The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14

Author: Richard Frothingham  | Date: A.D. 1775

Battle of Lexington

A.D. 1775


April 19, 1775, is memorable in American history as the day on which occurred the first bloodshed of the Revolution. The two combats of the day-that at Lexington and that at Concord-really constituted one action, which ended in a long running fight. As a single action, it is usually called the Battle of Lexington. The engagement at Concord, separately considered, is called the Battle of Concord, or the Concord Fight.

At both places, on that fateful day, "the embattled farmers" faced the troops of their own sovereign, to resist what was felt to be an unwarranted and menacing invasion of American liberties. While the soldiers of King George were doing their own loyal duty, the New England yeomen who "fired the shot heard round the world" obeyed a conviction still more compelling. Hence came the first physical struggle in what was already an "irrepressible conflict" of principle between Englishmen and their kinsmen on the American continent.

The Revolutionary war was begun on the part of the Americans for the redress of grievances for which they had exhausted all peaceable endeavors to secure a remedy. It was afterward successfully waged for independence. Repressive measures of Great Britain in the colonies began with the issuance by colonial courts of "writs of assistance." These writs authorized officers to summon assistance in searching certain premises under certain laws. In the first attempt to enforce such a writ -in Massachusetts, 1761-the policy was defeated through popular opposition, brilliantly led by James Otis, who by a single speech produced such an effect that John Adams said of the occasion: "Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born."

Later grievances were those of the Stamp Act (1765), taxes on paints, glass, etc. (1767), and the Boston Port Bill (1774), ordering the closing of the port on account of the rebellious acts of the citizens, especially in the "tea-party " of December 16, 1773, when they threw into the waters of the harbor from English ships tea valued at eighteen thousand pounds. As early as 1770 had occurred the "Boston Massacre," a collision between citizens and British soldiers, which added to earlier discontents and increased the sensitiveness to later irritations.

The first Continental Congress, in 1774, though strongly pacific, favored resistance to aggressions of the Crown. During this year and the next two Provincial Congresses met in Massachusetts, the collection of military stores was authorized, a committee of safety was created, and the "minute-men" were organized.

General Gage, the British commander in Boston, denounced these proceedings as treasonable. Parliament vainly sought to adjust the difficulties and enforce its authority. Conciliatory efforts on both sides failing, it soon became evident that a conflict of arms was at hand. By April 4, 1775, it was known in Boston that reenforcements were on their way to General Gage. Soon after their arrival he was ready for the movement with which the narrative of Frothingham, a high authority on these events, begins.

GENERAL GAGE had, in the middle of April, 1775, about four thousand men in Boston. He resolved, by a secret expedition, to destroy the magazines collected at Concord. This measure was neither advised by his council nor by his officers. It was said that he was worried into it by the importunities of the Tories; but it was undoubtedly caused by the energetic measures of the Whigs. His own subsequent justification was that when he saw an assembly of men, unknown to the Constitution, wresting from him the public moneys and collecting warlike stores, it was alike his duty and the dictate of humanity to prevent the calamity of civil war by destroying these magazines. His previous belief was that should the Government show a respectable force in the field, seize the most obnoxious patriot leaders, and proclaim a pardon for others, it would come off victorious.

On April 15th the grenadiers and light infantry, on the pretence of learning a new military exercise, were relieved from duty; and at night the boats of the transport ships which had been hauled up to be repaired were launched and moored under the sterns of the men-of-war. These movements looked suspicious to the vigilant patriots, and Dr. Joseph Warren sent intelligence of them to Hancock and Adams, who were in Lexington. It was this timely notice that induced the committee of safety to take additional measures for the security of the stores in Concord, and to order (on the 17th) cannon to be secreted, and a part of the stores to be removed to Sudbury and Groton.

On Tuesday, April 18th, General Gage directed several officers to station themselves on the roads leading out of Boston, and prevent any intelligence of his Intended expedition that night from reaching the country. A party of them, on that day, dined at Cambridge. The committees of safety and supplies, which usually held their sessions together, also met that day, at Wetherby’s Tavern, in Menotomy, now West Cambridge. Elbridge Gerry and Colonels Orne and Lee, of the members, remained to pass the night. Richard Devens and Abraham Watson rode in a chaise toward Charlestown, but, soon meeting a number of British officers on horseback, they returned to inform their friends at the tavern, waited there until the officers rode by, and then rode to Charlestown. Gerry immediately sent an express to Hancock and Adams, that "eight or nine officers were out, suspected of some evil design," which caused precautionary measures to be adopted at Lexington.

