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The Battles of Lexington and Concord - This Day in History - April 19, 1775

Posted on Thursday, April 20, 2023

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On This Day in History, April 19, 1775, The Battles of Lexington and Concord Were Fought

The Battle of Lexington

The Battles of Lexington and Concord occurred on April 19, 1775 and are today viewed as the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. It is important to keep in mind however that in April of 1775 when the battles occurred, the approval of the Declaration of Independence was still nearly fifteen months away. No one in America had declared war against the British and no one expected a war would suddenly start, seemingly including those who participated in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The Battles of Lexington and Concord were not planned, they were the explosive result of the British occupation of Boston and years of increasing tensions.

The British Military presence in Boston dated to the 1760s, but things became much more complicated following the Boston Tea Party. The British punished Boston and attempted to warn the rest of the American Colonies with their passage of the Coercive Acts in 1774 (known as the Intolerable Acts in the Colonies). The acts disbanded the existing Massachusetts government and disturbed the self-governance that Massachusetts had established nearly a century earlier. Instead of appointing their own leaders, Massachusetts was now under the direct control of the British Crown who appointed Thomas Gage to serve as the Military Governor of Massachusetts. Gage was able to use the assembled British military power in Boston to control the capital city, but he did not have the manpower to control the rest of the Colony. Massachusetts colonists set up a provisional government who took de facto control of the rest of Massachusetts. 

Colonists throughout the rest of Massachusetts began to start and train militias and began assembling military stockpiles. In response, Gage sent British troops stationed in Boston out into neighboring areas in attempts to disrupt their activities and seize military supplies. Very early in the morning of April 19th, 1775 about 700 British soldiers left Boston with orders to find and capture military supplies that Colonists were hiding in the town of Concord. Paul Revere's famous midnight ride had alerted the people of Concord of the impending arrival of British Troops and colonists removed their supplies to hide in neighboring towns.

Meanwhile militia troops began to assemble along the route from Boston to Concord in a show of force. As the British marched through Lexington, 80 Militiamen had already assembled. As the British aproached the militiamen, an order was given to the Americans to lay down their arms and disperse. The Americans refused to lay down their arms but the men started to slowly disperse. But then, out of nowhere came "the shot heard round the world." No one knows who fired first, but that first shot changed everything and both sides began firing upon each other. When the smoke had cleared 8 colonists were dead and the British continued their march toward Concord.

In Concord about 250 militiamen were awaiting the arrival of the British when they were stunned to hear the news that there was fighting in Lexington and militiamen were dead. Rather than remain in town where they had planned to simply stand and demonstrate their numbers, the militiamen quickly decided that they had to prepare to fight. Because of their significant manpower disadvantage the colonial troops repositioned to a hill overlooking town. The British arrived in Concord and began setting upon their task of finding and destroying military stockpiles. As they worked, however, thousands of Massachusetts Militiamen from neighboring towns converged on Concord upon hearing the news of the Battle of Lexington. These militiamen joined the 250 Concord Militiamen already positioned there and they soon significantly outnumbered the British troops. As the British attempted to leave Concord, fighting once again broke out. The British were forced to flee back to Boston, sustaining heavy casualties as they did, as over 70 British soldiers died and hundreds more were wounded.

As the British returned to Boston, thousands of Colonists from across Massachusetts continued to rush into the area. Boston was soon surrounded as Colonists blocked off any means for the British forces stationed in Boston to leave the city by land. This was the beginning of the Siege of Boston, a many months long standoff.

What happened next was now in the hands of the Second Continental Congress, who had already planned to meet in Philadelphia in May of 1775. To many within the Congress, the fighting outside of Boston was an unwelcome complication. Would Colonists in other states support Massachusetts and join their fight against the British? It took over a year, but they would eventually declare their Independence, retroactively making the Battles of Lexington and Concord the first battles in what became an eight year war against the British.


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