Location: Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The first major land engagement of the Revolutionary War occurred in and around Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. Following the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the British Parliament altered the Massachusetts colonial government leading to an illegal shadow government known as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to call for local militias to train for potential conflict. In response the British declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion in 1775 and occupied Boston. About 700 British regulars under the command of Lt. Colonel Francis Smith were ordered to seize and destroy rebel military supplies that were reportedly stored in Concord. However, rebel spies knew of the orders weeks in advance and made plans to warn the militia when the British moved out of Boston. Paul Revere crossed the Charles River to position himself to ride to warn the militia at Concord ahead of the British force as soon as he knew the route they would be taking. William Dawes was to take the land route over Boston Neck with the same mission. Once the signal was given by Robert Newman by hanging two lanterns in the Old North Church steeple, indicating the British were coming by sea, both Revere and Dawes took off warning militia leaders along the way until they both reached Lexington within an hour of each other. By the end of the night over 40 riders were scattering across the countryside calling for the local militias. At Lexington, Revere and Dawes warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the British plans to capture them and rode on to Concord where the supplies were hidden. In Lexington they were joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott who joined them on their ride to Concord. In Lincoln, they ran into a British squad out to stop any word from reaching Concord and ordered them to halt. Dawes turned around and escaped back to Lexington, Prescott managed to avoid the troops in the marshes that he was familiar with, but Revere was captured only to be released later to make his way back to Lexington. Prescott was able to raise the alarm in Concord at which point the militia was organized and formed on a hill outside of town. Marching through the night the British troops arrived at Lexington as the sun was rising to be met by the local militia. The local militia were greatly outnumbered and once shots were fired from the British they fell back and withdrew. The British proceeded on to Concord where they began searching all the homes for military supplies. Most of the supplies had been hidden outside of town, so the British did not find much, but what they found they destroyed according to their orders. Six company of British were ordered north of town to search the farm of Colonel Barrett where intelligence indicated the supplies were hidden. Two of these companies were tasked with holding the North Bridge while the other four companies proceeded on. The Concord and Lincoln militia had moved onto the hill overlooking the bridge when they saw the smoke in town and believing the town was being burned. The combined militia was over 400 men against the 90-95 British soldiers who had retreated to the other side of the bridge. Barrett told his men not to fire unless fired upon and ordered them to advance. By mistake the exhausted British soldiers began firing on the militia, hitting and killing two men. The militia were then ordered to return fire killing or wounding around 15 British soldiers and officers. The British broke and fled to safety in Concord, stunning the militia with their first victory over the professional British troops. They were now formally in treasonous revolt against the British government. The British formed up and began their marched retreat to Boston, however, the militia was not done with them. By now the militia had grown to over 1000 men as additional militia joined them from all around the area. For the remainder of the march back to Lexington, the British were under nearly constant attack from the militia behind trees and fences. They would fire on the British and then run to get ahead of the column to find another place to repeat the action. Significant skirmishes occurred outside Lincoln on Brooks Hill, a turn in the road now known as “Bloody Angle”. By early afternoon, the militia force had grown to over 2000 which now outnumbered the British. As they approached Lexington, they were ambushed by the Lexington militia at Fisk Hill injuring and unhorsing the two British commanders. Most of the remaining British broke and began running to Lexington. They would have likely all been captured except a relief column of 1000 British soldiers and cannon had recently arrived in Lexington and the British were able to reform. After resting the troops, they once again set out for Boston at 3:00. The militia now numbered over 4000 men against the reinforced 1700 British soldiers and the fighting continued all the way to Charlestown with major engagements at Menotomy. Once they reached Charlestown under the protective guns of the HMS Somerset, they were finally able to escape the still growing numbers of militia. Thus the Revolutionary War began with the first shots fired by the British at Lexington and the Rebels at Concord. It was also an embarrassing defeat of the British army, the greatest fighting army of the time, and growing confidence of the rebels.
