The Battle of Concord and LexingtonOn April 18, 1775 British General Thomas Gage in Boston was ordered to seize a cache of arms in Concord, a small town 15 miles away, and if possible, to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two of the more outspoken rebel leaders. To accomplish this, Gage assembled approximately 700 troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith.
Maintaining strict secrecy, the troops departed Boston at Midnight on the 19th. However, the garrison was watched closely by the residents of Boston and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety had learned of Gage’s plans. By the time the troops had begun their march, Paul Revere and William Dawes were on the way to warn Hancock and Adams who were at Lexington and to alert the countryside to the coming of the British troops.
Revere reached Lexington near midnight and Dawes shortly after. Here they were joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott and all three left for Concord. Revere and Dawes were captured, but Dr. Prescott escaped by leaving the road and making his way to Concord cross-country.
The British continued marching toward Concord, but the entire countryside was on the alert by this time and the militia was waiting to meet them. The advance British troops, commanded by Marine Major John Pitcairn, arrived at Lexington at Dawn. Lexington Militia Captain John Park, knowing of Gage’s unsuccessful attempt to seize arms and ammunition at Salem several months earlier, had gathered about seventy of his men at the town common to face the British troops.
Pitcairn ordered his troops to surround and disarm the militiamen. Parker responded by ordering his men to disperse.
Then, a shot rang out. It’s unclear who fired first, but the British answered with a volley of shots. With eight killed and as many as ten wounded, the militia scattered into the woods.
After the engagement, the British discovered that Hancock and Adams had escaped, so they pushed on toward Concord. But Dr. Prescott’s warning preceded their arrival and while attempting to locate some cannons thought to be at a nearby farm, the British ran into a group of militiamen at Concord’s North Bridge.
The Americans had had more time to prepare for this encounter and when shots rang out this time, the resulting conflict was a rout. The British evacuated the bridge and moved to Concord center.
Realizing the precarious nature of his position, Smith retreated towards Boston and the real battle began. Militiamen from the neighboring area had moved toward Concord and when the British encountered the Americans they were outflanked.
The Americans fought differently from the British. Flanking the retreating column, the Americans hid behind trees and stone walls, firing on the passing troops. The British flanking maneuvers couldn’t prevent ambushes and since the Americans didn’t oblige and form a firing line, the British had next to nothing to shoot at. The British morale was destroyed and the troops broke rank on the way to Lexington.
The retreat would likely have become a catastrophe for the British but for the relief column, under Brigadier General Hugh Percy, waiting in Lexington. The Americans were dispersed by the fire from Percy’s two cannons and the British troops were collected back into ranks. Percy then led the retreat back to Boston.
As the British resumed their retreat to Boston, the Americans renewed their attacks. But with Percy commanding, the retreating troops managed to maintain their ranks and the retreat was successful.
While the Americans lost about 90 men, the British endured casualties approaching 20 percent, paying dearly for the march to Concord. But the real cost of the engagement was the resulting siege of Boston, the propaganda that the rebels obtained – prior to the conflict, only a third of the people wanted a break from Britain - and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
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