September 11 was proclaimed Patriot Day in 2003 by President Bush. It should not be confused with Patriot’s Day, April 19, commemorating the start of the Revolution. On that day, what was meant to be a quiet confiscation of arms ended up instead as a violent clash of arms.
The Ministry in London had ordered Gen. Thomas Gage in Boston to quell rebellion in Massachusetts by capturing Samuel Adams and John Hancock, but Gage chose instead what he thought would be a less incendiary step, the capture of arms at Concord. The expedition, meant to be secret, was well known to the colonials and was hampered by hours of delay.
As British soldiers moved toward the Boston waterfront on the evening of April 18, British officers rode the Bay Road west from Boston on patrol. After the officers passed through Lexington, about 40 minute men gathered at Buckman Tavern on the east side of Lexington green. Seeing that all was quiet, John Parker dismissed the minute men at about 1:30 a.m. with orders to reassemble at the drum’s beat.
Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, meanwhile, had ridden from Boston between 11:30 p.m. April 18 and 12:30 a.m. April 19 to sound the alarm that the Regulars were out. Meeting west of Lexington at about 1 a.m., they were surprised by two British officers from the patrol and bolted for the woods. Revere was captured, Dawes escaped to Lexington, and Prescott made it to Concord, sounding the alarm.
At about 2 a.m., heading back east toward Lexington, the British officers and their prisoners, Revere and three scouts from Lexington captured earlier, passed the house of Josiah Nelson, a Lincoln minute man. Nelson ran into the road and said, “Have you heard anything about when the Regulars are coming out?” One of the officers said, “We will let you know when they are coming!” and struck Nelson on the top of his head, cutting a long gash. Nelson was taken prisoner but was soon released, his wife bound his wound, and he rode north to Bedford to spread the alarm.
After Prescott reached Concord, the Town House bell was rung, and the first to respond was the Rev. William Emerson. The minute men gathered at Wright’s Tavern and hid what stores had not yet been secreted.
The advance British force, led by Maj. John Pitcairn, reached Lexington Green at about 5 a.m., where Parker and his minute men waited on the green. The minute men meant only to make a show of patriot resolve, their 77 militia no match for 700 British troops. They were obeying Pitcairn’s order, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse!,” when a shot was fired, no one knows by whom. The British troops fired a volley and charged with bayonets, killing eight and wounding more.
The British marched without incident to Concord and searched houses for arms but met fierce resistance at Concord’s North Bridge. After the fight, they began a retreat to Boston that turned into a route at a place called the Bloody Angle as hundreds of minute men swarmed in from the countryside.
The British were reinforced after passing through Lexington on the way back to Boston but were still sorely outnumbered, and the bloodiest fighting occurred around Menotomy, now Arlington. They reached Boston that evening exhausted and aware that the colonials were more than a mere rabble in arms.
Concord is remembered as the first true battle of the Revolution. Its significance is preserved in stone in the Concord Bridge battle monument, dedicated on July 4, 1837, when “The Concord Hymn,” written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the grandson of the first man to respond to the town bell, was sung:
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 that seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.
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