1) There are two Visitor Centers at the north and south end of the Historical Park. The main one is the Minute Man Visitor Center at the south end of the park. This is where you should start when visiting the park as it has a very well done multi-media movie and a good set of exhibits giving the background leading up to the day long battle, the battle and principal historic people on both sides, and the aftermath of the battle. However, our GPS system took us to the other Visitor Center as this is where the Park offices are so we saw the whole park in reverse. This was not really a problem because nearly all of the sites relate to the retreat of the British under constant fire from growing militia forces which occurred from north to south.
2) The Visitor Center we started at was the North Bridge Visitor Center outside of Concord, Massachusetts. This Visitor Center also has a short video about the battle which gives a good overview and is located on the hill that the militia began their march on the British position at North Bridge.
3) From the Visitor Center you get a good view of the bridge and road that leads to Colonel Barrett’s farm. A short trail leads down to the bridge where there is a monument to the militia. The bridge itself is a reconstruction, since the original bridge removed a long time ago.
4) By crossing the bridge you come to the Old Manse, which is important historically for a completely different reason. The Old Manse was built in 1770 for Reverend William Emerson, grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson. From his home he witnessed the skirmish on North Bridge. In 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson moved into the house where he wrote his first draft of “Nature.” In 1842, American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne rented Old Manse and moved in with his new wife Sophia Peabody. Prior to the arrival, Henry David Thoreau planted the garden that is still maintained outside the home. The Hawthorne family lived in the house for three years. During his time he published about 20 sketches and tales.
5) The next stop on the driving tour is The Wayside where Concord militia leader Samuel Whitney lived with his family and two slaves. Later it was the home of Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) parents, Bronson and Abby. There were many lively discussions with other Concord writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Nathaniel Hawthorne also lived here where he finished his latest works. Finally, in the late 1880s, Hariett Lothrop, author of Five Little Pennies lived here and her daughter preserved the home before giving it to the NPS. Unfortunately, the home was receiving some major renovations while we were there and was closed to the pubic.
6) The driving tour then goes to the Meriam House, which is one of several “witness” homes that existed during the time of the battle. It was at this corner that the Concord and Lincoln militia would first attack the retreating British troops from both sides of the road, this beginning the day long running battle back to Charlestown. From the parking lot there is also a mile long trail that follows the old roadbed which diverges at this point from the current highway. There are interpretive signs along the trail about the life of the farmer. Although this land is owned by the NPS, they allow farmers to maintain traditional crops in the fields to give a feeling for what the countryside was like with farms instead of forests as they are today. I was interested to learn that by this point in history the family farms had already been subdivided for the children to the point that they could no longer make a living. Thus there was a great demand to move west to establish new farms, a practice that the British was not going to allow, which added greatly to the tensions of the time.
7) The next stop is Brooks Village which is the site of six homes and a tavern that witnessed the fighting. We did not stop here since all you can see are the locations and foundation stones of the homes.
8) The next stop is Hartwell Tavern, which still survives today as a witness to the fighting. Once again the old road diverges at this point from the present day highway. The old road made a hard right turn just north of the tavern with woods on one side. At this point the growing number of militia set up an ambush of the British and attacked them at what is now known as “Bloddy Angle”. There is also a short walk through the woods to a Vernal Pond that is a small depression that retains water through the spring and therefore is an important habitat for frogs and salamanders.
9) The next place to stop is the site where Paul Revere was captured during the previous night while he, Dawes, and Prescott were trying to make their way to warn Concord. When ordered to stop by the British patrol, Dawes took off back to Lexington, Prescott headed for the marshes that he knew well, and Revere attempted to make it to the woods to the west. Of the three, Revere did not escape, but was captured by the British although they let him go after questioning to walk back to Lexington.
10) The final stop on the driving tour is at the Minute Man Visitor Center. From here you can access John Nelson, Josiah Nelson, and Thomas Nelson Jr., homesites and Jacob Whittemore’s House which has survived the years as another witness to the fighting. You can also walk over to The Bluff from which the Lexington militia set up an ambush of the British late in the afternoon. This ambush killed or unhorsed the two remaining officers and caused the British to literally run all the way to Lexington. They would have likely continued to run or been captured, except the British had sent reinforcements that met them at Lexington allowing them to rest and regroup before attempting to once again retreat towards Charlestown. After viewing the movie in the Visitor Center, we decided not to walk up to The Bluff as it was too late in the day.