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CHAP. III. congress of Massachussetts published a resolu. 1775. tion, informing the people, that from the dis.
position manifested by the British parliament and ministry, there was real cause to fear that the reasonable and just applications of that continent to Great Britain for peace, liberty and safety, would not meet with a favourable reception; that on the contrary, from the large re. enforcements of troops expected in that colony, the tenor of intelligence from Great Britain, and general appearances, they had reason to apprehend that the sudden destruction of that colony in particular was intended.
They therefore urged, in the strongest terms, the militia in general, and the minute men in particular, to spare neither time, pains, nor expense, at so critical a juncture, to perfect themselves in military discipline. They also passed resolutions for procuring and making fire arms and bayonets.
In the mean time, delegates for the ensuing congress were every where chosen. Even in New York, where the influence of the administration in the legislature, had been sufficient to prevent an adoption of the recommendations of the former congress, and where the people were much divided, a convention was chosen for the sole purpose of electing members, who should represent that province in the grand council of the colonies.
In New England, although a determination CHAP. III. not to commence hostility appears to have been 1775. maintained, an expectation of it, and a settled purpose to repel it, universally prevailed.
It was not long before the firmness of this resolution was put to the test.
A considerable quantity of military stores had been collected at the town of Concord, about eighteen miles from Boston, which general Gage proposed to destroy. On the night pre. April 18. ceding the 19th of April, lieutenant colonel Smith and major Pitcairn, with the grenadiers and light infantry of the army, amounting to eight or nine hundred men, were detached on this service. Notwithstanding the secrecy and dispatch which were used, and although some officers on horseback had before the marching of the detachment, scoured the roads, and secured such people as they fell in with, the country was alarmed by messengers sent out by doctor Warren, some of whom eluded the vigilance of the patrols; and, on the arrival of the British troops at Lexington, about five in the morning, part of the company of militia, belonging to that town, amounting to about seventy men, were found on the parade under arms.
Major Pitcairn, who led the van, galloped Battle of up, calling out, “ disperse rebels; throw down your arms, and disperse.” The soldiers at the same time ran up huzzaing; some scattering
CHAP. III. guns were fired first, which were immediately 1775. followed by a general discharge, and the firing
was continued as long as any of the militia ap. peared. Eight men were killed, and several wounded.
The detachment then proceeded to Concord, the commanding officer having previously dispatched six companies of light infantry to possess two bridges which lay at some distance beyond the town. While the main body of the detachment was employed in destroying the stores in Concord, some minute men and mi. litia, who were collected from that place and its neighbourhood, having orders not to give the first fire, approached one of the bridges as is to pass it in the character of common tra. vellers. They were fired on, and two men killed. The fire was immediately returned, and a skirmish ensued, in which the regulars were worsted, and compelled to retreat, with some loss. The country was now generally alarmed, and the people rushed from every quarter to the scene of action. The king's troops were attacked on all sides. Skirmish after skirmish ensued, and they were driven from post to post into Lexington. Fortunately for the British, general Gage did not entertain precisely the same opinion of the military cha racter of the Americans, which had been ex. pressed by general Grant and other officers in the house of commons. Apprehending the expedition to be not entirely without hazard, CHAP. III. he had, in the morning, detached lord Percy, 1775. with sixteen companies of foot, a corps of marines, and two pieces of artillery, to support lieutenant colonel Smith. This seasonable re-enforcement reached Lexington about the time of the arrival of the retreating party, and with their field pieces, kept the provincials at a distance, and gave the grenadiers and light infantry time to breathe. But as soon as they recommenced their march, the attack was recommenced also, and an irregular but very galling fire was kept up on either flank, as well as in front and rear, from the stone fences which abound in that quarter, until they arrived about sunset on the common of Charlestown. From thence, they immediately passed over the neck to Bunker's hill, where they remained secure for the night, under the protection of their ships of war, and early next morning crossed over Charlestown ferry to Boston.
In this action, the loss of the British in killed, wounded, and prisoners, was two hundred and seventy three, while that of the provincials did not exceed ninety. However trivial this affair may have been in itself, it was, in its consequences, of the utmost importance. It was the commencement of a long and obstinate war, and it had no inconsiderable influence on that war, by increasing the confidence which the Americans felt in themselves, and encouraging
CHAP. III. opposition by the hope of its being successful. 1775. It supported the opinion which had been taken
up with some degree of doubt, that courage and patriotism were ample substitutes for any deficiency in the knowledge of tactics, and that their skill, as marksmen, gave them a great superiority over their adversaries,
Although the previous state of things had been such, as plainly to render the commencement of hostilities unavoidable, each party seemed anxious to throw the blame on its opponent. The British officers alleged that they were fired on from a stone wall, before they attacked the militia company at Lexington, while, on the part of the Americans, numerous depositions were taken, all proving that, both at Lexington and the bridge near Concord, the first fire was received by them. The statements made by the Americans are rendered probable, not only by the testimony which supports them, but by other circumstances. The company. of militia at Lexington did not exceed in num. bers, one ninth of the enemy; and it can scarcely be conceived, that in the perilous situation in which they were placed, their friends would have provoked their fate, by commencing a fire on an enraged soldiery. It is also a circumstance of no inconsiderable weight, that the Americans had uniformly sought to cover their proceedings with the letter of the law, and even after the affair at Lexington, they had at the