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Massachusetts Before April 19
April 19, 1775
Learning Activities and Sequence
Eyewitness Accounts to Meriam's Corner
Teacher's Guide to the Documents
April 19, 1775
The Concord Alarm
On April 19, 1775 General Thomas Gage sent an expedition of 700 soldiers under the command of Lt. Colonel Francis Smith to Concord, MA to confiscate stolen and illegal weapons and military supplies being stored there in preparation for conflict with British military forces. The Provincial Congress in 1774 had ordered towns in Massachusetts to begin storing supplies to prepare for what might happen if a conflict broke out with the British military. Concord was a key storage location for Provincial supplies, particularly the farm of Colonel James Barrett commander of the militia from the Concord area, as he was storing much of the arms and supplies for his regiment at his farm. General Gage had received intelligence about Col. Barrett’s farm and this was the ultimate destination of the expedition.
The column of 700 British regular soldiers was made up of the grenadiers and light infantry drawn from the regiments in Boston at the time and they had been sent out at night so as to catch the Provincials off their guard. Grenadiers and light infantry were considered elite troops of the British army of the 18th century; this expedition was designed to be a surprise strike by the elite soldiers of the time to seize supplies before open violent conflict could begin. This was not to be the case.
After enduring numerous interruptions at the beginning of the march (late at night on Tuesday April 18) the column began their march under the command of Lt. Col. Francis Smith of the 10th Regiment of Foot. His second in command was Major John Pitcairn of the British Marines. At Lexington Common the regulars were met with the sight of the Lexington Militia assembled in 2 ranks in a military manner. A few companies of the Light Infantry were tasked with disarming the militia, who as the regulars approached began to disperse. As the regulars closed in a single shot rang out and the regulars opened fire on the militia. The officers and NCO's could not maintain control of the men who chased the militia from the Common. It was only the sound of the drum which drew the men back into their ranks.
Lt. Col. Smith ordered the column to continue the march to Concord, which was done immediately. As they came into town the regulars crossed the brook using the small bridge near the Meriam Houses. Overlooking the house is the hill now known as Revolutionary Ridge. Seeing a number of the Provincials gathered there (including Capt. David Brown's Concord Minute Company) the light infantry were dispatched to remove them from that hill. The provincials retired and marched back to town in plain view of the regulars. This hill is important to the story of the Meriam houses. This initial encounter made it clear to both sides that the provincials would be able to pick the time and place of any fighting that might happen that day.
Upon arriving in Concord center the column split up. One contingent of four light infantry companies and some artillerymen under the command of Capt. Laurence Parsons of the 10th Light Infantry marched to Barrett's Farm to search for the supplies being stored there. Another contingent under the command of Capt. Mundy Pole of the 10th Foot took control of the South Bridge and secured that. A third contingent of light infantry took control of the North Bridge under the command of Capt. Walter Sloane Laurie of the 43rd Light Infantry.
Several local minute and militia companies gathered nearby the North Bridge at Major Buttrick's farm. The field in which they gathered (now known as the "Muster Field") gave the minute and militia companies a good vantage point of both the Bridge and troops located there as well as looking beyond the bridge into Concord Center.
After conferring with the officers present, Major Buttrick decided to lead the 300-400 men gathered on his farm down to attempt to retake the bridge. Though there was a fire at the court house in Concord Center, it is unclear whether or not this provided the impetus for the Provincials to march down to the bridge and attempt to overrun the Regulars.
The regulars under Capt. Laurie's command attempted to thwart the provincials by pulling planks out of the bridge, but finding themselves quickly set upon by the provincials, the regulars retreated to the far side of the Bridge. Once there, the regulars attempted to form up in street firing, but being unable todo so became caught up in confusion. Volleys were fired from both sides.
It is unclear who fired first as the accounts vary, with several provincial witnesses claiming that there were fired upon before firing at the regulars, obeying orders given them by Col. Barrett which instructed them to only fire if fired upon. Most accounts by the regulars claimed that the provincials fired into the regulars first, thereby justifying a return volley. We will probably never know who fired first, but regardless both sides experienced casualties with two provincials being skilled instantly, Captain Isaac Davis and Private Abner Hosmer of the Acton Minute Company, and two regulars killed instantly and a third mortally wounded. In addition four of eight British officers at the Bridge were wounded as were a number of other British soldiers.
Being that they were outnumbered nearly four to one, the British regulars turned and "ran with a great precipitance," according to Ensign Jeremy Lister of the 10th Regiment. The provincials followed across the bridge and as they passed by what they thought were dead British soldiers one of the regulars reached up, and according to Rev. William Emerson of Concord (an outspoken Whig minister) was assaulted by one of the young men serving in Capt. David Brown's Concord minute company, Ammi White. According to Rev. Emerson, White "not under the feelings of humanity, barbarously broke his (soldier's) skull" using his hatchet. This incident would be one that would remain in the minds of the regulars for the remainder of the day and was indeed used as justification by British officials to explain why the British soldiers would behave in a similarly barbarous manner later in the day, particularly in the town of Menotomy (modern day Arlington).
By late morning, Capt. Parsons returned to the center of town with his detachment that had missed the fighting at the North Bridge. The column assembled and began to march back to Boston, retracing the same route they had followed that morning. The Light Infantry were dispatched again on the ridge to ensure that the provincials were unable to hold that high ground. As the regulars marched out of town a quiet gripped them as they made their way towards Meriam's Corner at the base of the ridge.
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