CONCORD had been aroused. Dr. Prescott had reached the town twenty minutes after he left Revere and Dawes in the hands of their captors. He told Amos Melvin, the sentinel at the Court-house, that the regulars were coming. It was then about two o'clock in the morning of the 19th of April, 1775. That scion of a heroic family, who had battled with the French and Indians in recent wars, seized the bell-rope and rung out such a vehement alarm that the villagers were all aroused from their slumbers, and soon filled the streets. The first man who appeared with a gun was William Emerson, the beloved pastor there. He was very soon surrounded by Minute-men on the Green; and when the guns at Lexington were heard before sunrise, the Committee of Safety and the principal people of the town had assembled for consultation. They soon made arrangements for the reception of the invaders. Couriers had been sent to the neighboring towns to stir up the people; and the men, women and children of Concord engaged vigorously in the removal of the cannon and stores to a place of safety. "I was then a lad fourteen years old," said the venerable Major James Barrett to me in 1848, when he was eighty-seven years of age. "I could not carry a musket, but I could drive oxen. Stout men and women would load carts with stores, and then boys and girls of my age would go, one on each side of the oxen, with long goads, and whip them into a trot, and so we carried away the stores, and hid them under pine boughs before the British regulars appeared."
Men from Lincoln, Acton and other places hurried toward Concord, and in the gray of early morning these, with the local Minute-men, were drawn up in battle array on the Common, under the general command of Colonel James Barrett, a soldier of the French and Indian war. Guards were placed at the bridges which spanned Concord River, a sinuous, sluggish stream, and at the centre of the village; and some militia were sent toward Lexington to gain information about the invading regulars, of whom they had uncertain stories. At about seven o'clock the militia men came hurrying back with the startling news that the regulars were near, and in number three times that of the Americans then assembled. The whole force of defenders now fell back to a hill about eighty rods from the centre of the village, where Colonel Barrett formed them in two battalions. This was scarcely done when the flashing of bayonets and of scarlet uniforms in the early morning sun, not more than a quarter of a mile distant, showed the immediate presence of the enemy. A short consultation of officers was held. Some were for giving fight on the spot where they stood, while others, more wise, perceiving that it would be simple murder of the men to cause them to fight against such odds, proposed to fall back a little distance and wait until they were made stronger by the militia from the surrounding towns, who were then flocking in. They did so, and took post upon rising ground beyond the North Bridge, about a mile from Concord Common.
The British entered Concord in two divisions; one by the main road and the other over the hill from which the Americans had retired. Smith and Pitcairn remained in the town, and sent six companies to secure the bridges, prevent the militia from crossing them, and to discover and destroy the secreted stores, the hiding-places of which had been revealed by Tories. A party went to the house of Colonel Barrett to destroy stores supposed to be there, but were disappointed. The inhabitants had worked so industriously for the salvation of the treasure, that very little was left for the marauders. A few gun-carriages were there, and those they burned. They demanded refreshments at the hands of Mrs. Barrett and offered to pay for it. She refused the money, saying, "We are commanded to feed our enemy, if he hunger." In the village they broke open sixty barrels of flour, one-half of which was afterwards saved. They broke off the trunnions of their iron twenty-four pound cannon, burned sixteen cannon carriage-wheels, a few barrels of wooden trenchers and spoons, cut down and burned the Liberty-Pole, set the Court-house on fire, and cast about five hundred pounds of balls into a mill-pond. Mrs. Moulton put out the fire at the Court-house. The articles named were all the spoils gained by the expedition which produced a seven-years-war and the dismemberment of the British empire.
Rumors of the events at Lexington, vague and uncertain, had reached the Minute-men at Concord. All Middlesex was awakened. The militia were flocking in from Carlisle, Chelmsford, Weston, Littleton, and Acton; and before ten o'clock the force amounted to full four hundred men--about one-half that of the regulars. They were drawn up in line by Joseph Hosmer of Concord, acting adjutant, and Major Buttrick of the same village took the immediate command. When they saw the smoke ascend from the town, the question pressed itself upon the heart and judgement of every man; "What shall we do?" There was no Continental Congress; they had no orders from the Provincial Congress; they were a little army of Middlesex farmers gathered for the defence of their homes and their rights: by what authority might they attack British troops acting under lawful orders? Would it not be treason? But the troops were trampling upon their rights, and the smoke of their burning property was rising before their eyes. They took counsel of duty, and acted promptly. In the burying-ground on a hill near by, was the following epitaph on a stone over the grave of a slave:
"God wills us free; man wills us slaves: I will as God wills; God's will be done."
Acting in the spirit of these lines, Isaac Davis of Acton drew his sword, and, turning to the company of which he was captain, said: "I haven't a man that's afraid to go." Then Colonel Barrett gave the word march, and the Acton company, followed by others, all under the command of Major Buttrick, pressed forward, in double file with trailed arms, to drive the British from the North Bridge. The latter began to destroy it, when Buttrick urged his men forward to save it. As they approached the river, they were fired upon by the regulars. Captain Davis and one of his company were killed, when Buttrick Shouted: "Fire, fellow-soldiers; for God's sake fire!" Immediately a full volley was given by the Minute-men, which killed three of the British and wounded several. Some other shots were fired, when the invaders retreated and the Minute-men took possession of the bridge.
The war begun at Lexington that morning was seconded at Concord at the middle of the forenoon, and at meridian the same day, British power in America began to wane, when British regulars made a hasty retreat before an inferior number of provincial militia. Colonel Smith, hearing the firing at the bridge, sent out reinforcements. These met the retreating detachment. Seeing the increasing strength of the Minute-men, they turned about, and at noon the whole invading force retreated toward Lexington, the main column covered by strong flanking parties. It was soon perceived that the whole country was in arms. Minute-men appeared with muskets everywhere. They swarmed from the woods and fields, from farm-houses and hamlets. It appeared as if the old fable of the sowing of dragons' teeth, that resulted in a crop of full-armed men, had become history. "The Americans," wrote a British officer, "seemed to drop from the clouds." The blood shed at Lexington and Concord loosed the bands of conscience, and wiped out all the scruples of those who had been governed by a nice sense of the duties of a subject, and of honor and discretion. War had begun. In open highways the exasperated yeomanry attacked the retreating invaders; behind stone-walls, fences, buildings and in wooded ravines they ambushed, and assailed their foes with the single shots or deadly volleys; and man after man fell dead in the British ranks or was badly wounded, until great wagons were filled with the slain and the maimed. The heat was intense, and the dust in the roads was intolerable. Exhausted by want of sleep, fatigue of marching, famine and thirst, the eight hundred men--the flower of the British army in Boston--must have surrendered to the armed yeomanry of Middlesex, soon after reaching Lexington had not relief arrived. It came in the form of reinforcements under Lord Percy, and met the fugitives within half a mile of Lexington Common.
Return to Our Country, Vol II