April 19, 1775 is a date few Americans remember, though it has such huge importance. Many will recognize the phrase “the shot heard ‘round the world,” which is a reference to that day. This was the day that the British Regulars had marched on Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts to disarm the militias. This action turned into the first engagement in the American Revolution and we all know how that turned out.
As is often the case, I try to imagine what it must have been like for people who lived during historic moments in time; to imagine the “common man” and his experiences. Though most of the events and people are part of the historical record, the two main characters Thomas and Matthew are completely fictional. Any similarity to real persons is completely unintentional and coincidental.
I realize that fictionalizing a real event may cause some history buffs to balk at my attempt to make the story entertaining. However, I merely want to engage the reader to envision what that day might have been like on a more personal level. Though I enjoy studying history, I am admittedly a novice so please forgive any discrepancies found herein.
During late hours of this 18th day of April, the men set to purpose under the silvery light of the full moon. Tensions in and around Boston had brewed for far too long; a cauldron on the brink of boiling over at the slightest provocation. The men on each side of these escalating troubles were secure in their belief that their cause was just and true. These orders put into motion the fate of this land and ultimately changed the world. Unknown to these men, these historic hours would forever alter the relationship between governors and the governed.
For Thomas Torrey the night was that of anxious anticipation. Thomas had happily joined to serve king and country, a point of pride pitted against bitter disdain of those who deign to disrupt such a life. Long had he desired an end to the recent tumult and raucous life, which seemed to worsen everyday.
Miles away, Matthew Middlesex knew the call could come at any minute. And a minute was all he had in order to dash from his abode, prepared for whatever threat came his way. Earlier that eve he listened to the words of Sam Adams and John Hancock as they spoke in the tavern. Their ideas like a heady ale, refreshing to the mind that partook. Matthew knew their ideas were revolutionary, even treasonous, but living under the yoke of tyrannous rule was more than he could bear. Though there was no precedent for their actions, Matthew and his compatriots believed to their very bones that they could and should live free.
Joining his comrades at the waterfront, Thomas and the others did not know their mission or destination. However, they hoped to quell the troublesome rabble and return to a normal life. Just before midnight, the Regulars loaded onto barges to be ferried across the bay.
Lt. Col. Smith, in charge of this mission, took care to keep the details close to the vest. Smith was tasked with locating and destroying the armories of the militia in the area of Lexington and Concord. He further instructed to arrest rebellion leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, rumored to be in this area.
Though many knew this action was coming, they knew not from which direction the Regulars would come. A sign would be lofted in the steeple of NorthChurch; lanterns would be lifted, one if by land, two if by sea. Paul Revere and William Dawes awaited sign so as to raise the alarm and put into motion the Minute Men. The men and horses were readied like a loaded musket, prepared to fire off into the night.
Nearing midnight, for the briefest of moments to evade notice, the dual lanterns were lit and blazed as beacons in the night. From the distance, the bi-luminous belfry meant one thing to the antsy riders, by water they would come. The riders dashed into the night, declaring the impending arrival of the Regulars. All haste was needed if they stood a chance against this formidable foe. Church bells range, drums were beaten, shots fired into the air, and the countryside came alive with activity.
Matthew awoke with the clamor; desperate times were upon him and his countrymen. In practiced fashion, Matthew sprung into action, flying from the house in the minute required. Matthew watch as Samuel and John hurriedly made their way down the road and out of the area. Though neither a coward, the ideas they carried were needed elsewhere. Matthew knew the mettle of his fellow compatriots, the hour had drawn nigh and each contemplated their lives and their God. Matthew located Captain John Parker, who began assembling the men and seeing to their armaments.
The barge slipped through the waters and approached the moor, the full light of the moon casting ominous shadows. As a measure of secrecy, few details were given, resulting in an awkward discord through this regimented group. Thomas stood among the tightly packed men, anxiety and anticipation coursing through his blood at the same time.
The disembarkation took longer than expected, but the men soon formed into their units. The men were given their objective which simultaneously provided exhilaration and fear, odd feelings understood by those who knowingly walk into dangerous situations. Just after 2am on the 19th day of April, they marched forward, hearing the increasing frequency of alarms announcing their arrival.
Smith split his troops, sending his second-in-command Major John Pitcairn ahead to secure several bridges. Pitcairn had 6 light infantry companies in his charge. On the road Pitcairn was met by mounted British Officers who seized one Paul Revere, a messenger spreading news of the Regulars’ arrival. Revere told his captors a force of 500 awaited them in Lexington. Revere stated he had already raised the alarm and another 1,000 men would be along shortly. Alarmed by the numbers Pitcairn would face, he instructed his men to load their weapons and fix bayonets. Pitcairn further instructed his men they were “on no account to fire, nor even attempt it without orders.”
