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Battlefield: Lexington and Concord

When British troops went to seize arms stockpiled by American colonists at Concord, Massachusetts, they could have had little idea of their raid’s revolutionary ramifications. Julian Humphrys explains all…

HIT AND MISS

Because the majority of contemporary muskets didn’t have rifled barrels, even the most experienced marksman would expect most of his shots to miss the target.

SMOKING GUNS The colonial militiamen have the redcoats in their sights, as re-enactors bring the Lexington skirmish to life
ALAMY X1, GETTY X1

The shot heard round the world

Under cover of darkness, in the early hours of 19 April 1775, a force of British soldiers was on the move. General Thomas Gage, the British Commander in Boston, Massachusetts, had learned the American colonists were stockpiling weapons and ammunition at Concord, about 18 miles away. To nip any potential resistance in the bud, he ordered a surprise raid to seize the lot. Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith was chosen to lead a flying column of British redcoats into the small town.

Smith chose his men well. He selected the elite grenadiers (the toughest) and light infantry (the swiftest) from a number of regiments, building a force of about 700. To avoid a lengthy roundabout march out of Boston, Smith’s men were ferried across the Charles River in barges and, after wading ashore through waist-deep water, the soggy troops began their march on Concord at about 2am.

Gage and Smith had hoped for secrecy and surprise, but they weren’t to get their way. As the redcoats approached, the ominous sound of church bells rang through the night; the people of Massachusetts knew something was up.

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The April 2016 issue of History Revealed.