Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord Hymn
On April 19th, 1775 the world changed forever. Tensions between the British Government and its American Colonies had reached the boiling point. For some time British forces had been making forays into the countryside to confiscate weapons and ammunition, and American militia units had been turning out to observe, taunt, and intimidate the Crown’s troops. On this particular morning in Lexington, Massachusetts, the tensions metastasized into violence. As British troops maneuvered to outflank and disperse the Lexington Training Band, which had formed up on Lexington Common, shots rang out. In short order eight Americans were dead and one British soldier was wounded. Word of the shooting spread like wildfire, and soon militia units were converging on Concord, the British objective, and the road from Concord to Boston.
As the British troops were searching the Concord area, a British light infantry force guarding the North Bridge found itself confronted by a strong militia force, which advanced on the bridge. The shooting at Lexington might have been an accident, but what happened next at Concord was deliberate. A few shots were fired, and then a British captain ordered his men to fire on His Majesty’s subjects. Then, in the first formal act of rebellion, a Massachusetts militia officer ordered his men to fire on the King’s troops. That volley was the shot heard round the world. British troops fell, the light infantry retreated, and Great Britain and its colonies were at war.
In short order the countryside was aflame. Militia forces ambushed the British time and again; they pursued the British column and harried its flanks. At times British soldiers stood back-to-back, loading and firing at fleeting figures and puffs of smoke on either side of the road. At times the British troops simply ran for their lives. By the time the British made it back to Lexington they were in near panic: their ammunition was nearly exhausted and they had miles yet to go. Mercifully for them, a British brigade had marched to their relief and occupied the hills near Lexington. The combined force then battled its way back to Boston, fighting the entire way. As the sun set, campfires sprung up on the hills overlooking Boston and Cambridge: the British garrison was under siege.
When the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean on April 19th, 1775, it had shed its light on a peaceful countryside. It would be eight years before peace was fully restored in the newborn United States of America.
You can learn about Lexington and Concord from the participants’ perspective in This Glorious Cause.
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