Richard Devens, an efficient member of the committee of safety, soon received intelligence that the British troops were in motion in Boston, and were certainly preparing to go into the country. Shortly after, the signal agreed upon in this event was given, namely, a lantern hung out from the North Church steeple in Boston, when Devens immediately despatched an express with this intelligence to Menotomy and Lexington. All this while General Gage supposed his movements were a profound secret, and as such in the evening communicated them in confidence to Lord Percy. But as this nobleman was crossing the Common on his way to his quarters he joined a group of men engaged in conversation, when one said, "The British troops have marched, but will miss their aim!"

"What aim ?"inquired Lord Percy.

"Why, the cannon at Concord." He hastened back to General Gage with this information, when orders were immediately issued that no person should leave town. Dr. Warren, however, a few minutes previous, had sent Paul Revere and William Dawes into the country. Revere, about eleven o’clock, rowed across the river to Charlestown, was supplied by Richard Devens with a horse, and started to alarm the country. Just outside of Charlestown Neck he barely escaped capture by British officers; but leaving one of them in a clay-pit, he got to Medford, awoke the captain of the minute-men, gave the alarm on the road, and reached the Rev. Jonas Clark’s house in safety, where the evening before a guard of eight men had been stationed to protect Hancock and Adams.

It was midnight as Revere rode up and requested admittance. William Monroe, the sergeant, told him that the family, before retiring to rest, had requested that they might not be disturbed by noise about the house. "Noise!" replied Revere; "you’ll have noise enough before long-the regulars are coming out!" He was then admitted. Dawes, who went out through Roxbury, soon joined him. Their intelligence was "that a large body of the King’s troops, supposed to be a brigade of twelve or fifteen hundred, had embarked in boats from Boston, and gone over to Lechmere’s Point, in Cambridge, and it was suspected they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord."

The town of Lexington, Major Phinney writes, is "about twelve miles northwest of Boston and six miles southeast of Concord. It was originally a part of Cambridge, and previous to its separation from that town was called the `Cambridge Farms." The act of incorporation bears date March 20, 1712. The inhabitants consist principally of hardy and independent yeomanry. In 1775 the list of enrolled militia bore the names of over one hundred citizens. The road leading from Boston divides near the centre of the village in Lexington. The part leading to Concord passes to the left, and that leading to Bedford to the right, of the meeting-house, and form two sides of a triangular green or common, on the south corner of which stands the meeting-house, facing directly down the road leading to Boston." At the right of the meeting-house, on the opposite side of Bedford road, was Buckman’s Tavern.

About one o’clock the Lexington alarm-men and militia were summoned to meet at their usual place of parade, on the Common; and messengers were sent toward Cambridge for additional information. When the militia assembled, about two o’clock in the morning, Captain John Parker, its commander, ordered the roll to be called, and the men to load with powder and ball. About one hundred thirty were now assembled with arms. One of the mesengers soon returned with the report that there was no appearance of troops on the roads; and the weather being chilly, the men, after being on parade some time, were dismissed with orders to appear again at the beat of the drum. They dispersed into houses near the place of parade-the greater part going into Buckman’s Tavern. It was generally supposed that the movements in Boston were only a feint to alarm the people.

Revere and Dawes started to give the alarm in Concord, and soon met Dr. Samuel Prescott, a warm patriot, who agreed to assist in arousing the people. While they were thus engaged they were suddenly met by a party of officers, well armed and mounted, when a scuffle ensued, during which Revere was captured; but Prescott, by leaping a stone-wall, made his escape. The same officers had already detained three citizens of Lexington, who had been sent out the preceding evening to watch their movements. All the prisoners, after being questioned closely, were released near Lexington, when Revere rejoined Hancock and Adams, and went with them toward Woburn, two miles from Clark’s house.

