Battle of Lexington and Concord

Battle after: Battle of Ticonderoga (1775) Template:Battlebox

The Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 was the first battle of the American Revolutionary War and was described as "the shot heard round the world" in Emerson's Concord Hymn.

About 900 British Army regulars under Lt. Col. Francis Smith were ordered to capture military supplies stored by the Massachusetts Militia at Concord. Weeks before this expedition, the American Patriots had acted on good intelligence by moving nearly all these supplies to safety. The Patriots had also received details about British plans on the night before the battle, and this information was rapidly supplied to their militias.

The first shots were fired at Lexington during the British Army's advance, resulting in a skirmish victory over the Lexington Militia. Things improved for the Patriots at Concord's North Bridge, where three companies of the King's troops broke ranks and fled from the "Minutemen" after a pitched battle in open territory.

More Minutemen arrived in the following hours and inflicted heavy damage on the British regulars returning from Concord. Smith's expedition was rescued upon returning to Lexington by reinforcments under Brigadier Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland. This combined force of about 1900 men marched back to Boston under heavy fire. The retreat was a success, and the British Army reached the safety of Charlestown.

The Concord expedition failed to maintain the secrecy and speed required to conduct a successful strike into hostile territory, and they seized no weaponry of significance. However, most British regulars returned to Boston unharmed. The occupation of surrounding areas by the Massachusetts Militia that evening marked the beginning the Siege of Boston.

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1775 map of the battle and of the Siege of Boston (contains some inaccurate information)


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The British Army (often called "redcoats" by the colonists) had occupied Boston since 1768 and had been augmented by naval forces and marines to enforce the Intolerable Acts. Governor General Thomas Gage still had no control over Massachusetts outside of Boston where the Massachusetts Government Act had increased tensions between the American Patriot (Whig) majority and the Loyalist (Tory) minority. Gage's plan was to avoid conflict by removing military supplies from the Whig militias using small, secret, and rapid strikes. This struggle for supplies led to one British success and then to several Patriot successes in a series of nearly bloodless conflicts known as the Powder Alarms. Gage 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 described Gage's conflicted relationship with Massachusetts by saying in Parliament, "An Englishman is the unfittest person on Earth to argue another Englishman into slavery."

The opposing forces are described in Minutemen (militia) and British Forces in Boston (Winter 1774-1775)

Dartmouth's instructions and Gage's orders

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Francis Smith in 1763

On April 14, 1775, Gage received instructions from the Earl of Dartmouth, then the British Secretary of State, to disarm the population and to arrest and imprison the rebellion's ringleaders. Dartmouth gave Gage considerable discretion in his orders.

On the morning of April 18, the day before the battle, Gage ordered a mounted patrol of about 20 men into the surrounding country to intercept messengers who might be out on horseback. This patrol behaved differently from patrols sent out from Boston in the past, staying out after dark and asking travellers about the location of Samuel Adams and John Hancock. This had the unintended effect of alarming many residents and increasing their preparedness. The Lexington Militia in particular began to muster early that evening, hours before receiving any word from Boston. One farmer mistook this British patrol for his countrymen after nightfall and asked them, "Have you heard anything about when the regulars are coming out?" He was slashed on his scalp with a sword.

Lt Col Francis Smith's received orders from Gage on the afternoon of April 18 with instructions that he was not to read them until his troops were underway. They were to proceed from Boston "with utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy...all Military stores...But you will take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants or hurt private property." Gage apparently used his discretion and did not issue written orders for the arrest of rebel leaders.

Successful Patriot Intelligence

The rebellion's ringleaders--with the exception of Paul Revere and Joseph Warren--had all left Boston by April 8. They had received word of Dartmouth's secret instructions to General Gage from sources in London long before they had reached Gage himself. Samuel Adams and John Hancock had fled Boston to the home of one of Hancock's relatives in Lexington where they thought they would be safe.

The Massachusetts Militia had indeed been gathering a stock of weapons, powder, and supplies at Concord, but word reached the Patriots that British officers had been observed examining the roads to Concord. On April 8 they instructed people of the town to remove the stores and distribute them among other towns nearby.

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Margaret Kemble Gage

The Patriots were also aware of the upcoming mission on April 19 despite it having been hidden from all the British rank and file and even from all the officers on the mission. There is much reasonable speculation that the confidential source of this intelligence was Dr. Warren's relationship with Margaret Gage, General Gage's American-born wife.

