Golden Nuggets from U. S. History
The Blue Quill Series
The Old North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts
On April 14, 1775, General Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of British forces in the colonies and Governor of Massachusetts, received secret orders from the Earl of Dartmouth to proceed against the 'open rebellion' that existed in the colony, even at the risk of conflict. Gage decided to move quickly against the militia's major supplies believed to be in Concord.
Gage's personal spy, Benjamin Church, was keeping the British well informed on the activities of the rebels but what is not well documented is the source of information flowing to the Sons of Liberty rebel organization which included patriot leaders John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, AND Benjamin Church. The Sons of Liberty learned of the secret order from the Earl BEFORE Gage received it!
On the night of April 18, Lt. Col. Francis Smith and Maj. John Pitcairn of the marines gathered 700 men and set out for Lexington and Concord to arrest rebel leaders and destroy rebel supplies. Local patriots got wind of the plan and sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous ride to spread the alarm in Lexington and Concord.
Lack of secrecy was apparent when the British reached Lexington at first light on April 19, and found about seventy militia formed into two lines. Heavily outnumbered, the militia began to disperse, although not to lay down their arms. As the two sides separated a shot was fired. The explosion was followed by two British volleys and the militia scattered. The British took their time moving through Lexington, searching for arms and supplies; then marched toward Concord.
Concord was not such an easy proposition but the British were able to occupy the town. The Americans already had carried off most of their stores, but the British destroyed what they could find in the town, -- gun carriages, entrenching tools, flour and a liberty pole -- then withdrew in the face of militia pressure.
The British knew they had not found the main cache so Col. Smith sent a detachment commanded by Captains Laurie and Parsons to the bridge crossing of the Concord River, north of town. Seven companies went to North Bridge, where they split into two groups. Captain Laurie stayed to guard the bridge with three regiments while four regiments under Captain Parsons went to Colonel Barrett's farm in search of the hidden stores.
Colonel James Barrett of Concord was the militia commander and was not at the farm. He was on Ripley Hill near North Bridge and had witnessed the activity below. He moved closer, to a field near the summit of Punkatasset Hill just above the bridge and near Elisha Jones' House. The thirsty British crossed the bridge and surrounded the well in front of the Jones House as Barrett waited for reinforcements. The British were not aware that the Jones house contained many of the stores they were seeking.
By 9:00 AM Barret's unit had swollen to nearly 400 men and Barret had spotted smoke rising from Concord. The British retreated down the hill and crossed back over the bridge. Laurie then ordered planks removed from the bridge to prevent passage by colonists. Barret sent a detachment commanded by Major John Buttrick of Concord followed by Captain Isaac Davis' Acton Minute Men toward the bridge. As the militia approached the bridge Buttrick ordered the British to stop removal of the planking. As he talked with Captain Laurie more rebels poured over the crest of the hilltop and down to the bridge. Without warning a shot rang out and Captain Davis of Acton fell mortally wounded. More shots followed from both sides. The growing American forces inflicted fourteen casualties on the British who soon withdrew. The fight lasted about three minutes.
Laurie had sent for help from Smith but it had not arrived. He led his group back toward Concord where they rejoined the others. After a long rest and consideration of the situation Smith decided to withdraw. About noon he began marching his forces back to Boston.
The long rest cost them dearly. Barret had used the time to move his main force from North Bridge to east of Concord in anticipation of a withdrawal. The road back to Boston turned into a gauntlet as embattled farmers and militia sniped from behind stone walls, trees, barns, houses, all the way back to the Charlestown peninsula.
By nightfall the survivors were safe under the protection of the British fleet and army at Boston. For the day the British lost 273 soldiers. The Americans lost 95.
The war was on.
Today, Captain Isaac Davis, the first to fall at North Bridge, is memorialized by a statue in the center of the town of Acton. -- Concord, Littleton, Boxborough, Carlisle, Westford, Lincoln, and the other Middlesex County towns who sent militia to Old North Bridge maintain memorials for those who protected the stores.
The most famous Concord in the world has a current (Jan., 2001) population of 17,076. Acton, which had the misfortune of contributing the first casualty, has a population of 17,872.
Each year April 19, is celebrated as Patriot's Day and a legal holiday in Massachusetts. The Ride of Paul Revere is re-enacted although Dr. Prescott (some claim Dawes while most of the world THINKS Revere) actually finished the ride. Who rode into Concord that night is debated in Massachusetts much like the question of Andrew Jackson's birth place in North and South Carolina. When one reads an account of the battles of Lexington and Concord it is a good idea to know where the writer is from. It has a direct bearing on who becomes the hero in the tale.
On the night of April 18, citizens by the thousands in three cornered hats line the route from mid-town Boston to the center of Concord and cheer the rider on. When the appropriately dressed rider reaches Concord center there is great jubilation. Then ticket holders walk to the Concord Armory for a night of dancing and celebration. Middlesex County citizens get first dibs on the tickets. The next morning tens of thousands from all over the world go to the Old North Bridge, now a national historic site, to witness re-enactment of the famous scene...
The hard part is recruiting people to play the role of the British soldiers.]
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