As mentioned in a prior post, British relations with her American colonies deteriorated during the period from 1765 through 1775. Especially towards the end of that period, the colonists were organizing militias, training the Minute Men in how to wage war and gathering and storing munitions and weapons. One of the places for such storage was Concord, Massachusetts, which was about 20 miles northwest of Boston.
It was no secret to the British that the Americans were preparing for war, and the British had secret intelligence that colonial weapons and munitions were being stored in Concord.
Hoping to surprise the Americans, on the evening of April 18, 1775, a British infantry force of 700 men boarded naval barges in Boston to cross the Charles River to Cambridge, about three miles to the west. Around 2:00 a.m. early the next morning, the troops started marching to Concord, approximately 17 miles to the west of Cambridge. Their objective was to seize and destroy the colonial munitions and arms stored at Concord.
The colonists, however, had intelligence that the British were going to try to seize the weapons and munitions in Concord, and the colonists previously had moved most of those materials to another location. Moreover, the colonists had intelligence on the night of April 18th that the British troops were going to make that attempt the next day.
This prompted the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere and another rider (William Dawes) to warn the militias in Lexington and Concord and others in towns along the way that the British were coming.
At sunrise on the 19th the British troops entered Lexington, a village of about 800 people. In the village common green, 80 or so Minute Men stood at attention in plain sight in parade-ground formation just watching the British troops. The British troops turned and advanced toward the Minute Men. There were shouts and confusion when one shot rang out by whom no one knows for certain. This precipitated other shots, and eight militia men were killed and ten were wounded.
The American Revolutionary War had started.
The 700 British troops soon reformed into a column and commenced their march to Concord, a village of about 1,500 people approximately seven miles to the west. As they approached Concord, about 250 militia men saw that they were heavily outnumbered and retreated, and the town was surrendered to the British. The British found three large cannons and smashed them so they could not be moved.
At the North Bridge over the Concord River just outside the town, a contingent of militia men outnumbered the British troops. Gunfire erupted, and the British troops abandoned their wounded and fled to the safety of another contingent of British soldiers. Around noon the British left Concord.
On their return march to Lexington, the British were ambushed and suffered losses as the number of militia men kept growing with reinforcements from other towns. Around 2:30 p.m. a full brigade of 1,000 British soldiers with artillery arrived to reinforce and rescue their retreating comrades. After a short rest at Lexington, they resumed their return march to Boston around 3:30 p.m. All along their return they were attacked by militia men, many firing their muskets from behind trees and stone fences.
The battles at Lexington and Concord were not major ones in terms of tactics or casualties. But they were important in showing the ability of the colonists to fight and the failure of the British to enforce the Intolerable Acts, capture weapons and munitions and prevent hostilities from the colonists.
In 1837 Ralph Waldo Emerson commemorated the fight at Concord’s North Bridge in his “Concord Hymn” with these words:”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.”