In response to the Boston Tea Party, British Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts to punish the Americans in 1768 and commissioned Thomas Gage as the military governor of Massachusetts and commander-in-chief of 3,000 British regulars in Boston. Unfortunately Boston had become a hotbed of rebellion and greatly outnumbered the British regulars considerably. Thomas Gage often wrote the British Parliament asking for reinforcements.
At the time there was not a formal army in the colonies. However, there were militia units in every town near Boston. The militia units number roughly 10,000 men. Many of these men were called Minutemen since they would be ready in a minutes notice. The colonists had been forming these militia units since the seventeenth century to protect against Indian attacks. Many also fought in the Seven Years War, also called the French and Indian War, and were experienced in war. It is a myth that these were just ordinary farmers. While they were not British regulars, they were still well-trained and knew how to fight together as an individual militia unit. Each militia were generally local militias and were under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. When Thomas Gage dismantled the provincial governments in the Massachusetts Government Act, these existing connections would form the Massachusetts Provincial Congress for the purpose of resisting the British government.
Thomas Gage’s Secret Plan and Rebel Intelligence
Thomas Gage received orders from the Earl of Dartmouth to capture the Rebel cache in Concord and to apprehend the rebel leaders: John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
In order to protect the secrecy of his planned march, Gage sent out 20 messengers into the countryside. These men stayed after dark and questioned many of the townsfolk of the whereabouts of John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Unfortunately, this had unintended consequences because it alarmed some of the townsfolk. Lexington began mustering their militia long before they learned of the militia march.
Thomas Gage ordered Francis Smith to lead a regiment of roughly seven hundred men into Middlesex County to destroy all military caches. He was also commanded to just destroy the military stores and to not harm the townspeople. It was clear that Gage was not trying to start a war, but rather put down a small rebellion. Unfortunately his worst fears were true. As the regulars were marching through town by town they could hear the alarm guns go off and church bells ring throughout a hostile countryside. The colonists were mustering and the regulars would soon meet them at the Lexington Greene.
The Captain of the militia in Lexington was Captain John Parker. Parker was rugged and handsome. He had the respect of his men and was not in good health. On this day he would fight bravely and lead his men well, but he would die six months later of tuberculosis in the Continental Army outside of Boston.
Early this April morning Parker had sent his men home and told them they would muster once his intelligence confirmed the British movement. One of his riders came back to tell Parker that there were in fact, no British to be seen. Later on that night another one of his couriers came galloping up to him with much anxiety telling him that the British were 30 minutes away on this side of the town of Menotomy. Parker mustered his men quickly. While his lines were falling into place, a British commander and his men came into view.
Commander Pitcairn and his men came into view. He did not have much control over his men which resulted in sloppy soldiering. His lines were not tight and his soldiers were undisciplined.
Parker tried to get his men out of the way of the British Regulars. Unfortunately, due to Pitcairn’s lack of leadership, his men became undisciplined. Pitcairn began shouting conflicting orders to the rebels and then to his men. He told the rebels to disperse and then told the regulars to keep them from dispersing. A shot was then fired and it is impossible to know who shot it, but it resulted in chaos. When the fog of war lifted the British had lost one soldier and another was wounded. The rebels had lost eight men and nine were wounded.
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