On This Day In 1775: The Revolutionary War Begins

On this day in 1775, the American Revolutionary War began with the battles of Lexington and Concord. The revolutionary liberation war of the 13 British colonies of North America against British colonial domination would last from 1775 until 1783, when the United States of America would be established as an independent state.

The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19 were the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War. The civic holiday Patriot’s Day takes place on the third Monday of every April to commemorate the anniversary of these historic battles. It is observed as a state holiday in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maine.

Patriots’ Day 2016 marks the 241st anniversary of the battles, which took place in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay. According to the National Park Service, this weekend is expected to be filled with “parades, reenactments and commemorative ceremonies.” The Boston Marathon, which began in 1897, has always been held on Patriots’ Day.

The battles of Lexington and Concord marked the beginning of open conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the colonies on the mainland of what was British America. The Revolutionary War was the inevitable conclusion of the socioeconomic history of the colonies. The development of capitalism on the North American mainland contradicted the desires of Britain, which wanted to use its colonies as a market for British goods and as a source of raw materials.

After the Seven Years War (1756-63), the British Crown intensified pressure on the colonies, as the official website of The History Channel notes.

“Starting in 1764, Great Britain enacted a series of measures aimed at raising revenue from its 13 American colonies. Many of those measures, including the Sugar Act, Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, generated fierce resentment among the colonists, who protested against ‘taxation without representation.’ Boston, the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre and the 1773 Boston Tea Party, was one of the main points of resistance. King George III of Britain ramped up the military presence there, and in June 1774 he shut down the city’s harbor until colonists paid for tea dumped overboard the previous year. Soon after, the British Parliament declared that Massachusetts was in open rebellion.”

The First Continental Congress of representatives from the colonies met in Philadelphia in 1774 in response to the coercive acts passed by the British Parliament to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, and the first armed detachments of colonists rose spontaneously.

At dawn on April 19, 1775, in the town of Lexington 700 British troops faced off 77 heavily outnumbered colonist militiamen. The commander of the militia ordered them to disperse when the first shot rang out.

“Throw down your arms! Ye villains, ye rebels,” a British major yelled according to The History Channel. What happened next is the subject of historical dispute. To this day, no one is quite sure how fired the first shot, but when the smoke cleared on the skirmish, eight militiamen were dead, nine were wounded and one Redcoat was injured.

A detachment of British troops under the command Lieutenant-Colonel F. Smith left British-controlled Boston for Concord with the aim of capturing a cache of arms from the rebelling colonists. After searching the town of Concord for four hours and setting it aflame, seemingly by accident, the British column headed to Lexington.

On the 18-mile-long road between Lexington and Concord the British were attacked by the colonists, who were mainly riflemen in loose order and fired from behind cover. The column was aided by reinforcement upon arrival at Lexington, but the colonists continued the attack all the way through Menotomy (now Arlington) and Cambridge. At the end about 300 Redcoats were killed and wounded, compared to roughly 100 colonists lost.

In the first battles of the Revolutionary War, the British army took their first heavy losses. Though they managed to win Lexington, Concord, ended in American victory, with the British able to reach Boston only with the help of reinforcements.

The History Channel noted that while the colonists did not show great marksmanship, “they proved they could stand up to one of the most powerful armies in the world. News of the battle quickly spread, reaching London on May 28. By the following summer, a full-scale war of independence had broken out.”

Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson famously described the first shot fired at the North Bridge in Concord as the “shot heard ’round the world” in the opening stanza of his “Concord Hymn” (1837). This description would also later be used to describe the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.

[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]