Between 9:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M. on the night of April 18, 1775, Warren told William Dawes and Paul Revere that the King's troops were about to embark in boats from Boston bound for Cambridge and the road to Lexington and Concord. Warren's intelligence suggested that the most likely objectives of the British Army's movements later that night would be the capture of Samuel Adams and John Hancock. They worried less about the possibility of regulars marching to Concord. After all, the supplies at Concord were safe, but they thought their leaders in Lexington were unaware of the potential danger that night. Revere and Dawes were sent out to warn them and alert Patriots in nearby towns.

The Militia are warned

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Routes of the initial Patriot messengers and of the British Expedition (US National Park Service)

Dawes covered the southern land-route by horseback across the Boston Neck and over the Great Bridge to Lexington. Revere first gave instructions to send a signal to Charlestown (see the Old North Church for the facts behind this famous true story.), and then he travelled the northern water-route. He crossed the Charles River by rowboat, slipping past the British warship HMS Somerset at anchor. Crossings were banned at that hour, but Revere safely landed in Charlestown and rode to Lexington, avoiding the British patrol and later warning almost every house along the route. The warned men and the Charlestown Patriots dispatched additional riders to the north.

After they arrived in Lexington, Revere, Dawes, Hancock, and Adams discussed the situation with the militia assembling there. They decided that the forces leaving the city were too large for the sole task of arresting two men and that Concord was the main target. The Lexington men dispatched riders in all directions (except south to Waltham for unknown reasons), and Revere and Dawes continued along the road to Concord. They were met at about 1 A.M. by Samuel Prescott. These three ran into the British patrol, and only Prescott managed to warn Concord. Additional riders were sent out from Concord.

Revere and Dawes triggered a flexible command, control, and communication system that had been carefully developed months before following the Powder Alarm. In addition to other express riders delivering their message, bells, drums, alarm guns, and even a trumpet were used for rapid communication from town to town, notifying the Patriots in dozens of eastern Massachusetts villages that they should muster their militias because the regulars were leaving Boston. These early warnings played a critical role in assembling a sufficient number of irregulars to inflict heavy damage on the British Army later in the day. Samuel Adams and John Hancock were eventually moved to safety, first to what is now Burlington and later to Billerica.

British Army and Royal Marines move out

The British regulars, 900 strong, were led by Colonel Francis Smith and were drawn from the elite light infantry and grenadier companies in Gage's occupying regiments. Most were marching without their own officers.

The British began to awaken their troops at 10 P.M. on the night of April 18, and their regiments marched to their boats at 11 PM. The British march to and from Concord was a terrible experience from start to finish. The boats were packed so tightly that there was no room to sit down, and they disembarked at Cambridge into waist-deep water at midnight. After a lengthy halt to unload their gear, the 900 regulars began their 17 mile (27 km) march to Concord at about 2 A.M. They carried heavy loads of pack, musket, and equipment on uncomfortable shoes and soggy clothes. As they marched through Menotomy (modern Arlington), sounds throughout the countryside notified the few officers who were aware of their mission that they had lost the element of surprise. At about 3 A.M., Colonel Smith sent Major Pitcairn ahead with six companies of light infantry ordered to quick march to Concord. At about 4 A.M., he made the wise but belated decision to send word back to Boston asking for reinforcements.

The battles


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Battle of Lexington: British troops firing into mass of American militiamen

As the British Army's advance troops under Pitcairn entered Lexington at sunrise on April 19, 1775, about 75 Lexington militiamen led by Captain John Parker waited on the village green watching them, and a number of spectators (somewhere between 40 and 100) watched from along the side of the road. Parker made a statement that is now 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."

Rather than turn left towards Concord, Marine lieutenant Jesse Adair at the head of three advance companies decided on his own to protect the flank of his troops by first turning right and then leading two companies down the green itself. These men ran towards the Lexington militia loudly crying "Huzzah!" to set up a line of battle. Major Pitcairn arrived from the rear of the advance force and led his three companies to the left and halted them. Next Pitcairn himself rode forward, waving his sword around, and yelled "Disperse you rebels; damn you, throw down your arms and disperse!" Captain Parker told his men to disperse, but some didn't hear him, some left very slowly, and none laid down arms. Both Parker and Pitcairn ordered their men to hold fire, but a shot was fired from an unknown source.

