On April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began in the villages of Lexington and Concord near Boston, Massachusetts.
The previous night saw 700 British troops march out of Boston with orders to seize any colonial weapons they might find. By dawn the next morning they had reached Lexington, where they found about 75 American minutemen waiting for them on the village green. “Don’t fire unless fired upon,” Captain Jonas Parker ordered the Patriots, “but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!”
The British commander ordered the Americans to lay down their arms. “You damned rebels, disperse!” he cried, and the outnumbered colonists grudgingly began to drift away. Suddenly someone fired a shot – no one knows who – and the surprised British ranks let loose a volley. A few seconds later, eight dead and ten wounded minutemen lay on Lexington Green.
The redcoats continued up the road to Concord, where hundreds of Americans had gathered. Another small battle ensued before the British decided that it was time to return to Boston.
Then the real fighting began. The road back to Lexington became a nightmarish gauntlet of deadly fire for the redcoats as the Americans lay in ambush behind trees, rocks, and woodpiles. The helpless British columns endured the sniping nearly all the way back to Boston.
When the day was over, about 250 of the king’s men had been killed or wounded. The colonists lost about 90. News of the conflict caused militiamen all over New England to shoulder their muskets and tramp toward Boston. The struggle for independence had begun. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his famous poem “Concord Hymn,” the Americans had “fired the shot heard ’round the world.”