While these things were occurring, the British regulars were marching toward Concord. Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, at the head of about eight hundred troops-grenadiers, light infantry, and marines-embarked about ten o’clock at the foot of Boston Common, in the boats of the ships of war. They landed, just as the moon arose, at Phipps’ Farm, now Lechmere Point, took an unfrequented path over the marshes, where in some places they had to wade through water, and entered the old Charlestown and West Cambridge road. No martial sounds enlivened their midnight march; it was silent, stealthy, inglorious. The members of the "Rebel Congress" arose from their beds at the tavern in Menotomy, to view them. They saw the front pass on with the regularity of veteran discipline. But when the centre was opposite the window, an officer and file of men were detached toward the house. Gerry, Orne, and Lee, half-dressed as they were, then took the hint and escaped to an adjoining field, while the British in vain searched the house.

Colonel Smith had marched but few miles when the sounds of guns and bells gave the evidence that, notwithstanding the caution of General Gage, the country was alarmed. He detached six companies of light infantry, under the command of Major Pitcairn, with orders to press forward and secure the two bridges at Concord, while he sent a messenger to Boston for a reinforcement. The party of officers who had been out joined the detach ment, with the exaggerated report that five hundred men were in arms to oppose the King’s forces. Major Pitcairn, as he advanced, succeeded in capturing everyone on the road until he arrived within a mile and a half of Lexington Meeting-house, when Thaddeus Bowman succeeded in eluding the advancing troops, and, galloping to the Common, gave the first certain intelligence to Captain Parker of their approach.

It was now about half-past four in the morning. Captain Parker ordered the drum to beat, alarm-guns to be fired, and Sergeant William Monroe to form his company in two ranks a few rods north of the meeting-house. It was a part of "the constitutional army," which was authorized to make a regular and forcible resistance to any open hostility by the British troops; and it was for this purpose that this gallant and devoted band on this memorable morning appeared on the field. Whether it ought to maintain its ground or whether it ought to retreat would depend upon the bearing and numbers of the regulars. It was not long in suspense. At a short distance from the parade-ground the British officers, regarding the American drum as a challenge, ordered their troops to halt, to prime and load, and then to march forward in double-quick time.

Meantime sixty or seventy of the militia had collected, and about forty spectators, a few of whom had arms. Captain Parker ordered his men not to fire unless they were fired upon. A part of his company had time to form in a military position facing the regulars; but while some were joining the ranks and others were dispersing, the British troops rushed on, shouting and firing, and their officers-among whom was Major Pitcairn-exclaiming, "Ye villains! ye rebels! disperse!" "Lay down your arms!" "Why don’t you lay down your arms?" The militia did not instantly disperse nor did they proceed to lay down their arms.

The first guns, few in number, did no execution. A general discharge followed, with fatal results. A few of the militia who had been wounded, or who saw others killed or wounded by their side, no longer hesitated, but returned the fire of the regulars. Jonas Parker, John Monroe, and Ebenezer Monroe, Jr., and others, fired before leaving the line; Solomon Brown and James Brown fired from behind a stone wall; one other person fired from the back door of Buckman’s house; Nathan Monroe, Lieutenant Benjamin Tidd and others retreated a short distance and fired. Meantime the regulars continued their fire as long as the militia remained in sight, killing eight and wounding ten. Jonas Parker, who repeatedly said he never would run from the British, was wounded at the second fire, but he still discharged his gun, and was killed by a bayonet. "A truer heart did not bleed at Thermopylae."

Isaac Muzzy, Jonathan Harrington, and Robert Monroe were also killed on or near the place where the line was formed. "Harrington’s was a cruel fate. He fell in front of his own house, on the north of the Common. His wife at the window saw him fall and then start up, the blood gushing from his breast. He stretched out his hands toward her as if for assistance, and fell again. Rising once more on his hands and knees, he crawled across the road toward his dwelling. She ran to meet him at the door, but it was to see him expire at her feet."

Monroe was the standard-bearer of his company at the capture of Louisburg. Caleb Harrington was killed as he was running from the meeting-house after replenishing his stock of powder; Samuel Hadley and John Brown, after they had left the Common; Asahel Porter, of Woburn, who had been taken prisoner by the British as he was endeavoring to effect his escape.

