Patriots’ Day

 

Thursday marked the 244th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. On the night of April 18, some 700 British regulars were dispatched from Boston to seize powder and arms belonging to the Massachusetts militia, then believed by the British authorities to be stored in Concord. Warned ahead of time, the Colonial militia commanders had the weapons and stores moved to prevent their capture by the British Army.

Approaching Concord by way of Lexington, the British troops encountered a company of 77 militiamen formed up on the Lexington commons. The British commander elected to draw up his own forces and engage the Massachusetts men. It is unclear which side fired the first shot. What is uncontested is that the British fired several massed volleys of musket fire into the shattered militia ranks. Given contemporary infantry tactics, it is surprising that the British commander would have made repeated volleys rather than advancing with bayonets (the preferred infantry close combat technique of the era). It is doubtful that 70 or so Massachusetts militia would have stood their ground against ten times as many charging British bayonets.

After the threat posed by the Lexington militia had been eliminated, the British resumed the march to Concord. When they arrived, they discovered that the arms they had been sent to capture were mostly gone. What stores were found were burned. The militia of Concord had prudently withdrawn into over-watch positions in the terrain surrounding the British force. When the burning stores gave the appearance that the British might burn the whole town, the militia began to engage with musket fire from what covered and concealed positions as were available, close enough to the British soldiers to be effective. (It is worth noting that as yet, long range rifle fire was not a factor in these battles. The militiamen had to get to within 60 or so yards to be able to bring semi-accurate fires upon the British.)

Repeatedly stung by musket fire from an enemy force that did not present a coherent body of troops to engage, order and discipline with the British ranks quickly broke down. The supposedly well-disciplined British regulars began to panic, running in a disorganized mob back towards Boston, some 18 miles away. Throughout the day, small bands of militia would follow them, maintaining contact, keeping up a steady stream of harassing musket fire. This denied the British officers any opportunity to re-form their ranks and then engage the militia forces tormenting them.

Late in the day, reinforcements from Boston met the panicked British, and some order was reestablished. However, all that could be done by then was to continue the withdrawal back into secure lines of the British garrison. The finest, best equipped and most well-trained army in the world at that time had been defeated by a body of semi-trained (at best), self-armed militia…all over the issue of whether or not the government had the right to seize the guns and powder legally belonging to the citizenry.

Happy Patriots’ Day!

Published in History
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There are 15 comments.

  1. Hoyacon Member
    By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
    Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
    Here once the embattled farmers stood
    And fired the shot heard round the world.
    The foe long since in silence slept;
    Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
    And Time the ruined bridge has swept
    Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
    On this green bank, by this soft stream,
    We set today a votive stone;
    That memory may their deed redeem,
    When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
    Spirit, that made those heroes dare
    To die, and leave their children free,
    Bid Time and Nature gently spare
    The shaft we raise to them and thee.
    –Ralph Waldo Emerson
    • #1
    • April 19, 2019, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher

    I remember reading that the return to Boston started in good order, but as the day progressed the situation deteriorated, particularly as the American penchant for shooting officers and non-comms first began to make its effects felt.

    • #2
    • April 19, 2019, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    I have heard it described as a rolling “Rural Riot” 

    It shows just how fast the situation can fall apart in the face of a people who refuse to abide your conquest. 

    • #3
    • April 19, 2019, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Hoyacon Member

    Worth ten bucks:

    The Road To Concord

    • #4
    • April 19, 2019, at 10:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Percival (View Comment):

    I remember reading that the return to Boston started in good order, but as the day progressed the situation deteriorated, particularly as the American penchant for shooting officers and non-comms first began to make its effects felt.

    If a British relief force had not rescued the panicked soldiers retreating from Concord by meeting them at the Lexington Green, the entire column might have been wiped out. Even with that there was still much hard fighting as the retreat continued through Lexington and Arlington (including hand to hand in the latter town). David Hackett Fisher has a wonderful account of the tactics used by the Americans that day in Paul Revere’s Ride.

    • #5
    • April 19, 2019, at 11:11 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Postmodern Hoplite Member
    Postmodern Hoplite Post author

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Worth ten bucks:

    The Road To Concord

    Done!

    • #6
    • April 19, 2019, at 11:42 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. MarciN Member

    I’ve stumbled upon bits of that story here in the mid-Cape.

    First, in a small room behind the old fire station, preserved for posterity, there is an old printing press. It’s really small. It could print two sides of a letter-size sheet of paper. It was part of a network of “newspapers” across the commonwealth that was responsible for keeping citizens organized against the Brits.