Matthew, alongside Sylvanus Wood and Robert Douglass of Woburn, readied himself and listened to Parker giving instructions to his troops. All told, thirty-eight Minutemen formed a line on the Lexington Common, where the road led into the town. Just before dawn, the Regulars were nearing the town. Tensions mounted as the troop awaited their rivals, not knowing its size and strength. Parker instructed his troops, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Near the middle of the march, Thomas watched as Pitcairn rode confidently, stately in his appearance. In advance, some of the troops approached the Greens and rushed forward. Pitcairn moved to the front as his troops began forming. There was an understandable confusion with part of the force having already encountered the rebels while the others caught up.
Matthew watched as the Regulars advanced, rushing toward them. Matthew steeled his resolve, readying himself for whatever happened next. An officer advanced, sword drawn, yelling, “Lay down you arms, you damn rebels, or you are all dead men!” Suddenly, a shot, then another and another…panic tried to take hold of Matthew. Amid the chaotic volley, Matthew’s compatriots began dispersing. Matthew, along with several others, moved toward a wall nearby for cover. As he bound the wall, Matthew felt an impact near his leg, the stone and projectile exploding in frighteningly slow motion. Matthew rolled off the top of the wall and huddled behind, thanking God for a narrow escape.
As the firing quieted down, Matthew peered over the top of the wall. Several of their friends lay in the field dead or wounded. The full squad of Regulars advanced on the field, a force over 200 in strength. Joining others, Matthew took to the road and made his way to Concord. Having survived the first skirmish, he hoped to join with others that could put up a respectable resistance to these Regulars.
Thomas was not sure if the order had come to fire, but it must have with all the guns having fired. In the second volley, Thomas took careful aim to make his shot count. Sighting one rebel who turned toward the wall, Thomas steadied his body, regulated his breathing, firmed his stance. As the rebel reached the wall, Thomas let loose his deadly projectile. Though he did all he could to make his projectile find purchase, Thomas saw as a small cloud of dust exploded from the wall, knowing in an instant his shot had missed.
The firing settled down, the rebels were on the run, he and his comrades moved haughtily onto the Green. With certain pride of being part of such a formidable force, Thomas thought to himself that this day would go exactly as he hoped it would. Such are the pride-filled thoughts people often regret later.
Years later, Wood testified that the admonishment to lay down weapons was accompanied with a command to fire. Wood recalled that several British guns fired, but no one was injured in this first volley. Nevertheless, this started a chain reaction. Parker commanded his men to break up, all of whom began to scatter. Some took cover behind a wall. The second volley from the British found their mark on several men. Others would testify that those that were injured were finished off with bayonet. The British took control and held the Lexington Common while Parker’s men dispersed. After some time, Pitcairn removed his troops onward toward Concord.
In Concord, the Regulars were able to locate and destroy militia armaments. However, Patriots continued to move into the area. Eventually they amassed enough support to engage the Regulars, who took a “tactical retreat to the rear” and were attacked every step of the way.
Though Lexington was a brief encounter, these were the first shots fired in the American War of Independence. There has always been a dispute about who fired the shot. Regardless of who shot first, the Regulars came to Lexington and Concord with the purpose of disarming these Colonists. This action unified the Patriots who had enough of the tyrannical rule of the Crown.
Just as it is in our society today, there are those that oppose the actions adopted and proposed by the Government. Equally, as back then and today, there are those who supported the Government through and through. Many probably did not want to commit either way, like many today. Either way, it is historically bad business when a ruling body decides to come after the populations’ arms. Whether they try to use legislation or attempt to forcibly remove them, the American spirit is strong in those that care to exercise the Second Amendment.
There are those that advocate modern society has no need of certain guns or perhaps move to eliminate them altogether. History tells us that every nation that was chained into subjugation did so by losing their right to possess weapons. I can only imagine that the fighting spirit of those people was extinguished years before the weapons were removed. Broad segments of our society demonstrate their surrender as they stand shoulder to shoulder in stripping the one thing that prevents a Government from forming an authoritarian state. History also tells us, via Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Castro, et al, that people walk among us who would enslave you. Do not think that America is immune to such depravity. Molon labe!
I began working on this article last week. I had wanted to focus on a date that usually goes unnoticed in America. In light of the atrocious attack in Boston on April 15, 2013, I considered not publishing this article. After discussing it with some friends, they thought I should still publish.
Additionally, I considered that Boston was celebrating the event detailed below as a proud moment in that area’s rich history in our War of Independence. As with other horrendous acts, I believe that though the attack has given us pause to think about the victims and their families, the spirit of independence and patriotism will not be snuffed out. I hope that the resolve in each American turns to steely determination to continue our standard of freedom.
Published 4/19/2013 by Anthony J. Wells. Radical Middle © 2013.