The British suffered but little; a private of the Tenth regiment and probably one other were wounded, and Major Pitcairn’s horse was struck. Some of the Provincials retreated up the road leading to Bedford, but most of them across a swamp to a rising ground north of the Common. The British troops formed on the Common, fired a volley, and gave three huzzas in token of victory. Colonel Smith, with the remainder of the troops, soon joined Major Pitcairn, and the whole detachment marched toward Concord, about six miles distant, which it reached without further interruption. After it left Lexington six of the regulars were taken prisoners.

Concord was described in 1775, by Ensign Berniere, as follows: "It lies between two hills, that command it entirely. There is a river runs through it, with two bridges over it. In summer it is pretty dry. The town is large, and contains a church, jail, and court-house; but the houses are not close together, but in little groups." The road from Lexington entered Concord from the southeast along the side of a hill, which commences on the right of it about a mile below the village, rises abruptly from thirty to fifty feet above the road, and terminates at the northeasterly part of the square. The top forms a plain, which commands a view of the town. Here was the liberty-pole. The court-house stood near the present county-house. The main branch of the Concord River flows sluggishly, in a serpentine direction, on the westerly and northerly side of the village, about half a mile from its centre. This river was crossed by two bridges-one called the Old South bridge-the other, by the Rev. William Emerson’s, called the Old North bridge. The road beyond the North bridge led to Colonel James Barrett’s, about two miles from the centre of the town.

Dr. Samuel Prescott, whose escape has been related, gave the alarm in Lincoln and Concord. It was between one and two o’clock in the morning when the quiet community of Concord were aroused from their slumbers by the sounds of the church-bell. The committee of safety, the military officers, and prominent citizens assembled for consultation. Messengers were despatched toward Lexington for information; the militia and minute-men were formed on the customary parade-ground near the meeting-house; and the inhabitants, with a portion of the militia, under the able superintendence of Colonel Barrett, zealously labored in removing the military stores into the woods and by-places for safety. These scenes were novel and distressing; and among others, Rev. William Emerson, the patriotic clergy-man, mingled with the people, and gave counsel and comfort to the terrified women and children.

Reuben Brown, one of the messengers sent to obtain information, returned with the startling intelligence that the British regulars had fired upon his countrymen at Lexington, and were on their march for Concord. It was determined to go out to meet them. A part of the military of Lincoln-the minutemen, under Captain William Smith, and the militia, under Captain Samuel Farrar-had joined the Concord people; and after parading on the Common, some of the companies marched down the Lexington road until they saw the British two miles from the centre of the town. Captain Minot, with the alarm company, remained in town, and took possession of the hill near the liberty-pole. He had no sooner gained it, however, than the companies that had gone down the road returned with the information that the number of the British was treble that of the Americans. The whole then fell back to an eminence about eighty rods distance, back of the town, where they formed in two battalions. Colonel Barrett, the commander, joined them here, having previously been engaged in removing the stores. They had scarcely formed when the British troops appeared in sight at the distance of a quarter of a mile, and advancing with great celerity-their arms glittering in the splendor of early sunshine. But little time remained for deliberation. Some were in favor of resisting the further approach of the troops; while others, more prudent, advised a retreat and a delay until further reenforcements should arrive. Colonel Barrett ordered the militia to retire over the North bridge to a commanding eminence about a mile from the centre of the town.

The British troops then marched into Concord in two divisions-one by the main road, and the other on the hill north of it, from which the Americans had just retired. They were posted in the following manner:

The grenadiers and light infantry, under the immediate command of Colonel Smith, remained in the centre of the town. Captain Parsons, with six light companies, about two hundred men, was detached to secure the North bridge and to destroy stores, who stationed three companies, under Captain Laurie, at the bridge, and proceeded with the other three companies to the residence of Colonel Barrett, about two miles distant, to destroy the magazines deposited there. Captain Pole, with a party, was sent, for a similar purpose, to the South bridge. The British met with but partial success in the work of destruction, in consequence of the diligent concealment of the stores. Tn the centre of the town they broke open about sixty barrels of flour, nearly half of which was subsequently saved; knocked off the trunnions of three iron twenty-four-pound cannon, and burned sixteen new carriage-wheels and a few barrels of wooden trenchers and spoons. They cut down the liberty-pole, and set the court-house on fire, which was put out, however, by the exertions of Mrs. Moulton. The parties at the South bridge and at Colonel Barrett’s met with poor success. While engaged in this manner the report of guns at the North bridge put a stop to their proceedings.

