Lexington and Concord Dates
In the days prior to the battles, Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage, heard there was a store of colonial weapons and gunpowder in Concord. Gage wanted to avoid any potential uprisings and violence, so he ordered 700 British troops to seize the arms storage. Meanwhile, Patriot spies got word of what the British were planning, and feared the British were coming after prominent Patriot leaders. Outraged, the Patriots formed a plan of their own to intercept the British and protect the colonists as well as their interests.
Some historians believe Gage's wife, Margaret, may have alerted the colonists of her husband's plans. Margaret was thought to have harbored Patriot sentiments and communicated with Patriot leader Dr. Joseph Warren. When Warren was informed of the British plans, he called on Paul Revere, William Dawes, and others, to go out and warn other known Patriots that the Regulars were coming. (Regulars was a common term for British soldiers).
Colonial Patriot groups planned ahead and instilled an alarm system of sorts for moments like these, which amounted to a network of people, plans, signals, etc., in place. Militia and minutemen had been organized and were at the ready, largely following the colonial First Continental Congress of 1774.
Revere, Dawes, Samuel Prescott, and others began alerting Colonists to be ready for the Regulars on the night of April 18 through the morning of the April 19. The poem 'Paul Revere's Ride' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalizing how Revere rode through the towns at midnight alerting the Colonists 'The British are coming'. Due to this colonial alarm system, the Patriots were able to quickly organize thousands of militia and minutemen, which lead to their victory on April 19, 1775.
Depiction of Paul Revere alerting the colonists
Location of Lexington and Concord
Lexington and Concord are both located in Massachusetts. Lexington is about 10 miles from Boston's city center and Concord is about 20 miles.
Both locations are important due to their close proximity to the city of Boston, which was a breeding ground of ideas for independence. The British continued a strong presence in Boston at this time, due to colonial unrest, so any outlying towns would be important in trying to control the overall region.
Conflict would occur in Lexington because the Colonial Militia organized a small band to stop the British from continuing their march on to Concord. After the first skirmish in Lexington was over, the British continued their march to Concord to find the arms cache. But, when they reached Concord, they were met with even more American militia forces and the realization the arms had been relocated. The route connecting the two towns is now known as the Battle Road Trail.
What Happened at Lexington and Concord
Events leading to the battles at Lexington and Concord were incited by the British desire to control and extinguish any hint of rebellion, while the Patriots sought the right to defend and, ultimately, rule themselves. These conflicting desires led to the violent events of April 19 and would be the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. Even though the events at Lexington and Concord are typically referred to as battles, they were more like skirmishes due to the length of time and overall scope of fighting in each. Lexington's skirmish lasted around 15 minutes or less. Concord's skirmish was larger and deadlier, but reportedly only lasted a few minutes. Then, the British retreated back to Boston with thousands of Patriot militiamen firing at them from all directions.
Reasons the British March on Concord
The immediate reason why the British marched on Concord was to suppress possible colonial rebellion by taking weapons from the arsenal stashed at Concord. Massachusetts Governor Gage was informed of a considerable supply of arms stored there. By the time the British arrived in Concord, the arms cache had been relocated and secured by colonial groups. The British spent a few hours searching for arms in the area but found little. Meanwhile, the Colonial or Patriot Militia and Minutemen gathered around them, with many watching from the military advantage of high ground, waiting to take action.
How the Conflict Started at Lexington
At 5 a.m. on April 19, 1775, around 77 militiamen led by Capt. John Parker waited on the town green in Lexington. They were met with around 400-700 British soldiers, led by Francis Smith and John Pitcairn. Parker ordered his men to disperse, but a shot rang out, leading to firing back and forth. The minutemen dispersed, but 8 of them died and 10 more were wounded. Only one British soldier was wounded. The British then continued their journey to Concord.
Contrary to popular belief, the messenger Paul Revere was unable to complete his ride to Concord. He was captured between Lexington and Concord by British forces, was held for a time for questioning, and was released a few hours later without his horse. The Patriots knew alerting their countrymen was too important to leave to one man. Dawes and Prescott rode other routes, escaped capture, and were able to finish alerting Colonial Militia of the impending British arrival.
Conflict at Concord
British forces arrived in Concord around 8 a.m. on April 19. For a few hours, they searched for the store of colonial arms in the area. Torching the few they found, the British created a large fire, worrying the colonists they may set fire to the whole town. The colonists were instructed to meet the British at the fortified North Bridge. British forces fired the first shot, then more shots were fired by both sides. Two colonists and three red coats died. This first shot would later be named "The shot heard 'round the world." This term was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 in his "Concord Hymn" poem. The Concord skirmish and the militiamen relentlessly firing on British soldiers on their way back to Boston would be known as "Parker's Revenge'.
Concord's skirmish lasted only a few seconds. Intimidated by the hundreds of militiamen, the British made their retreat back to Boston. During the grueling 16-mile retreat, British forces were fired upon by a reported thousands (though the actual number is unknown) of militia and minutemen. The militia hid behind trees, buildings, rock walls, and more. Their understanding of the land and potential hiding places gave them a superior military advantage. The British picked up additional reinforcements when they hit Lexington again, but that did not stop militia from firing.
