Our Revolutionary tour continued with a stop at Minute Man Historic National Park. There is always something special about being present on an actual battlefield. Having read multiple books about what happened along the British Regular’s march from Boston to Concord, there is simply no substitute for seeing a battlefield in person. Visiting the North Bridge at Concord provided particular insight into the confusion that reigned on that day, April 19, 1775.
It’s a common thought that the battle at the North Bridge was spurred by the patriot militia’s desire to retaliate for what had occurred earlier that day on Lexington Green. In reality the militia had taken high ground north of the North Bridge and waited, unsure what to do. Seeing, in person, the militia’s distant position from the bridge, helped me understand just how tentative the militia’s approach to the battle really was. The orders of the day truly were “don’t fire, unless fired upon,” which is why the militia took the high ground and waited. The group of British Regulars holding the bridge similarly were not looking for a fight.
However, when the militia saw smoke rising up from where the village of Concord lay beyond the bridge, they believed that the British were burning their homes. In reality, the British were only burning cannon carriages. When a spark from the fire began to catch one of the houses on fire, British regulars grabbed buckets of water to douse the flame. Thinking that their town was burning, the militia then made the decision to march to the bridge. As seen in the photo above, the militia followed the road down from the high ground that curves in front of the marshy area next to the river. With their flank exposed, it would have been easy for the British stationed on the bridge to open fire. They didn’t fire, but instead pulled back to the other side of the bridge. This quick change in position added to the confusion on the British side. Were they to hold the bridge, or let the militia pass? The British waited until the head of the militia column was directly across the bridge. A British regular then fired. The patriot militia fired back with a deadly volley that sent the British regulars in full retreat. Clearly, this was not what the militia was expecting. Seeing the British regulars run gave the militia a confidence it had lacked a few minutes before.
From there the day unfolded into a bloody British retreat back to Boston. As more and more Minute Men from the surrounding countryside joined the fight, the British casualties continued to mount. The militia eventually outnumbered the British force 2 to 1 and tirelessly pursued the British as they marched back to Boston. Outnumbered and exhausted, the British army fled back to Boston. After Concord, there was no going back. Full out war between the Colonies and Britain was now a certainty. What had started as a confused and hesitant path to battle, ended in a clear road to war.