The British troops had been in Concord about two hours. During this time the minute-men from the neighboring towns had been constantly arriving on the high grounds, a short distance from the North bridge, until they numbered about four hundred fifty. They were formed in line by Joseph Hosmer, who acted as adjutant. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain certainly what companies were present thus early in the day. They came from Carlisle, from Chelmsford, from Westford, from Littleton, and from Acton. The minute-men of Acton were commanded by Captain Isaac Davis, a brave and energetic man. Most of the operations of the British troops were visible from this place of rendezvous, and several fires were seen in the middle of the town. Anxious apprehensions were then felt for its fate. A consultation of officers and of prominent citizens was held. It was probably during this conference that Captain William Smith, of Lincoln, volunteered, with his company, to dislodge the British guard at the North bridge. Captain Isaac Davis, as he returned from it to his ranks, also remarked, "I haven’t a man that’s afraid to go." The result of this council was that it was expedient to dislodge the guard at the North bridge. Colonel Barrett accordingly ordered the militia to march to it, and to pass it, but not to fire on the King’s troops unless they were fired upon. He designated Major John Buttrick to lead the companies to effect this object. Lieutenant-Colonel Robinson volunteered to accompany him. On the march Major Buttrick requested Colonel Robinson to act as his superior, but he generously declined.

It was nearly ten o’clock in the morning when the Provincials, about three hundred in number, arrived near the river. The company from Acton was in front, and Major Buttrick, Colonel Robinson, and Captain Davis were at their head. Captains David Brown, Charles Miles, Nathan Barrett, and William Smith, with their companies, and also other companies, fell into the line. Their positions, however, are not precisely known. They marched in double file, and with trailed arms. The British guard, under Captain Laurie, about one hundred in number, were then on the west side of the river, but on seeing the Provincials approach they retired over the bridge to the east side of the river, formed as if for a fight, and began to take up the planks of the bridge. Major Buttrick remonstrated against this and ordered his men to hasten their march.

When they had arrived within a few rods of the bridge the British began to fire upon them. The first guns, few in number, did no execution; others followed with deadly effect. Luther Blanchard, a fifer in the Acton company, was first wounded; and afterward Captain Isaac Davis and Abner Hosmer, of the same company, were killed. On seeing the fire take effect Major Buttrick exclaimed, "Fire, fellow-soldiers! for God’s sake, fire!" The Provincials then fired, and killed one and wounded several of the enemy. The fire lasted but a few minutes. The British immediately retreated in great confusion toward the main body-a detachment from which was soon on its way to meet them. The Provincials pursued them over the bridge, when one of the wounded of the British was cruelly killed by a hatchet.

Part of the Provincials soon turned to the left, and ascended the hill on the east of the main road, while another portion returned to the high grounds, carrying with them the remains of the gallant Davis and Hosmer. Military order was broken, and many who had been on duty all the morning and were hungry and fatigued improved the time to take refreshment. Meantime the party under Captain Parsons-who was piloted by Ensign Bernier-returned from Captain Barrett’s house, repassed the bridge where the skirmish took place, and saw the bodies of their companions, one of which was mangled. It would have been easy for the Provincials to have cut them off. But war had not been declared; and it is evident that it had not been fully resolved to attack the British troops. Hence this party of about one hundred were allowed, unmolested, to join the main body. Colonel Smith concentrated his force, obtained conveyances for the wounded, and occupied about two hours in making preparations to return to Boston-a delay that nearly proved fatal to the whole detachment.

While these great events were occurring at Lexington and Concord, the intelligence of the hostile march of the British troops was spreading rapidly through the country; and hundreds of local communities, animated by the same determined and patriotic spirit, were sending out their representatives to the battle-field. The minute-men, organized and ready for action, promptly obeyed the summons to parade. They might wait in some instances to receive a parting blessing from their minister, or to take leave of weeping friends; but in all the roads leading to Concord, they were hurrying to the scene of action. They carried the firelock that had fought the Indian, and the drum that beat at Louisburg; and they were led by men who had served under Wolfe at Quebec. As they drew near the places of bloodshed and massacre they learned that in both cases the regulars had been the aggressors-" had fired the first "-and they were deeply touched by the slaughter of their brethren. Now the British had fairly passed the Rubicon. If any still counselled forbearance, moderation, peace, the words were thrown away. The assembling bands felt that the hour had come in which to hurl back the insulting charges on their courage that had been repeated for years, and to make good the solemn words of their public bodies. And they determined to attack on their return the invaders of their native soil.

