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This Day in History: The “Shot Heard Round the World”

On this day in 1775, the “shot heard round the world” occurs at Lexington Green!


It had been mere hours since Paul Revere ended his famous ride from Boston to Lexington (see previous post). Seven hundred British soldiers were en route to Concord. Their goal? They wanted to seize the weapons and supplies that Americans had stored at Concord, Massachusetts.


Battle of Lexington Green, by William Barnes Wollen

In the early morning hours of April 19, the British troops ran into about 70 American minutemen on Lexington Green. These men were led by Captain John Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian War. As the British approached, the Americans stood firm. But then someone heard a British officer shout: “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!” Others heard similar variations of the same comment: “Throw down your arms, ye villains, ye rebels” or “Ye villains, ye rebels, disperse, damn you, disperse!”


In the meantime, Parker later testified that he “immediately ordered our Militia to disperse, and not to fire.” Most of the men began to disperse, as ordered, but some never heard the order. And NONE of the Americans put down their arms.


No one really knows who fired the first shot that followed . . . the “shot heard round the world”!


Some British officers were certain that it was a provincial hidden behind a hedge. Others thought the shot came from a nearby tavern. Some of the militia at Lexington were certain that British officers fired at them.


Regardless, the first shot WAS fired. The British began firing at Americans, leaving eighteen Americans killed or wounded. Some Americans returned fire, but only one British soldier was mildly wounded.

The British troops continued toward Concord. They searched for weapons without finding anything of note. Potentially, the British could have simply returned to Boston at that point but for one thing: A fire broke out. The source of that fire is unknown, but the American militia thought that the British were burning down buildings. They ran for North Bridge and a brief skirmish ensued, leaving 3 British and 2 Americans dead. The British began their retreat toward Boston.


Americans fired upon British soldiers the entire way back to Boston, where they cornered them in the city. In all, nearly 300 British soldiers were killed or wounded during the retreat. By contrast, Americans lost less than 100.


The Library of Congress summarizes: “By the end of the day, the colonists were singing ‘Yankee Doodle’ and the American Revolution had begun.”

 

Logistical note for those who care: Some argue that Concord was the site of the “shot heard ‘round the world,” not Lexington. The logic is that the first serious British casualties that day were at Concord: That part of the day felt more like American patriots seriously taking on the British. A counterargument: Americans had gone after British soldiers and officials before, drawing blood as they had during the Gaspee Affair (1772) and the Battle of Golden Hill (1770). Moreover, they’d taken other defiant actions, such as destroying Massachusetts Lt. Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s home (1765). Concord was not the first instance of American patriots taking on the British in a serious way. Lexington’s claim to “shot heard ‘round the world” is because those were the shots from which we could not turn back. Every other preceding event had been resolved in some way that did not bring about full-blown war. But there would be no coming back from the shots taken on Lexington Green in April 1775. So . . . if you are wondering why some claim Concord and some cite Lexington, now you know.  Which do you think is better?

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