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The Battle of Lexington

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

April 19. –About ten o’clock last night, the troops in Boston were discovered to be in motion in a very secret manner, and it was found they were embarking in boats which they had privately brought to the place in the evening at the lower end of the common. Expresses set off immediately to alarm the country, that they might be on their guard. When they were passing about a mile beyond Lexington, they were stopped by a party of officers who came out of Boston in the afternoon of that day, and were seen lurking in bye-places in the country until after dark. One of the expresses immediately fled, and was pursued a long distance by an officer, who, when he had overtaken him, presented a pistol and cried out, “You’re a dead man if you don’t stop!” but he kept on until he gained house, when, stopping suddenly, he was thrown from his horse; and having the presence of mind to call out to the people of the house, “Turn out! Turn out! I’ve got one of them!” the officer immediately retreated as fast as he had pursued. The other express, 1 after undergoing a strict examination, was allowed to depart.

The body of the troops, in the mean time, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, had crossed the river and landed at Phipps’ farm. They proceeded with great silence to Lexington, six miles below Concord. A company of militia, numbering about eighty men, had mustered near the meetinghouse. Just before sunrise the king’s troops came in sight, when the militia began to disperse. The troops then set out upon the road, hallooing and huzzaing, and coming within a few rods of them, the commanding officer cried out in words to this effect, “Disperse, you damned rebels! Damn you, disperse!” upon which the troops again huzzaed, and at the same time one or two officers discharged their pistols, which were instantaneously followed by the firing of four or five of the soldiers, and then there seemed to be a general discharge from the whole. It is to be noticed, they fired upon the militia as they were dispersing agreeably to their command, and that they did not even return the fire. Eight of our men were killed, and nine wounded. The troops then laughed, and damned the Yankees, and said they could not bear the smell of gunpowder.

Soon after this action, the troops renewed their march to Concord, where they divided into parties, and went directly to the several places where the province stores were deposited. Each party was supposed to have a Tory pilot. 2 One body went into the jail yard, and spiked and otherwise damaged the cannon belonging to the province, and broke and set fire to the carriages. They then entered a store and rolled out about a hundred barrels of flour, which they unheaded, and emptied about forty into the river. 3 Some took possession of the town-house, which was soon after discovered to be on fire, but which was extinguished without much damage. Another party took possession of the North Bridge. About one hundred and fifty of the militia, who had mustered upon the alarm, coming towards the bridge, were fired upon by the troops, and two were killed upon the spot. Thus did “the troops of Britain’s king fire first at two several times upon his loyal American subjects, and put a period to ten lives before one gun was fired upon them! Our people then returned the fire, and obliged the troops to retreat, who were soon joined by their other parties, but finding they were still pursued, the whole body moved back to Lexington, both troops and militia firing as they went.

During this time an express was sent to General Gage, who despatched a reinforcement under the command of Earl Percy, with two field-pieces. Upon the arrival of this reinforcement at Lexington, just as the retreating party had reached there, they made a stand, picking up their dead, took all the carriages they could find, and put their wounded thereon. Others of them–to their eternal disgrace be it spoken–were robbing and setting houses on fire, and discharging their cannon at the meeting-house.

“While this was transacting a party of the militia at Menotomy, 4 attacked a party of twelve of the enemy, who were carrying stores and provisions, killed one of them and took possession of their arms and stores, without any loss.

The troops having halted about an hour at Lexington, found it necessary to make a second retreat, carrying with them many of their dead and wounded. This they continued from Lexington to Charlestown, with great precipitation, the militia closely following them, firing till they reached Charlestown Neck, where they arrived a little after sunset. 5 Passing over the Neck the enemy proceeded up Bunker Hill and encamped for the night. 6

 

1 Paul Revere.
2 “A young man, unarmed, who was taken prisoner by the enemy at Lexington, and made to assist in carrying off their wounded, says, he saw a barber who lives in Boston, thought to be one Warden, with the troops, and that he heard them say he was one of their pilots. He likewise saw said barber fire twice upon our people, and heard Earl Percy order the troops to fire the houses. He also says that several British officers were among the wounded, who were carried into Boston, where our informant was dismissed. They took two of our men prisoners, and they are now confined in the barracks.”–Massachusetts Spy, May 3.
3 “The shrewd and successful address of Capt. Timothy Wheeler, on this occasion, deserves notice. He had the charge of a large quantity of provincial flour, which, together with some casks of his own, was stored in his barn. A British officer demanding entrance, he readily took his key and gave him admission. The officer expressed his pleasure at the discovery, but Capt. Wheeler, with much affected simplicity, said to him, putting his hand on a barrel; ‘This is my flour. I am a miller, sir; yonder stands my mill; I get my living by it. In the winter I grind a great deal of grain, and get it ready for market in the spring. This,’ pointing to one barrel, ‘is the flour of wheat; this,’ pointing to another, ‘is the flour of corn; this is the flour of rye; this,’ putting his hand on his own casks, ‘is my flour; this is my wheat; this is my rye; this is mine.’ ‘Well,’ said the officer, ‘we do not injure private property;’ and withdrew, leaving this important discovery untouched.”–Holmes’ Annals.
4 This party was led by the Rev. Phillips Payson, D. D., * to whom the following extract refers: –“The Rev. Mr. Payson, of Chelsea, in Massachusetts Bay, a mild, thoughtful, sensible man, at the head of a party of his own parish, attacked a party of the regulars, killed some and took the rest prisoners. This gentleman has been hitherto on the side of government, but oppression having got to that pitch beyond which even a wise man cannot bear, he has taken up arms in defence of those rights, civil and religious, which cost their forefathers so dearly. The cruelty of the King’s troops, in some instances, I wish to disbelieve. They entered one house in Lexington where were two old men, one a deacon of the church, who was bed-ridden, and another not able to walk, who was sitting in his chair; both these they stabbed and killed on the spot, as well as an innocent child running out of the house.”–Pennsylvania Journal, August 2.
5 “In this action the regulars have lost in all, sixty-five killed, one hundred and eighty wounded, and twenty-eight made prisoners. Of the provincials, fifty have been killed, thirty-four wounded, and four are missing. The following officers and gentlemen are of the number: –Justice Isaac Gardner, of Brookline; Capt. Isaac Davis, of Acton; Captain Jonathan Wilson, of Bedford; Lieut. John Brown, and Sergt. Elisha Mills, of Needham; and Deacon Josiah Haynes, of Sudbury, killed; Capt. Eleazer Kingsbury, of Needham; Captain Samuel Williams, of Cambridge; Captains Charles Mills, Nathaniel Barrett, and George Minot, of Concord; Capt. Oliver Barnes, and Deacon Aaron Chamberlain, of Chelmsford, wounded.
“Captains John Ford and Oliver Barrow, and Deacon Davis, all of Chelmsford, distinguished themselves in the course of the day. It can be fully proved that Captain Ford killed five regulars. James Howard, a private in the Acton company, and a regular, coming out of a house, caught sight of each other, and discharged their pieces at the same instant; both shots taking effect, the last dropped down dead, and the first expired a few hours after. A big boy joined in the chase of the retreating troops and was very expert in firing at them; at length a ball from the enemy grazed his head, and produced a flesh wound; he soon recovered the shock, bound up his head with a handkerchief, and renewed his pursuit.”–Gordon’s American Revolution, vol. i., p. 326.
* Dr. Payson was born at Walpole, Massachusetts, on the 18th of January, 1786. He graduated at Harvard College in 1754, and from the time of his ordination (three years after) until his death, he was constantly and zealously engaged in the service of the church. During the Revolution, he boldly advocated the cause of the Colonists. He died January 11, 1801.
6 Pennsylvania Journal, May 24: –“The British officers and soldiers have done ample justice to the bravery and conduct of the Massachusetts militia–they say that no troops ever behaved with more resolution. A soldier who had been in the action, being congratulated by a fellow-soldier on his safe return to Boston, declared, ‘That the militia had fought like bears, and that he would as soon attempt to storm hell, as to fight against them a second time. ‘”–Pennsylvania Packet, May 1.

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