    Then I saw a small plaque in our town manager’s office commemorating the gentlemen from Yarmouth who served with the Massachusetts Militia at Lexington and Concord.

    I was surprised to see this. Yarmouth is 92 miles away from Concord if you take modern highways to get there. In the 1770s, depending on whom you ask, horses could be counted on to carry a mounted soldier somewhere between 30 and 50 miles a day. How could the Yarmouth militia members have been there in Concord that day?

    I think the answer is in that printing press. I think the Massachusetts colonists were more organized than it would seem from some historical accounts. They had to have known this battle was coming.

    This interesting article tells the story of how the Revolution came together on Cape Cod.

    • #7
    • April 19, 2019, at 11:54 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. The Reticulator Member

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the answer is in that printing press. I think the Massachusetts colonists were more organized that it would seem from some historical accounts. They had to have known this battle was coming. 

    I don’t know about the particular detail you mention, but I think Kevin Phillips agrees with you in his book, 1775: A Good Year for Revolution.

    • #8
    • April 19, 2019, at 12:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Worth ten bucks:

    The Road To Concord

    Done for June Beach Reading

    • #9
    • April 19, 2019, at 12:18 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. The Unreasonable Man Thatcher

    Of course it was celebrated on Monday, April 15th this year. Its always celebrated on Monday in New England, with the running of the Boston Marathon and then a Red Sox home game with early start (11 am). Its a great day to be a Bostonian.

    • #10
    • April 19, 2019, at 2:01 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Front Seat Cat Member

    Just an excuse to get a day off work and watch a grueling 26.2 mile race – true story:

    My friend Dina’s sister, a US astronaut was on board the International Space Station for 7 months one year during the race – they have a tread mill up there but you have to be strapped on and wear weights – it’s mandatory to maintain muscle tone and have a strict work out schedule. Of course they are already in great shape. So they both trained, and Dina challenged her sister to run the race, Dina at the real 26.2 mile marathon and her sister on the ISS. Dina won the race by 10 minutes!

    • #11
    • April 19, 2019, at 5:23 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. Mim526 Member

    Really enjoyed this trip down American History lane, @postmodernhoplite. Thanks for posting.

    Broadcaster John Batchelor, a lover of America(n) history and fighting cancer himself, tweeted today of Lexington/Concord:

    Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

    • #12
    • April 20, 2019, at 2:46 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Percival Thatcher

    Mim526 (View Comment):

    Really enjoyed this trip down American History lane, @postmodernhoplite. Thanks for posting.

    Broadcaster John Batchelor, a lover of America(n) history and fighting cancer himself, tweeted today of Lexington/Concord:

    Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

    Batchelor is quoting Winston Churchill. Batchelor is great.

    • #13
    • April 20, 2019, at 3:40 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Cow Girl Thatcher

    I just finished a unit on the American Revolution with my 5th graders. I’ve visited Boston, and hiked the historic trail. So I really enjoyed teaching this to my Nevada students, none of whom have been east of the Mississippi. They got quite excited about the whole thing. I made it a timeline of events. There are some great videos on YouTube that last about 10 minutes, and between those, and some other materials I have, we learned a lot! My students got quite fired up about the injustices from Britain. It is very satisfying to help my students understand why America is unique. These students’ families are from Central America, South America, Mexico, Viet Nam, China, the Philippines, and yes, generations of Americans, both white and black. I’m sure my enthusiasm for the topic also helps. Thanks for some more great information for me!

    • #14
    • April 20, 2019, at 4:07 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  15. Fritz Member

    Cow Girl (View Comment):

    I just finished a unit on the American Revolution with my 5th graders. I’ve visited Boston, and hiked the historic trail. So I really enjoyed teaching this to my Nevada students, none of whom have been east of the Mississippi. They got quite excited about the whole thing. I made it a timeline of events. There are some great videos on YouTube that last about 10 minutes, and between those, and some other materials I have, we learned a lot! My students got quite fired up about the injustices from Britain. It is very satisfying to help my students understand why America is unique. These students’ families are from Central America, South America, Mexico, Viet Nam, China, the Philippines, and yes, generations of Americans, both white and black. I’m sure my enthusiasm for the topic also helps. Thanks for some more great information for me!

    Let ten thousand such lessons bloom across this great land!!!

    • #15
    • April 21, 2019, at 6:29 PM PDT
    • 1 like