This is the tale of intrigue you perhaps never heard behind the battle that morning of April 19, 1775. Rebellious English colonists had been preparing for this day for months. On February 1st the Second (illegal) Massachusetts Provincial Congress, with John Hancock presiding, called for the rebellion’s growing military supplies to be gathered and stored in Concord. By March 9th General Gage, Massachusetts’ Military Governor, had a complete list of quantities and types of weapons stored there, and where exactly each item was hidden. Many weapons were stored on the farm of Colonial Militia Col. James Barrett.
On March 20th Gage sent two British soldiers in disguise to Concord to meet with those citizens loyal to king and country to plan the route for a military excursion to destroy the weapons and military supplies. They dined and spent the night with Daniel Bliss, a prominent lawyer and son of the former minister of the village church, First Parish in Concord. Concord had been turned into an armed camp, with fourteen pieces of cannon, a large magazine of powder and cartridges, and ten men standing guard over the town at night. Midway through dinner Bliss was informed by a neighbor that he would be run out of town if he was still there in the morning. Mr. Bliss fled to Boston and would never be seen in Concord again.
On April 2nd a ship arrived in Marblehead carrying word of secret orders being delivered to General Gage to arrest the rebel leaders and to dispatch a military force to confiscate the weapons and supplies. The Provincial Congress ordered Paul Revere to establish a network of spies and rebel look-outs to monitor troop movements. John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and most known rebels in Boston fled to the countryside. Hancock and Adams moved in with Hancock’s kin Rev. Jonas Clarke near Lexington Green.
So, when 766 British regulars set out after dark on April 18, with secret orders to arrest Hancock and Adams and capture the weapons in Concord, nobody was surprised. The rebel minutemen militias had been training for this day for weeks. In March the British spies had mapped the route over the frozen terrain, but now the soldiers endured a miserable seventeen-mile forced night march through the muck and marshes of New England during mud season. Riding a little ahead of them Paul Revere warned Hancock and Adams so around 3:30 am they escaped by carriage to the relative safety of Woburn.
Late into the night rebel riders were arousing local militia even while the supplies were being quietly spirited out to more remote farms for safe keeping. You can imagine the frustration of the military officers as they arrived on Lexington Green around 5 am, not only to find the rebel leaders escaped, but also Lexington militia defiantly armed and standing there. A shot rang out, a skirmish ensued, and eight rebels lay dead, with another ten wounded. The British troops must have been even more frustrated as they approached Concord and heard the First Parish church bell ringing out the alarm of their arrival.
The British troops entered Concord about 7:30 am. About 150 rebels from Concord, Lincoln and Acton were already standing on the ridge above town where they had hoisted a rebel liberty flag. The British troops quickly captured the ridge without shots being fired. The greatly outnumbered rebels fell back across the North Bridge to take up their positions on Punketasset Hill. The soldiers secured the bridge and searched for the now non-existent military supplies. It might have ended there. But it didn’t.
The tired troops found very little weaponry in town so in frustration began burning some empty cannon carriages and other objects which the April winds whipped to soaring flames threatening to set the whole town on fire. The rebels on Punkataset Hill saw what looked like the town going up in flames. And the militias of Bedford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Westford, and Littleton had now arrived meaning the rebels finally outnumbered the British regulars. A skirmish broke out at the bridge. Shots were fired. A few dead on both sides. The British soldiers withdrew back to Concord center to regroup.
But the war had begun. Now as the British troops formed up to march back to Boston, the colonial militias ran ahead of them to ambush and destroy them. Of the three thousand seven hundred rebel militia who mustered that day, only 49 died and 42 were wounded. Of the more than one thousand nine hundred British soldiers who eventually took to the field, 65 died and 181 were wounded. Rebel Minutemen beat the world’s strongest army. This outsized victory for the rebel forces launched the American Revolution.
Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom is a transcendentalist author, Concord guide, and longtime Concord resident. He is the author of SPIRITUAL AUDACITY: Six Disciplines of Human Flourishing.