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The first Shots of the Revolutionary War - Lexington Green

Unit/ Formation: His Majesty's Marine Forces

Location: North America

Period/ Conflict: American Revolutionary War (1775–83)


Date/s: 19 April 1775

In the latter part of 1774 the Americans were making great preparations for resistance ; and they scrupled not to declare their intention of attacking Boston when the ice became strong enough to bear them; but as it did not freeze sufficiently hard during the winter, the disaffected postponed their plans until the spring of 1775.

To prevent being taken by surprise, the neck of land which leads into Boston from Roxbury, was carefully fortified by the British and admiral Graves, by placing the Somerset in the ferry-way between the two towns, overawed the inhabitants of Charlestown, and prevented any attack from that side.

The fleet under vice-admiral Graves, consisting of four sail of the line and a great many smaller vessels, was greatly dispersed, but so disposed as to afford all the protection possible to his Majesty's loyal subjects in the colonies.

General Gage, on receiving intelligence that a quantity of military stores had been collected at Concord for supplying the rebel troops, ordered a detachment, consisting of the grenadiers and light infantry of the army, under lieutenant-colonel Smith of the 10th regiment, and major Pitcairne of the marines, to be embarked in the boats of the squadron ; and on the evening of the 18th of April, they were conveyed up Charles river, and landed at Phipp's farm, whence they advanced with rapidity towards Concord ; but the country had been apprized of their intention, and before the break of day the inhabitants were assembled in arms.

Lieutenant-Colonel Smith detached Major Pitcairne, with six companies of light infantry, to secure two bridges on different roads beyond Concord. On their arrival within two miles of Lexington at four o'clock in the morning of the 19th, the major received intelligence that a body of 500 armed men were assem- bled, and determined to oppose the king's troops ; but when they came within a short distance of the Americans, the latter filed off towards some stone walls on the right.

Major Pitcairne then called to them to disperse, and on attempting to surround and disarm them, they fired upon our troops; upon which the light infantry, without being ordered, fired and killed several of the country people. Shortly after this occurrence, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, with the troops under his command, joined Major Pitcairne, and the whole force reached Concord at nine in the evening.

Lt. Jeremy Lister, light infantry officer of the 10th Regiment, among the lead two companies that marched onto Lexington Green, wrote in his private narrative of 1782:

“we saw one of their Compys drawn up in regular order, Major Pitcairn… call’d to them to disperce, but their not seeming willing he desired us to mind our space which we did when they gave us a fire then run of[f] to get behind a wall. we had one man wounded of our Compy in the Leg his Name was Johnson [possibly Thomas Johnston] also Major Pitcairns Horse was shot in the Flank we return’d their Salute [gunfire]…”

Maj. Pitcairn reporting to Gen. Gage, wrote this official statement:

“When I arrived at the head of the advance Company, two officers came and informed me, that a man of the rebels advanced from those that were assembled, had presented his musket and attempted to shoot them, but the piece flashed in the pan. On this I gave directions to the troops to move forward, but on no account to fire, or even attempt it without orders; when I arrived at the end of the Village, I observed drawn up upon a Green near 200 rebels; when I came within about 100 yards of them, they began to file off towards some stone walls on our right flank. The Light Infantry, observing this, ran after them. I instantly called to the soldiers not to fire, but surround and disarm them, and after several repetitions of those positive orders to the men, not to fire, etc. some of the rebels who had jumped over the wall fired four or five shots at the soldiers, which wounded a man of the Tenth and my horse was wounded in two places, from some quarter or other, and at the same time several shots were fired from a meeting house on our left. Upon this, without any order or regularity, the Light Infantry began a scattered fire, and continued in that situation for some little time, contrary to the repeated orders both of me and the officers that were present.”

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