Colonel Smith, about twelve o’clock, commenced his march for Boston. His left was covered by a strong flank-guard that kept the height of land that borders the Lexington road, leading to Merriam’s Corner; his right was protected by a brook; the main body marched in the road. The British soon saw how thoroughly the country had been alarmed. It seemed, one of them writes, that "men had dropped from the clouds," so full were the hills and roads of the minute-men. The Provincials left the high grounds near the North bridge and went across the pastures known as "the Great Fields,"to Bedford road. Here the Reading minute-men, under Major Brooks, afterward Governor Brooks, joined them; and a few minutes after, Colonel William Thompson, with a body of militia from Billerica and vicinity, came up. It is certain, from the diaries and petitions of this period, that minute-men from other towns also came up in season to fire upon the British while leaving Concord.

The Reverend Foster, who was with the Reading company, relates the beginning of the afternoon contest in the following manner: `A little before we came to Merriam’s hill we discovered the enemy’s flank-guard, of about eighty or one hundred men, who, on their retreat from Concord, kept that height of land, the main body in the road. The British troops and the Americans at that time were equally distant from Merriam’s Corner. About twenty rods short of that place the Americans made a halt. The British marched down the hill, with very slow but steady step, without music, or a word being spoken that could be heard. Silence reigned on both sides. As soon as the British had gained the main road, and passed a small bridge near that corner, they faced about suddenly and fired a volley of musketry upon us. They overshot; and no one, to my knowledge, was injured by the fire. The fire was immediately returned by the Americans, and two British soldiers fell dead, at a little distance from each other, in the road, near the brook."

The battle now began in earnest, and as the British troops retreated a severe fire was poured in upon them from every favorable position. Near Hardy’s hill, the Sudbury company, led by Captain Nathaniel Cudworth, attacked them, and there was a severe skirmish below Brooks’ Tavern on the old road north of the school-house. The woods lined both sides of the road which the British had to pass, and it was filled with the minute-men. "The enemy," says Mr. Foster, "was now completely between two fires, renewed and briskly kept up. They ordered out a flank-guard on the left to dislodge the Americans from their posts behind large trees, but they only became a better mark to be shot at." A short and sharp battle ensued. And for three or four miles along these woody defiles the British suffered terribly. Woburn had "turned out extraordinary"; it sent out a force one hundred eighty strong, "well armed and resolved in defence of the common cause." Major Loammi Baldwin, afterward Colonel Baldwin, was with this body. At Tanner brook, at Lincoln bridge, they concluded to scatter, make use of the trees and walls as defences, and thus attack the British. And in this way they kept on pursuing and flanking them. In Lincoln, also, Captain Parker’s brave Lexington company again appeared in the field, and did efficient service. "The enemy," says Colonel Baldwin, "marched very fast, and left many dead and wounded and a few tired." Eight were buried in Lincoln graveyard. It was at this time that Captain Jonathan Wilson, of Bedford, Nathaniel Wyman, of Billerica, and Daniel Thompson, of Woburn, were killed.

In Lexington, at Fiske’s hill, an officer on a fine horse, with a drawn sword in his hand, was actively engaged in directing the troops, when a number of the pursuers, from behind a pile of rails, fired at him with effect. The officer fell, and the horse, in affright, leaped the wall, and ran toward those who had fired. It was here that Lieutenant-Colonel Smith was severely wounded in the leg. At the foot of this hill a personal contest between James Hayward, of Acton, and a British soldier took place. The Briton drew up his gun, remarking, "You are a dead man!" "And so are you!" answered Hayward. The former was killed. Hayward was mortally wounded and died the next day.

