The Battles of Lexington and Concord
April 18 and 19, 1775
Concord is a village twenty miles northwest of Boston, and was the objective of a British expedition in 1775 that opened the War of Independence with the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
On April 14, 1775, General Thomas Gage 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 major militia's supply depot at Concord.
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 destroy the suplies there. But local patriots got wind of the plan and sent Paul Revere and William Dawes by seperate routes on their famous ride to spread the alarm in Lexington and Concord. After a short intermezzo in Lexington, the British officers moved on to Concord. There the Americans already had carried off most of their stores, but the British destroyed what they could (gun carriages, entrenching tools, flour and a liberty pole). At Concord's North Bridge the growing American forces inflicted fourteen casualties on a British platoon, and about noon Smith began marching his forces back to Boston. The road back had turned into a gauntlet as the embattled farmers from "every Middlesex village and farm" sniped from behind stone walls, trees, barns, houses, all the way back to Charlestown peninsula.
By nightfall the survivors were safe under the protection of the fleet and army at Boston, having lost 273 men along the way, while the Americans lost 95.
The British were to find that 1775 was to be a disastrous year. They did not appreciate the scale and difficulty of the military task facing them in America until too late, and they allowed the bulk of their forces to become bogged down in an exposed base while the British positon collapsed throughout much of Northern America. By the end of the year the British government faced the possibilities that it would lose Canada as well as the Thirteen Colonies.
For the Revolutionaries the year was marked by the succesfull hemming in of the British at Boston, a very creditable performance at the battle of nearby Bunker Hill, the creation of a national army, and the invasion of Canada. At the same time major difficulties had been revealed in the new military force, while the invasion of Canada was not to be a triumph.
The British government had decided the previous November to take a tougher line towards America, George III informed his first minister, Lord North, that: '...blows must decide wether they are to be subject to this country or independent.' General Thomas Gage, who was both Governor of Massachusetts, the most rebellious of the colonies, and commander-in-chief of the troops in North America, was ordered to use force to restore royal authority in the colony. He was instructed to arrest the leaders of the provincial Congress. In February North asked the House of Commons to declare Massachusetts in rebellion and to approve the use of troops. The ministry was confident that if there was any popular response it could not be 'very formidable', a view Gage did not share. This attitude in London not only ensured that the news of Concord and Lexington was received with great surprise, but also meant that Gage had not received the major reinforcements he had called for. Furthermore, because the government did not appreciate that the revolution would spread throughout the Thirteen Colonies, they failed to provide the assistance that royal governors elsewhere required. The British war effort in 1775 was therefore too little, too late and narrowly focussed, though had Gage been successfull in his operations near Boston the consequnces of this would have been less serious.
Concord and Lexington
Operations began with an attempt to seize a cache of arms reported to be at Concord, a town 20 miles from Boston, past the village of Lexington. Secrecy was lost and when the British reached Lexington at first light on 19 April they found about seventy militia drawn upon in two lines. Heavily outnumbered, the militia began to disperse, although not to lay down their arms, when someone, it is not clear who, fired. The shot was followed by two British volleys and the militia scattered. Concord was not such an easy proposition. The British were able to occupy the undefended town but then withdrew in the face of militia pressure.
On their route back to Lexington they suffered grieviously from sniping, their flanking maneuvers being insufficient to prevent ambushes. At Lexington a relief column under Brigadier-General Hugh Percy lessened the pressure, although there were renewed attacks on the route back to Boston. Percy reported to Gage the following day:
In fact, no one was scalped and no ears were cropped. Jeremy Lister, who was wounded on the retreat, wrote of 'general firing upon us from all quarters, from behind hedges and walls'. The news of the shedding of blood produced an outraged response throughout New England and a substantial force soon encircled the British in Boston. Poorly organized and supplied, largely dependent on their personal arms, and short of powder and ball, the Revolutionaries nevertheless benefited from the heavy British losses on 19 April, which discouraged Gage from acting untill he received reinforcements and ensured that when he did act it would be in order to improve his defensive position, not to end the encirclement or to attack futher afield. Meanwhile the Revolutionaries were entrenching their positions, one British observer, writing on 31 May, that they had strongly fortified 'every road, every pass and every hill within ten miles of Boston' so that even if the British attacked successfully their army would be decimated.
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