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CONCORD and the BRITISH RETREAT



Due to a false report about the possible arrival of British troops at Lexington ten days earlier, one of Concord's leading citizens and commander of the Middlesex militia, Colonel James Barrett, had been busy transporting munitions and arms (and what they could) by wagon to the towns of Acton, Stow (north and west of Concord), and Sudbury (south and west of Concord). He even disassembled some of the cannon and buried them in furrows on his own farm. It made no difference. Concord remained a considerable arsenal by any military standards. They had hidden a lot. According to the notebooks of Barrett, 20,000 pounds of musket balls and cartridges, 50 reams of cartridge paper, 318 barrels of flour, 17,000 pounds of salt fish and 35,000 pounds of rice lay hidden throughout the community. There is no doubt that Massachusetts was getting ready to wage war.


Dr. Samuel Prescott, a dedicated Son of Liberty, rode into Concord at approximately 2:30am, April 19th, with the news that the regulars were marching from Boston, and were bound for Concord. Only Lexington stood in their path. Barrett knew he would most likely have to lead his men into battle, or give up everything hidden among a score of houses and farms, including his own.


Meanwhile, the British continued the 6 miles to Concord.


Concord's two minuteman companies and two militia companies were mustered in front of Wright's Tavern. From nearby Lincoln, another comapny of minutemen who brought rumor of gunfire at Lexington, joined in as well. A horseman by the name of Reuben Brown ( a Concord saddlemaker ) returned from Lexington with an eyewitness account of the first British volley, which had sent him galloping back to Concord. He reported to Barrett that the regulars were probabaly firing ball, although he was not really sure. It was a momentous report. Powder would have frightened, but ball was intended to kill.


Barrett decided to seize the high ground and sent most of his men onto a long ridge that commanded the road leading into Concord. Hoping to give the approaching British a show of force, he sent another company down the road toward Lexington, hoping this might persuade the British to turn back to Boston. However, Colonel Smith was in no mood to be intimidated. He had his orders from General Gage, and he meant to carry them out.


By 8am Colonel Smith and his regulars were in the center of Concord. He ordered his grenadiers to begin seaching houses and barns for gunpowder and other munitions. He sent one company to guard the South Bridge, and seven companies to guard the North Bridge that crossed over the Concord River. Four of these companies then proceeded on to Colonel Barrett's farm two miles away. Analyzing the scene before him, Barrett saw no reason to attack. The British would find no arsenal of powder and arms. They would soon disengage and proceed back to Boston. Besides, the Brisith commander was surely aware that he would soon be surrounded by 6,000 minutemen and militia in a wide circle between Concord and Boston.



British Retreat Back to Boston from Concord


In the courthouse, the grenadiers finally made one of their few finds - some cannon mounts and other equipment which they set ablaze. Looking from the ridge above the town, a pale column of smoke rose over the trees caught the eyes of Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer, Colonel Barrett's second in command and acting adjutant of the Concord regiment. Turning to Barrett he exclaimed, "Will you let them burn the town down?" The militia loaded their muskets.


The move would require them to cross the North Bridge, which at the time was being guarded by three companies of regulars totaling 120 men. Barrett had 400 militia behind him and thought that by advancing on the bridge, the regulars, facing such an overwhelming force, would turn and fall back to allow the Americans to proceed on into Concord. Under the current rules of engagement, the British would not fire unless the Americans fired first.


Barrett ordered the Acton militia, under the command of Captain Isaac Davis and along with Major Buttrick, to advance his company to the bridge in a long, snaking column, two men abreast. Barrett cautioned them to be sure not to fire first. As the Americans approached the bridge, the stunned British at first did nothing. When their commanding officer, Captain Walter Laurie, realized the situation, he had his men retreat to the opposite side of the river and massed them around a narrow span. They had to hold the bridge or the four companies that had marched to Barrett's farm would be cut off.


The Americans advanced. The British raised their muskets. The Americans marched onto the bridge.


With their guns pointed down and toward the river, several British soldiers fired warning shots.
The American kept coming.


Suddenly, an instant later, a full volley was fired at the head of the American column. Captain Issac Davis was killed instantly with a bullet in his heart. Beside him, Abner Hosmer went down with a bullet to the head. Four other men were wounded. The Americans stared in disbelief. "Goddamn it," one man shouted, "they're firing ball!"


Major Buttrick shouted, "Fire fellow soldiers, for God's sake fire!"


As they returned to Boston, the British were under constant assault from Massachusetts militiamen, who inflicted 273 casualties.



The curtains had finally opened . . . The stage was set . . .
The American Revolution had begun