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Lexington and Concord


  • The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on April 19, 1775, were the first military clashes of the American Revolutionary War.
  • The Massachusetts militia routed the British Army forces and were soon joined by militias from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. These militias would become the core of the Continental Army.

Growing tensions leading to the American Revolution

In February 1775, British Parliament declared that the colony of Massachusetts was in a state of rebellion.
After Parliament had passed the Intolerable Acts—largely aimed at punishing Boston’s revolutionaries for the Boston Tea Party—the British government had tightened its grip on the government of Massachusetts. The royally appointed governor, Thomas Gage, had been granted broadly expanded powers, and the British had sent thousands of troops to Boston.
The Massachusetts colonial assembly responded to these provocations by directing townships to ready their militias. War was coming, and Boston’s patriots were preparing for it.
The British were preparing, too, and in April 1775, they directed Gage to disarm the rebels. Gage ordered Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith to gather 700 British Army soldiers and march to Concord, where the rebels were reportedly storing mass quantities of arms and ammunition. Their orders were to find the stash and destroy it.
The Patriots, as the anti-British rebels were known, had established a fairly effective intelligence network, and some historians even believe that Gage’s American wife, Margaret Kemble Gage, was a rebel spy. Whether or not she was the one who provided the Patriots with the information about the planned seizure and destruction of the armory at Concord, they received word of the British orders.
On April 18, Patriot Paul Revere rode to Concord and notified local militias in the area to be on the alert for the British army forces.1
Portrait of Paul Revere
John Singleton Copley, portrait of Paul Revere, 1768. Image credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The "shot heard round the world"

On April 18, Revere was warned that British Army regulars were making their way to the towns of Lexington and Concord. Having already warned the militia in Concord, which had secured the weapons supply, Revere rode quickly to Lexington to warn the townspeople of the expected British onslaught. The rebel intelligence network suggested that the British aim in Lexington was to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two of the most prominent Patriot leaders, but the size of the British army force was large enough to suggest they had bigger goals in mind.
The British soldiers and rebel militiamen raced to Lexington during the night; they confronted each other at Lexington Green—a village common area—just as the sun was rising on the morning of April 19. Captain John Parker, a veteran of the Seven Years' War, led a contingent of 80 Lexington militiamen, known as minutemen because they had to be ready to fight at a minute’s notice. Years later, one of the participants recalled Parker’s words right before the deadly skirmish: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”2
A British officer demanded that the militia disarm and disperse, and in the ensuing confusion, shots were fired. To this day, there exists considerable uncertainty over whether the militiamen or the British soldiers fired first. Regardless, the British soldiers rushed forward with their bayonets. A skirmish ensued, during which eight militiamen were killed and only one British soldier wounded.
After order was restored, the British soldiers began the march to Concord, where militias from Concord and the nearby town of Lincoln were waiting. After the British found and destroyed rebel weapons caches, they squared off against the colonial forces at the North Bridge. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the British soldiers broke rank and fled, handing the stunned colonists a victory.
Engraving depicting ranks of British soldiers marching through the town of Concord
Plate II. A view of the town of Concord, 1775. Image credit: New York Public Library Digital Collections
The militiamen proceeded to lay siege to Boston, where they were joined by militias from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. These colonial forces would be constituted as the Continental Army by the Second Continental Congress.
The American Revolutionary War had begun.3

What do you think?

In your opinion, was the Battle of Lexington really a battle? Why was it so significant?
Do you think the confrontation at Lexington and Concord made war with Britain inevitable?
What role do you think spies might have played in shaping the course of the first military clash between the British army and the colonial militias?

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