19 April 2013

On the Shot Heard 'Round the World

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.     It was fought on April 19, 1775 when 700 British troops followed a secret order to capture and destroy military supplies reportedly stored by the Massachusetts Militia at Concord. 

Patriotic colonials had received word of this impending crackdown by the British and had moved most of the supplies elsewhere.  Most of the rebellions leadership also fled Boston.

When freedom fighter  leader were informed that the Red Coats were going to march, word needed to be spread to their supporters.  This midnight ride was popularlized by Longfellows 1861 poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere".

However, the news of "One if by land and two if by sea" was also spread by Samuel Prescott along with William Dawes.

This rapid notification allowed the Minutemen to be prepared for the Red Coat's raid.  Captain John Parker lined up about 80 troops on Lexington Green (the town's commons) in parade formation to take make a show of political  determination but not prevent the march of the British.   Parker famously said "Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

Memorial to Captain John Parker on Lexington Green, Mass.

The assembled colonialists were warned by a British officer on horseback to disperse and perhaps to "Lay down your arms you damned rebels."  Captain Parker ordered his militiamen to leave and go home, but that order was not clearly heard and Minutemen were slow to leave.

The Dawn of Liberty, Henry Sandham (1886)
The first shots were fired at sunrise in Lexington.  After 237 years later, it is unclear what happened on Lexington Green, but Parker's militia swears that they did not shoot first.  The shot may have come from the crowd assembled watching the stand off between the Red Coats and the Minutemen.  Nevertheless, the British Regulars charged with bayonets and released a devastating volley. Eight Massachusetts Militiamen were killed and they fell back as they were outnumbered.  One Red Coat was slightly injured

 At the North Bridge in Concord, about 500 militiamen defeated three companies of King George's forces.  The outnumbered Red Coat regular forces fell back from the  Minutemen in a pitched battle in open ground.  

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.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Concord Hymn (1837)

The combined British forces retreated to the safety of Charlestown. Many Massachusetts Militiamen blocked the narrow land access where the British troops were garrissoned and started the eleven month seige of Boston.  

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