The War Begins at Lexington and Concord
(April 19, 1775)

A. Provincial Congress organizes minutemen.

General Gage, as military governor of Massachusetts, continued to remain in Boston with 3,000 British troops. He dissolved the colonial assembly, but the people outside of Boston, refusing to recognize his authority, organized the Provincial Congress as a provisional government and went on managing their own affairs. They organized militia and ordered a certain part of the militiamen to be ready at a minute's notice to march to any point of danger. These were called "minutemen."Back to top

B. The embattled farmers resist the British at Lexington and Concord and drive them back to Boston.

In April General Gage received orders from England to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been most prominently active in resisting the king's authority, and to send them to England to be tried for treason. About the same time the governor heard that the minutemen had collected some military stores at Concord, twenty miles from Boston. He knew also that Hancock and Adams were staying with a friend in Lexington, which was on the road to Concord.

He planned, therefore, to send out troops for the purpose of destroying the military stores at Concord and arresting the two offenders on the way. About midnight 800 British soldiers started from Boston. But the minutemen were on the watch, and Doctor Joseph Warren, one of their leaders, dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes to warn his two friends and to spread the alarm "The regulars are coming !"

Early next morning (April 19, 1775), when the English troops reached Lexington, Hancock and Adams had made their escape, and a party of minutemen were drawn up on Lexington Common. They refused to disperse, and the British fired upon them, killing eight of their number. Then the minutemen withdrew. Passing on to Concord, the British destroyed the small part of the military stores which there had not been time to conceal, but they had to face an ever-increasing number of angry minutemen, who poured in from surrounding towns. A battle was fought at the old Concord Bridge and the British were forced to retreat. The minutemen pursued, shooting from behind rocks and trees, fences and barns, while the hard-pressed British soldiers rushed on, loading and firing as they marched, and leaving their dead and dying scattered along the road. Before they reached Boston the retreat had become a rout and the British forces barely escaped capture. It was a great day for the Patriots, and their victory inspired them with fresh courage and determination for other battle-fields. In a few days the British were surrounded in Boston by an army of 16,000 Americans.Back to top

C. The colonists unite for resistance in the second Continental Congress and choose George Washington commander-in-chief (1775).

On May IO, 1775, the Continental Congress met by appointment a second time in Philadelphia. John Hancock, of Massachusetts, was chosen president. Congress formally voted to unite in resisting England, and for that purpose to raise an army of 20,000 men, whose expenses were to be paid by the united colonies. George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. At the same time, while preparing for war, if war must come, Congress addressed a petition to the king, setting forth their grievances and asking for redress.

In accepting his commission Washington thanked Congress for the honor, adding modestly: "I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with." He was unwilling to accept any salary for his services, but said he would keep an account of his expenses.Back to top

D. Americans obtain needed military supplies at Crown Point and Ticonderoga.

While these war measures were being passed, New England was actually engaged in pushing the war. Colonial troops were already besieging Boston, and on the day Congress met, Ethan Allen, of Vermont, and Benedict Arnold, of Connecticut, with a small force surprised and captured Fort Ticonderoga. Two days later the fort at Crown Point was taken. With the forts were secured over 200 cannon and other military supplies; but of greater importance than the supplies was the control which the forts gave of the line of communication between New York and Canada. There was no longer doubt that the colonies meant to fight and that the war had begun.Back to top

E. The Patriots are greatly encouraged by results of the battle of Bunker Hill.

By the last of May the British troops had been increased to 10,000, and General Sir William Howe had been sent over to take the place of General Gage as military commander. The British general noted the military advantage offered by the heights in Charlestown known as Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, both of which overlooked Boston, and planned to occupy them. But he was not quick enough. About the middle of the night preceding June 17, 1,500 Patriots began throwing up breastworks on Breed's Hill, which was nearer Boston than Bunker Hill. Next day General Howe, at the head of about 2,500 men, tried to drive the Americans out of their entrenchments. Twice the British troops marched up the hill and were driven back; but in the face of a third attack the Patriots were obliged to retire, because their ammunition had given out. The engagement, however, had the effect of a victory upon them, for their brave fighting inspired the people with courage and hope. When Washington heard that the raw colonial troops had stood fire, he said: "The liberties of the country are safe"; and Franklin remarked: "The Americans will fight, England has lost her colonies forever."Back to top

F. Washington drives the British out of Boston (1776).

About two weeks after the battle of Bunker Hill, Washington arrived at Cambridge and formally took command of the American army (July 3), under the famous elm still standing near Harvard University. His army was in no condition for fighting. The men were in every way without proper equipment. Only a limited number had muskets, and very few had bayonets. Besides, there was a great scarcity of cannon and powder. Of course, under such conditions, Washington could not attack the enemy. But with patience and faith he organized the army, awaiting the hour when he could strike a telling blow.

Early in March, 1776, having received cannon and ammunition, he seized Dorchester Heights, to the south of Boston, and threw up entrenchments there. Howe, recognizing that it would be difficult to drive Washington from his position, withdrew from Boston and sailed for Halifax with his army and nearly 1,000 civilian Tories.Back to top