Some witnesses among the regulars reported the first shot was fired by an American spectator behind a hedge or around the corner of a tavern. Some Lexington militiamen reported a mounted British officer firing first. Both sides generally agreed that the initial shot did not come from the men on the ground immediately facing each other. An unlikely legend arose later in Lexington that a man named Solomon Brown fired the first shot from inside the tavern. A false legend also arose that the British were ordered to fire a "warning volley" that startled the Lexington troops into firing. Recent speculation has focused on the possibility of an accidental discharge or of multiple, possibly unrelated "first shots" from both sides.

Witnesses at the scene described several intermittent shots fired from both sides before the lines of regulars began to fire volleys without receiving orders to do so. A few of the militiamen believed at first that the regulars were only firing powder with no ball, but then they realized the truth and many among the militia returned fire. Pitcairn's horse was hit in two places. The regulars charged forward with bayonets. Captain Parker witnessed his cousin Jonas run through. Eight Massachusetts men were killed and ten were wounded against only one British wounded. The eight American dead, the first to die in the Revolutionary War, were John Brown, Samuel Hadley, Caleb Harrington, Jonathon Harrington, Robert Munroe, Isaac Muzzy, Jonas Parker, and Ashahel Porter. Jonathon Harrington, fatally wounded by a British musket ball, managed to crawl back to his home, and died upon his doorstep.

The infantry under Pitcairn were beyond their officers' control. They were firing in different directions and preparing to enter private homes. Then the main body marched into town and Colonel Smith restored order. The British reformed their units, fired a victory salute, gave three cheers, and continued to Concord.


The older militiamen of Concord urged caution until they could be reinforced by troops from towns nearby. The middle-aged men wanted to stay and defend the town. The younger elite Minutemen wanted to move east and greet the British Army from superior terrain. As the regulars began to approach, all three groups did their own thing. The Minutemen watched from a hill as Smith deployed light infantry against them. They began a series of marching retreats into the town. The older and middle-aged men had occupied a hill in town, and they argued about what to do next while watching the young men approach with the regulars behind them. The Lincoln militia arrived and joined in the debate. The older men prevailed, and Colonel Barrett surrendered the town of Concord and led the men across Old North Bridge to a hill about a mile north of town where they could continue to watch the troop movements of the British.

The Regulars follow Gage's orders

Smith's troops divided into multiple forces to fulfill Gage's orders. One company of light infantry secured South Bridge and seven companies of light infantry secured Old North Bridge near Barrett's force. Of those seven, four companies were next sent two miles past the bridge to search Barrett's property, two companies (from the 4th and 10th Regiments of Foot) were sent across the bridge to guard their return route, and one company (from the 43rd Regiment of Foot) remained guarding the bridge itself.

The grenadier companies searched the town for military supplies. Pitcairn held a Whig leader at gunpoint until he led them to three buried cannon. Pitcairn then bought him breakfast. The grenadiers burned some gun carriages found in the town hall and when the fire spread to the hall itself, the soldiers and residents joined forces in a bucket brigade to save the building. Nearly a hundred barrels of flour and 550 pounds (250 kg) of shot were thrown into the mill pond. The shot was recovered the next day.

Barrett's house had been an arsenal weeks before but few weapons remained now, and these were quickly buried in furrows to look like a crop had been planted. The companies sent there would march more than any other troops that day, and they found nothing at Barrett's except the breakfast which some of them demanded from Mrs. Barrett.

Old North Bridge

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Old North Bridge in Minute Man National Historical Park

Col Barrett's troops saw the smaller units directly below them and they agreed (after consultation) to march towards a flat hilltop about 300 yards from Old North Bridge. This land belonged to Major John Buttrick who led the Minuteman units under Barrett. It was also their muster field. A British company held this position, but they marched in retreat down towards the bridge and yielded the hill to Barrett's men.

Five full companies of Minutemen and five of non-Minuteman militia occupied this hill along with groups of other men streaming in, totaling about 500 against the light infantry companies from the 4th, 10th, and 43rd Regiments of Foot under Captain Laurie, a force totalling about 115 men. Barrett ordered the Massachusetts men to form one long line two deep running parallel to the river, and then he called for another consultation.

At this moment, they first saw the smoke from the burning gun carriages rising over Concord and many thought the regulars had begun to burn the town down. Col. Barrett ordered the men to load their weapons and not to fire unless fired upon. Then he ordered them to advance. Both British companies used as guards were ordered to retreat back across Old North Bridge, and many started to pull up the planks. Major Buttrick began to yell at these regulars to stop destroying the bridge. They were standing on his land, and he presumably felt like the bridge itself belonged to him and to the people in his lines. The Minutemen and normal militia advanced in formation on the light infantry as a regular army would. Their fifer played "The White Cockade," a popular Jacobite tune, in opposition to the Hanoverian King George III.

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Daniel Chester French's The Minute Man depicting Isaac Davis

Captain Laurie then made a poor tactical maneuver. He ordered his men to form positions for "street firing" behind the bridge in a line running perpendicular to the river. This formation was appropriate for sending a large volume of fire into a narrow alley between the buildings of a city, but not for an open path behind a bridge. Confusion reigned as regulars retreating over the bridge tried to avoid and then join up with the street-firing position of their own troops. A Lieutenant in the rear of the formation saw Laurie's mistake and ordered flankers to be sent out, but he was from a different company than the men under his command, and only three soldiers obeyed him. The remainder tried to follow the orders of the superior officer. The opponents faced each other like the two lines of an upper-case letter T with the top horizontal line representing the Patriots and the bottom vertical line representing both the bridge and Laurie's British troops behind it.

A shot rang out, and this time there is certainty on both sides that it was from the British Army's ranks. Two other regulars fired and then the narrow group up front fired a volley before Laurie could stop them. Two of the Acton Minutemen (including their captain Isaac Davis) in the unfortunate center of the line behind the bridge were cut down and killed instantly and four were wounded (including the fifer), but the Massachusetts irregulars continued to advance in regular formation, holding their fire until receiving orders. The order was given by Major Buttrick when the lines were separated by the Concord River and only 50 yards. Four of the eight British officers on the field were wounded by the volley. At least three privates were killed and nine wounded. The regulars found themselves trapped in a situation where they were both outnumbered and outmaneuvered. They defied their officers, abandoned their wounded, and fled.

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After the fight

The Patriots were stunned by their success. Some advanced. Some retreated. At least one went home. One man crushed in a wounded British soldier's head with a hatchet, exposing his brains and scalping him but not killing him. Barrett eventually began to recover control and chose to divide his forces. He moved the militia back to the hilltop 300 yards away and sent Buttrick with the Minutemen across the bridge to a defensive position on a hill behind a stone wall.

Lt Col Smith, leader of the British expedition, heard the exchange of fire from his position in the town moments after he received a request for reinforcements from Laurie. Smith assembled two companies of grenadiers to lead towards Old North Bridge himself. As these troops marched, they met the broken forces of three companies running the other way. Smith was concerned about the four companies who'd been at Barrett's. Their route to return safely was gone. Then he saw the Minutemen in the distance behind their wall and he halted his two companies and moved forward with only his officers to take a closer look.

In the written words of a Minuteman behind that wall: "If we had fird I beleave we could kild all most every officseer thair was in the front, but we had no orders to fire and their want a gun fird." During this tense standoff of about 10 minutes, a madman wandered through both sides selling hard cider. Smith returned his grenadiers to the town and hoped for the best for the remaining four companies.

These men hurried back from Barrett's, in fear of getting cut off. They passed unharmed underneath Barrett's militia and through the former battlefield, saw their scalped comrade dying on the bridge, and then passed unharmed underneath Buttrick's Minutemen. The regulars had all returned to the town by 11:30. Even after a small field battle and with superior forces, the New Englanders (at this point in the day) still did not fire unless fired upon, and this time the regulars did nothing to provoke them. The British Army left Concord at noon.

The return march

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The retreat from Concord and Percy's rescue (US National Park Service).

Concord to Lexington

An interactive mural describing this stage of the battle may be found here:

Smith sent flankers to follow a ridge and protect his forces from roughly 1000 Americans in the field. This ridge ended near Miriam's Corner, a crossroads and a small bridge about a mile outside of Concord. An American fired first, the British regulars turned and fired a volley, and the Americans returned fire. Two regulars were killed and perhaps six wounded with no American casualties. Smith sent out his flanking troops again after crossing the small bridge.

Nearly 500 militiamen assembled in the woods on Brooks Hill about a mile past Miriam's Corner. Smith's leading forces charged up the hill to drive them off but the Americans did not withdraw. Meanwhile, the bulk of Smith's force proceeded along the road to Brooks Tavern where they engaged a single militia company, killing and wounding several of them. Smith withdrew his men from Brooks Hill and moved across another small bridge into Lincoln.

