Paul Revere stood in the darkness with 8 officers of the kings army surrounding him. A cocked pistol was pressed to his head and the officer demanded his name.
“I am Paul Revere” he replied. Surprised, the men all looked at each other as if to ask “Paul Revere? THE Paul Revere?”
“Do not lie to us sir, who are you and what are you doing about this eve?” asked the leader.
“I AM Paul Revere and I beg your pardon.” He said disgustedly. “I am taking a message to Concord about the column of troops going there to deprive our countrymen of their rights and arms.”
The Lieutenant was startled by this. While he knew a a column was out, he had no knowledge of the mission of Smith’s column. His orders were simply to patrol the roads and stop any messengers that might be out. As he pressed Revere for more information Revere readily obliged.
Back in Lexington, Captain Parker had briefed his men on the green. He had sent scouts east to find the column. As the night wore on the men standing in the cool spring air became tired and restless. The initial surge of adrenaline had worn off and many fought to keep their eyes open. No word had yet come back from the scouts about the location of troops.
Out on the road Revere was being pressed for more information. He thought that his only chance was to tell the truth but maybe enhance it a little. He began to tell his captors that they had been watching the troops assemble in Boston and knew from the outset the mission. He explained that by now all the supplies they were after in Concord had been removed and hidden. He told them that he had 500 men in Lexington waiting for Smith, the mission would be a disaster.
Back in Lexington Captain Parker surveyed his men. With no real idea of what was happening he decided to have the men stand down. “Men,” he said. “Stand down but stay in town and within the sound of the drum.” Many of the men including the Harringtons retreated to Uncle Jonathon Harrington’s house on the edge of the green. Others who had come into town from the surrounding countryside were grateful that the proprietors of the Buckman Tavern on the south edge of the green opened its doors to provide food and a chance to warm up. As those men gathered to enter the tavern they unloaded their muskets by firing a volley into the air. The cool damp air worked its way into the black powder if given a chance. The only way to ensure proper operation was to fire the muskets and then reload when the time came to go back out.
Back on the road, Paul Revere was raising the anxiety of his captors with each telling of the massing of the militia. Suddenly, as if on cue, a volley of musket fire came from the direction of Lexington. Revere quickly said. “The militia is out, you are all dead men”
The startled officers suddenly had to make a decision. Do they execute the prisoner, take him with them or ride quickly back to warn Smith of the ambush? An extra horse would be useful if they chose to warn the column and surely they would be forgiven for not bringing the famous Paul Revere if it meant saving their fellow troops.
The decision was made. Revere was left on foot as the officers took his horse and raced east hoping to meet Smith before he got to Lexington.
Col. Smith’s troops had reached Menotomy just a few miles from Lexington when 8 of his officers rode up. Smith called a halt while he listened to them explain that they had caught Paul Revere and that there was 500 militia in town. No, they hadn’t seen them themselves because they had taken a wide berth around Lexington to avoid detection but they had heard the musket fire and the bell ringing the alarm.
Smith’s troops themselves had heard bells in each town they passed through. They had heard shots off in the distance alerting the country side as they marched. He knew that there presence was known but was sure the colonists didn’t know the purpose.
Turning to Major Pitcairn, his second in command, Smith ordered his royal marines to the head of the column. Pitcairn’s marines, essentially light infantry, were to proceed as fast as they could in advance of the main body to Concord and carry out the mission.
As the marines advanced on Lexington, Capt. Parker was suddenly made aware of one of his scouts returning to town. The scout reported that he had been trapped behind the column in Cambridge and only managed to get around them when they stopped in Menotomy. He reported that they were only a mile or so out and moving fast. Parker immediately ordered young Diamond to beat assembly. The men filed out of their houses and the Buckman Tavern and formed up again at the west end of the green.
About this time Paul Revere walked into town from his ordeal on the road. Talking to Capt. Parker he was shocked to learn that Hancock and Adams were still in town. Revere immediately ran to Rev. Clark’s house and confronted the reluctant Hancock who wanted to stay and fight. Revere explained that if he was killed or captured it would be devastating blow to the cause. He must leave, NOW!
Hancock finally agreed to go. Urged on by Sam Adams they packed up and headed north out of town. Revere stayed behind and learned from Hancock’s male secretary that all the papers from the provincial congress were in a trunk and still in his room at the Buckman Tavern.
If those papers fell into the hands of the army, the cause and many people associated with it would suffer terribly. Revere determined to save the trunk.
Lexington Green is a triangular shaped space about 100 yards long and 50 yards wide at it’s north west end. The narrow point is toward the east where the meeting hall stood. The road from Boston split at the meeting hall. The right fork going past Buckman Tavern across the street from the hall and continuing at a northwest angle skirting the green. The left fork swung straight west to Concord.
Parker’s men in the meantime were formed at the wide end of the green. They were nervous and uneasy, not knowing what to expect. A few grumbled about how it wasn’t worth it and talked about leaving. Parker said, “The first man to leave will be shot dead.” These were his friends and family standing with him. Most of them knew he meant it. The fear of Parker humiliating them and perhaps shooting them in front of their families was worse than the fear of the redcoats. They remained steadfast.
