The American Revolutionary War’s Mustering of the Minute Men, April 1775

On April 19, 1775, the opening battles of the American Revolutionary War occurred in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts and along the road from those villages to Boston.

Minute Man statue, Lincoln, MA

Battles There was no organized colonial army at the time. Instead, the Americans who fought the British that day were “Minute Men,” who were volunteers committed to being ready to fight on a minute’s notice and who had been mustered into service that day by warnings that the British were coming.

A concrete example of the mustering of the Minute Men can be seen by what happened that same day (April 19th) in Leicester, Massachusetts, a village 30 miles west of Concord.

Early that same afternoon a messenger on horseback arrived in Leicester. He stopped in front of the blacksmith shop of the captain of the local unit of the Minute Men. The messenger yelled, “The war has begun! The British are marching to Concord!”[1]

The blacksmith immediately stopped working on the ploughshare he was sharpening. He grabbed his loaded musket. He rushed into the street and fired the musket in the air. This was the agreed upon signal for the Minute Men to assemble. Some who previously had been appointed as messengers went through the town and adjoining countryside to spread the news.

By 4:00 p.m. all the Minute Men had assembled in the town Common. No one had a uniform. But everyone had his musket, powder horn and bullet pouch along with a few necessities. Among those present were Perley Brown (my maternal fifth great-grandfather) and two of his brothers–John and William. They all apparently enlisted for eight months or through the balance of the year of 1775.

Watching the Leicester men assemble were family and friends. To provide the men with shot for their muskets the lead weights of one family’s valuable clock were melted down and cast into bullets. Rev. Conklin, the local clergyman, prayed for their protection and safe return. The mother of the unit’s captain approached him to give him a hug. He responded by saying for all to hear, “Mother, pray for me, and I will fight for you.”

Just before sundown that same day, 80 Minute Men from the town, including the three Brown brothers, marched east approximately 24 miles through Worcester to Marlborough, Massachusetts, a village of 1,500 people. There upon hearing the news that the British had retreated to Boston, they and colleagues from other towns stopped for a short sleep.

The next day (April 20th) they marched another 21 miles to Watertown, Massachusetts and stopped for a night’s rest. The following day (April 21st) they completed their march when they arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was five miles to the east and which had been selected as the staging center for the American forces.

This tale of the mustering of the Leicester men undoubtedly was repeated throughout Massachusetts and the rest of New England for the Leicester men were joined in Cambridge by thousands of other Minute Men. One of the other Minute Men was another Brown brother, Benjamin Brown, from the village of Rowe in northwestern Massachusetts near present-day Vermont.

As we will see in a subsequent post, these men then participated in the Siege of Boston from April 20, 1765 through March 17, 1776.

[1] Carol Willits Brown, William Brown–English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts, and His Descendants c. 1669-1994 at 6, 11-27, 31-41, 50, 308-12(Gateway Press; Baltimore, MD 1994); Emory Washburn, Topographical and historical sketches of the town of Leicester in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at 49-50 (1826); Emory Washburn, Historical sketches of the town of Leicester, Massachusetts, during the first century from its settlement at 296-99(1860).

The American Revolutionary War’s Battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, April 19, 1775

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.

Map of British Troop Movements, April 19, 1775

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.

Paul Revere, Ride,           April 18, 1775

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.

Battle of Lexington,        April 19, 1775

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.

Battle at Concord North Bridge, April 19, 1775

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.”