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The Lexington Minuteman depicting John Parker

Soon they were greeted at a bend in the road ("The Bloody Curve") by 200 men who had positioned themselves on an incline behind trees and walls for a successful ambush. Additional militia joined in from the other side of the road, catching the British in a crossfire, and a fresh regiment arrived and attacked from the rear. Here the British lost 30 killed and wounded to four for the Americans. The British escaped by breaking out into a trot, a pace that the Americans could not maintain through the woods and swamps next to the road. American forces on the road itself behind the British were too densely packed and disorganized to mount an attack.

American forces at this time numbered about 2000, and Smith sent out flankers again. When three companies of militia ambushed the head of his main force at Hartwell's Farm, the flankers closed in and trapped the militia from behind. Flankers also trapped the Lincoln militia after a successful ambush near the Lincoln-Lexington border, but British casualties were mounting from these engagements and from persistent long-range fire.

On the Lexington side of the border, Captain John Parker waited on a hill with the reassembled Lexington Militia, some of them bandaged up from the first fighting of the day. These men didn't spring their trap until Colonel Smith himself came into view. Smith was wounded in the thigh and the entire British column was halted in this ambush known as "Parker's Revenge." Major Pitcairn sent infantry units up the hill to clear out Parker's men.

The Royal Marines cleared two additional hills--"The Bluff" and "Fiske Hill"--and took casualties from ambushes. Pitcairn fell from his horse during the ambush on Fiske Hill and injured his arm. Now the two principle leaders of the Concord expedition were both injured. Their men were tired, thirsty, and running low on ammunition. A few surrendered. Most broke and ran. One hill--"Concord Hill"--remained before Lexington Center, and a few uninjured officers turned around and threatened their own men with bayonets if they would not form ranks. The Americans had fought in large ordered formations at least eight times from Concord to Lexington, contrary to the myth of scattered forces firing from behind walls and fences--although scattered fire had also occurred and would be the predominant American tactic later in the day.

Only one British officer remained uninjured in the leading three companies. He was considering surrendering his men when he heard them up ahead cheering. A full brigade with artillery of about 1000 men under the command of Brigadier Lord Hugh Percy had arrived to rescue them. It was about 2:30 P.M.

Percy's rescue

General Gage had left orders for reinforcments to assemble in Boston at 4 A.M., but in his obsession for secrecy, he had sent only one copy of the orders to a single general whose servant left the envelope on a table. At about 5 A.M., Smith's request for reinforcements arrived and orders were sent for three regiments of infantry (the 4th, 23rd, and 47th) and a battalion of Royal Marines to assemble. Unfortunately, once again only one copy of the orders were sent to each commander, and the order for the Marines was delivered to the desk of Major Pitcairn, who was at Lexington Green at the time. After these delays, Percy's brigade left Boston at about 8:45 A.M. His troops marched out to the tune of Yankee Doodle to mock the inhabitants of the city. By the Battle of Bunker Hill less than two months later, the song had become a popular anthem for the American forces.

Percy took the land route across Boston Neck and over the Great Bridge. He came upon an absent-minded tutor at Harvard College and asked him which road would take him to Lexington. The Harvard man showed him the proper road without thinking, and he was later compelled by local residents to leave the country for supporting the enemy. Percy's troops arrived at Lexington at about 2:00. They could hear gunfire in the distance as they set up their cannon and lines of regulars on high ground with commanding views. Colonel Smith's men approached like a fleeing mob with a full regiment of New England Militia in close formation pursuing them. Percy ordered his artillery to open fire at extreme range, and the New Englanders dispersed. Smith's men collapsed with exhaustion once they reached safety behind freindly lines.

Against the advice of his master of ordinance, Percy had left Boston without spare ammunition for his men or for the two artillery pieces they brought with them. He thought the extra wagons would slow him down. After Percy left the city, Gage directed two ammunition wagons guarded by one officer and thirteen men to follow. This convoy was intercepted by a small party of older Patriots on the "alarm list" who could not join their militia companies because they were over 60. These men rose up in ambush and demanded the surrender of the wagons, but the regulars ignored them and drove their horses on. The old men opened fire, shot the lead horses, killed two sergeants, and wounded the officer. The survivors ran for their lives, and six of them threw their weapons into a pond before they stumbled into a poor old woman named Mother Batherick who was digging greens from a vacant field for something to eat. They surrendered to her, and she led her captives to the house of the local militia captain, telling them along the way, "If you ever live to get back, you tell King George that an old woman took six of his grenadiers prisoner." Each man in Percy's brigade now had only 36 rounds, and each artillery piece only contained a few rounds in side-boxes.

Lexington to Menotomy

Percy's return to Charlestown (detail from 1775 map of the battle).
Percy's return to Charlestown (detail from 1775 map of the battle).

Percy regained control of the combined forces of about 1900 men and let them rest for their final march of the day. They set out from Lexington at about 3:30 P.M.

Brigadier General William Heath took command of the Massachusetts forces at Lexington. Earlier in the day, he had travelled first to Watertown to discuss tactics with Joseph Warren (who had left Boston that morning) and other members of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. Heath and Warren reacted to Percy's artillery and flankers by ordering the militias to avoid close formations which would attract cannon fire. Instead, they surrounded Percy's marching square with a moving ring of skirmishers at a distance in order to inflict maximum casualties at minimum risk to individual militiamen.

Mounted militiamen on the road would dismount, fire at the approaching regulars, and then remount and gallop ahead to repeat the tactic. Unmounted militia would often fire from the prone position at a distance. The hunting rifle of a typical American farmer was a better long range weapon than the British musket for this purpose. Wounded regulars rode on the cannon and were forced to topple off when it was fired at clumps of militia. Percy's men were often surrounded, but they had the tactical advantage of interior lines. Percy could shift his units more easily to where they were needed while the Americans were required to move around the outside of his formation.

Percy wrote of the American tactics: "...the rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but with perseverance and resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into any regular body. Indeed, they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken." Heath succeeded in maintaining a moving circle of intentionally scattered forces by directing company-level officers in the field and sending orders to distant units marching towards them. Heath and Warren also often led these skirmishers into battle themselves. This stage of the battle has often been wrongly described as having a chaotic American command structure.

The fighting grew more intense as Percy's forces crossed from Lexington into Menotomy (modern Arlington). Fresh militia poured gunfire into the British ranks from a distance, and individual homeowners began to fight from their own property. Some homes were also used as snipers' postions. Jason Russell pleaded for his friends to fight alongside him to defend his house by saying, "An Englishman's home is his castle." He stayed and was killed in his doorway. His friends escaped to his cellar after shooting the soldiers who tried to follow them downstairs. The Russell House still stands and contains bullet holes from this fight. A militia unit that attempted an ambush from Russell's orchard was caught by flankers and eleven men were killed, some after they had surrendered.

Percy lost control of his men, and British soldiers began to commit atrocities to repay for the scalping at Old North Bridge and for their own casualties at the hands of a distant, often unseen enemy. Homes were ransacked and burned, and everyone found inside was put to death. Two innocent drunks at a tavern were executed. Many of the regulars became drunk themselves. The church's communion silver was stolen but was later recovered after it was sold in Boston. Menotomy resident Samuel Whittemore killed three regulars before he was attacked by a British contingent and left for dead. More blood was shed in this town than in any other. The Americans lost 25 men killed and 9 wounded. The British lost 40 killed and 80 wounded.

Menotomy to Charlestown

The British troops crossed the border into Cambridge and the fight grew still more intense. Fresh militia arrived in close array instead of in a scattered formation, and Percy used his artillery and flankers at a crossroads called Watson's Corner to inflict heavy damage on them.

Earlier in the day, Heath had ordered the Great Bridge to be dismantled. Percy's brigade was about to approach this broken-down bridge and the dead-end scenario of a riverbank filled with militia when Percy directed his troops down a narrow track (near modern-day Porter Square) and onto the road to Charlestown. The militia (numbering about 4000) were unprepared for this movement and the circle of fire was broken. An American force moved to occupy Prospect Hill (in modern-day Somerville) which dominated the road, but Percy moved his cannon to the front and dispersed them with his last rounds of ammunition.

