Lexington April 15, 1775

Commanding the British troops was Major John Pitcairn (left) who marched his soldiers all night, arriving at Lexington at dawn. There he found a line of minute men drawn up on the village green commanded by Captain John Parker. The British halted and the Major shouted, "Disperse, ye rebels, disperse!"

For the men of the Lexington militia, the first muster of the morning had come just after Paul Revere's midnight warning. Captain John Parker had taken command of the few score who had turned out on Lexington Green and waited with them during the night. Parker and his men had decided that they would let the soldiers pass through Lexington. Most of the stores of munitions and gunpowder that were formerly hidden in Concord had now been dispersed to other sites and hidden away. Let the British regulars come and march around all they liked.

As daylight approached, a scout with the militia by the name of Thaddeus Bowman had come thundering over the hill from the direction of Cambridge. When Bowman checked in with Parker, he reported that not only were the British regulars approaching Lexington, they were almost 1,000 strong and only a few miles away. They would arrive in less than an hour. Parker had the militia line up smartly in a wide, double rank (this would give the illusion of being more than they were). Looking off in the distance, Parker noticed that some of the town's villagers had gathered at the church, the Buckman Tavern, and off to his right and to the rear, a cluster of them watched from behind the shield of a granite and stone fence.

"There appeared a number of the King's troops, about a thousand as I thought, at the distance of
about sixty or seventy yards from us, huzzaing, and on a quick pace towards us ...."
John Robbins, Militiaman

Captain Parker had come to expect a certain reaction based on past experiences in similar confrontations with militia and the regulars. On not one occasion, ever, had British regulars fired upon any militia in any similar circumstance. A militia that had stood firm had always carried the day. The British would invariably yield rather than fight. British grenadiers confronting and killing his compatriots was not an idea that sat with much comfort. The two forces would brush, and then the regulars would march on to Concord. Captain Parker did not expect the script to change this morning on Lexington Green.

The script did change, however, and as Parker calmly surveyed the scene, the British began to accelerate their pace and advanced in the direction of the militia. Not wanting to expose his men in the open, Parker ordered the militia to disperse and scatter. Incredibly, Parker saw a broad line of 30 men moving forward towards them -- running, with muskets ready and bayonets attached, gleaming in the morning sunlight. In the distance he heard the leader of the charge, a Royal Marine, his sabre raised over his head, yell,
"Damn them, we will have them!"

The militia continued to drift away from the formation. Weapons still in hand, they headed for the granite fence behind them looking for protection. Another order from one of the advancing regulars to the militia was heard to cry,
"Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!"

Then, suddenly, out of the cacophony of yelling and troop movement came an unmistakable sound ----

a shot!

From behind a stone wall a shot rang out -- no one has ever discovered who first fired
"the shot heard 'round the world"

The trigger that had lain cocked and ready in Massachusetts for decades -- had finally been pulled.

The Shot Heard 'Round The World

Acting without orders, the British troops immediately began to fire. Then, just as quickly, they formed up into ranks and began firing combined volleys at the spread out militia. Major Pitcairn rode among his men trying to signal them to stop firing. But nothing could stop them now. Their muskets empty, they ran at the militia with bayonets fixed. Finally, Colonel Smith ordered a drummer boy to sound a cease-fire. The drum brought the troops around, and under the angry supervision of their commanding officers, they reluctanly came to order. Drawing his officers aside, Colonel Smith reminded them of their mission and what they were sent here to do.

As the British marched away from Lexington and on to Concord, they left in their wake eight militia dead and nine wounded. The skirmish had lasted but a few minutes. But in those few minutes, the life of every Lexington family, and eventually that of every American colonist, had forevermore been changed.