By mid-April 1775, Paul Revere recognized that English General Thomas Gage was preparing to move against patriot leaders. Although most of them had left Boston and the surrounding area, Revere and Dr. Benjamin Church and Dr. Joseph Warren remained. Revere vowed to stay and serve as messenger when needed.
On April 15, Revere and Warren met to discuss their thoughts on Gage’s plans. They decided he probably intended to move on Concord to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock and to seize arms stored there. The next morning, Revere rode to see Hancock and found he and Adams had returned to Hancock’s birth home in Lexington, having returned after the Provincial Congress had adjourned. They asked Revere to warn Concord residents about their suspicions.
On the evening of April 18, their suspicions were confirmed. Gage moved 21 companies of his tallest and best-armed grenadiers and infantrymen — almost 600 soldiers — into ferries for their trip across the Charles. Three spies told Revere of the move and he rode to the house of Robert Newman, a 23-year-old who had agreed to hang the one or two lanterns from the Christ’s Church steeple. Revere then rode down to the riverside where he had left a rowboat to take across the river and begin his famous ride, and he left Newman to work his way around British soldiers and take the two lanterns into the Christ’s Church belfry.
Having been warned that the British were on their way, the Minute Men at Lexington waited in the early morning darkness. They had been storing gunpowder and musket balls all winter in anticipation of this moment, and had even bought a drum and taught a 16-year-old to beat out the battle calls. Seventy-seven Minute Men answered Capt. John Parker’s call as they fell out on the town center called the Green at 1 a.m. on April 19. The oldest was 63. Twenty-nine of them came from six families, and more than a quarter of the volunteers were related to Parker or his wife.
The Minute Men waited on the Green as the British troops advanced. Major John Pitcairn wanted to avoid a confrontation with the Lexington volunteers and ordered his men not to shoot. They instructed the Minute Men to drop their arms and disperse. The Minute Men held fast, and also held their restraint at Parker’s orders. Parker, recognizing the odds and deciding that by standing fast and not obeying the order to drop their arms the Minute Men had made a statement, told his men to disband.
As they disbanded, a shot rang out — no one is sure from where — and the Revolutionary War was underway. The seasoned British troops began firing on the Minute Men as they fled. Only a few of the Minute men were able to fire. Most fled into the night. By the time British officers regained order, eight Minute Men were dead and nine lay wounded.
Word of what happened at Lexington reached Concord before the British troops arrived. Two hundred and fifty Minute Men mustered there and decided to take the battle to the British. They marched out to meet the army’s advance; but when they saw the British contingent, they turned and marched smartly back to town.
British troops secured two bridges and some nearby hills then spread out in town to confiscate arms and gunpowder. They set fire to the few armaments they found, hacked down the Liberty pole and set it and some gun carriages and other tools on fire.
Nearby, more Minute Men were joining the contingent that waited from concealment just out of town. Seeing the smoke, they deduced the British were burning their homes and became incensed. They decided to act, but their officers told them to advance on a bridge and hold their fire until the British fired.
Again a shot rang out that started the battle. Minute Men drove the British from the bridge and sent them fleeing. The British tried an orderly retreat but they soon learned their tactic was not good for fighting out in the open. The Minute Men hid behind walls and trees and sniped from houses as the British soldiers retraced their steps toward Lexington.
Meanwhile, Parker told his drummer to sound the call for his soldiers to fall in. Those not too injured from the early morning encounter quickly gathered and began moving toward Concord. They met the retreating British army and fired on it. The British broke ranks and ran toward Lexington. They were stopped only when a group of British officers managed to get ahead of them and draw bayonets and threaten to kill them if they ran another step. British reinforcements met them at Lexington and helped to cover their retreat. They were harassed by snipers most of the trip back to Charlestown.
At the end of the day, 73 British soldiers were dead and 174 were wounded. Americans suffered 49 dead and 39 wounded. The battle of Lexington and Concord was a humiliating defeat for the British. It rallied Americans so that by the next day more than 20,000 American men showed up to take up the cause of independence.
Account taken from Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, by A.J. Langguth.