As the dawn broke the sounds of many men on the road to the east became apparent. Revere and Hancock’s secretary had reached Buckman Tavern and were wrestling with the heavy trunk. Jonathon Harrington’s cousin Caleb, John Simmons and another man were on the second floor of the meeting house watching as the royal marines came into view on the road to the east.
Major Pitcairn had put one of his firebrand lieutenants at the head of his column. Lt. Jesse Adair rode ahead and noticed men at the far end of the green in the early morning light. His mission was to go to Concord but he was itching for a fight and wanted to teach these insolent farmers a lesson. As his men reached the fork in the road he made a fateful decision to confront the men on the green. He lead his two hundred men onto the right fork and then onto the green. He immediately formed them into battle lines.
Paul Revere had seen the approach of the marines. He and Hancock’s secretary barely got out the back door of the tavern when the marines spilled past them intent on forming on the green. Staying behind the tavern, he made his way behind the buildings skirting the road to the treeline as the troops formed their ranks.
Seeing the ranks of soldiers spilling onto the green, the 70-80 man militia, heavily outnumbered, took an involuntary step backward. Capt. Parker shouted to his men, “Stand your ground men. Do not fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!”
Capt. Parker’s men watched the redcoats form into battle formation some 70 yards away, their bayonets glinting in the early morning light.
Major Pitcairn riding up from the column and swinging his pistol closed half the distance to the militia. He shouted at them
“lay down your weapons, ye villains, ye rebels, lay down your arms and disperse!”
Capt. Parker had made his point. Vastly outnumbered he turned to his men and told them to disperse. At the same time a shot rang out.
Paul Revere would later testify that it sounded like a pistol shot as he retreated with the trunk of papers. Others reported it came from the side of the green from behind a wall. A loud sharp sound in an open space surrounded by buildings often bounces around making it hard to pinpoint. No one knows who fired that first shot but it is clear who fired the first shots. Without orders, the front line of the regulars opened up in an ragged volley. The second line advanced and poured a full volley into the militia as they scrambled away.
Most of the men wounded were shot in the back. Jonas Parker, Capt. Parker’s uncle took off his hat, threw it on the ground with his flint and ball. He defiantly stood his ground yelling “I shall not run”. He was immediately knocked down by a musket ball. Prince Esterbrook was also knocked down latter to be helped off the field.
The troops with their blood up ignored orders and charged the militia with the bayonet. Jonas Parker was bayoneted to death as he lay on the ground trying to reload his musket. They continued after all those who ran.
Jonathon Harrington the fifer’s uncle and namesake was shot in the back as he retreated. He rose back to his feet and collapsed again.
Crawling on his hands and knees he made his way to the edge off the green. Falling into the arms of his horrified wife on their doorstep, he died as his children watched from the doorway.
At the other end of the green, Caleb Harrington, the fifer’s cousin and John Simmons were caught in the meeting hall as the redcoats swarmed on to the green. When the troops charged they attempted to make a run for it. They were seen by soldiers who fired upon them. Caleb was shot down and killed as he ran. Simmons was forced back into the meeting hall where he barricaded the door. The soldiers who fired upon him pounded on the door trying to gain entry. Simmons knew that if they entered they were likely to find the town’s black powder supply stored on the second floor. He ran up the stairs as the troops broke down the front door and started searching for him. Picking up his musket, he thrust the muzzle into one of the barrels of powder. “They will pay a heavy price for the powder today” he said to himself as he cocked the hammer and said a prayer.
The soldiers on the green still out of control were hunting down anyone they could find. Col. Smith back in the main column rode to the sound of the fighting and was shocked to see his troops rampaging through the town ignoring their officers. He quickly grabbed a drummer and had him beat to assembly. The men, more out of conditioning than duty began to respond.
Back in the meeting house the soldiers reached the bottom of the stairs. John Simmons closed his eyes and began to squeeze the trigger. As
they began to climb the stairs they heard the beat of the drum. Conditioned to react to the drum and without further thought, the soldiers wheeled around and exited the meeting house angry that the rebel they had chased into it would slip through their fingers.
It took some time for the troops to reassemble. Their blood lust was up and they were reluctant to stop. Col. Smith finally got them into order and calling upon his officers told them the mission.
Many of the officers realized that they had just fired without orders. They knew that their men had gone out of control and they would be held responsible for the deaths. There would be courts-martial and trials. The countryside would be up in arms over this atrocity. They had another 8 miles further west to travel and another 18 miles back to Boston though hostile territory. To continue would be folly.
Col. Smith looked past the officers to the men. He and they were still charged up for the fight. He listened to the arguments of his officers and clearly stated that the mission would continue. Turning back to the men, he ordered three HUZZAHS and a volley of musket fire to celebrate the victory. Forming back into column they began the march west to Concord.