Lexington and the American Revolution


Lexington, MA

October 4th, 1999

"Listen my friends and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. On the 18 of April in '75, hardly a man is still alive who remembers that famous date and year."

Having taken the historic walk through Boston, following the movements of the British on April 18th 1775, as they crossed the George River on their way to Concord to seize weapons, we drove to Lexington where the story continued. On the road between Lexington and Concord is a National Park where the visitor's center has a multi-media presentation on the events that followed that fateful day. Col. Smith led his 700 infantrymen and two cannons away from the river hoping to slip quietly through the countryside in the dead of night and fall on Concord with surprise. Such was not to be the case. At about two o'clock on the morning of the 19th, they began the long march toward Lexington and Concord. Maj. Pitcairn, an officer of the British Royal Marines, was attached to the Expeditionary Force as second in command under Col. Smith. After the troops reached Menotomy (Arlington), it was obvious that their movements were no longer secret. Revere and Dawes had done their work well: the Countryside was alarmed, bells were ringing, warning shots were fired: and everywhere Minute Men were springing from their beds and moving out to join Militia companies. Col. Smith, fearing that his mission would be compromised sent Maj. Pitcairn forward with an advance guard of approximately 300 light infantrymen. Upon receiving the word from Paul Revere, Capt. Parker, Commander of the Minute Men in Lexington, had formed his men on the Green about one o'clock on the morning of the 19th. However, as he received no confirmation of Revere's earlier message, he dismissed his troops with the warning that they should reassemble at "the beat of a drum". Many of the men retired to Buckman's Tavern where they waited out the decisions of the night. Around 4:30 in the morning, Capt. Parker got confirmation that the British infantry was approaching Lexington. With the British within earshot, he ordered the drum roll "call to arms". The Minute Men came running with musket in hand, as Sergeant Munrowe formed them into two ranks on the far edge of the Common Green in the center of the town. Major Pitcairn interpreting the drum beat as a challenge to do battle, halted his troops and ordered them to load and prime their weapons. This accomplished, he moved them at a double-quick march directly toward the Green and the center of the Town. As the British troops approached the Common, it was obvious that the Minute Men did not intend to permit them to continue on their mission unopposed. Major Pitcairn moved the Red Coats onto the Green directly in front of the men. He commanded the Patriots to lay down their arms and disperse. Capt. Parker, called to his men, "Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here." Two more times, the English Major repeated his order to disperse. Finally, Capt. Parker, realizing the extent to which he was outnumbered, ordered his men to fall back. For the most part they obeyed; however a handful of diehards remained in the line and faced the massive scarlet wave with weapons at rest. The next several seconds altered the lives of all who were present as well as the rest of the world. A shot rang out. Later all would conclude that it was, without a doubt, the discharge of a musket. The later evaluations would also conclude that neither the front ranks of the British infantrymen or the remaining Minute Men were responsible. It would become forever known as "the shot heard round the world". It should be noted that very few, if any, person from either side had ever fired a shot in combat. To date, the precise location or perpetrator of that shot, be he infantry or Minute Man, has never been discovered. The British reaction to that infamous shot was instantaneous. The front rank lowered their muskets and without sanction or command fired into the remaining Minute Men. Having done this, an element of the front rank, with "fixed bayonet" charged the remaining Minute Men, bayoneting many of those still standing. The Minute Men were not without response as several of them got off shots before they died. Maj. Pitcairn, outraged by the conduct of his troops drove his horse into the line of fire, and turning on his own troops repeatedly ordered "cease fire". It was over as fast as it had started. As Maj. Pitcairn review the carnage, he noted that an infantryman had been shot in the leg, and another in the hand. At the other end of the field lay 18 bodies, eight dead and ten wounded. As I stood on the grass where the Minute Men lay on that fateful morning, I had to wonder; if the Major had known of the consequences of the days action, would he have chosen another course? I wondered if he thought about the impact of the event, as he mustered his troops and marched off the green in route to Concord to complete his assigned duties. This thought persisted as I continued to Concord. With each succeeding stop, I found myself perusing the literature or asking the Ranger, guide, or attendant the same question, "Did both Capt. Parker and Maj. Pitcairn survive the remaining three days of this historic incident? But that's another story.

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