- 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
He was then thirty years of age. We had four children; the youngest about fifteen months old. They were all unwell when he left me in the morning; some of them with the canker-rash. … My husband said little that morning. He seemed serious and thoughtful; but never seemed to hesitate as to the course of his duty. As he led the company from the house, he turned himself round, and seemed to have something to communicate. He only said, “Take good care of the children,” and was soon out of sight.
Observing the skirmish through a window of a nearby house (the Manse) was the Reverend William Emerson, grandfather of the more famous Emerson. He says of the British:
The three companies … soon quitted their post at the bridge and retreated in the greatest disorder and confusion to the main body, who were soon upon the march to meet them.
As the redcoats retreated, the Americans swept across the bridge. But, according to Amos Barretl, they went no farther:
We did not follow them. There was 8 or i o that was wounded and a running and a hobbling about, looking back to see if we was after them. We then saw the whole body a coming out of town. We were ordered to lay behind a wall that run over a hill, and when they got nigh enough, Major Buttrick said he would give the word fire. But they did not come quite so near as he expected, before they halted. The commanding officer ordered the whole battalion to halt, and officers to the front; the officers then marched to the front; then we lay behind the wall, about 200 of us, with our guns cocked, expecting every minute to have the word fire. Our orders was if we fired, to fire 2 or three times and then retreat. If we had fired, I believe we could have killed almost every officer there was in the front; but we had no orders to fire. … They staid about i o minutes and then marched back. …
The Reverend Mr. Emerson writes:
For half an hour, the enemy, by their marches and countermarches, discovered great fickleness and inconstancy of mind, sometimes advancing, sometimes returning to their former posts; till at length they quitted the town and retreated by the way they came.
In the meantime, a party of our men (150) took the back way through the Great Fields into the east quarter and had placed themselves to advantage, lying in ambush behind walls, fences and buildings, ready to fire upon the enemy on their retreat.
These men were joined by other troops newly arrived in the Concord area. Says Edmund Foster, of Reading:
A little before we came to Merriam’s Hill, we discovered the enemy’s flank guard, of about eighty or one hundred men, who, on their retreat from Concord, kept that height of land, the main body in the road. The British troops and the Americans, at that time, were equally distant from Merriam’s Corner. About twenty rods short of that place, the Americans made a halt.
The British marched down the hill, with very slow but steady step, without music, or a word being spoken that could be heard. Silence reigned on both sides.
As soon as the British had gained the main road, and passed a small bridge near that corner, they faced about suddenly, and fired a volley of musketry upon us. They overshot; and no one, to my knowledge, was injured by the fire. The fire was immediately returned by the Americans, and two British soldiers fell dead, at a little distance from each other, in the road, near the brook.
The British continued to retreat, and the Americans pursued. Foster goes on:
We saw a wood at a distance which appeared to lie on or near the road where the enemy must pass. Many leaped over the walls and made for that wood. We arrived just in time to meet the enemy. There was on the opposite side of the road a young growth of wood, filled with Americans. The enemy were now completely between two fires, renewed and briskly kept up. They ordered out a flank guard on the left to dislodge the Americans from their posts behind the trees; but they only became better marks to be shot at.
Ensign D’Bermcre describes the distress of the British:
All the hills on each side of us were covered with rebels … so that they kept the road always lined and a very hot fire on us without intermission. We at first kept our order, and returned their fire as hot as we received it; but when we arrived within a mile of Lexington, our ammunition began to fail, and the light companies were so fatigued with flanking they were scarce able to act; and a great number of wounded scarce able to get forward made a great confusion.
The unfortunate redcoats must have felt mortification as well as fear during these moments. Just a few hours before, they had been Lexington’s masters. In the best romantic tradition the anguished men received help from Boston at the instant of their greatest need. First they heard the distant sound of martial music. Then Brigadier General Earl Percy, astride a beautiful white horse, swung into sight leading about a thousand reinforcements. The troops had come in answer to a request Colonel Smith had sent back to Boston early m the morning. D’Bernicre exults: