April 19th is Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord that began the American Revolutionary War.
These days, Patriot’s Day is a Massachusetts State Holiday (celebrated on the third Monday in April) and festivities include reenactments, parades, and the Boston Marathon. When I lived in Massachusetts, I worked a block away from Lexington’s Battle Green, and I’ve seen the reenactment of Paul Revere’s Ride and the Battle of Lexington. Paul Revere rides (with Police escort) the dozen miles from Boston up Mass Ave and gives the alarm, arriving at Lexington about 5:30 AM. As he rides through town, the British get off their buses and assemble. A few reenactors yell at each other then the shooting starts. The British get back on their buses and head to Concord, while the people of Lexington start serving pancakes.
In 1775, the Battle was much different. The British planned to raid Concord (17 miles from Boston) and destroy rebel weapons (including artillery). Even though the raid on Concord was secret, Patriots knew something was up by the increased activity. About 800 British Light Infantry and Grenadiers marched from Boston at midnight, crossing the Charles River on naval barges, landing at Cambridge in waist-deep water. Paul Revere started his “midnight ride” as the British assembled for the crossing. The British column was followed six hours later by a relief column of about 1,000 line infantry (good move by the British, even though they started later than planned). Note that the numbers of soldiers on each side is very fuzzy…
As the British advanced through the towns and countryside, they saw that the region had already been alerted. At Lexington Green, an advance party found a band of colonial militia – amid the confusion and noise a shot rang out and the British fired a volley into the militia. The colonial civil unrest had become the Revolutionary War.
While Lexington likes to claim “the shot heard round the world”, none of the American militia are thought to have fired their weapons. The Battle of Concord is where the Patriots fired on the British at the North Bridge. The British left Concord after destroying three 24-pound cannon and numerous arms, but were harassed by colonial militia almost immediately. Independent companies of town militia started firing on the British until the Redcoats broke and ran back to Lexington, under fire the entire way.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (of Concord – his family home of many generations was beside the North Bridge) wrote “Concord Hymn” in 1836:
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.
Spirit, that made those spirits dare,
To die, and leave their children free…
The British relief column had marched to Lexington and deployed on high ground. The survivors of the rout from Concord were organized, fed, and rested, then the whole force marched back to Boston under withering fire from all sides. However, they fought while retreating, for example killing eleven militia who tried to ambush the Redcoats at Russell’s Orchard.
4,000 Patriots drove the British back to Boston, and the alarm raised about 20,000 Patriots who started the siege of Boston leading to the Battle of Bunker Hill. But that’s a story for another day…