
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
A closing thought on the early months of Revolution from a hero of 1775
“Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful, but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”
Joseph Warren, March 6, 1775
On July 4, 1776, the Americans declare Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Declaration stated in plain words what the Colonials knew was necessary. General Washington’s army was inspired by those words, but now they were fighting the mightiest army ever assembled in the new world. This document committed the Congress and the Colonials to total victory or total defeat: their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
Americans fight for independence over the next eight years, 4 months, and 15 days. The Paris Peace treaty was ratified on May 12, 1784 ending the war. Great Britain cedes the area east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes to the United States.
The Cost of War
American casualties included 6,824 killed in battle, with up to 70,000 who died from all other causes. France, our ally, suffered 10,000 killed, most of those in sea battles with Britain. Spain lost 5,000, and the Netherlands another 500. The United States spent $151M $1 in 1784 is equivalent to $23.26 in 2017 in then dollars ($3.5 trillion in today’s dollars), most of that covered by loans from France and the Netherlands. The French spent £56 million; along with the loans to the US that seriously impacted their economy and lead to the French Revolution.
British casualties included 4,000 killed in battle, with another 27,000 dying of disease. The British navy lost another 1,243. The Hessians lost 1,800 mercenaries in battle. British war costs were £250 £1 in 1784 is equivalent to £110.30 in 2017 million, or $34.5 billion.
42,000 British and almost 5,000 Hessians deserted their units to stay in America.
In September 1787 the United States Constitution was written. Eleven of the thirteen original colonies approved the document in September 1788. I 1789 the Continental Congress assembled in New York City to ratify the document. North Carolina and Rhode Island finally ratified in 1790.
British Regiments involved on April 19, 1775
- 4th later King’s Own Royal Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
- 5th later Northumberland Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
- 10th later the Suffolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
- 18th now the Royal Irish Regiment
- 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers
- 38th later the South Staffordshire Regiment and now the Staffordshire Regiment
- 43rd later 1st Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now 1st Bn Royal Green Jackets.
- 52nd later 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now 1st Bn Royal Green Jackets
- 59th later the East Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment
- Marines: now the Royal Marines
 The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1803
 “The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affectations of the people, was the real American Revolution.” John Adams
 1754 to 1763. Great Britain (with Prussia, Portugal, Hanover, and small German states) fought France (with Austria, Russia, Spain and Sweden). The Native American tribes of Canada allied with the French. The war ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Britain’s Proclamation of 1763 which forbade white settlement west of the Appalachians and the Quebec Act of 1774 which protected the Catholic religion and French language caused resentment among the Colonies.
 £ 136,000,000 debt from the Seven Year’s War. A 1776 £ 1 is equivalent to £ 160 today, so the equivalent debt was $ 21B today.
 The value of the tea was £ 15,000, or $5.2M today
 September 5 to October 26, 1774. Georgia did not participate.
 North Carolina’s representatives were Richard Caswell, Joseph, Hewes, and William Hooper.
 On September 1, 1774 Gage sent 260 Redcoats to seize powder from the Charlestown powder house. By the end of the day, 20,000 militia were marching on Boston, but no actual fighting took place. This became known as the ‘Powder Alarm’.
 Canker Rash is now known as Scarlet Fever.
 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.
Emerson, “Concord Hymn”
 Ages on July 4, 1776: Marquis de Lafayette: 18; James Monroe: 18, Gilbert Stuart: 20; Aaron Burr: 20; Alexander Hamilton: 21; Betsy Ross: 24; James Madison: 25; Thomas Jefferson: 33; John Adams: 40; Paul Revere: 41; George Washington: 44; Samuel Adams: 53; Benjamin Franklin: 70.
 Letter from John Adams to Abigail, April 26, 1777
 Edward Barber of Charlestown.
 Deacon Jones.