The British troops, when they arrived within a short distance of Lexington Meeting-house, again suffered severely from the close pursuit and the sharp fire of the Provincials. Their ammunition began to fail, while their light companies were so fatigued as to be almost unfitted for service. The large number of wounded created confusion, and many of the troops rather ran than marched in order. For some time the officers in vain tried to restore discipline. They saw the confusion increase under their efforts, until, at last, they placed themselves in front, and threatened the men with death if they advanced. This desperate exertion, made under a heavy fire, partially restored order. The detachment, however, must have soon surrendered had it not in its extreme peril found shelter in the hollow square of a reenforcement sent to their relief.

General Gage received, early in the morning, a request from Colonel Smith for a reenforcement. About nine o’clock he detached three regiments of infantry and two divisions of marines, with two field-pieces, under Lord Percy, to support the grenadiers and light infantry. Lord Percy marched through Roxbury, to the tune of Yankee Doodle to the great alarm of the country. To prevent or to impede his march, the selectmen of Cambridge had the planks of the Old bridge, over which he was obliged to pass, taken up; but instead of being removed, they were piled on the causeway on the Cambridge side of the river. Hence Lord Percy found no difficulty in replacing them so as to admit his troops to cross. But a convoy of provisions was detained until it was out of the protection of the main body. This was captured at West Cambridge. According to Gordon, Rev. Dr. Payson led this party. David Lamson, a half-Indian, distinguished himself in the affair. Percy’s brigade met the harassed and retreating troops about two o’clock, within half a mile of Lexington Meeting-house. "They were so much exhausted with fatigue," the British historian Stedman writes, "that they were obliged to lie down for rest on the ground, their tongues hanging out of their mouths like those of dogs after a chase." The field-pieces from the high ground below Monroe’s Tavern played on the Provincials, and for a short period there was, save the discharge of cannon, a cessation of battle. From this time, however, the troops committed the most wanton destruction. Three houses, two shops, and a barn were laid in ashes in Lexington; buildings on the route were defaced and plundered, and individuals were grossly abused.

At this time, Dr. Warren and General Heath were active in the field, directing and encouraging the militia. General Heath was one of the generals who were authorized to take the command when the minute-men should be called out. On his way to the scene of action he ordered the militia of Cambridge to make a barricade of the planks of the bridge, take post there, and oppose the retreat of the British in that direction from Boston. At Lexington, when the minute-men were somewhat checked and scattered by Percy’s field-pieces, he labored to form them into military order. Dr. Warren, about ten o’clock, rode on horse-back through Charlestown. He had received by express intelligence of the events of the morning, and told the citizens of Charlestown that the news of the firing was true. Among others he met Dr. Welsh, who said, "Well, they are gone out." "Yes," replied the doctor, "and we’ll be up with them before night."

Lord Percy had now under his command about eighteen hundred troops of undoubted bravery and of veteran discipline: He evinced no disposition, however, to turn upon his assailants and make good the insulting boasts of his associates. After a short interval of rest and refreshment the British recommenced their retreat. Then the Provincials renewed their attack. In West Cambridge the skirmishing again became sharp and bloody and the troops increased their atrocities. Jason Russell, an invalid and a noncombatant, was barbarously butchered in his own house. In this town a mother was killed while nursing her child. Others were driven from their dwellings, and their dwellings were pillaged. Here the Danvers company, which marched in advance of the Essex regiment, met the enemy. Some took post in a walled enclosure, and made a breastwork of bundles of shingles; others planted themselves behind trees on the side of the hill west of the meeting-house. The British came along in solid column on their right, while a large flank guard came up on their left. The Danvers men were surrounded, and many were killed and wounded. Here Samuel Whittemore was shot and bayoneted, and left for dead. Here Dr. Eliphalet Downer, in single combat with a soldier, killed him with a bayonet. Here a musket-ball struck a pin out of the hair of Dr. Warren’s earlock.

The wanton destruction of life and property that marked the course of the invaders added revenge to the natural bravery of the minute-men. "Indignation and outraged humanity struggled on the one hand; veteran discipline and desperation on the other." The British had many struck in West Cambridge, and left an officer wounded in the house still standing at the railroad depot. The British troops took the road that winds round Prospect hill. When they entered this part of Charlestown their situation was critical. The large numbers of the wounded proved a distressing obstruction to their progress, while they had but few rounds of ammunition left. Their field-pieces had lost their terror. The main body of the Provincials hung closely on their rear; a strong force was advancing upon them from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Milton; while Colonel Pickering, with the Essex militia, seven hundred strong, threatened to cut off their retreat to Charlestown.