Outcomes of the Battles of Lexington and Concord
Some British forces eventually escaped to their ships anchored in the waterways around Boston, particularly Charlestown Neck. They were covered by gunfire and protected by additional British troops. Colonial forces let them go, as they did not have any clear commands to move forward with an alternate plan. One commander of a fresh militia regiment reportedly told the group to let the British go on their way. The immediate aftermath was a sense of pride and confidence in Patriots in the colonies. See the table below for statistics on the battles of Lexington and Concord.
|Battles of Lexington & Concord
British retreat from Concord
After the Battles
The Patriot victory on April 19, 1775, directly led to a boost of confidence for colonists. They chanced a military move against the most powerful fighting force in the world. That day demonstrated how the Patriots were relatively organized and ready to fight against British forces. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, a Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775 with delegates from the 13 colonies. In July 1775, they tried to negotiate peace with the King of Britain. This was not accepted and on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, making the United States an independent country and a goal of the war. More men would join the Patriot army to engage in many more battles. Two major battles after Lexington and Concord included the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga.
Bunker Hill: Revolutionary War
A few short months after the battles of Lexington and Concord came the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Militiamen from neighboring colonial states made the trek to join the Patriot groups in Boston, since the British had mobilized reinforcements. Governor Gage planned to get his forces to break through Patriot siege lines around Boston. He wanted to launch attacks from the high points north and south of Boston, but Gage's plans were leaked. A group of around 1,000 Patriot soldiers got together to defend Charlestown Hill from British forces.
On June 15 and 16, Patriot forces advanced to Breed's Hill, causing British leaders to worry about the number of militiamen surrounding the hills in Boston. General William Howe orders British troops to advance on Breed's Hill on June 17. Volleys were shot back and forth, when the Patriots eventually run out of ammunition, they commenced in hand-to-hand combat. In this battle, the British were victorious and broke through Patriot lines. Even though the British secured victory, they had 1,054 casualties compared to the Patriots' 450. British forces made the decision to evacuate Boston for a time, despite their hard-won victory. Within two weeks of the Battle of Bunker Hill, George Washington was given command of the Patriot Militia, formally called the Continental Army, in Cambridge, MA.
Fort Ticonderoga, located on Lake Champlain in northern New York, served as a storehouse for weaponry. The fort was considered to have a prime location due to its waterways and proximity to Canada. Patriot soldiers wanted the fort, as it would prove advantageous for them in weaponry and strategic location, so they made necessary preparations. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys (a Patriot group from Vermont) set out to capture the fort. Benedict Arnold, a Patriot who would later defect to the British, joined Ethan Allen to lead men to take the fort.
On the night of May 9, 1775, 100 men crossed over Lake Champlain and snuck into Fort Ticonderoga by early morning on May 10. Most of the British stationed around the fort were asleep when the Patriots snuck inside. The commander of the fort surrendered fairly quickly. Patriot forces gained control over 100 cannons from the arsenal at the fort, which would be used to defend Boston against the British during the battle called the Siege of Boston. The skirmish at Fort Ticonderoga would be known as the first true American victory of the Revolutionary War, and provided much needed arms for the Patriots. This fort also served as preparation grounds for future invasions into Canada which was occupied by the British.
The Significance of the Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Lexington and Concord battles were important because they effectively led the Patriot colonists and British forces into the American Revolutionary War (April 19, 1775 to September 3, 1783) and the United States being an independent country from England. The Patriot victory influenced morale and rallied all Patriot forces in the colonies, leading to many new militia recruits. British forces learned that the colonists were serious about defending themselves and would resort to violence. They also learned that the Patriots were more organized than many had previously thought.
Second Continental Congress
Following the battles of Lexington and Concord, delegates from the thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia, PA from May 1775 through 1781 in what would be called the Second Continental Congress. During this time, the delegates organized and managed the colonial war efforts, moving incrementally towards declaring independence from Great Britain. Colonial representatives would make one final attempt to avoid full-scale war with Britain through the Olive Branch petition to King George III. In the petition, delegates stated the wrongs that needed to be righted for the rebellion to cease, and they affirmed loyalty to Great Britain. King George III asserted the colonists were traitors and declared them to be in rebellion in August 1775, paying no mind to the petition. Congress then appointed George Washington as commander of the Continental Army, officially forming the first army. The Second Continental Congress would act as the de facto national government of what would become the United States, and be responsible for making treaties, raising armies, appointing diplomats, and other duties. Another accomplishment of the Second Continental Congress was the creation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which formally declared U.S. independence from Great Britain.
The first battles of the American Revolutionary War were fought at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. American Patriot colonists fought for their right to defend themselves against the British, and the British sought to take colonial arms stores. Lexington and Concord skirmishes proved the Patriot militias and minutemen were ready, with brief notice, to fight against the British. The Patriots learned they may have a chance fighting the most powerful military force in the world. Major American Revolutionary War events following the battles of Lexington and Concord, include the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga, the Second Continental Congress, and the Declaration of Independence.