When 600 battle-seasoned and well-equipped soldiers and Royal Marines of the Crowne marched on Concord, they were met by a fledgling force of 77 Colonial Minutemen who had waited all night for their arrival on Lexington Green. Having been warned of the British troops’ advance by Paul Revere and the lesser-known but equally heroic William Dawes, the Minutemen kept watch until the arrival of dawn, when the British vanguard arrived.
As the King’s men approached, Captain John Parker ordered his men, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it start here.” The British did mean to have a war, and the minutemen were routed with little effort and less fanfare. The British commander, who was pleasantly surprised by the “insultingly small” size of the American force, ordered the colonists to throw down their arms and disperse, lest they be shot for treason against King George. One of the cavalry officers shouted, “Throw down your arms, ye villains, ye rebels!”
Some began to obey the order to leave, but stubbornly held on to their arms. At that point a shot was fired. Who actually fired that first shot “heard round the world” cannot be answered with any measure of certainty, but a number of historians have theorized that it was probably an American who may have fired from a hidden position — perhaps from behind a stone fence or from the nearby Buckman’s Tavern. Other shots quickly followed, and a deafening roar of musketry followed. One Minuteman, John Munroe, so heavily charged his firelock, that when he pulled the trigger the explosion blasted off a one-foot-long piece of his musket barrel. When the smoke cleared, eight Americans lay dead and 10 were wounded. One British soldier was slightly wounded.
The outmatched Minutemen retreated into the woods, and the British regulars continued their march to Concord, carrying with them arrest warrants for John Hancock and Samuel Adams, along with an order to confiscate a stockpile of weapons, powder and ball, to prevent the citizens of Concord from acting on rumors of an armed uprising.
The redcoats never found the stockpile or the fugitive Founding Fathers, but during their exhaustive search of the town, the British set fire to several cannon mounts they discovered hidden in the courthouse, catching the courthouse on fire. 450 Colonial militia under the command of Colonel James Barrett saw the smoke rising from the courthouse, and thought the British were sacking Concord.
They marched toward the North Bridge, and after coming upon 115 British soldiers guarding the bridge, they advanced by columns of two. Refusing to heed warning shots, Barrett’s men were fire upon as soon as their boots hit the bridge, killing one American. However, they did not stop advancing, and fell upon the British with such ferocity that many of the far-superior of the forces turned and fled the ensuing battle. The Revolutionary War had begun.
As it turned out, the farmers making up Barrett’s militia had learned to fight with far fewer manners and regulations during the French and Indian War than the more refined British soldiers were accustomed to. The Colonists completely devastated the British soldiers. A wounded British soldier, left behind, was savagely chopped to death with a hatchet by one of the local New Englanders.
Upon witnessing the defeat of his men, General Thomas Gage immediately dispatched a cavalry unit and artillery to relieve the besieged and beleaguered British troops.