Near Prospect hill the fire again became sharp and the British again had recourse to their field-pieces. James Miller, of Charlestown, was killed here. Along its base, Lord Percy, it is stated, received the hottest fire he had during his retreat. General Gage, about sunset, might have beheld his harassed troops, almost on the run, coming down the old Cambridge road to Charlestown Neck, anxious to get under the protection of the guns of the ships-of-war. The minute-men closely followed, but, when they reached the Charlestown Common, General Heath ordered them to stop the pursuit.

Charlestown, throughout the day, presented a scene of intense excitement and great confusion. It was known early in the morning that the regulars were out. Rumors soon arrived of the events that had occurred at Lexington. The schools were dismissed, and citizens gathered in groups in the streets. After Dr. Warren rode through the town, and gave the certain intelligence of the slaughter at Lexington, a large number went out to the field, and the greater part who remained were women and children. Hon. James Russell received, in the afternoon, a note from General Gage to the effect that he had been informed that citizens had gone out armed to oppose his majesty’s troops, and that if a single man more went out armed the most disagreeable consequences might be expected. It was next reported, and correctly, that Cambridge bridge had been taken up, and that hence the regulars would be obliged to return to Boston through the town. Many then prepared to leave, and every vehicle was employed to carry away their most valuable effects. Others, however, still believing the troops would return the way they went out, determined to remain, and in either event to abide the worst. Just before sunset the noise of distant firing was heard, and soon the British troops were seen in the Cambridge road.

The inhabitants then rushed toward the neck. Some crossed Mystic River, at Penny Ferry. Some ran along the marsh, toward Medford. The troops, however, soon approached the town, firing as they came along. A lad, Edward Barber, was killed on the neck. The inhabitants then turned back into the town panic-stricken.

Word ran through the crowd that "the British were massacring the women and children!" Some remained in the streets, speechless with terror; some ran to the clay-pits, back of Breed’s Hill, where they passed the night. The troops, however, offered no injury to the inhabitants. Their officers directed the women and children, half-distracted with fright, to go into their houses, and they would be safe, but requested them to hand out drink to the troops. The main body occupied Bunker Hill, and formed a line opposite the neck. Additional troops also were sent over from Boston. The officers flocked to the tavern in the square, where the cry was for drink. Guards were stationed in various parts of the town. One was placed at the neck, with orders to permit no one to go out. Everything, during the night, was quiet. Some of the wounded were carried over immediately, in the boats of the Somerset, to Boston. General Pigot had the command in Charlestown the next day, when the troops all returned to their quarters.

The Americans lost forty-nine killed, thirty-nine wounded, and five missing. A committee of the Provincial Congress estimated the value of the property destroyed by the ravages of the troops to be: In Lexington, œ1761 15S. 5d.; in Concord, œ274 16S. 7d.; in Cambridge, œ1202 8s. 7d. Many petitions of persons who engaged the enemy on this day are on file. They lost guns or horses or suffered other damage. The General Court indemnified such losses.

The British lost seventy-three killed, one hundred seventy-four wounded, and twenty-six missing - the most of whom were taken prisoners. Of these, eighteen were officers, ten sergeants, two drummers, and two hundred forty were rank and file. Lieutenant Hall, wounded at the North bridge, was taken prisoner on the retreat, and died the next day. His remains were delivered to General Gage. Lieutenant Gould was wounded at the bridge, and taken prisoner, and was exchanged, May 28th, for Josiah Breed, of Lynn. He had a fortune of one thousand nine hundred pounds a year, and is said to have offered two thousand pounds for his ransom. The prisoners were treated with great humanity, and General Gage was notified that his own surgeons, if he desired it, might dress the wounded.


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Chicago: Richard Frothingham, "Battle of Lexington," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed June 9, 2023,

MLA: Frothingham, Richard. "Battle of Lexington." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 9 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Frothingham, R, 'Battle of Lexington' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 14. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 9 June 2023, from