A large militia force arrived from Salem and Marblehead. They might have cut off Percy's route to Charlestown, but these men halted on nearby Winter Hill and allowed the British to escape. Some accused their commander of permitting the King's troops to pass because he still hoped to avoid a war by preventing a total defeat for the regulars. He later claimed that he had stopped on Heath's orders, but Heath denied this. It was nearly dark when Pitcairn's Marines defended a final attack on Percy's rear as they entered Charlestown. The regulars took up strong positions on hills. Some of them had been without sleep for 2 days and had marched 40 miles (64 km) in 21 hours, 8 of which had been spent under fire. But now they held high ground at sunset while supported by heavy guns from the HMS Somerset. Heath studied the position of the British Army and decided to withdraw the militia to Cambridge.


In the morning, Thomas Gage woke up to find Boston besieged by a huge militia army which had marched from throughout New England. This time, unlike during the Powder Alarm, the rumors of spilled blood were true, and the Revolutionary War had begun. The Army of irregulars continued to grow as surrounding colonies sent men and supplies. The Continental Congress would adopt and sponsor these men into the beginnings of the Continental Army. Even now after open warfare had started, Gage still refused to impose martial law in Boston. He pursuaded the town's selectmen to surrender all private weapons in return for promising that any inhabitant could leave town.

In terms of accomplishments and casualties this was not a major battle. However, in terms of supporting the political strategy behind the Intolerable Acts and the military strategy behind the Powder Alarms, the battle was a significant British failure because the expedition contributed to the fighting it was intended to prevent and because few weapons were siezed.

The actual fighting was followed by a war for British political opinion. Within four days of the battle, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had collected scores of sworn testimonies from militiamen and from British prisoners. When word leaked out one week after the battle that Gage was sending his official description of events to London, the Provincial Congress sent over 100 of these detailed depositions on a faster ship. They were presented to a sympathetic official and printed by the London press two weeks before Gage's report arrived. Gage's official report was too vague on particulars to influence anyone's opinion. Even George Germaine, no friend of the colonists, wrote, "...the Bostonians are in the right to make the King's troops the aggressors and claim a victory." Politicians in London tended to blame Gage for the conflict instead of their own policies and instructions.

The British troops in Boston also often blamed Gage for Lexington and Concord. The same ground that provided the regulars with safety at the end of the battle would be contested two months later during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Both Dr. Joseph Warren and Major John Pitcairn would be killed at Bunker Hill. The name of Dr. Warren's contact for information about the Concord expedition was lost with his death.

On American soil, it was no longer possible for any intelligent man in any colony to sit on the fence. John Adams left his home in Braintree to ride along the battlefields on the day after the fighting. He became convinced that "the Die was cast, the Rubicon crossed." Thomas Paine in Philadelphia had previously thought of the argument between the colonies and the Home Country as "a kind of law-suit," but after news of the battle reached him, he "rejected the hardened, sullen-termpered Pharoah of England forever." George Washington (a slave owner) received the news at Mount Vernon and wrote to a friend, "...the once-happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched in blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?" A group of hunters on the frontier named their campsite Lexington when they heard news of the battle in June. Their campsite eventually became the city of Lexington, Kentucky which (as of 2000) contained over 8 times as many people as the Massachusetts town.

Later historic images

It was important to the early American government that an image of British fault and American innocence be maintained for this first battle of the war. The history of Patriot preparations, intelligence, warning signals, and uncertainty about the first shot was rarely discussed in the public sphere for decades. Depositions mentioning these activities were not published and were returned to the participants. Paintings portrayed the Lexington fight as an unjustified slaughter.

The issue of which side was to blame faded during the nineteenth century, and Lexington and Concord took on an almost mythical quality in the American consciousness. A complete shift occured and the Patriots were portrayed as actively fighting for their cause rather than as suffering innocents. Paintings of the Lexington skirmish began to portray the militia standing and fighting back in defiance.

In 1837, in his Concord Hymn, Ralph Waldo Emerson immortalized the events at Old North Bridge:

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.

After 1860, several generations of schoolchildren memorized Longfellow's poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (

Anglophilia in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century led to more balanced approaches to the history of the battle. During World War I, a film about Paul Revere's ride was seized under the Espionage Act of 1917 for promoting discord between the United States and Britain.

The tactics and strategy of the British Army at Lexington and Concord have often been aptly compared to those of American troops in the Vietnam War. During the Cold War, the right-wing in the United States portrayed the Minutemen as symbols of free enterprise and the left portrayed them as anti-imperialists. Today, the battle is often used--and misused--in rhetoric by those on both sides of gun control and Second Amendment issues in the United States.

Patriot's Day is celebrated in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin in honor of the battle.

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