- Historic Sites
Voices Of Lexington And Concord
What was it like to actually be there in April, 1775? This is how the participants, American and British, remembered it
April 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 3
There is reason to think that Parker’s simply worded order was somewhat romanticized for history by his grandson, who reported it as: “Standyour ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” Ebenerer Munroe continues:
The British troops came up directly in our front. The commanding officer advanced within a few rods of us and exclaimed, “Disperse, you damned rebels! You dogs, run!—Rush on, my boys!” and fired his pistol.
The British version of the encounter’s opening is different. In the words of Colonel Francis Smith, the expedition’s top commander:
Our troops advanced toward them, without any intention of injuring them, further than to inquire the reason of their being thus assembled, and if not satisfactory, to have secured their arms; but they in confusion went off, principally to the left—only one of them fired before he went off, and three or four more jumped over a wall and fired from behind it among the soldiers; on which the troops returned it. …
It was never to be ascertained who fired the first shot. The Americans, who were hopelessly outnumbered, shortly began dispersing. But at least some of the men stood their ground long enough to take some Britishfire. One of these was Lieutenant William Tidd:
They … fired upon us. I then retreated up the north road, and was pursued about thirty rods by an officer on horseback (supposed to be Maj. Pitcairn), calling out to me, “Damn you, stop, or you are a dead man!” I found I could not escape him unless I left the road. Therefore I sprang over a pair of bars, made a stand, and discharged my gun at him; upon which he immediately returned to the main body. …
Corporal John Munroe’s departure from the field was less precipitate:
After the first fire of the regulars, I thought, and so stated to Ebenezer Munroe … who stood next to me on the left, that they had fired nothing but powder; but, on the second firing, Munroe said they had fired something more than powder, for he had received a wound in his arm; and now, said he, to use his own words, “I’ll give them the guts of my gun.” We then both took aim at the main body of the British troops—the smoke preventing our seeing anything but the heads of some of their horses—and discharged our pieces.
After the second fire from the British troops, I distinctly saw Jonas Parker struggling on the ground, with his gun in his hand, apparently attempting to load it. In this situation the British came up, run him through with the bayonet, and killed him on the spot.
After I had fired the first time, I retreated about ten rods, and then loaded my gun a second time, with two balls, and, on firing at the British, the strength of the charge took off about a foot of my gun barrel. Such was the general confusion, and so much firing on the part of the British, that it was impossible for me to know the number of our men who fired immediately on receiving the second fire from the British troops; but that some of them fired, besides Ebenezer Munroe and myself, I am very confident.
The regulars kept up a fire, in all directions, as long as they could see a man of our company in arms. Isaac Muzzy, Jonathan Harrington, and my father, Robert Munroe [died] near the place where our line was formed. Samuel Hadley and John Brown were killed after they had gotten off the common. Asahel Porter, of Woburn, who had been taken a prisoner by the British on their march to Lexington, attempted to make his escape, and was shot within a few rods of the common. Caleb Harrington was shot down on attempting to leave the meeting-house, where he and some others had gone, before the British soldiers came up, for the purpose of removing a quantity of powder that was stored there.
Elijah Sanderson was a witness to one of the fight’s closing incidents:
After our militia had dispersed, I saw [the British] firing at one man (Solomon Brown), who was stationed behind a wall. I saw the wall smoke with the bullets hitting it. … [Brown] fired into a solid column of them, and then retreated. He was in the cow yard. The wall saved him. He legged it just about the time I went away.
Eight Americans were killed and about ten were wounded in the brief encounter. When it was over, the British fired a victory volley into the air and gave three cheers. Soon afterward, to the tune of fife and drum, they headed for Concord. According to Ebenezer Munroe:
After they had marched off … we took two prisoners who were considerably in the rear of the main body. I carried their arms into Buckman’s tavern, and they were taken by some of our men who had none of their own. I believed, at the time, that some of our shots must have [taken effect]. I was afterwards confirmed in this opinion. …
A Lexington boy named Abijah Harrington, who had two brothers in the fight but was too young to take part, was to remember through the years: